Category Archives: Eastern Europe

Same Place, But a New Adventure

I have been to the Baltic nation of Latvia before, but this time feels different. Before leaving I didn’t know if this feeling was of adventure or of fear. Two summers prior I had done a language study in Riga, Latvia where I studied Russian language and culture. I fell in love with its vibrancy. The city is so rich with its historic landmarks and nouveau architecture. The river, which cuts through the heart of the city, always appears so calm as the local steamboat captains offer discounted rides and sometimes even meals aboard their ships. Riga was calling me back since I had left, so once I found that I had been accepted as an intern at the U.S. Embassy, I jumped on my chance. Yet, as the days approached I realized that I was going to Riga under different circumstances with new responsibilities and new challenges. Pushing these thoughts aside, I packed my things (which happened to be, of course, 10lbs over the airline weight limit) and headed on to my new journey.

Arriving at the airport, I was not greeted by my host family as I had been two summers ago. Instead, I was there as an adult, no longer dependent on others to guide me through my first stumbles. Getting to my apartment was no easy task. Having hailed a taxi, I was unable to thoroughly communicate with the driver. Knowing only English and Russian (Latvia speaks both Russian and Latvian, yet many know English) I feel prepared to tackle most all social interactions. Yet I may have gotten in the car with the only taxi driver in the city that didn’t speak either Russian or English. I am familiar with language barriers and respect the circumstances, yet trying to find an apartment in an area that I had never been before by pointing and waving only goes so far. But, eventually, I made it.

 

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The “House of Black Heads” was a guild for merchant and craftsmen who shared in a brotherhood. Destroyed during a bombing raid in WWII, it was rebuilt in 1999.

 

My first few days at my internship were marvelous, I assimilated rather quickly and they continue to teach me things that both interest me and confuse me. Yet there is value in this confusion. After my supervisor overheard me talking about the crowded bus I ride to work that often violently throws its passengers across the platform, he surprised me in the parking lot with his old bicycle. The transportation roadway system has proven to be the biggest challenge for me to date in Latvia. In my home state of West Virginia, the mountains often prevent us from riding bikes outside of recreational activities. To be frank: I am not very great at riding a bike, often issuing brake checks that result in me slinging myself above the handle bars. Bikes are normal vessels of transportation here, and this was my new challenge that I was going to win. So far, I can proudly say that I am taking on this new challenge, and fitting in with the other morning commuters with only a few scrapes and bruises.

 

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Freedom Monument. The monument guarded by the Latvian military servicemen honors those who perished during their fight for independence in 1918-1920.

 

I have found that the second time around in a country, you are more apt to notice the smaller things. I pass average street vendors and notice the differences in the produce they sell compared to the average markets back home. I have noticed the difference in style, music taste, and social interactions between the people that I previously did not catch. I have also noticed more and more similarities between the United States and Latvia. Specifically, I have noticed the similarities in politeness that I have only seen in my small town that I call home in West Virginia. Strangers giving up seats, holding doors, and smiling as they walk past you on the street, all of which are no guarantee in any city. Sometimes these faint gestures remind me of what awaits back home and pull my mind elsewhere. But one glance around at my surroundings and the opportunities that I have been afforded anchors me back into this new adventure.

 

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The gardens outside of the Opera House offer great views when walking through the central city.

 

I am looking forward to learning about the history of Riga in greater depth (I believe I have exhausted the food circles for me to try). This weekend is the free museum weekend in Old Town Riga. While wandering the city, and exploring the various museums, I also aim to find what makes the people of Riga tick. My goal is to interact, in some fashion, with a new person every day. Whether that be a smile, a quick conversation, or scheduled luncheon, I want to explore this place through the conversations and memories of its people.

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Filed under Eastern Europe, Garrett in Latvia

Gilman Alumni Spotlight: Anthony Latta, 2001

We are excited to announce that the Gilman Global Experience Blog will now feature stories from Gilman alumni! Our first alumni post is from Gilman scholar Anthony Latta, who studied abroad in Russia in 2001, the first year of Gilman Scholarship recipients. Read how Gilman has played a critical role in his career over the past 15 years. 

