Tuesday, April 7, 2015

happy birthday Ilya!

Ilya Frank is one of the coolest people I know. I'm so proud and honored to call him a friend. I still can't believe we're privileged to be his friends. But we are. You may ask him.

I first got to know him as an author of a unique reading method. At that time I was studying foreign languages at the University and bought "The Never-ending Story" in German and "The Little Prince" in French, both adapted using Ilya Frank's Method. I tried it and thought it was genius. And googled "who is Ilya Frank".

I found out that he read fluently in something like 20 (!) languages and spoke most of them, too.

I found out that he was a teacher in Ilya Frank's Language School in the centre of Moscow, and read his book on learning foreign languages ("How to Make a Foreign Language Yours"). The method he described sounded fantastic. I remember thinking, "wish I could try it. Imagine being a teacher in such a cool school!"

When I graduated from the University I went to Moscow and found a job of a personal assistant and absolutely hated working in the office. So I decided to change the job and thought I might just as well start with the best variants I could imagine. I had two ideas of a dream job at the time. One was TV, and the other was Frank's School.

I had neither training nor experience for any of those jobs, but miraculously got invited to the interviews for both TV (as an announcer) and Frank's School (as a teacher). What surprised me even more  I got them both! And after meeting Frank at the interview I had no doubts choosing his school over TV.

So we started as colleagues, and he amazed me all the time we had a chance to meet and talk. When our country got into a crisis in 2008 and the School was having a hard time, I remember talking to Frank and asking why he was so calm.

"I watched an interview with a champion boxer once, — he said.  And that champion was asked how he managed to deal with stress on the ring. "I relax", he said. So this is what I'm doing, too. The tougher it gets, the more I relax". It killed me. I thought it was genius. I still follow this advice, to this day  the more challenging and stressful it gets, the more I relax. When a situation provokes me to tighten and strain, I take a deep breath and soften.

We were gradually becoming friends. The more I knew him, the more I admired him as a person. This is the most important thing about Frank  he's a very good man. He's true, brave, generous, dignified, and kind. He has a remarkable sense of humor, and he's one of the best people in the world to have a conversation with. He's a thoughtful and caring friend, too. When he helps, he's doing it so that you'd never feel obliged; he always gives you a chance to maintain your dignity.

We live in different cities now, but sometimes have a chance to meet and talk; after that, Sensei and I always remember those conversations as simply the best.

Frank is a writer and a poet. He's my favorite modern writer and my favorite modern poet. It has nothing to do with the fact that we're friends. He's just a damn good writer and a great poet. His background is unbelievable; he has a profound knowledge in history and cultural studies, he has read more books than anyone I know (and mind you, a few of my friends are professors), and have I mentioned 20 languages yet? You get the idea.

He's also our first son's Godfather.

Sensei and I often talk about culture and traditions that we've lost as a society. The generation link is broken, we don't learn from our history (we don't know much of our history, to begin with), traditions are not passed on from father to son, the culture of communication, of mindful living, of getting through challenges with style and grace is getting lost, too. And whenever we're discussing the ways of bringing it all back or even creating a new culture, we remember Ilya Frank.

"Educated like Frank", "polite like Frank", "smart like Frank", "dignified like Frank", "writing like Frank", "a friend like Frank"  -- you name it. "Like Frank" is our personal family meme. It means "the best way possible". He isn't directly teaching us anything, but he'll always be our mentor. An example to follow.

Happy birthday dear friend! We're so grateful that once on this day you were born.