Monday, October 6, 2014

Back in the (Former) USSR

Studying in St. Petersburg has been an incredible experience so far, but even better was returning to the city for a second session. Petersburg has become a second home to me. It has a very different feel and pace than DC, but I embrace the two cities as my homes and workplaces. Perhaps I’m just drawn to cities built on swamps.

The architecture of the city is like no other. Much of the “Cultural Heart of Russia” looks like no other city in Russia, or Europe for that matter. It has the canals of Venice with every apartment building looking like a Viennese palace. In a single intersection, you can see a 17th century hospital in the imperial style, a dark-grey Soviet office building, and an ultra-modern apartment complex. The city has been at the center of some of the most tumultuous events in the 20th century, and yet maintains a blissful elegance. As the autumn approaches, the 22 hours of sunlight (called “white nights”) and warmth dwindles to 2 hours of daylight and bitter cold, with heavy, lead clouds that weigh on the city.

My program (CIEE) has done a wonderful job exposing us to the city and providing opportunities to make friends with Russian students. I really appreciate the efforts made by Russians and Americans to get to know one-another through broken language, facial expressions, and (hopefully inoffensive) hand gestures. The stereotype that Russian’s don’t smile in public is completely true, but I have found the majority of Russians to be very warm once you reach out to them, and always curious to hear what the American has to say about Ukraine.

It is a particularly interesting time to be in Russia. Only after living in the city for about 3 months, on and off, have I started to feel the impact of the sanctions over the crisis in the Ukraine. Watching US media coverage of the crisis and then Russian media gives two entirely different narratives: Russia and the West playing power politics, versus a civil war and humanitarian crisis in a troubled border region. There is certainly no shortage of opinions regarding Ukraine, as many people in St. Petersburg have some sort of familial connection to Ukraine.

I am very much looking forward to seeing what the coming months hold as the atmosphere of the city changes and classes become increasingly more challenging.

Credit for this blog post goes to third year Global Scholar Andrew Arrington. Thanks Andrew!

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