In the summer of 2019, I had the privilege of studying abroad for two months in St. Petersburg, Russia. Through the Rutgers Department of Russian Language and Literature, I had the opportunity to complete my undergraduate career in the nation I have studied so closely in my Russian and Political Science majors. I attended four hours of advanced Russian language courses each day, and partook in an additional conversation class twice a week. In conjunction, I met with a peer tutor on a weekly basis to further improve my conversational fluency.
Moreover, by living with a host family and participating in regular excursions, I developed a better sense of Russian culture. I was able to see several performances at the Mariinsky Theatre, as well as the Bolshoi Theatre during a weekend trip to Moscow. It immediately became evident that the arts are an integral part of Russian culture and feature prominently in daily life. When walking through the city, one will notice streets named after famous authors and composers. I even had the pleasure of participating in the “Dostoevsky Day” which consisted of dramatic readings and reenactments of the author’s most famous texts. St. Petersburg, often referred to as Russia’s cultural capital, is teeming with museums and ornate churches, cathedrals, and palaces, each with a unique and consequential history.
By spending a significant amount of time in Russia, it was easy to dispel stereotypes about the nation and its people. Russia is a proud nation, not blind to the actions of Putin, but trustful that the nation, as a whole, is moving in the right direction. Many individuals I spoke with did not concern themselves with politics, dismissing a highly participatory government and relying on the Kremlin for policy decisions. Furthermore, I found the Russian people to be exceptionally welcoming, and eager to share their culture. Through festivals and events, such as “Scarlet Sails,” I was able join together with the locals to celebrate their heritage by sharing their traditions and experiences. The Russian soul may have a hard exterior, but it is not difficult to break through and enjoy the camaraderie of a collectivist society.