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Foreigners in Russia- why?
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bobs12



Joined: 27 Apr 2004
Posts: 310
Location: Saint Petersburg

PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2004 6:28 am    Post subject: Foreigners in Russia- why? Reply with quote

This is a question I've been itching to post here for a while, I just never got round to it, and never quite formulated it properly in my mind. However, when I mistakenly let a rather bizarre American woman stay in my flat, I decided it was time. This is a long question, and the answers will probably be quite long, but please think carefully and take the time to share your impressions.

Question for people living in Russia long-term, i.e. not on a fixed contract or with a ticket to fly home at the end of their first visa:

What are your impressions of the foreigners who come to Russia?

Why do you think they come here?

Does Russia attract misfits and social outcasts?

How do they cope with 'settling in'?

What were your own experiences?



Question for people considering coming to Russia:

Why are you coming here?


I won't go into my own answers right now, feel free to answer any or none of the above parts of the question. I look forward to reading your replies.
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Freddie M



Joined: 01 Sep 2004
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2004 11:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey Bob!

I'm going to take a stab at the considering to come part. This is my first post on this site so I'm going to give a little back round info on myself. I was born in Moscow but left with my folks at a ripe young age of 5. Been living in Canada for about 15 years now, so all you math wizees can calculate my age:D . Getting back to the question now, just came back from Moscow a couple of days ago, spent the whole summer there and just absolutely loved it! That was my fifth time going there for a visit and defiantly not the last. In the last year I've been feeling pretty depressed in the small town that I live in. Every time I go to Moscow, just come alive and feel great like it's my home or something like that, cant really explain why, it's just the way I feel. I love the culture and they fast passe of life, there are some things that I'm not completely fond of but an understanding of the peoples backround and history usually puts my mind at ease about things like bad customer service and the racial tensions. There it something that is holding me back from moving to Moscow to teach English:( , but thats a tale for another day.

Fred
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bobs12



Joined: 27 Apr 2004
Posts: 310
Location: Saint Petersburg

PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2004 12:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cool! That's a surprise answer, thanks! Smile

If you left at the age of five, do you feel 'foreign' in Russia? I imagine you must speak fluent Russian? What are your feelings about other parts of Russia?

Are you considering moving back altogether, and what's stopping you from teaching English? I'm a nosey blighter Wink
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Freddie M



Joined: 01 Sep 2004
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2004 2:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey again!

My first visit to Moscow was about 4 years ago and it was pretty shocking, you can pretty much say that I felt like a stranger in a foreign land. The people were different, cars looked like little boxes on wheels and just the over whelming amount of people on the streets and the metro seemed pretty shocking to me. I got use to that very fast though and thought it was a pretty unique place to be. I can speak Russian pretty well, reading and writing is a whole different story though! As far as the other parts of Russia are concerned, only been to Tver, took a cruise on the Moscow river there a couple of years ago. Finally understood what everyone was telling me about how civilization pretty much ends after you go about 200 KM outside of Moscow. Think that Piter is the only acception to that rule. I really want to come to Moscow and get a CELTA certificate and teach English for a unspecified amount of time, probably until someone blows me up in the metro or in the air (just trying to have a sense of humor about all the recent tragedies that happen in Moscow).

Now the thing that is stoping me is my parents, they want me to finish college. I was never happy there but always got good marks. You probably know how much Russian parents value an education for their children? Iím half way through right now and want to take a little break for about 2 years but that is not good enough for them and it really looks like Iím going to be suffering for quite some time becoming a mortgage banker which is something I really donít want to do.

What brought you to Russia and what city are you in right now, how is it all working out for you?
Would really like to hear your story and thoughts!

Thanks,
Fred
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skye



Joined: 07 Sep 2004
Posts: 9

PostPosted: Wed Sep 08, 2004 1:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Strange, I'm actually in the same situation. I'm Russian, lived in the US since I was 7. 1990. I'm going to graduate college in a year and want to go to Russia to teach. Or maybe Peace Corps in Eastern Europe. I'm getting my American citizenship in October so I'll be able to apply then. It's a very bittersweet feeling.

I've been back about 11 times for anywhere from 3 months to 3 weeks.

