Thursday, May 19, 2016

Travel Log, Day Four

Vladimir, Russia, 5/19/2016

Post-Lecture Selfie
Pictured L to R: Leah, Maia,
Sasha (actually Russian), and Me
                 Today started with a Russian lesson as usual (there have been so many words in the last four days I don't know how I'll keep them all straight); I was able to remember all the numbers up to twenty and it was the proudest moment of my life. I can also now say 'right' and 'left' and ask where I am. So yeah. I'm basically fluent now.
                 The first scheduled thing post-Russian lesson was a lecture from a leading political scientist in the area about the US and Russia's position in global affairs, and what exactly 'global leadership' meant to each country. We discussed each nation's few of the other, and the trend of anti-Americanism spreading throughout non-Western nations as a result of our foreign policy's focus on spreading democracy, Russia's take on its current position in foreign affairs, and how we could (and must) understand each other and cooperate in the future. In the midst of a ridiculous election cycle like we are right now, where everyone gets caught up in media circuses and party lines, it is refreshing and important (if not daunting) to hear the political perspective of our country from an informed outsider and to be reminded how much our actions affect the world. We talked a lot about how the US is the world power of right now but how many peoples outside of the our borders don't consider that a positive thing; he showed us a recent article from a Russian foreign minister that quoted George Orwell ("All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." -Animal Farm) and went on to explain how the US, though world policeman, is not upholding laws and justice in its interference everywhere, which is a fascinating and jarring opposite view from the many American citizens that believe that it is our Manifest Destiny to bring equality and justice to some conflicted world. 
The Vladimir Water Tower
Converted to a museum to save it
from destruction under Soviet rule
                    The lecturer (and myself, I should add) believed that this was an extreme but not necessarily incorrect take, and that this was the point of view of many Russians and other non-Americans throughout the world (according to a poll by the Kremlin, 44% of Russians believe that the global presence of the US was 'mostly negative,' with only 10% being 'mostly positive'). It was interesting to hear how, in the US (and much of the rest of the West), it is assumed that globalization of political systems benefits everyone equally, but elsewhere that is not necessarily the ideology, particularly since conflict in today's world is still abundant despite the prevalence of democracy; the lecturer spoke about how, post-USSR, Russians had the misguided belief that now everything would be peaceful and that they would have a solid place in the new democracy-infused world order, and how they were disillusioned when they found out neither were the case. I hadn't thought about either concepts that way, and an alternate view on globalization certainly hadn't occurred to me. We talked quite a bit about Russia's struggle to politically reconcile with the West, and how some of the conflicts between the US and Russia may come from Putin's believing that the former makes the latter's ascent to 'world power' status more difficult, as well as how much of the rest of Europe views Russia as the aggressor, which he says is nowadays mostly propaganda. What we need is genuine attempt at understanding, and flexibility in cooperation; the tensions between our nations recently don't really benefit anyone, and the US's relations with the world, in my opinion, need to be navigated more carefully than ever. 
                     It did occur to me part of the way through this lecture to question whether the professor was biased; however, immediately after that thought I pictured any American politician/political scientist speaking to any other nationality of students ever, and how ridiculously biased that person would probably be, and decided to keep an open mind. All in all it was a fascinating and incredibly eye-opening lecture.
Some of the adorable kids at
tonight's concert
Statue of Sergei Taneyev
outside of the Vladimir
Symphony Hall; a Russian
composer I don't know and
need to look up; considered
the 'Russian Bach' and was
bff's with Tchaikovsky
                     Another of the perspective changes I've been experiencing the past couple days through a number of avenues is the concept that Russia is fundamentally different in several ways from the rest of the 'big' countries is Western Europe. I suppose that, for some reason I'd always just lumped Russia in with the rest of the well-known European countries in my mind and I'm learning what a mistake that is, through their politics (in today's lecture he made sure to make a large distinction between the West and Russia, which surprised me for some reason), their history (we went on an excursion through an old water tower-turned-museum today and learned more about town history), and through their folk music. I went to another folk concert today, this one primarily performed by children (it was also 2 and a half hours long; I have no idea how those kids were so disciplined for so long), and was reminded again how Russian folk music seems to be a blend between European and Asian traditions. My penchant towards categorizing other cultures into a dichotomy of only 'Western' and 'Not Western' or, more accurately, 'Very Similar to Mine' and 'Nothing Like Mine' is quickly evaporating. It is also important for me to let you know that I am now convinced that Russian boys/men could out-dance just about anyone anywhere. Russian folk dancing for males is absolutely insane, like the most impressive thing I've seen in a while. I'll put a video on Facebook to prove my point eventually.
                      We're going to Suzdal tomorrow, a town near here, our first weekend trip. I'm not sure if I'll have wifi but I will of course keep you posted!

Funny Moment of the Day: 

Me and Polina!
                   After Vera got home and she, Ivan, and I ate dinner (at 9:30; Russians eat hella late dinners), we sat on the couch and they showed me what had to be all of their family photos projected onto the TV. It was a great time, and, after a slew of beautiful vacation pictures from Israel in October, there were at least 10 very unflattering, grouchy-looking selfies of Ivan all in a row. Vera and I laughed our butts off. PS it turns out their daughter Lera is also some kind of champion ballroom dancer (we watched some videos when Polina got home), which adds yet another to her list of things she's exceptionally talented at (painting, drawing speaking English, being super nice, etc.). She's probably my hero, I've spoken to her like once, its fine.


  1. :-) These always make me smile AND LAUGH!!! Keep up the great work honey! Have lots of fun and of course...STAY SAFE!!!!

  2. Really interesting blog entry Samantha. I think the best way for our countries of the world to work together is to understand cultures different from our own. This experience will change you forever. Your perspective that countries are "like yours" or "lots different than yours" will disappear completely. Therein lies the value of what you are experiencing. Enjoy every minute - even the awful ones!