My days in the United States are slowly (very slowly) dwindling — 11 days until orientation in DC, 13 days until I hop on the never-ending plane ride to Frankfurt, then to St. Petersburg.
This past semester, and especially these past couple of months, I have received a ton of advice from people who have studied there before. Some are obvious: “Don’t walk home alone at night,” and “Don’t speak English in public.” Some a little humorous: “Don’t smile at boys, they’ll think of it as an invitation for sex,” and “Ask a babushka (a grandmother) for help if you need it.” And some downright frightening: “Stay inside on Hitler’s birthday.” Of course, it is always cushioned with the comforting phrase “you will have the time of your life!”
I always put the risk of going to Russia at the back of my head. I console myself — “I’m not stupid, I’ll be fine. Russia might not be the nicest towards her foreigners, per se, but as long as I’m not conspicuously dumb, I’ll be just peachy.” And I was doing great. I was excited, pumped, in fact, until just about yesterday. As I was packing* things for spring and summer (a nice juxtaposition of winter boots and flip flops, heavy winter jacket and shorts), I thumbed through a newly purchased guide book to the recommended packing list. As my luck would have it, my eyes rested on this wonderful, little tidbit: St. Petersburg has been dubbed Russia’s racist murder capital. There it was, in black and white, right before me. I sat down on my half-packed, obscenely large suitcase and put my head on my knees, and I didn’t move for about 30 minutes. What have I gotten myself into? A lump formed in my throat. My spirits instantly became bleaker than an isolation chamber in a Siberian gulag (ok, a bit much.)
I am scared. Of everything. The most mundane fears (what if I don’t like the food?) and real ones (what if I get gunned down?) swirl around in my head, brewing like an imminent hurricane. To put it nicely, my Russian is slightly above mediocre. To put it honestly, my Russian’s god-awful. I have never been outside the United States before. And what, oh what do I do if I don’t like it there? Everything that I have done in college has been geared towards having a potential future with and/or in Russia. What if everything unravels in the next semester?
After having a long pity party on my suitcase, I sat up, figuratively slapped myself across the face, and resumed packing. There’s no point being consumed with those thoughts. I swallowed my fears as best as I could and reassured myself that Russia would be as great as I would make it. I am as ready as I can be. And most importantly, I am not stupid.
Russia's cheerful little Olympic mascot and beloved Soviet cartoon character, Cheburashka
*side note: I was recommended (read: threatened) to only bring one suit case. This is a problem. I am planning on staying there this summer as well, and there is no way in hell I can fit summer clothes along with heavy winter sweaters, and have everything weigh 50 lbs. My suitcase itself is 7 lbs. I will probably have to wrestle my suitcase closed, and pay an exorbitant your-suitcase-is-too-fat-so-help-you-God fee.