Are you a Gilman alumni with a story to share? E-mail gilman_scholars@iie.org for more information. 

Becoming a Gilman scholar was important for my ability to study abroad from 2001 to 2002 in Moscow and made my career possible. As a first-generation college student, I had resources through student loans and grants to fund my education, but I did not have the resources to fund study abroad, which was considerably more expensive than my in-state tuition at Texas Tech. The Gilman Scholarship made it possible for me to study abroad.

I cannot express how important studying Russian in Moscow for that academic year was. I went from intermediate to high level fluency. In fact, when my parents visited Moscow in March 2002, Russians spoke to my parents in Russian because Muscovites assumed that I had learned Russian at home. The only way I reached this level of fluency was by living with a Russian host family and studying the language for five days a week. The Gilman Scholarship made that possible.

 

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Anthony with Peter the Great in Izmailovo, Moscow in 2001.

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Anthony in Sevastopol in 2001.

 

My fluency in Russian helped me get into graduate school at American University, where I received an MA in International Affairs in 2006. My fluency in Russian then helped me get a job at a large USAID (United States Agency for International Development) implementing partner in 2007, where I initially supported USAID-funded projects in Russian, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Since 2007, I have received opportunities to travel in the former Soviet Union and have grown professionally. While I no longer use Russian language on a daily basis in my job, my ability to speak and read Russian was instrumental in getting the job that has led to my professional success. In fact, this year my language skills give me credibility when I interviewed for a corporate ops job supporting operations in Latin America, Africa, and Eurasia. My language skills showed that I have a professional and personal interest in running programs abroad.

While my spoken Russian language skills today are no match for 2002, I continue to read books in Russian – and translate Russian jokes into English for my wife, much to her chagrin. I have now spoken Russian longer than I have not, and I cannot imagine my life without the language. In fact, as I write this paragraph, I look at the chalkboard in my office, on which I’ve written snippets of Russian sayings.

For anyone interested in achieving high fluency in a foreign language, I sincerely hope that the Gilman Scholarship can help you reach that. In my job as a hiring manager, foreign-language fluency and cultural awareness that fluency and studying abroad affords are necessary and set individuals apart. That is how I have achieved professional success, and I believe it will continue to do so for others.

And for all of this, I truly thank the Gilman Scholarship.

 

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Anthony on one of his later visits to Russia.

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Filed under Alumni Spotlights, Eastern Europe

Between Worlds

The blog conventions dictate that I shall be known as “Jordan in Scotland,” but it should really be “Old Man Undercover.”  Not only have I sat on a shelf and ripened a decade or two longer than the majority of my peers, but I clearly have the constitution of a man many years my elder. If I were at home right now, I’d be bookended between two cats on the couch, drinking tea. Of course, I can be as childlike as I am centennial. But so can an old man if you stay off his lawn and give him a lolly. The point is, I’m old and set in my ways. I know what I like, and I’ve spent the better part of many years discovering what makes me happy and comfortable and carving a little nest for myself which is conducive to those ideals. So what am I doing in a featureless flat in a foreign land, bereft of all worldly possessions beyond the ones I could fit under the seat of a plane?

Oh, sure, it’s easy to take a holiday from everything that ties you down. Even liberating.  But a holiday, this is not. If this were a holiday, I’d probably be sharing each little oddity, amusement, and imposition with a close companion. But I’m out here on my own, 5,000+ miles from home, with all the usual responsibilities to manage and none of the customary support. I won’t pretend to be having a grand old time of it. But if I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t have come back.

It’s been seven years since I first jammed myself into a flying tin-can for eleven hours and had the privilege to inhale British-European air upon my glorious extrication. Six years, nine months since I’ve been scheming to repeat the ordeal. Because the one thing holidays can’t offer you is the chance to live like a native. For three months in 2009, I was a Londoner. I lived in a flat in the borough of Kensington, took the Piccadilly line from Gloucester Road station, and sat for classes at University of London. The experience filled me with a new lease on life, countless Bangers and Mash, and one last niggling thought as I returned to the States: “I was just getting the hang of it!”