I admire the people, they're quite different from the people in the US. I like that people there have time to cook food, and have time to stand in line (or at least make time because they have to), I like that there is a lot more people contact, in the streets, in the metro, busses, kiosks. They're not all nice, and they all make fun of my Russian but I feel more connected there.
I like that women there have time to take care of thier kids and share babysitting duties instead of working then spending all that money on daycare. Maybe thats not something I should appreciate since many women never get back to work...
I adore dachas and home grown vegetables.
I respect the deep friendships people have there, who have gone to the same school since kindergarden and remain in the same town when they apply to college. People there depend on others for survival (well less now than they used to) which again forms strong bonds of community for many. In the US, friends are just amusement or business partners.

And above all, for me at least, I want to come to make my own friends and relearn Russian and not feel like a stranger in the place I come from.

I think foreigners are drawn to Russia the first time because of its crazy history and long time behind the Iron Curtain. I think they keep coming back because they've grown to like the reasons I listed above


PS. Rostov-on-Don is quickly becoming a beautiful, successful city in its own right Not on the same level as Moscow and St. Pete but its still nice to see money and consumer goods flow outside the two capitals.
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tbiehl2000



Joined: 22 Jul 2004
Posts: 87

PostPosted: Wed Sep 08, 2004 6:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great post Skye!! Loved it. Thanks.
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bobs12



Joined: 27 Apr 2004
Posts: 310
Location: Saint Petersburg

PostPosted: Wed Sep 08, 2004 11:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

skye wrote:
they all make fun of my Russian but I feel more connected there.


Weird, I have no links to Russia at all, but that applies perfectly to me Smile There definitely is more of a feeling of being 'involved' here somehow. Maybe it's because the west is so 'sterile' and homogenous in comparison. In many ways Russian society is like Scotland before the war (not that I experienced it first hand of course!) with strong, close friendships and the way people share diffculties and burdens openly.

I've never been to Rostov on Don, but I once met a girl from there. It was weird, I felt like I was speaking to someone from the north of Scotland. I could almost place her accent and the tone of her voice as somewhere between Aberdeenshire and Shetland.

Freddy, I'll try and answer to your question now Wink

Before I came to Russia I had absolutely no interest in the place. All I knew was that Russians were always the bad guys in Bond films, that the capital was Moscow, the revolution started in St. Petersburg, and I think I knew there was a letter that looked llike a back-to-front R... but that was it. Otherwise not even a passing interest. At school I was made to do Russian history, and having no head for dates, the story of the revolution just confused me Sad

Cutting a long story short, bad things happened when I finished school and I wanted to get as far away from home as possible. I ended up taking 'Russian for complete and utter beginners' quite by accident at university (I had to pick five subjects- my first choice was psychology, the rest were random. Russian was the last, and the most random)

Bizarrely, despite having been a failure at languages in school, I went to the top of the class after two weeks. In the second week, when I accidentally declined an adjective in front of a feminine noun, the teacher's beaming smile convinced me to take the subject in the next year.

At the beginning of the second year, when our subject choices were almost final, they told us that a condition for completing the course was a nine-month stay in Russia after the end of third year. I never imagined that I would do it,given that I lost all interest in studying, doing only the minimum necessary to pass exams, but I ended up being one of only three out of an initial 20-something students to make it to the end of the course and go to Russia. The other two from my university came, studied at the *awful* school we were sent to, drank a lot and left at the end of the nine months, cursing Russia bitterly.

I arrived late at the school, having taken a two-week detour via Moscow. I spent a few weeks at the school, on and off, before getting a job as a teacher and packing in studying Russian. When everyone else went home nine months later, I stayed. I was at a comfortable distance from home, with travel being complicated and expensive enough to give me an excuse
not to go more often.

Almost two years after coming to St. Petersburg, I'm still here. Although I've considered leaving hundreds, if not thousands of times, I have no real reason and no better place to go. And whenever I do go home, I realise that I don't really want to be there (I mean the UK as a whole) anymore. I have more prospects here, right now I have a really well-paid job, plus if I decide to leave St. Petersburg... well, I live in the biggest country in the world. I still haven't crossed a single time zone in Russia, and there are.. how many, nine? more?

