Friday, August 17, 2012

Leaving Russia

Today, we had our last day of class and a closing ceremony during which professors thanked students, and students reciprocated with equally profound praises.  After a night of shenanigans, we have a free day tomorrow, and then leave Vladimir 5:00 AM Sunday morning. So unless something fabulous or simply outrageous occurs tonight, this is the last post from Vladimir 2012 for "The Sholk Road Adventures."

It has been an exhausting, fascinating and fun eight weeks here in Vladimir. Waking up everyday to Olga chanting "Dena, zavtrak," going to class for four hours, and then exploring the city and doing more homework-- all in Russian-- was overwhelming at times, but overall a great linguistic and cultural experience. While I was unable to share many stories on the blog for various reasons (time constraints, appropriateness, etc.), I hope you enjoyed reading about my time in Vladimir.

I need more time to reflect on my experiences in order to draw a balanced conclusion about my time in Russia. However, I do have some comments.

First, like all countries, Russia has its social, political and economic problems. They are no worse, simple or challenging than problems in America -- they are simply different.

Second, just like all Americans are different, there is no cookie-cutter Russian. I have had the privilege to meet some really intelligent Russians with fascinating life experiences and hearts of gold, as well as some less-impressive individuals. Of course, getting to know Olga has been a treat.

Third, Russia and Kazakhstan are so, so different. The Soviet legacy is evident in both Almaty and Vladimir, as both are grid-style cities and block apartments, and babyshkas selling berries from their dachas on the corner. However, the attitudes of the people, particularly towards other nationalities of the former Soviet union, their cultural norms and values, and ways of life, are totally different. I wish I could have been here (and of course, in Central Asia) during the Soviet Union and in the 1990s to observe life then. But twenty-one years later, it is obvious that Russia is not Kazakhstan, and Kazakhstan is not Russia -- it is simply inaccurate to combine the two as popular media sources frequently, and foolishly, do. From my experiences, their foreign policies, national problems, and people are totally unique.

When I return to the states, I will be very busy the first few weeks of school organizing life, selecting classes, reconnecting with people, etc. I plan to do some writing for Central Asia Newswire and of course for the blog. I am especially looking forward to my research project next year on the denuclearization of Kazakhstan between 1991 and 1995, as the John Humes Junior Fellow through the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. I loved Russia, but I am so looking forward to returning to my passion - Central Asia! I will of course keep you updated.

For now, so long!

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