Identity in Russia

Flying to Russia to spend a summer studying abroad has been the best decision of my life.
Before deciding on making my trip, I was a little worried because of the international tensions my country (USA), and Russia currently face. As a Russian Language major, I knew that I needed to take this step in order to improve my language skills and learn more about the country’s culture and language.

Nevertheless, every time I turned on the TV I found myself terrified about my forthcoming experience. When I talked about my trip to family and friends who have never studied the language or the country, they only had negative things to say. The fact that I am a brown American didn’t help me feel any calmer.

After a long flight, three transfers in three different countries, missing my flight, and making a fool of myself in the aircraft by sitting in the wrong seat, I thought my trip was going to be a disaster. When I landed to St. Petersburg, I was worried that I was going to be harassed by the police or by airport security for the fact of being brown, being an American, or for both.

Despite all my negative thoughts, none of that happened. In fact, it was the quite opposite. After passing through airport security with flying colors, and arriving to the dorms where I spent my first night, my first day in Russia was magical. With the white nights, beautiful skies and dazzling palaces, churches and monuments, I could not close my mouth.

The first impression of Russia was not that of bears, politics, drunks and soldiers but that of an international city with amazing architecture and smiling people. Yes! SMILING PEOPLE! Contrary to American belief, in my opinion, Russians love to smile. Every time they engaged me, they met me with a very happy and bright welcoming smile.

Although I was always suspicious of their kindness, it wasn’t until the second week when I lifted all those Russian stereotypes from my heart and fell in love with the people.

As a die-hard soccer fan (Or footy as they call it here), I decided to watch a soccer game at the FIFA Confederations cup fan center. As an American with Mexican heritage, I have never been happy to say that I am Mexican. Unfortunately in the U.S., we tend to face the burden of racial or political disagreements. Mexico being one of the teams playing vs Russia, I decided to root for my parents’ country. During the game, I wore a Mexican jersey and flag, and stood with three other Mexican nationals who were visiting the city during the match. We were four Mexicans vs literally thousands of Russians supporting their team. “They are gonna eat me alive if Mexico wins this game”, I said to myself.

But again, I was wrong! During halftime, Mexico and Russia were tied 1-1,
and to my surprise, hundreds of Russians ran towards the four of us (Mexico fans), asking to take a picture. For the next hour or so, I stood there smiling and taking pictures with many excited Russians who had never met a Mexican before. Picture after picture
after picture, I felt like if I was Beyoncé who had walked into a bar, and all the fans just wanted a picture.

During the final minutes of the game, and as it is tradition in Mexico, we sang “Cielito
Lindo”, a popular Mexican song. While singing, thousands of Russians respectfully became quiet, and all international TV cameras aimed at us, just to record us singing. It was like a movie. The magic didn’t stop there. After the match, once again, we stood there for two more hours to take pictures and socialize with the locals. Surprisingly, Russians came up to us saying in English “Welcome to Russia”, some hugged us, others kissed our cheeks, and others even invited us to have drinks. It was the best experience of my life!

Often, I feel unaccepted in my homeland, and such lack of acceptance has made me lose some self-esteem. In Russia, I finally managed to find myself. I managed to value where I come from, and who I am. While there will always be racism, ideological disagreements, political divide and hate, thanks to this trip, I now know who I am. I am no longer scared to say that I am Mexican-American, I accept how I look, and I am proud of it.

Often, we tend to forget about others. We forget there is more to the world other than politics and greed. We tend to label entire cultures and nations as if they all think alike. As Americans, we often see Russians as opponents, and we tend to forget that they are also humans like us. That they only wish to live their life like we do in our country. That both great nations should be united by culture and art, and by music and knowledge. As a current student in St. Petersburg, I implore other students to travel. To see the world through your own eyes, and to learn about others by talking directly to them.

I would like to close my blog with my favorite quote from the film, The Secret life of Walter Mitty. “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls,
draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

By: Kevin Segura

Program: Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program

Term: Summer 2017

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