Over the past two years I've been blessed to travel to various countries around the globe, and it's truly changed me for the better. I always get asked the same difficult question from people when I return home:
“What was your favorite country that you visited?”
While all the countries I've been to have been wonderful in different ways, more recently, the answer to that question has been Russia.
In July 2017 one of my best friends and I headed out for our Scandinavia and Russia Plus trip with Contiki, for which both of us were really excited. Now there was a slight catch to this: I had already been to Russia. Not only that, but my family is Russian, so I already knew what to expect in this massive and seemingly mysterious country.
My friend and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to not tell anyone on the trip that I could speak Russian or that I was Russian (note – I was born in the US but grew up with parents who immigrated to the states). I was really curious to see how this large group of Americans, Canadians, and Australians would handle being in Russia for the first time.
I could tell people were nervous about going into Russia. Our Trip Manager told us this country is like nothing we have ever seen and that “it’s not wrong, it’s just Russia.”
She mentioned how strict and intense border control is and how serious the people are. So you could say the group was not sure what to expect.
St. Petersburg was our first stop. In the evening we had a city tour with a canal cruise led by our guide, Anna. I was so glad that we got Anna as our tour guide; she was the first Russian person that everyone in the group came across, and the complete opposite of what everyone thought the ‘typical’ Russian is like. She was bubbly, friendly, excited, open and so much more.
I noticed that the fears and uncertainty of the group were quickly diminishing. As the trip in Russia continued on, everyone was surprised to see how friendly people were – and that many of them did in fact speak English. They were enthralled by the rich history that filled the country.
By the end of the trip everyone was asked to answer a set of questions in front of the group. One of them was “what was your favorite country?” Most people answered by saying that it was surprisingly Russia.
Everyone said that Russia was so different from what they expected, and they noticed all of the propaganda that they had been fed their whole lives about Russia back home. By travelling, these people were able to see the real Russia – and realise that the locals that live there are much more like them then they ever expected them to be.
And yes, by the end of the trip, people figured out that I was Russian!
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