Having spent my entire upbringing worth
over twenty years in the country of my birth,
Ghana, somewhere west on the African
continent, many were those who thought
my choice of Russia as the premier point of destination was clearly not right! I must admit this reaction was no way in agreement with that of those that related to the in- tended purpose of my trip, education. Since the Russian educational system is known for decades, to be competing globally with other leading destinations .And as trusted,
it comes as not surprising the annual excess availability of individuals hoping to get a bite of her methods of knowledge impaction, coupled with several supporting scholarship schemes. However, my decision to spend the following two years of my life in that ‘unfriendly’ country had to withstand the comments from perhaps ‘self-trained home grown jury’.
To start with I tried to recall some of the sentiments I had to battle before making my trip. And in no special order, they could be paraphrased: “They speak the worst form of English and with such awkward accent, that your English speaking and writing abil- ities are going to deteriorate even before the end of your so called English-taught studies.. and that, having acquired the English speak- ing and writing ability from childhood, Rus- sia as choice for my next academic pursuit was simply a step lagging behind”
“They care less about moral and religious
values that your well composed nature,
religiously rooted in Christianity is going
to be abandoned in no time”
“They are the top coldest people you could ever come into contact with and they don’t even smile”
“Have you thought of the climate condi- tions: you will flee that country sooner than you can even imagine”
But to be honest, I suppose these questions and comments were from clear conscience as possible, at least that was what I was mad to believe. Because after all, if you have already read the 2015, September 8th edition of the online newspaper, The Inde- pendent you may have also supported the clarion call of stopping me from embarking on this journey almost a year ago. It cited
a report showcasing Moscow as been voted the most unfriendliest city. According to this report, “with its unhelpful locals and general aloofness, Moscow has been dubbed the un- friendliest city in the world”. As to the total reality of this, perhaps time could be the best judge.
It’s been almost a year since my warmly baked feet stepped into the cold walk way of the Domodedovo Airport, and this article by the UK based online newspaper has entrapped me to indulge in retrospection, my journey so far to Moscow, yes in Russia! In doing so, an interesting piece on the social media lately caught my attention.
“Russia through the eyes of foreigners”, is a group project organized between the 3rd of August and 14th of September, 2015 under the auspices of AIESEC here in Russia. And as usual, your number one preferred online international students’ magazine, Read Square, with its vision of bridging gaps associated with stereotypes thereby harnessing talents from multination- al setting, engaged some objective views of members of the group. The underlying idea was to ascertain their reactions so far being in Russia vis a vis their earlier perceptions and expectations.
In admitting honestly, before coming to Moscow the thoughts of typical stereo- types associated with the city kept lingering in my mind. Like football and Carnival of Rio: Brazil, Pizza and mafia: Italy, the list could go on and on unabated. And so for me, I was wondering arriving in a big and cosmopolite city, but a little sad, with cold people, big and gray buildings, all similar in a perfect soviet style, and Putin’s face every- where on flags and T-shirts (No, I didn’t expect polar bears in the streets, everybody knows that they show up just in Winter).
Well, I was quite wrong. Okay, there are big and grey buildings and I saw Putin’s face somewhere, but all of these are like drops of water diluting in a lake shaped by colors. Variety with dynamism, great architectural designs, historically preserved places and modernity that really surprised me. The city is full of big and amazing parks, fountains, bars and night clubs open all night, bridges that cross the river showing picturesque landscapes, multi-ethnic faces mixing among along the crowded streets, and young couples kissing on the surprisingly long escalators that bring to the depth of the Subway (yep, passion also exists in the extreme north-east).
What more, churches with colored domes, incredibly beautiful and tall girls (always well dressed walking around with thoughtful look); I could go on and on. Per- haps people have been the biggest surprise.
I can’t deny that from a south-European point of view people here might appear a lit- tle cold at the first impression. But actually when you know somebody here, after a first initial diffidence, people “open” themselves and show you how nice and cheerful they are. And if that doesn’t happen, well, vodka can help. About this topic I’ve been a little disappointed for not finding fountains with vodka instead of water, as I imagined. But I’ll keep looking for that till the winter arrives with its polar bears!
