Back to SummaryJen Bullock - Student Profile
MAJORS: International Relations, English
Academic Interests: Creative Writing
You're going where? This was the most common response that would arise upon telling people I was off to Moscow. "Hmm, Moscow," they'd continue carefully. "Better bring a jacket!" Regardless of their opinion of Putin, everyone could agree upon one thing: It was going to be cold.
The truth was, apart from the ominous and oft-repeated warnings of how cold it
was going to get, I had little idea of what I was signing up for when I chose to study abroad in Moscow. Russia had always loomed large in my imagination: opulent tsars and funny-looking architecture, giant bears and snowy Siberian tundra’s, Communist cosmonauts and head-scarf wearing babushkas. But all of these stereotypes told me little about the real question I wanted to know: what would it be like, in 2008, living in a city of 12 million, trotting past old communist flats and ducking into the metro outside the Kremlin on a day-to-day basis? Trying to imagine life in Moscow from my sunny dorm in Stanford proved difficult. Thumbing through guidebooks in the bookstore, the word “mystery” came up a lot. It’s nearly impossible to pick up a guidebook that doesn’t include “enigma” or “intrigue” in the byline. Amused but curious, I decided to go and see for myself.
And so I arrived the first day in Moscow, Russian phrasebook in hand, marveling at the Kremlin and trying to puzzle out the Cyrillic alphabet on the metro. The first few days passed in a blur, as interactions with my local neighborhood grocer were reduced to pointing, smiling, and the much-enlisted Borat “thumbs up” sign. Niice! Soon however, with the help of Stanford’s intensive Russian course, things began to click. I started to greet the same shopkeepers who only days before had looked at me with pity. The metro signs, once a complex maze of gibberish, began to make sense, word by word.
The longer I lived in the Moscow, the more I began to suspect that guidebook
writers had settled on the word “mystery” for lack of better options – Russia is a paradox. Bloody revolutions and gross inequalities, scientific prowess and breathtaking achievements in literature, music, and philosophy – capturing Russia in a word proves difficult. Moscow is a city of both glided Faberge eggs and begging Babushkas. And like the famous Marushka dolls, the city reveals itself to you in layers. Moscow is packed with art galleries, clubs, concerts, shops, museums, monuments, and Soviet detritus (including a statue graveyard). Yet despite the ongoing buzz of the city, life became the most endearing through rather uneventful moments spent with my host family, talking with them over borscht or watching Russian cartoons as snow flurried outside our window. Despite all the quirky superstitions and family-rooted traditions – don’t even think of leaving the house without your coat, gloves and hat on – the people I met in Russia remain some of the warmest and merriest people I’ve encountered.
Life in Moscow is charming and frustrating. I was cold, I was lost, but I was never bored. In fact, my trip was an adventure and a delight, and most importantly gave me an incredible first-hand look at a country that is changing fast. State control is rubbing shoulders with capitalism, the president is newly elected, and
the people are optimistic about prospects for the future. In short, you feel that you are living history just by strolling around in the city. It’s an experience that will be with you forever and change the way you think about both America and “the motherland.”
you’re reading this you must have at least a small interest in
studying with Stanford in Moscow. My advice as both a student advisor
and a Floridian whose concept of cold was somewhere near 65 degrees:
GO! There’s never
been a more exciting time to live in Moscow. And
yes, bring your jacket.