 

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Hamish in 2009.

 

This Scottish scheme was conceived during that previous stint abroad. During the semester intermission, we popped up to Scotland on the rail and took a peek at some of its finest offerings: Stonehenge, Dunkeld, Loch Ness, the Castle of Edinburgh, the Wallace Monument, the Isle of Skye, and Hamish the “Hey-ry Coo” (Hairy Cow). I knew before the week was out that I’d be coming back. But I never do anything by halves. For the next 9 months, I’ll be a Scotlander – longer than I’ve been a San Franciscan from my native California. Nine months and no going back. You could make a whole new person in that time. Nine months in the little medieval town of St Andrews at Scotland’s oldest university, rocking the gothic since 1413. You could make twenty-five generations in that.

You’d think that seven years’ preparation would have prepared me. But this newer, more audacious stint at international infil-, er, integration sends me straight back to nursery school. I’ve noticed in my many lifetimes that one of the harder things to navigate in life is anything you’ve never navigated before. From the moment we’re wrenched from the womb, if we’re lucky, someone is holding our hand and leading us forward every wobbly step of the way. We learn our way around the crib, the house, the neighborhood, the campus, all under the watchful eyes of our elders – slowly graduating from one bubble to another like a geographical Chinese nesting doll, all along wrapped in the confidence that we’re right where we’re supposed to be.

So it’s always something of a terror being set adrift without a map. How do I get where I’m going? What am I supposed to be doing? Am I about to get eaten? Good luck and godspeed.  Anytime I have to do something I’ve never done before, no matter the magnitude, there’s trepidation. It’s inevitable that I’m going to do something wrong. Make a wrong turn, say the wrong thing, walk the wrong way, and generally betray myself as an infant without attendance. In the words of the venerable Bilbo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” Transplant yourself to a new world and every day is an adventure. Adventure is not about safety or comfort. It’s about living. Leveling. Expanding.

And going to another world is exactly how it felt. In the days leading up to departure, it’s all I could think about. I once drove from Arizona to Oregon to seek refuge at home, but there’s no road between home and my heading, this round. If I wanted to come back, I’d be at the mercy of the aviation gods and the depths of my wallet… and Time. There’d be no popping back for dinner and drinks or a hug, no matter how much I or my mother needed it. I may as well have been stepping through a one-way portal to spend the next nine months in search of the one that brings me back. The overbearing sense of “No Exceptions, No Returns” was overwhelming. Not only did I have to remotely prepare a life for myself to step into in the new world, but I had to insure that my life at home would continue to function without me. This turned out to be a lot more difficult than it had in the past, not only due to the extended duration but to the ways that my life has changed.

You also might expect, as I did, that being older makes things easier. But at least in this case, youth seems to have the advantage. For my first expedition abroad, I was fairly new to living on my own. I had moved to a town about two hours south of my parents, and could get home easily if I needed to. I had a new apartment, a new car, and was the newly adopted father to a couple of adorable shelter cats. I had recently returned to college, and my petition to study abroad had been accepted. I was feeling competent and intrepid. I coerced a loyal friend to house-and-cat-sit for my little London excursion, and soon looped back to the States and resumed my life as if nothing had happened. But a lot happens in seven years. I’ve inhabited different residences and jobs, developed relationships, grown my network, and refined my own sense of place and community.  I’ve also developed the kind of ailments that introduce themselves after thirty, like back pain and an irritable bowel. Even more problematic, my furry dependents, now both nine, have each developed their own health hazards. And, oddly enough, my parents aren’t getting any younger, either.

 

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Home life with my cats.

