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Each semester, SRAS arranges trips to St. Petersburg for its students in Moscow and trips to Moscow for its students in St. Petersburg. This allows students in both cities to get a taste for the other major Russian city and to take advantage of other SRAS services, such as our now-famous working tours available in both cities and our Living and Working in Russia seminar, held each semester in Moscow. This semester, we asked student Caitlin Jebens, visiting us from University of South Carolina, to do a brief write-up of her experience.

 Each month the SRAS newsletter features news and information about Russia!

From Petersburg to Moscow
SRAS Moscow Trip 2011
By Caitlin Jebens

  Caitlin Jebens on Red Square
Caitlin Jebens enjoying Red Square in
dynamic Moscow.

When I first considered improving my Russian skills in the Russian Motherland, I was open towards what city I would live in. I had long favored Saint Petersburg, but was also curious of the mysterious cities of Siberia and of far-flung Vladivostok. Of all these possible places, I was sure of one thing: I did not want to study in Moscow. Though I had never visited this city, let alone Russia at all at this point, my initial impressions had convinced me to stay away. The sheer size of Moscow intimidated me and some stories I had heard led me to believe that crime in Moscow was a reason to stay away.

I was eventually chose to participate in the School of Russian and Asian Studies’ (SRAS) new program, The Russians—a culture class focused on understanding the depths of Russian culture, particularly through the arts. I was also intrigued by the class’ planned excursion to Moscow and decided to sign up. The trip was held at the end of April for three days, a seemingly short visit, yet long enough to forever change my perception of this enigmatic and ever-surprising city.

My group, which included five of our Saint Petersburg students, left by night train and arrived in Moscow early the next morning. We were met at the train station by David, SRAS's Moscow intern, shown to our dorms, and then to our first itinerary: a walking tour to better acquaint us with some of Moscow's obvious sites, as well as some not-so-obvious ones. I had long believed Moscow’s visual attractions were limited to that of Red Square. I was proven quite wrong. Red Square was stunning, both at day and night, and I truly felt more in the presence of a real Russian city than I have while living in the European Saint Petersburg. However, the unique atmosphere of Moscow is not limited to the confines of Red Square. Each city has its own flavor and Moscow, for me, best represented the center of the Russian power and culture.

Saint Petersburg has been described as a city of division—caught between European and Russian identities. I would argue a similar hybrid identity for Moscow. Moscow retains elements of Ivan the Terrible’s influence with Saint Basil’s Cathedral and a lasting boyar feel that Saint Petersburg lacks. Soviet influence continues to lurk with the presence of the Seven Sisters, Stalin’s attempt at skyscrapers which ominously loom at different points around the city. In addition, if one looks closely, hammers and sickles are abundant in places such as the metro, the sides of buildings and even iron-clad fences. Finally, the heavy presence of Western fashion, businesses, films and culture joins in the mix, updating Moscow to the globalized twenty-first century. New additions to the city also remind visitors Moscow is ever-changing—the audacious Peter the Great monument placed under Luzhkov’s mayoral regime continues to entice debate among Muscovites (should it stay or should it go?). The walking tour, which managed to uncover all these points and more, began to unravel my incomplete understanding of this dynamic city which reflects each time period it stands witness to.

  Photography class at Muzeon
The students learning photography from a
professional photographer in Moscow.

SRAS was keen in organizing engaging and relevant points of interest for my classmates and me to visit. I had anticipated spending most of our time inside museums of fine art. While important to see, I believe SRAS recognized the need to experience a wide array of uniquely Muscovite culture that cannot be strictly confined to art museums. Our group was treated to a photography class with a professional Russian photographer at the Muzeon Sculpture Garden, a tour of a nuclear bunker built to protect Soviet elite, a tour of the inside of the Kremlin and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a bell concert at a local Russian Orthodox church, and a dinner seminar on “Living and Working in Russia.”

One of the highlights of the trip was the seminar. SRAS coordinated for the Saint Petersburg students to attend, along with the local Moscow students. The dinner lecture was held at a Georgian restaurant which helped kick off our initial discussion on the "frozen conflicts," the unresolved territorial disputes that have been fought since the collapse of the Soviet Union (Georgia is home to two of these conflicts). The lecture then focused on the opportunities that non-Russians can find if they are willing to work and live in the Russian Federation relatively long-term. Aside from our local Moscow SRAS coordinator, who has lived and worked in Russia for more than 8 years now, two other expat guests, as well as a Foreign Service Officer were invited to discuss their success in the business, legal, translation. and foreign service fields. I found this discussion particularly interesting and helpful. Many who study in Russia hope to use their language skills in a career-related field with hopes of returning after completing studies. This informal seminar provided invaluable opportunities to hear sage advice on accomplishing this goal from successful people in several different sectors. This experience was extremely valuable and I am so thankful that SRAS was savvy to organize it.

In general, the sights and tours were an excellent mixture of “necessary tourist” points of interest and other experiences slightly off the beaten path that sometimes more effectively tie in Russian culture and history than a typical museum.

The Moscow trip, being an add-on to the larger The Russians course, provided an excellent opportunity to change cultural predispositions in a setting outside of our everyday Saint Petersburg. Personally, it changed my misconception of Moscow as a city to be wary of. Through the wide-ranging events arranged for us, I came to appreciate the cultural wealth found in this ancient, yet somehow modern city. I was also able to walk away from the trip with a greater wisdom of continuing my experience in Russia from those who have accomplished it before me. I feel that SRAS has its finger on the pulse of Moscow’s benefits and the ability to link these to its students desires to make these experiences connect for their futures. I highly recommend other students take The Russians course and take the Moscow trip to help tie these lessons together.

Below are pictures taken of our experiences. The pictures were taken by the group, by SRAS intern David Parker, or by Valery Sharifulin, who led the photography class.


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