When people heard that I was going to Russia, most had something to say about it. Stereotypes are thrown around like fishing nets, they trap anyone who hears them and unless you go experience it for yourself, you don’t have anything else to believe. My observations are based off my experience in Moscow, which doesn’t represent all of Russia necessarily, but it is a good start and introduction to Russian culture.
The first stereotype I hear is that Russian people are cold. I understand why this exists, because people don’t necessarily show emotion or politeness on their face like we do in the States. I was told that this attitude came from a time when tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed and just stuck around. I can happily say, however, that behind the façade Russian people are very kind. Whether it be host family, coworkers, or waiters, they are all very patient with language barriers and are always willing to help. Most are very interested in what we are doing here and are glad that we are here.
Another question I was asked prior to departure was if I was going to need a winter coat. Russia does in fact experience seasons, and in Moscow it can be quite warm for my Pacific Northwestern taste. It’s true that there are some parts of Russia that are still cold by many standards in the summer, but Moscow sure isn’t one of those places. Contrary to popular belief, Siberia does not encompass the entirety of Russia, and even some places in Siberia get pretty warm in the summer.
While Russian cuisine heavily emphasizes common ingredients, it’s not all about dill and potatoes. Russian cuisine is actually quite diverse. Being here in the summer I’ve been able to try some delicious berries that don’t grow in the states. For example, sea buckthorn, currants, and gooseberries are among the list of products not commonly seen in the states. In Moscow there is also a great food scene featuring cuisine from all over the world. Even given all the options for great food in Moscow, however, a visit to Teremok for some classic pelmeni or vareniki is always necessary.
Straying away from people and culture for a moment, I’d like to make a note about the Russian language. In American media it is almost always portrayed as a harsh language, usually because the person speaking it is a rough and tough assassin or security guard. One of my favorite things I learned from studying Russian is that it is actually a very smooth sounding language, and in everyday life it is never intimidating as it is portrayed. If you are thinking about studying the language, I highly encourage it. If you are like me you will find that the more you learn the more you enjoy it.
When it comes to Russia, stereotypes are meant to be broken. The most important thing to keep in mind when planning a visit or study abroad is to always be open and accepting. My favorite thing to remember when I am in a new situation is that when traveling nothing is better or worse, it is just different. With that in mind, I encourage anyone who is thinking of visiting Russia (or anywhere for that matter) to go for it and not let the things others say influence your decision. It is best to get out there and experience it for yourself.
By: Ellen Carpenter
Program: Overseas Professional & Intercultural Training Program, Moscow, Russia
Term: Summer 2019