 

My life at 36 is infinitely more beleaguered than my life at 29. I had to thoroughly uproot myself from my latest apartment – no one would be house-sitting this time. I sold most of my furniture in the classifieds, and liquidated many possessions through yard sale and donation. I had to enlist my poor mother to take on the unenviable nursing care of my special-needs cats for the better part of a year, and at a time when she didn’t need the extra hassle. I had to settle my accounts, stockpile medications, and say goodbye to friends knowing they might not still be around when I get back. As if that weren’t enough, that old nemesis Bureaucracy had to rear its great horned head: the pharmacy bumbled my prescription, my university-sponsored health insurance lapsed due to my being technically unregistered (studying abroad), my mobile contract expired a week before departure, and the British Consulate stole my passport without informing me.

 

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Starting to pack.

 

The proverbial hurricane that carried me away from home was anything but exhilarating. I felt like a piece of paper that had been torn in two, with half blown to another continent and the other still wilting, bewildered, back at home. I’ve had a weather widget for St Andrews parked on the home screen of my phone for several years, serving as reminder and motivation; a digital carrot carrying me toward my self-prophesied fate. But upon finally arriving at the pinnacle of my hard-sought destination, poised in the seat of victory atop a double-decker bus, my thoughts were ever in two places. Not unlike they’d been when I’d returned from London, actually. Maybe it’s a side-effect of the portal.

 

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On the double decker bus.

 

After surviving a series of excruciating flights and a layover in Keflavik, I arrived in Edinburgh on August 28th. I’ve blocked out most of that period, so it’s fortunate that the age of digital documentation doesn’t let us forget. It looks like I did manage to collect my luggage at the claim; I suppose that explains why my new abode isn’t entirely derelict. And I do recall the personnel for the Edinburgh Tram outside the airport being incredibly gracious, helping me sort out payment and route not just with patience but solicitude, and not merely in the paid-to-please brand of the term. Perhaps they were new to the work, or maybe they were attracted to the California sun still baked into my clothes. But the sense of disorientation remained profound; I was as green as the Wicked Witch in Emerald City. I bought a day pass for the bus in Edinburgh and when the driver directed me to scratch off the date, I stared at him dumbly. What WAS the date? Was it still Saturday? Was it August, here? With everything so altered, it was very difficult to be sure.

One of the first things I noticed upon setting down in Edinburgh was my inherent tendency to veer to the right on walking paths when faced with pedestrians traveling in the reverse. I noticed this because those oncoming had an unfailing tendency to veer to their left, placing us on a collision course. It gradually dawned on me that we unconsciously seem to organize ourselves on foot by the same rules that we’re accustomed to driving. Thus, constituents of the UK don’t just drive on the left – they WALK left. Have fun attempting to reformat your walking legs if you ever make it here. And then go to a college town half occupied with American exchange students, and have fun playing human pinball trying to guess between them and the locals!

 

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Leith in Edinburgh.

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Edinburgh.

 

Another thing that immediately captured my attention were the serving sizes in restaurants. The Scottish don’t strike me as timid eaters, but a standard helping at the venues I’ve sampled would have been sent back in the States on the charge of forgetting the entree. The burger and smattering of fries I received in one establishment looked a little lost on its comparatively enormous saucer, but they were sufficient to satiate my stomach. Visitors to the US must be aghast at the portions we serve, and satisfied as to the source of our infamous battle with obesity. Truth be told, I would have eaten twice that number of french fries (at the least).

 

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An example of the serving sizes here.

 

Another thing to watch out for here is the predominance of sparkling water. It’s wise to cultivate the habit of adding “tap” when you order a glass of the old standard, and “ice” isn’t bad to include, either. Just as popular is the practice of ordering to go. Virtually every venue will ask if you mean to “sit in” or “take away” – from the afternoon cafes to the evening pubs. In the States, staying seems to be taken for granted unless otherwise specified. As an introvert, I really ought to get a handle on this “take away” trend.

