Untold Stories: Semester in Russia
Semester in Russia|семестр в России
Interviewee: Nate Proctor
Interviewer: Angely Martinez
Nate studied for a semester with AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia: check out this program the AIFS website!
What caused you to choose Amman, Jordan as your study abroad location?
I’ve had a fascination with Russian history and the Cold War since I was young. The interest blossomed into something more akin to an obsession once I was exposed to Russian literature in high school and picked up some basics of the Russian language and the Cyrillic alphabet. Once I began taking courses about Russia at UA, I was set on making my way to Russia before I graduated!
Would you recommend this program to other students? If so, why?
YES! Saint Petersburg is one of the most beautiful and cultured cities in Europe and has an endless amount of museums, landmarks, and parks! The Hermitage alone is impossible to take in with only one semester. Our instructors were knowledgeable and passionate, while AIFS took exceptional care of us, provided numerous excursions, and was staffed by knowledgeable and passionate individuals.
What was the most important lesson you learned while abroad?
Spending time abroad taught me the importance of seeking to learn more, and perhaps more importantly, knowing there is always more learn. Though I was familiar with much of what defines Russian culture and life from my studies, reading and conversations with Russians, I quickly realized that the world is more unique than I could ever anticipate. Not only did I come to realize the depth of the culture I was living in, but how much more there is to understand about my own culture.
Were there certain precautions you had to take while abroad?
We were given the warnings you would expect living in a city of almost 5 million people. We were advised not to travel alone at night and to let someone know of any solo trips. Otherwise, we were advised to use our Russian whenever possible and not to draw attention to our English, as to not stand out as foreigners. In addition, we were told to avoid political demonstrations or any other activities that could take a dangerous turn.
Did you ever feel hostility from others because of your identity?
I never experienced any hostility personally. The most common response from a Russian upon learning of my nationality was excitement and curiosity. While some were unafraid to voice negative opinions of our government and/or politics, they didn’t suppose I was to blame in any way and generally preferred to ask about American culture.
What is your favorite memory from Russia?
One of my most vivid memories of my time abroad was during the first weekend I was with my host family. I spent much of my first day scouting out the neighborhood and loading up and groceries and ingredients to prove an American could indeed make an edible borsht. Returning home to the my family’s apartment, the husband and wife greeted me with a plate of apple pastries and a massive samovar full of black tea for a “getting to know you” sit-down that cemented the fact I was definitely in Russia. While conversation drifted to my impressions of Russian and questions about my family, they broke the ice with, “What do you think of the writers of the Russian Futurists?” Our introduction would be hours of discussion about what Chekov’s most important work was, how I “surely had been made to read Pushkin”, but “can you recite any of Akhmatova’s poetry?”, and ruminations on the importance of literature in the Russian soul and the lack of well-read Americans, (followed by a wink and an assurance that I was “one of the good ones”). This introduction was so uniquely Russian that it provided me with an unforgettable impression of my hosts Elena and Sergei. They and that evening epitomized what I so loved about the Russian people- their boundless hospitality, genuine warmth (just under the surface of their frosty exteriors) and, of course, a deep, spiritual connection with literature.
What is your advice to your fellow students?
Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone, but at the same time, put in the effort to prepare for your trip. Immersing myself into a culture as foreign as Russia’s was fantastic and at times a shock, but I could not have gotten the most out of my experience without jumping into a culture so different than my own and also learning a bit about the Russian language and the Russian people.