For an encore, she discovered Russia

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(From left) Russian student Elena Ogneva, the writer, professor Valentina Vladimirovna Voronov, and another student at the Museum of Natural History in Murom, Russia. Murom is a five-hour trip east from Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

When I retired from a 36-year legal career, I did not envision how exciting life was about to become. My son had just finished college with Russian language and history majors, was headed for a Russian history graduate program, and was to work that fall in Moscow. My only exciting retirement plan was to visit him and have him show me the Russia where he had studied during college.

I had also planned to take the University of Cambridge (England) Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) residential month-long training program in New York so I could finance travel by teaching. Then I asked myself, "Wonder if Cambridge offers that program in Russia?" It did! I also had developed an e-mail friendship with a professor who ran an American cultural center, the American Home, in Vladimir, Russia, and who proposed: "Your training in Moscow will be on a three-month business visa. Want to teach afterward for two months for my friends at a small college in Murom, a couple of hundred miles east of Moscow?" Be still my heart! Of course! I had never been more excited about anything in my life.

I spent that summer getting accepted to the Moscow CELTA program, working on my packing list, preparing my itinerary, doing my visa application (an adventure in itself) ... oh, and learning a little conversational Russian, too.

No thrill in my entire 63 years of life had exceeded the ecstasy of flying over Russia, then landing at Sheremetyevo Airport. Having grown up in the Cold War, and being taught all kinds of horrible things about Russia, I reacted like any normal American: I was dying to go there to see for myself.

My roommate for our 30-day "boot camp" CELTA training was a young South African woman. She and I, after settling into our apartment in the Novogireevo section of northeast Moscow, walked for hours all over Moscow with our mouths open in amazement. That month of living in Moscow involved not only about 90 minutes (or more) daily riding on Moscow's beautiful Metro (subway), but also all the sightseeing we could work into our schedules. We had been warned that the CELTA program was "the hardest thing you will ever do in your life." Aside from childbirth and law school, it was.

After that first month, and tearful goodbyes to all my CELTA student friends, I headed east on the Trans-Siberian Railroad for five hours to Murom, where I spent the most wonderful two months of my life teaching students in various disciplines (including law) at the Murom Institute. The friends I made there, students and professors, are so dear to me; and we still e-mail every day. The people of Murom had the biggest hearts one could ever imagine and showered me with love, friendship, and gifts.

I returned to Russia last month, first as a senior visiting law professor for the Center for International Legal Studies (www.cils.org) to teach south of Moscow, then to visit my Murom and Moscow friends. I joined the board of my religious organization's Moscow mission and will return to Moscow in the fall for a board meeting. I am also taking intensive Russian language courses at West Chester University to improve my Russian for future trips.

Russia is in my blood and mind, but most of all in my heart. I never pictured that "retirement" would be an "encore career," doing my version of "international relations work," using all my skills and knowledge. My new life is rich and wonderful and began all over again at age 63!

Karen Porter lives in West Chester.