Well, I’ve said my good-byes to Russia. My first time here in 2003, I was devastated to leave because it was my first trip not only to Russia but outside the U.S. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to come back. Back then that trip seemed so big and so impossible that it seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. In 2007, I came back as a graduate student, and yet I still got teary eyed when I was dropped off at the airport to return to the U.S. I knew I’d be back. Being a graduate student in Russian literature pretty much promised that at least one more trip back would happen, but it was my first time living with a host mom & being a part of someone’s family while there. This time I’m still sad to leave, but I’ll be back soon I know this.
On my second to last day of class my teacher asked what I wanted to do on the last day. “Let’s watch your favorite Russian movie,” I replied. It seemed to me that after 20 days of 3 hour one-on-one instruction that included reading 23 short stories and poems, we could have a little bit of a break on the last day. “Oh, that is a good idea,” she said, sounding relieved. When I asked what her other student, the one that has lessons right before me asked to do, my teacher replied, “She wants to give me her opinion on Russia.”
Immediately I understand the look of panic on my teacher’s face. When someone says they want to give you their opinion on something, it’s rarely positive. It has happened every time I’ve been to Russia–someone in the group will absolutely hate Russia. They will dislike the people, the food, the buildings–everything about the country. They will count down the days until they go home.
I love Russia, but I’m not blind to it’s problems. I think if I was, my professors would wonder if I’ve ever read any Russian work ever. You can’t step foot inside Russia, and not see the problems. They’re big and they’re glaring. The huge gap between the poor and the wealthy, the corruption of the police, the staggering alcoholism, and hell, the surface of every building in the country could use a good power washing. In writing this blog, I’ve tried to share the best parts of Russia, or at least the things that I love about it so that my family and friends will understand why I like being here so much & why I choose to study it. I could write about all of the bad things. There’s enough here to make anyone not want to come back. I could write about the fact that on my first day in Moscow this trip I walked past a dead body on the street, and maybe I should so that I give a fairer glimpse into life in Russia can really be like for someone not there just for the summer & on a cushy university stipend.
I think when it comes to studying Russia, it’s easy to see the bad. It’s probably one of the most apparent things about the country. There’s 200 years of literature that brilliantly documents the bad, and how it crushes people. I think to love Russia, to want to come back and see how she does, you have to be willing to see the good and the beauty too.