But what has been most surprising for me on this journey so far is not that I have missed my home during this tumultuous transition, but how much I have missed London. I find myself looking not for the comforts of home but to relive the experiences I left behind in Britain. The rustic pubs and tea houses on every corner. The bridges over the Thames, the London Eye, and St James Park. The Tube, the boroughs, and live theater enough to rival the television listings on subway billboards. And I desperately miss my London flat, with its big windows, tall ceiling and cozy kitchen. I came prepared to embrace the British way of life, the one I had jump-started all those years ago. I just forgot how distinctively different two countries that share a continent can actually be. Living in the UK bears certain associations that I’m discovering are not exclusively universal. The Sainsburys grocery chain and Boots pharmacy still exist up here, but I might have to trade in my staple diet of Bangers and Mash for Scotch Eggs and Whiskey. The locals still speak the Queen’s English, but you wouldn’t know it for all you can understand them sometimes.  And the buses!  I have yet to get hopelessly and irrevocably lost on the buses. This definitely isn’t London anymore, Toto. I guess we’d better practice our Scots.

 

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Ready to learn the bus system!

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Filed under Eastern Europe, Jordan in Scotland

Change is Inevitable

It’s been 2 months and I am still very much in love with Lüneburg.

It has remained beautiful, it has remained welcoming and, as I predicted, it has proven itself to be the perfect place for me to achieve my study abroad ambitions.

As my time here draws to an end, I often find myself thinking about what I expected to happen. I find myself thinking about the excitement I felt during the very first hour of arrival. I find myself remembering how anxious I was to experience what Germany had in store for me. And I often find myself looking back on something that my German professor said to me right before I left for my program.

She said, “You don’t know it now but you’re going to change so much”

I really didn’t know what she meant by that. I mean, how much could a person really change in just 10 weeks?

A lot, apparently.

“Change” somehow implies that one can spontaneously develop new characteristics when placed in a different environment. I’m stubborn, so I would prefer to think that being here has made me more aware of who I have always been. That my experiences in Germany have helped me nurse the characteristics that would have otherwise been suppressed or ignored. This has, in turn, modified the way I act, how I communicate, and my general world view.

 

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I’m not fond of being the subject of photos but I really loved the historic architecture that my friends and I encountered in Dresden and had to remember my reaction to the moment.

 

The most important way I’ve changed is in that I have become a lot more confident in my point of view. Previously, I spent most of my time fitting my perspective into the narratives of others. Instead of letting my unique point of view shine through, I sought to blend in. Blending in made it easy for me to make statements, engage in discussions, and be involved without exposing the facts of my life that make me who I am.

My cultural identity is a prime example of this. I was born in Houston, Texas but raised in Lagos, Nigeria. Despite my purely American accent, I spent more of my life in Nigeria (11 years) than in the United States (7 years). Yet I had always felt the need to hide this fact because I genuinely believed that, in order to connect with people and to be a good communicator, I had to be totally and completely relatable. Even if that meant ignoring the “Nigerian” in “Nigerian-American.”

Being here, and being a foreigner on both fronts has made me a lot more comfortable with being open about my cultural identity. It has actually helped me figure out exactly what that is. This happened with encouragement from the curious locals and fellow study abroad students who saw my name and asked me to talk about my background and went even further by asking about how it has shaped my personal identity. I realize now that there is so much value in being “all of me” while connecting and communicating with others. I don’t think that I would have been brave enough to come to this realization myself or change in the way that I have while in the United States, especially at this moment in time. So I have my study abroad experience to thank for this.

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Filed under Bioreoluwasheto in Germany, Eastern Europe

The Return (Unaffiliated with Derrick Rose)

My final days in St. Petersburg went as usual: I would avoid the massive pothole that is usually filed with water outside of our building door, I would reply to the graffiti remarks in my head on my walk to school, passing by the tastiest Georgian restaurant that became a Friday evening favorite, and running diagonally to cross a huge intersection before the cars started going for us – all done of course in St. Petersburg fashion, with rain clouds denigrating the sky in the background. Though everything appeared typical, my thoughts and pangs in my heart spoke more solemnly. This anguish was sourced from my growing relationship with my family in Russia (mom, bro, sister), knowing that although I was returning to America, I was leaving my family behind.

