When I tell people I’m going abroad, their first question nearly without fail is, “Why Russia?” I know they’re wondering why not somewhere a little… safer? Why not somewhere where they speak English? Why somewhere that is a mere 450 miles (think Boston to Washington DC) from the Arctic Circle? In some ways, the easiest and ultimate answer is, “I don’t know,” but on the other hand, the answer I’m sticking with is, “Why not?”
I was fortunate in attending a high school just a fifteen minute walk from a nearby college and even more fortunate that my high school and the college had a deal in which students from the high school could take college courses for high school credit. French had been my favorite subject in school; learning another language had come naturally to me and it felt rewarding to feel like I could concretely mark my progress in ways I didn’t feel I could with other subjects.
My senior year of high school I decided to learn another language at the college seeing as they had far more options than the basic French, Spanish, and Latin that my high school offered. Even then, people asked me, “Why Russian?” Truthfully, there wasn’t really any special or meaningful reason why Russian. I wanted to learn a language with a different alphabet and it was kind of fun to get the “Why Russian?” reaction out of people. I ended up completely fascinated with Russian and its alphabet and grammar patterns that are so vastly different from English (in another life I’m definitely a linguistics major).
A number of people have asked me if I think it is safe to travel to Russia. It’s true that Russia has been a “villain” in American narrative for decades and it seems like the only things we hear about Russia are about their involvement in Syria or strict media censorship or the forced annexation of the Crimean peninsula and things of that nature. The bad guys in American spy movies are Russian and I’ve been advised not to wear clothes with English letters and been told once or twice to maybe tell everyone I’m from Canada. While I’m not ignoring any of the dangers about which I’ve been warned, I’m also not discouraged or afraid. There is danger in traveling anywhere.
Like I said before, ultimately the answer to the question of “Why Russia?” is “Why not?” I’m going to St. Petersburg for the same reasons Spanish students go to Barcelona and the same reasons Chinese students go to Shanghai: I want to. I want to be able to use and improve my Russian on a daily basis, I want to see a new city, I want to go to the Winter Palace and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and as a student I have the perfect opportunity to go live in another country for a year, an opportunity I am very excited to be taking advantage of.