“Why did you decide to come to Russia?” The immediate answer I usually give is “because I’ve always been interested.” Since I was in the fifth grade, Russia, its culture, geography, language, etc., has fascinated me. I don’t have any logical or practical reason other than I thought it was cool. While it’s true, I do not feel like this is my real motivation for coming. In fact there were many reasons why I wanted to come to Russia. In the three months spanning from my acceptance to the OPIT program to now, nearly two weeks into my internship, I provided a wide range of responses to this seemingly simple question.
One answer was “for the language experience.” I had tried learning the Russian language on and off in the past; however, I got serious about it in my sophomore year at university. After completing the two introductory courses, I believed I would be able to “survive” and if I was not, I would have plenty of opportunities to practice.
Another response I gave was “to learn more about Russian culture.” Growing up in the United States, Russia is usually portrayed in a negative light and is often alluded to as the “enemy.” I rarely accept what anyone tells me on blind faith, especially if it applies to a group of people nearly 144 million strong. So, in order to form my own opinion on the matter, I decided that going to the country and talking to the people in it was the obvious decision to make.
And finally, the internship options aligned with my professional interests. All the placements in Moscow were related to either business, entrepreneurship or STEM related. As a business student interested in entrepreneurship, I knew there would be some benefit no matter where I ended up working. While all of these answers are true, I did not feel any particular attachment or obligation to them.
I learned the real reason I decided to come to Moscow while attending a conference for Russian business accelerators. After hours of rapid-fire Russian input, my tired brain got a sweet injection of American English. One of the speakers, another native Oregonian living in Moscow, spoke about his experience working with entrepreneurs in Russia and Eastern Europe. He explained that entrepreneurship was not just coming up with cool widgets in your garage, but also a platform that could bring the most talented and capable people together, no matter where or how rich they had grown up. It was greater than political, cultural or ideological differences. It could connect like-minded people who wanted to solve the same problems, and bring out the best of each person’s culture. My interpretation is that entrepreneurship can be a uniting and healing force when cultures or governments are at odds with one another.
When I heard this, I was blown away. He took all the things I had been thinking about and mulling over in my head and put them into a well-crafted, inspiring call to action. After hearing him talk, I realized that I was not in Moscow just to learn the language or see the architecture, I was there to learn about the people and about myself. I’m in Russia because I want to learn how the people of Russia and the United States can cooperate to make both of our countries better.
By: Evan Berke
Term: Summer 2019