After five years of phoning to the city government to fix the pothole, they finally came around to it... and just plopped a pile of asphalt on a fraction of the hole. It's still progress and I will actually miss that pothole that greeted me every day before entering our building.

After five years of phoning to the city government to fix the pothole, they finally came around to it… and just plopped a pile of asphalt in a fraction of the hole. It’s still progress and I will actually miss that pothole that greeted me every day before entering our building.

This meant that I would be bereft of my Russian mother’s delicious borsch, the interesting conversations with my sister on Jewish art, and the reverberations from my brother’s guitar, voice, and even harder-hitting lyrics. The core of my sadness wasn’t simply leaving behind the aspects of their care for me, it was more so the frustration that came with knowing that they are the ones who have to continue living there during the economic hardships in Russia. Though the ruble’s depreciation may have been convenient for the American students, the hard-hitting financial, economic, and social impact on Russia that comes with major recession and high inflation is devastating to communities, including that of my host family.

I realize that this financial crisis is a burden that cannot be immediately solved by regular citizens, let alone myself, so I really had to focus on the good aspects of my experience there. On my last day in Russia, my mom there prepared a meal for the four of us, my brother prepared some music that he performed with his guitar, and my sister also participated in the entertaining conversations. When it was finally time to leave, I will never forget the sullen faces of my host mom and sister through the glass window of my taxi. The taxi driver asked me if I was going home and with a brief moment to think, I replied with, “da.”

I am very thankful for the love, care, and hospitality that my host family in Russia provided. We are a team that is not to be separated anytime soon. I have made a promise to return and I choose to live by my word.

I am also very thankful for the excitement and mirth of the holiday season in America. Upon my return, streets were gleaming with decorative lights, Christmas trees were elaborately and sumptuously adorned, and my friends and family welcomed me with wide smiles and open arms. I think that if it weren’t for Christmas, my 21st birthday and New Years all within three days of each other, my return would have been a little more gloomy. Fortunately, I am surrounded by loved ones that made my adjustment back to the States as warm and welcoming as a cup of Russian tea.

Until next time, my dear St. Petersburg.

As the famous saying goes, you can take the girl out of Russia, but you can't take the Russia out of the girl. Adorned with a Soviet wool scarf on Christmas Day.

As the famous saying goes, you can take the girl out of Russia, but you can’t take the Russia out of the girl. Adorned with a Soviet wool scarf on Christmas Day.

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Filed under Boryana in Russia, Eastern Europe

Odd One Out

A specter is haunting me in my final week in Russia. It is not the specter of communism, but rather of culture shock– the relentless, unremitting, and perhaps unavoidable period of time during one’s experience in a foreign community. It is finals week and throughout my four months in St. Petersburg I still have not felt culture shock. First I will refer to a general timeline that postulates the typical notions towards one’s surroundings before, during, and after their study abroad.

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The Red Square in Moscow.

First arriving in the new environment, the person would usually be perceiving their surroundings as new, interesting, and exciting. Soon, differences become apparent and irritating, thus resulting in serious frustrations, which could eventually turn into homesickness to the degree of one feeling helpless and depressed. Eventually with new strategies established to cope with the frustrations, the subject will start to accept and perhaps embrace cultural differences, usually to the extent of becoming close to the new friends made in the foreign country. Upon the subject’s return home, though some things seem to have returned to normal and have become routine again, they are not quite the same. Eventually, one will incorporate what they have learned and experienced in the foreign country into their new life and career.

That general timeline was crucial to reiterate because I am not one to have seen it as an accurate parallel to my experience. Instead, I was moderately familiar with the culture, language, and civilization having been born in Bulgaria. Certainly I had difficulties learning the language and needed some getting used to walking and using public transportation everywhere, but it is with confidence that I say I did not have any culture shock throughout my trip. In fact, I was thrilled to leave my small college town where I would see the repeating fashion styles on campus, where I had to eat the same processed food daily, and where social activities were beginning to seem repetitive and dull. As a write during finals week, indeed I am experiencing my first anxieties of having to return home.

