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Russian Students' Perspectives

Saule Aliyeva and Elena Akhmetova, both Russian-born students, became friends after meeting aboard the MV Explorer. Photo by: Joshua Gates Weisberg
Saule Aliyeva and Elena Akhmetova, both Russian-born students, became friends after meeting aboard the MV Explorer.
Photo by: Joshua Gates Weisberg

As we pulled into our first port, many voyagers were thousands of miles from home but two students arrived in a familiar land. Elena Akhmetova and Saule Aliyeva were two Russian born students on the Fall 2014 voyage. Both girls attended universities outside their country of origin but met on Semester at Sea after a student on board introduced the pair.

Aliyeva tours The Hermitage with her dad and other friends. Photo submitted by: Saule Aliyeva
On her first trip to Saint Petersburg, Aliyeva toured The Hermitage with her father and other friends.
Photo submitted by: Saule Aliyeva

While Akhmetova had visited Saint Petersburg many times previously, for Aliyeva this was a first. Growing up between Moscow and Astana, Kazakhstan, Russia was one of the two countries she called home. Currently studying at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, she was very comfortable with American culture. After docking in Russia, Aliyeva connected with her father and ended up traveling with him and a handful of friends to many local attractions. When passing by Summer Garden, Aliyeva noticed a group of fellow students struggling to place an order at a local coffee shop. She acknowledged the minor “culture clash”, as she labeled it, and jumped in to lend a hand. To the surprise of the local server, she translated for both him and the English-speaking students. Small groups of students traveling continued to recognize her familiar face and occasionally called on her for help as they explored the area.

Akhmetova, on the other hand, originally from Yoshkar-Ola, had been to Saint Petersburg many times before. She ventured off the ship looking to show students the real beauty of the city from a local’s view. Two students aboard the ship contacted her and asked if she would mind guiding them through the city. The three girls walked approximately ten miles around the town, seeking out both major sites and lesser-known secrets. Attempting to show her peers the lighter side of Russia, over a local meal Akhmetova shared some of the traditions, superstitions, and stereotypes common in her culture.

Akhmetova gives students Kendra Hamblin, of the University of Colorado - Boulder, and Sarah Footh, of Willamette University, a tour around Saint Petersburg. Photo submitted by: Elena Akhmetova
Akhmetova along with Kendra Hamblin, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Sarah Footh, of Willamette University, walked to the top of Saint Issac’s Cathedral and toured Saint Petersburg together.
Photo submitted by: Elena Akhmetova

Coming from different backgrounds but similar cultures, the girls definitely struggled with some of the student’s perceptions of their home country prior to setting foot in Russia. Aliyeva stated, “(Students) had very low and wild expectations of Russia.” “I don’t think people had low expectations. I think they were misinformed,” responded Akhmetova. According to the girls much of the propaganda heard in students countries of origin had left them feeling apprehensive about their visit. Prior to approaching the first port students interrogated the two Russian natives in the halls, being scared by what they had heard about their country.

As the ship pulled away from Saint Petersburg, the girls were pleased by the shipboard community’s post port reflection seminar. After three days exploring their home country, most only remarked on the beauty of its people and its incredible history. They were inspired and eager to visit again one day. “Russia is not as bad as you think…You just need to smile and people will smile back,” said Akhmetova.

 

 

Topics
  • Culture
  • Life on Land

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