After all the pig’s feet, roast pork belly, braised fish and some other home-cooked meals from my mom, the day going back to the airport couldn’t have arrived any sooner, and I was looking forward to flying back – well, everything except the big layover in Amsterdam. After being a couch potato on the plane for 14 hours, spying on Instagram and filtering photos, arriving at the airport in Saint Petersburg and seeing the “dobro pozhalovat” (добро пожаловать – welcome) sign was that feeling of “YAAAAAAASSS.”
After five months of studying and living in cold and scary Russia (sarcasm), I had decided to go home and pay a visit to my family. There was excitement – from going to see my parents, my grandma and rice. But also, there was an exciting feeling of knowing I was going back to the “motherland” after what would be a short 12-day visit in the USA.
Where most kids study abroad one semester and have that sad and bittersweet moment of leaving, I don’t have to deal with all that drama and can keep on keeping on (the perks of being a full your student). And to be honest, there is some confidence and a little bit of pride being able to say that I’m traveling back to Russia. Anyways, I’m alive. The real excitement began when we heard people speaking Russian who were about to board with us at the airport. Hearing them speak Russian gave me the notion that I was going home. Yes, I said “home.” Besides the home where your family, friends and comfort are, studying and settling in a different country can feel just like home—except that it’s with new people and a different lifestyle. Being away for 5+ months doesn’t just give you an education or a title of saying that you studied abroad, but it allows you to experience new foods, traditions, and build connections and interact with the native people of that country.
Why does this matter? Because eventually the interactions and connections turn into lasting and meaningful friendships or relationships. The fact that you are in a foreign country and have experienced and attempted to try anything new from their tradition or culture makes the connection with native people stronger and forms a closer bond. And this is a plus because gaining a foreign friend can be rather different and refreshing from your average friend in the US (nothing against your friends in the US). I just mean that when you befriend a foreigner, how you hang out them—their chats, problems, or stories—are quite different than what you would normally do or talk about with your friend at home. Whereas I sometimes would talk about going to the gym, stressing about research papers or wondering if my friend wants to go to the dining hall on campus, I can talk about other things (and far more important and interesting things) with my Russian friends. Liza, who is a medical student, always talks about her family and the situations and household problems that she goes through. She talks about how she is always busy studying and cleaning flats just to support her two sisters, one brother, her widowed
Whereas I sometimes would talk about going to the gym, stressing about research papers or wondering if my friend wants to go to the dining hall on campus, I can talk about other things (and far more important and interesting things) with my Russian friends. Liza, who is a medical student, always talks about her family and the situations and household problems that she goes through. She talks about how she is always busy studying and cleaning flats just to support her two sisters, one brother, her widowed mother and grandmother. These types of conversations really open your eyes. Not to say that they will not talk about the gym or grades with you, but they will throw in something related to the country they are from. For a friend like Liza, hanging out with someone like her gives you a wake-up call in that she is only 21, a few months older than I am, and already trying to make ends meet for her family. And here I am (and here we are as college students), in our early 20’s, not having to worry about paying any bills since most of our parents have us covered for the time being. Life is real, and it makes you think twice about what privileges you have that your foreign friends don’t have.
Also with that being in mind, you tend to notice the quality or differences in standard living when traveling to and from the U.S. Almost all Russian flats have at most, 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, where living space and style tend to focus more on comfort. And it is comfortable—even with 4 people in one flat sharing one bathroom. This is how I am currently living now in my homestay—with my twin sister and Russian mom and dad. At first, just the thought of sharing a small bathroom with 2+ people was a nightmare for me. And this isn’t even about Russia, but even if it was in the U.S. But once you start to live and move in, you get used to it and realize that it isn’t a big deal. When compared to the U.S, where some houses have crazy numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms (and some aren’t even used at all and are more for display), you start to realize they are just not necessary and you start to think about how ridiculous it is that people are consumed with the idea of quantity. Of course, you can expect different countries will have different living standards, but these standards depend on the people. And you start to understand that life and the people in Russia are more concerned with what people need, not what people want.
Anyways, not be to be preachy or anything, but these are valuable things you’ll eventually come across when living in a foreign country and meeting foreign people. When you’re away for a good amount of time, you start to realize the small but important things. Not only does coming back make you realize all this stuff, but you look back at your study abroad experience, and feel a sense of accomplishment in establishing your independent life abroad. Plus, it is pretty rewarding to come back and say that you speak a foreign language, you have foreign friends, and that you have tried this or that in terms of their culture. It’s all these gains that make the big decision to go somewhere completely new worthwhile. I established a “home” in Saint Petersburg—a comfort zone with the Russian language and culture—and built relationships and friendships with many people who are always interested and eager to befriend foreigners. And I’m sure with any other kid who also studied abroad in other countries, they too have found their comfort as well—just like any other kid would who is planning to study and live in a foreign country.