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St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

I can’t just expect to pick up exactly where I left off. My school has welcomed a new freshman class and I will be taking completely new classes outside of my field of study. My entire life I have had some feelings of alienation in school when I couldn’t speak English fluently or afford the most stylish brands. Today I simply worry about having a similar, if not intensified experience.  However I am often reminded that although difference can be new and intimidating, ultimately it is what makes us unique and cultured.  Perhaps the best measures I should take before returning home are a positive mental attitude, keeping in touch with new friends from Russia, and ultimately incorporating what I have learned abroad into my studies back at my home institution.

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Filed under Boryana in Russia, Eastern Europe

Discussing “What” and “Who” in Russia

Language is not a neutral entity. It forms opinions and attitudes. It can be used to degrade differences and inflict violence or to proclaim diversity and achieve recognition. I am a firm believer that the understanding of the “other” through language and culture is the key to future success in democratic development in the world. Thus, failure to speak the language and neglect the cultural differences of your opponents leads to a predictable defeat of spreading democratic values.

Prior to my study abroad experience, I had only taken two semesters of Russian language, which introduced me to the basics, equipped me with a solid foundation of vocabulary, and had me comprehending speech. However, upon arriving in Russia, I quickly realized that having a basic understanding of the language from a textbook and actually utilizing it to communicate with locals are separate battles. My immersion in the language quickly stripped my initial fear of speaking Russian, and soon enough I developed a feel for the language and am now able to follow complex lines of argument and participate appropriately and meaningfully in many social interactions with locals.

Studying the Russian language for me is not only an academic challenge. After graduating from Illinois Wesleyan University, I aim to enroll in a graduate program in international development where Russian as a language and Russia as a geographical and political entity will be the focus of my future academic inspiration. I have even been thinking about pursuing the field of library and information science, where my desire to conduct research in a discipline focusing on Russia and the Russophone world can be made realistic.

The knowledge and perspectives gained thus far from my study abroad experience and particularly my sustained study of Russian language has truly intensified this desire and commitment to developing and further advancing my language skills. Aside from my conversation and grammar classes here, my Russian History, Russian Civilization, and Presidential Elections courses have equipped me with a newly intensified desire to pursue professional training that could lead me to a career in any field dealing with Russia, including government, education, and human rights.

I am aware that the above information sounds quite polished and projects me as someone who knows exactly what they want in life and has a couple of strategies to get there. The reality is that I don’t know where “there” is, though I can tell you with certainty where my “here” is at the moment. I often cringe at the question, “What are you doing after you graduate?” and insist that I reword it first. (Brief nostalgia turn: It’s quite funny realizing that I am being picky about the diction of a simple sentence in English when I couldn’t even participate in the Month Song in kindergarten when I first moved to America. Hopefully I am making my mom proud.) Returning to the matter: The “What are you doing after you graduate?” question is built on the foundation of “what,” which implies that we should put on our soothsayer hats and reply with some official job title. The question that I prefer being asked is, “Who do you want to be after you graduate?” That question awakens all components that make up who I am and causes them to fight to get their turn to respond. In fact, by answering to “who,” we, the millennial generation, will most likely end up answering the “what,” however we will be dong this indirectly by first expanding on the person that we are each trying to develop. This allows us to explore possibilities in greater depth and removes the veil from the often covered timeline after higher education, that part of our lives (the rest of it) that has a deeper reward than just the monetary one we will receive from our careers.

Now you must be certain, from the revamped information above, that I must really have some answers in my back pocket. Well just like the nearly empty pockets that my family had coming to America, my current pockets are also bereft of anything valuable. I am more focused on living deeply and sucking out all the marrow from life, both during my study abroad experience and back at my home institution. I know that though my pockets feel empty of polished and impressive answers, I am gaining such knowledge that no one will be able to take from me. My education and adventures in Russia are recalibrating my previous prospects for my future and making sure that I find out who I would like to be before I get too caught up in becoming a highly marketable “what.”

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Filed under Boryana in Russia, Eastern Europe