St. Petersburg defies preconceptions, gives eye-opening experience

St. Petersburg defies preconceptions, gives eye-opening experience

Mason Durden, a senior majoring in international business, is studying abroad in Russia.  Photo courtesy of Mason Durden

Editor’s note: In each issue this summer, The Crimson White will publish a column written by a 
student who is studying abroad in order to share their experiences in a 
foreign country.

When I first landed in St. Petersburg, Russia, I had no idea what to expect. I was told to be alert of your surroundings, keep political conversations to the bare minimum and not to drink the metal ion-filled sink water or else you’ll get a parasite called Giardia, which is not a day in paradise. I, like most of Americans, pictured the average Russian as an angry anti-capitalist who drinks vodka all day. So, at first my nerves were on edge as the bus picked us all up from the airport.

As the bus headed toward the dorms, I saw a city that looked similar to parts of Tuscaloosa where the tornado hit. A city that was rebuilding and that had been through many rough times. Not only did the city appear rough, but so did the people. They had what we call a “resting female dog face” and didn’t look like they would want to meet an American or any other person for that matter. For myself, I was expecting a hostile introduction immediately.

My first experience with the people in Russia was when I used my broken Russian to help my friends and myself get some basic supplies at the local minimart. With the act of waving my hands in the air like and idiot, I succeeded in making the employees laugh and finding a hair dryer for my friend. So the first experience was nothing like what I was told, they were helpful and humored my intermediate level Russian. As the weeks went on I realized how the stereotypical Russian was in slim existence and most were eager to try to speak English with me (which got annoying only because I needed a lot of practice with my Russian).

As the days went on and the stress of being in a far away country disappeared, I felt like I was welcomed the first time we went to the city center I was in awe. The view, the people, the overall feeling was amazing. St. Petersburg has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The architecture from the Hermitage to the Church of Spilt Blood to the top of St. Issac’s cathedral, the entire city was a sight to behold.

I got the lucky experience of getting to speaking with the many of the local Russians throughout the city of St. Petersburg and in my trip to Moscow. Many liked to ask what I thought about Crimea and just our countries’ relations. Every time I would be hesitant to even respond, but as I relaxed I told the truth. I believe the only hostilities are political and that the people of both countries are just that, people. The response was always agreed with and usually lead to typical 
Russian celebration.

Throughout my trip, I met many different types of people from many different backgrounds, but deep down we are all the same. My experience has shown that St. Petersburg is just like any other big city you will find in the U.S. You have to be careful wherever you go, whether you go to New York or Russia, use the right precautions and the experience will be something amazing. This month abroad has left me with an amazing impression on the people and the city. I suggest everyone go abroad to a country that is nothing like home. Obviously, be smart about your actions, but don’t be afraid because everyone is eager to make a new friend.

Mason Durden is a senior majoring in international business.

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