Sunday, June 5, 2016

Travel Log: Day Sixteen

'Before' picture of my Matryoshka
Vladimir, Russia, 5/31/2016

         Wow, I can't believe we're already over the halfway point of our trip. Back in Vladimir, we woke up this morning for a Russian lesson and a couple of lectures throughout the day that provided interesting perspectives. The first was from the same Russian professor of political science from last week (his English wasn't great, it was a bit difficult to understand) and the second was by an immigrant from Uzbekistan who'd lived in Vladimir for the past several years and worked with social programs that assisted other immigrants. Both lecturers were old enough to remember the USSR, and both had different takes on modern Russia.
         The former discussed national identities of Russians, and about how there's been an identity crisis in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR throughout all of society: intellectuals, the wealthy, and politicians as well as the working class, immigrants, and people living below the poverty line. He talked about the strange Europe-and-Asian position that Russia is in, and how many are divided on whether Russian national identity should be based on the idea of a united nation or constructed out of the many ethnic groups that make up the country. Although the population is about 80% ethnically Russian, there are a variety of other groups, primarily made up of people from places that used to be part of the USSR, that make up and play an influential role in modern Russian society. One of the main points that he made was that it was important to be aware that his country is not all one nationality, and that the culture was not entirely homogeneous.
Torpedos Game!
          The latter, a smiley, happy man with wonderful English (who brought his son with him, he sat and colored most of the time), facilitated a discussion on immigration. He was born in Uzbekistan, lived for a while in the Ukraine, and settled in Russia, and told us that, ever since the USSR dissolved in 1991, there's been an influx of immigrants from the surrounding countries into Russia, as well as a general increase in migration between nations. It turns out that immigrants to and from countries in central Asia and eastern Europe experience similar challenges, both to each other and to immigrants across the Atlantic. He spoke about how he experienced difficulty finding jobs when first in Russia, and how he has experiences a bit of fear of the unknown and discrimination each place he's lived; he also pointed out that he saw Russians experience the same when he lived in Uzbekistan. He made a point about how vital cross-cultural communication is in any situation, and we had a discussion about how lack of understanding and education is at the root of many social issues surrounding immigrants, both in Eurasia and in the US. We talked a little bit about immigration policy in the US, and about attitudes surrounding Muslims; he had great insights to share, having been to the US and being raised Muslim himself.
            The rest of the day was great! We had a little masterclass in painting Matryoshka dolls (those Russian dolls that fit inside each other), in which I re-discovered why the art I pursue is musical and not visual, and went to a Vladimir Torpedos soccer game. We had a blast, and I had a couple good conversations with the English teachers at the American Home, all of whom are students from the US.

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