While I was sidelined by a serious knee injury in 2006, I decided to go back to school.
I was scared to be back to school after 13 years. But after two lessons I was enjoying studying. It was very different from my Russian school experience.
Most kids in Russia go to school at the age of seven. So on September 1st you can see a lot of kids walking to school, accompanied by their parents.
In my days starting school was a big deal. Among kids, you were not considered to be a "big kid" if you didn't go to school. And you had no say in any games or discussions.
I was really looking forward to go to school. And on September 1st, accompanied by my grandmother, wearing the celebration school outfit I marched to school.
There were many kids in front of the school building, girls wearing white aprons over dark brown dresses with huge bows in their hair. Boys wore blue suites with white shirts underneath. Everyone holding flowers, mostly cut off the nearest flower bush.
From the first day of school, our teacher picked her favorite and her least favorite students. I was among the hated ones. Anything I did was always wrong. I was punished for making other kids laugh. For not sitting straight enough and for not being ugly and stupid. I think I was a major threat to our teachers daughter, who was in our class too, and had straight "A's." Our teacher's favorite punishment was putting me in the corner near the door, facing the wall, and let me stand there for 45 minutes.
On one of my birthdays, I wasn't aloud to come into class. I was outside the door, arranging the candy I brought for the entire class, when the class door closed in my face. When I knocked, I was told to stay outside, because I was late. So I just sat on the floor outside the door, holding a big bag of candy in my lap.
Every morning before lessons, we had to salute Lenin's photo on the wall and listen to Soviet anthem. Than quietly sit down at our desks, resting our arms on it and sit as straight as we could for the duration of the lesson. The rules also included: only a certain amount of pens and pencils and absolutely no jewelry.
Couple of times we had American exchange students at our school. We sang and danced for them. And when the entertainment was over, we were aloud to "talk" to the American kids.
I was always impressed by how clean and well groomed these kids were. They always smiled and smelled good.
Of course none of us spoke English, but we knew one word that meant everything to us-Bubble Gum! It was like knowing some secret word that opened doors to treasure. Every time you said it, you got a colorful little square, that smelled heavenly. I remember carefully opening the wrapping, smelling the gum and putting it back in a secret place in my small room.
When I got to high school, my teacher has changed and I was promoted to a pioneer. I was given a red star for my dress, and a red ribbon to put around my neck. I felt privileged to be a pioneer, not everyone in class became one. You had to be at least a "B" student.
I think it was 1992 when the rules for school uniforms has changed. So instead of dark brown dresses and black aprons we were aloud to wear anything we wanted. For me it was easier than for other kids, I started traveling around the world and had different outfits to wear. But most of the kids I went to school with didn't have the money to buy clothes. And back then, it was easier to buy a couple of uniforms than a pair of jeans and t-shirts.
I changed three schools since then. Trying to find the one that gave me more freedom to travel to my tournaments. My last year of school was at a music school. I don't sing or play any instruments, I was accepted there because I was considered as a famous student. Being one of the best junior tennis players in Russia. And I was aloud to do what every I wanted. I never got to go to prom or a school party, because I was always at some tournament. But one day, while exercising with my dad close to my first school, I saw my first teacher. I called out to her.
She gave me a long cold look and asked my father- "You must be very proud of your daughter?" And not even letting my dad answer turned around and walked away.
When I was little, I used to dread going to school. Now, 13 years later I loved every second of it! The teachers were nice and I studied something I loved-interior design. And since most girls in my class dressed up very nicely for school, dressing up and going there was a celebration!