There's a slightly darker side to the story than that, but the basic idea is that I'm as far from my home and the small-island mentality of the community as I need to be. Any further and I'll go to Japan.
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skye



Joined: 07 Sep 2004
Posts: 9

PostPosted: Sun Sep 12, 2004 3:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

supposedly the girls from rostov are the best dressed Wink
I suppose it has to do with it being a trading city and having a whole extra month of warm weather than moscow and piter.

the accent is quite crude i'll have to agree but fun. I've picked it up several times and lost it while visiting my grandparents over several summers.

now my accent is just american. Sad
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dostogirl



Joined: 22 Sep 2004
Posts: 14

PostPosted: Wed Sep 22, 2004 7:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey Smile
I guess, I'll join you, guys. I'm an ex-Russian too...Going back is weird...a very interesting feeling. Love St.Pete for sure. Unfortunately my husband is not excited about the idea to go teach in Russia, even though he actually lived in St. Pete with me a couple of years ago.. Sad
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alekto



Joined: 16 Sep 2004
Posts: 21
Location: Moscow, Russia

PostPosted: Thu Sep 23, 2004 10:55 am    Post subject: Re: Foreigners in Russia- why? Reply with quote

Hm, well, let's see...I've been here for over 2 years and this year basically have a pretty open situation in front of me. I only came for a year but this place got it's claws into me, so I guess I count as "long term".

Being here just seems like "home" now and I don't really think of it being a strange place anymore. If that makes any sense.

My opinion of foreigners who come to Russia? Most seem to be rather optimistic and hopeful. They expect a country that forfills many myths - there's this image of Russia being a vibrant, almost magical place. It has that, of course...but often newcomers seem rather dissapointed when they arrive and see reality (especially here in Moscow)

I think some come here to see a place that's not quite Europe and not quite "East". I think they expect to have a terribly unique experience and...well, they do...but not neccessarily in the way they thought they would.

Many teachers come here because Russia is one of the "closest" (to the UK anyway) countries that's willing to take inexperienced teachers. Come here, get a year or two under your belt and go somewhere more interesting. In a way, that's a healthy attitude. Because if you like it, you stay...and if you don't, you get your experience and go.

Teaching English in general seems to attract misfits and outcasts. Not just Russia. I think people who are prepared to uproot themselves and go away for a long time must be a little out of it back in their homeland.

Some newcomers settle in quite quickly. Others just can't hack it and hate it the moment they arrive. I've seen people struggle just to get the courage to go out, because they can't stand the enviroment, the streets, the people. Others, like me, don't mind it at all. Just get used to it, settle down and get on with work. Basically, there are two extremes: either don't cope at all, or roll with it and manage.

My reasons for coming here were all of the above. I have family links to Eastern Europe (Poland) and so felt that going somewhere "Slavic" was quite acceptable, a nice way to emerse myself into some of my background culture (and I didn't want to goto Poland because I didn't want my family on my back 24/7!). I also felt that Russia had a certain element of mystery about it. I was curious. And I also wanted to get some experience somewhere. Well, all of that was forfilled, and then some!

My own experiences with my first time here were awful. The lead-up to my arrival was chaotic - I had no idea when I was supposed to arrive, when I would start work or even exactly where I was going. Then when I arrived my luggage went to Helsinki, not Petersburg. I was packaged off to camp that first night anyway, after spending what little was left of my afternoon being run around town buying soap and towels. To say I was confused and disorientated would be putting it mildly. I arrived at camp after midnight - the sun still up in the sky (it was White Nights) with kids running around causing havoc (it was their last night there). There were no real classrooms to speak of, no resources to teach from, not even board markers or paper unless we got it ourselves during the weekend in town. I had no teaching support at all and not only was it my first time in Russia, but my first teaching job.

After surviving that for 6 weeks everything else has been easy. There was one other teacher at the camp - a Russian - who showed me how to get to the nearest hamlet (45 minutes walk away), to hail a car, to buy things in Russian shops (ie ask for them), to handle a two hour+ train journey to Petersburg (ice cream and beer) and also how to steal food from the canteen in order to have a stock of snacks in my room. She also introduced me to things like cirki, dried fish, kasha, shashlik and berry-picking. I was, essentially, emersed into a very "Russian" world. Visiting parents would take me out for beer and buy me food and natter away at me when I couldn't understand them. Weekends were spent in Petersburg, staying in hostels, talking to travellers and wandering around the streets avoiding mosquitos. All of that made survival turn into something more concrete...and lasting.