However, not that different from what can be observed in other big cities around the world, in Moscow, people are always busy on the Internet. They can usually be seen glued to their cellular phones in the bus or train, at the party, at home, everywhere! In addition, people are noticed reading from novels, solving puzzles and flipping through pictures on their phones mostly within the metro.”- (Enrico Loda)
It has been quite a month living in Moscow, the biggest city in Europe. I have a confession: I fell in love with this city so much that, I can’t find the specific word to describe it. Romantic, fireworks, love, river, fun, red, lights, tourists, metro, music, hos- tels, malls..... What more to spell out when asked my general impression of the variety of green Parks here, Moscow is GREEN! From VDNKH, to Gorky, passing by Muzeon, Hermitage, tsaritsino palace, Sokolniki ... and the list is so long. The particularity of those is that one park doesn’t look like the other one and so on, in every park, you’ll find something special and different. Wheth- er you are child, young, adult, whether you are alone, with family, with friends... in short, each park has something for every-one! Moreover, Moscow parks offers a variety of facilities and activities including biking, skating, cafes, galleries, swings, sculptures, aquariums, sofas and sun beds to lie ... well, they provide all what you will need to spend a day there ! Whatever your tastes are, you will find something that suits you, from quiet picnic spots and places to relax in the sun to opportunities to practice your favorite activities.
Well, in each city of the world we can find a green park maybe, but it’s their in- credible variety that makes Moscow park life amazing and so interesting, and for this rea- son Moscow is famous as one of the greenest capitals in the world. And trust me, I visited some, and I assure you that all nature lovers will fall in love, as it is the case for me!..” (Nisrine Benhammou)
My hostel here in Moscow has a recep-
tion that works 24/7 and always available
to help and support their visitors. As for the people staying there, most of them are tour- ists from all over the world, and that opens the window of having various interesting conversations where we get able to share our diversity of cultures and norms and get to know all about them...” (Assil Hassani)
In my hostel everything is amazing...
People are so nice and the manager is very
cool and friendly! The kitchen is so big
and clean, they also provide some stuff for breakfast like tea, coffee, sugar, cornflakes, milk ...I’m spending here memorable moments and I feel really comfortable! I also had the chance to participate in this video that talks about the cultural diversity in my hostel.” (Yousra Ammor)
I really enjoyed visiting and learning parts of Russian history. It is actually one of my favorite things about traveling: discovering new histories that I have never known before. I could not wait to travel more of Moscow and see what this city has got to offer. (Elmyra-Noor Khalida)
I like it here a lot I felt it like home, because they respect our customs and tradition. Here I found a lot of new friends and have met amazing people.” (Nadezhda Stefanova)
The first day in Moscow was very hard for me and two friends Yoyo and Yasmina because of some problems about Hostel! After 2 days life gets better, problem solved, we settled in a modest hostel but people make it very warm and cozy... Everybody in our room is so kind and very interested in our culture! The idea I had about Russian people that they are rude, strict and don’t smile changed totally.
So now if I have one word to describe Russian people I would say “AMAAAZING PEOPLE”.” (Yousra Ammor)
Obviously, these recent exploits could portray one common idea that although there is no perfect society, there is more to be done by the Russians in accepting difference as no strange! In a similar vein, the world has not only been unfair in its judgment but also failed to appreciate the beautiful culture enriched with true and pure values as displayed by Russia.
Today, I find myself always wanting to
research more into English phonetics and
improving my semantics, just to satisfy
my curious Russian colleagues, daring as usual and willing to improve. It has not only kept me on my toes, but prevented me from resting on my oars as far as my level of English is concerned. Although with cold, no very cold or even very very cold a weather almost the entire year’s temperature, I would stand to argue out today whenever asked why Russians may not smile at you at a glance, or if they are truly unfriendly as a people! And about my evaluation of my personality, I would leave it to my colleagues. But one thing remains certain, am still me, even much better than I was!
Ask many Russians, and they would tell you bluntly that “Moscow isn’t Russia!”
stressing the view that due to much influx of
several cultures within that environment, the
core values exhibited by the ‘local’ Russians
isn’t much visible there. But even so, like
most of these foreigners argue out, the
adventures of the city are well appreciated,
sometimes even with its uncertainties.
With the coming weeks, we hope to really understudy the reality of this notion with visits to the other cities of Russia, like Saint Petersburg, Kazan, Samara, Perm, Krasnodar and Volgograd .And so till these other trips are made, we could still hold onto this concession that Moscow may not be Russia!