Last thoughts on Irkutsk

May 18, 2012

Nate

As the school year comes to an end and Troika begins to shut down operations, I’m finding it hard to believe that my study abroad experience is just about finished. It certainly doesn’t feel that way. There is no luggage standing in the corner of my bedroom, packed long ago in preparation for departure, as was the case in August on my way here. There is no sudden shift in my daily schedule, as usually accompanies the onset of summer vacation. There is no one saying goodbye, not yet at least. But alas, it is true: the program is done.

As things wind down, I can’t help but remember the daydreams I used to have in the library back at school about studying abroad. I had tentatively decided on Irkutsk as a freshman, and when I couldn’t take another minute of grammar rules or vocabulary lists, I’d close my book, lean my elbow on the carrel and my head on my hand, and think about what life might be like in Siberia. In those moments I envisioned myself—taller, fully built and bearded—leaning against a bookshelf reading Pushkin in Russian and watching the snow float to the street in the window. A quiet, intellectual life on the edge of the earth.

It’s funny to think about that now. Knowing I was off to Siberia, not one of the images in my mind involved other people. As though I subconsciously assumed they didn’t exist in large numbers, or wouldn’t be an essential part of my experience here. In the end, I’ve done just about all I daydreamed except for gaining any physical height or girth, and have found myself, especially in the second semester, spending the majority of my time with Russian people who I have come to love, be it sitting over tea at home with my hostess, looking at Jupiter through a telescope with friends from synagogue, or visiting kids from class at their apartments spread all over the city. Just as it’s true in American colleges, the place itself leaves less of an imprint in your memories than the people who inhabit it with you, and having met such great friends, I have no doubt that I made the right choice in spending my time here.

For those of you thinking of coming to Irkutsk in the near future to study: don’t let Siberia scare you. Middlebury students frequently rule out Irkutsk as an option because they know nothing about it. As is true all over Russia, the unknown is often the best part of an experience, and is often where you find the most fulfilling memories. Don’t fret about the cold: out here, they say they cold can’t keep you grumbling for more than two days, and unfortunately, if you’re trying to escape a frigid time abroad, then you should probably pick a different country altogether.

Your experience will undoubtedly differ from mine, but what I can tell you is that the richness of this part of the world is as deep as the land is vast, and if you want to see the Russia that doesn’t make it into our textbooks—Asiatic Russia, poor Russia, Buddhist Russia, life in the taiga and tundra—what you will find here will astound you. We at Midd are very lucky, for few institutions are brave enough to venture out this far, and what a shame it is that so much space is so often overlooked. Don’t make the same mistake by writing off Siberia. It can be a tough little oyster, but the strength of its maw is the shelter to the pearl inside.

Thank you all for keeping up with us this whole year, we have been continually inspired by your encouragement and responses coming from all over the globe. You all are greatly appreciated, and have made my experience with Troika worthwhile many times over. I am humbled by your dedication to us and to the blog. We simply can’t thank you enough.

And so the troika hurls on! Русь! Теперь куда ж несемся мы?

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