Looking back, had I any sense I would have left: they were probably the most chaotic and stressful 6 weeks of my life. But as each week passed, I felt a growing sense of achievement. Leaving would have been cutting everything short.

I stayed and I learnt a lot from my initial time in Russia. The fact I was on my own was a help in the end. I am a lot more independent - I wasn't babied by a school in my first weeks and while it would have been better to be looked after properly, ultimately it's done me good.

Anyway, that's my 2 kopeks. I think my experiences are proof that, with some effort, anyone can manage here. I've heard one or two other "survival" stories and likewise, the people involved stayed. Sometimes it takes a little adventure just to give you the right push Wink
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bobs12



Joined: 27 Apr 2004
Posts: 310
Location: Saint Petersburg

PostPosted: Thu Sep 23, 2004 6:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Teaching English in general seems to attract misfits and outcasts.


And not just teaching Wink Loved your story- will reply properly soon. But especially loved the above comment. Anybody else noticed said strangeness of foreigners here?
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stillnosheep



Joined: 01 Mar 2004
Posts: 2068
Location: eslcafe

PostPosted: Thu Sep 23, 2004 10:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Why not?
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bobs12



Joined: 27 Apr 2004
Posts: 310
Location: Saint Petersburg

PostPosted: Fri Sep 24, 2004 4:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Why not what?
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Communist Smurf



Joined: 24 Jun 2003
Posts: 330
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2004 2:00 am    Post subject: Re: Foreigners in Russia- why? Reply with quote

bobs12 wrote:
What are your impressions of the foreigners who come to Russia?


Well, I've met missionaries, students, businessmen and even one snowboarder (guy from Seattle with nothing better to do)... among many others. General impressions? Hmm, nothing general comes to mind about them as a whole.

bobs12 wrote:
Why do you think they come here?


Oh, different reasons I guess. I came here on vacation while living in Cairo, considering looking for work a little over a year ago. I met a girl my first day here... you might see where this is going... we just got married last week.

bobs12 wrote:
Does Russia attract misfits and social outcasts?


Absolutely. Too many, really.

bobs12 wrote:
How do they cope with 'settling in'?


"They" being the misfits and social outcasts? Oh, pretty well actually. Being a foreigner/misfit seems to have its benefits, which means the locals will treat you like a rare and exotic pet.

"They" being everyone else? Sometimes no. At first I didn't like it because I felt so helpless not being able to communicate with anyone (notice I intentionally and cleverly put myself in the category other than misfits and social outcasts duping you into believing that I'm a normal healthy person, mentally or otherwise).

CS
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bobs12



Joined: 27 Apr 2004
Posts: 310
Location: Saint Petersburg

PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2004 7:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting reply Smile

An inordinate proportion of foreigners that I meet here are missionaries of some description. A lot of those are not the normal, healthy, kind-hearted, want-to-find-a-soup-kitchen-and-do-my-bit-for-the-good-of-society type, but more often the fanatical scary ones with a direct line to the Man Above, if you know what I mean. The ones that preach at every step. I eventually came to the conclusion they were sent here to get them out of their home country...

The rest of them are just outcasts of some description. I suppose I am in a way myself, but that wasn't my reason for coming here. You're right- the total weirdoes DO settle in better, the pet analogy is very accurate.

I just evicted an American woman from my flat. She had no work, no money (only told me after I let her in- tip: always take two months' rent in advance, plus a deposit for the phone) so she stayed for a month, ate all my food, ran up my phone bill with international and long-distance calls (but denied making a single call- bare-faced liar) etc. etc.

She used to disappear late at night and come back in early mornings. It transpired that the local cafes were feeding her. Not just feeding her, but she had a fan club in each one that bought her food and got her drunk, because she was a weird foreigner who didn't speak Russian.

I was way too normal for that kind of thing.

Some policeman befriended her and put her up in his cousin's flat, even paying the rent for her. Bizarre.
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