Don Bluth’s “Anastasia” aside, my relationship with Russia most likely began when my father (an auto mechanic) somehow acquired a large, thick-walled metal box intended as a communications bunker in the event of a Cold War nuclear holocaust. Naturally, my sister and I were delighted to host Beanie Baby tea parties in its child-friendly environs, troikas of our My Little Ponies frolicking among the stainless steel switch panels and exposed wiring.
Like most American public school students, I participated in a curriculum that somehow managed to overlook one-sixth of the Earth’s landmass, and my knowledge of Russia was based on outdated stereotypes, Economist caricatures, and “in Soviet Russia…” jokes, like the one for which this blog is named. I went to Salve Regina University for my undergraduate degree in both Cultural/Historic Preservation and International Studies. In spite of the popularity of the International Studies major, courses largely focused on Western Europe, with only one periodic class to cover modern Russian history.
Ironically, it took two summers in the Republic of Georgia (known for its historically tumultuous relationship with Russia) to increase my awareness of the social, political, cultural, and economic influence that Russia exerted upon its neighbors. Since then, I have studied Russian language independently, taken a course in Russian history, and interned at the Museum of Russian Icons. So while the bunker may have rusted shut years ago (perhaps sealing in a few raccoons in the process), my mind remains open to what I can learn from a country still widely considered “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
That said, this blog is in no way intended to be authoritative in terms of social commentary. While I do have substantial background knowledge, this blog is intentionally written from the perspective of someone with little on-the-ground experience who is constantly making discoveries–i.e., a study abroad student. I will be studying at St. Petersburg State Polytechnic’s International School from January 25 to May 15. My study abroad program provider, AIFS, will cover side trips to London, Moscow, Novgorod, Helsinki (Finland), and Tallinn (Estonia). I look forward to celebrating the coldest yet most exciting semester of my undergraduate career by volunteering at the Hermitage, maintaining a positive attitude towards snow, learning to use a samovar, and wearing fur without harassment from PETA.
If you are interested in my continuing adventures as a Fulbright student in the Republic of Georgia (September 2012-May 2013), please proceed to my other blog on this account, The Georgia Philes.