The spring sun shone lazily over the new green grass of the Summer Garden as my friends and I looked for a suitable place for our picnic. My time in Saint Petersburg was ending, and as my days dwindled the weather had grown hotter, and the city was reborn from the frozen clutches of winter. One of my friends had recently spent a weekend in Paris, and had brought back a unique luxury in her suitcase: French cheese. The economic sanctions in Russia have made certain foreign products difficult, if not impossible, to find. While this has resulted in massive growth in the domestic economy and has many Russians experimenting in new trades (one of my friends’ fathers had learned to make cheese from an Italian, and now owned his own business), it is also objectively not the same. So, with that in mind, my friend had stuffed several smelly French cheeses in her suitcase over the weekend and flown back with her precious cargo in hold, much to the amusement of her host parents.
The above paragraph is a concise metaphor for my semester abroad: a dreamy, wonderful time spent amongst historical buildings in a beautiful city, but with undertones of the international political situation that were impossible to ignore. People in everywhere from public transport to club bathrooms would express their delight at learning that we were foreign, and would petition us to work to better US-Russian relations once we had attained our (hypothetical) positions of power on the global stage. Russians are very aware of their individual roles as mini-ambassadors for their country, and would ask if there was anything we needed help with, and compliment our language skills. Nonetheless, while one may have expected politics to tinge our study abroad experience with an unpleasant hue, this was fortunately not the case.
To say that there was no reverse culture shock would not be true: my first instinct for a while was to say “спасибо” instead of “gracias” to people. But as I sit back and reflect on my time in Saint Petersburg, I am eternally grateful. I have always been a big fan of travelling and experiencing new cultures, but it still astounds me how much one can truly gain from stepping into another country, another city, another life.
Thank you everyone! Всем спасибо!