Nicholas Ingersoll discusses his interactions with nature in Russia while on the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient.
Nature and Ordinary Life in Moscow
Upon meeting and hanging out with Russians, their love for nature and their penchant for seeking out green spaces to escape the hectic pace of city life in Moscow and other urban centers becomes readily apparent. That isn’t to say that say that there aren’t peaceful green spaces in the city (in fact, Park Pokrovskoy-Streshnevo became one of my favorite places in the city), however, after your first time taking a day trip outside the city, be it a picnic along the lazily curving banks of the Volga near Tver or in the woods and apple orchards on the grounds of Tolstoy’s estate at Yasnaya Polyana, you will certainly catch on to the inspirational and restorative energy of Russia’s natural spaces. In fact, getting out to these wilder spaces is an incredible way to help manage the stressors one can encounter as a student immersed in a foreign culture and the sometimes frenetic pace of Moscow life, as well as a means to feel the powerful emotional pull of this stunning landscape.
But veneration of nature and green spaces goes beyond recreation and leisure. A consciousness of the energy and restorative power of wild spaces and natural things continues to infuse many aspects of contemporary Russian life to this day. This valuation of pure, natural influences extends into the urban space in surprising ways, from a preference for folk remedies such as whole cloves of garlic during flu season to influences that come from the forests themselves. For example, even among the most cosmopolitan Moscow urbanites you’ll often find yourself being offered herbal teas infused with foraged sea buckthorn and meadow flowers that they foraged while on walks or on trips to the dacha. Upon drinking such tea it’s easy to see why these traditions have proved so enduring. No matter how rainy, gray or cold and snowy the day is, as soon as you smell the aroma wafting from that steaming cup you’ll instantly be transported into those flowery meadows and complex, herbally scented wooded trails that wind their way through birch groves. For full immersion I suggest adding a touch of creamed mountain honey from the Caucasus, an addition that will only build upon the aromas of blooming spring flowers and wild berries.
Indeed, a consciousness that nature and natural products are not only helpful, but also that they contribute to happiness and wellbeing continues to permeate consumer culture in contemporary Russia. When talking about everyday consumer goods and foods with Russians, especially with those from older generations, common threads emerge in the form of fond memories of village and homegrown foods, teas, and goods, but also for Soviet era goods from birch sap and juices to soaps and salves with the common refrain being an emphasis on the content of natural substances in these products. This legacy is visible in the continuation of this legacy across an entire spectrum of consumer products, whether it has been the success of the natural cosmetics brand Natura Siberica in the face of a tsunami of South Korean cosmetics or the continued popularity of herbal and naturally based products stocking shelves from VkusVill to small kiosks. And their enduring popularity certainly is understandable. Above all, these products allow Russians to bring the essence of nature back with them into their homes and apartments, a space where the urban and modernity has seemingly conquered nature. And in this way, despite living in tall apartment blocks in a bustling modern city, you can find ways to experience the sensation of seeing the first buds emerging from seemingly sterile bare branches in the spring even when the seasons aren’t cooperating as you’d like them to. Nature holds immense meaning and power for Russians even to this day, and by bringing it into your life while in Moscow it will surely brighten apartment life, enrich your immersion, and comfort you as you dive into student life in Moscow.
About Fulbright-Hays Scholarships from American Councils
American Councils for International Education has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad, to provide scholarships for advanced overseas Russian and Persian language study. Learn more about the eligibility requirements here.
About Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad
The Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, commonly referred to as the Fulbright-Hays Act, was made law by the 87th U.S. Congress under President John F. Kennedy on September 21, 1961. Senator J. William Fulbright and Representative Wayne Hays introduced the legislation, which represents the basic charter for U.S. government-sponsored educational and cultural exchange. 2016 marks the 55th anniversary of this landmark legislation. More information about Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad can be found here.