The Warmth of a Russian Winter

Naufal Murtadza (INA AFS to Russia YP 16–17)

Time is relative. Relative to the way we spend it, to the way we feel it. Long things felt short, short things felt long. That is the concept of time, a concept made by human beings. Who would’ve guessed that it’s already 5 months after I first stepped on the land that frighten people all over the world with it’s misconceptions, past-ideologies and dark internet humor nonsense. As much as Russia is Big, Cold, and “Strong” it is a home of 145 Million people, from different ethnicities, faiths, ideologies, and backgrounds. Reminds you of your home back in Indonesia doesn’t it? 5 Months is enough for me to call this place, my second home.

One thing you need for a home in Russia is not just roofs and walls. You’ll need warmth from every sources. I can assure you need so since I’ve felt as low as — 400 Celsius here. Not just central heating, but also emotional warmth from people around you. From people that always on your side, supports you, even new people that you never met before that became best friends. My experience here had shown me something the world thought what Russia and Russians actually are.

One of the highlight in the past months was the Winter Social Project Moscow by AFS. It was project consisted of 35 on programs AFS Students in Russia, hundreds of Russian students, and amazing volunteers. This was made to connect foreign students and the exchange life to the local Russian students so they would have a glimpse of many cultures of the world. Also so they would seek the exciting opportunity to go exchange too. I was lucky to be picked as one of the exchange student team and tried to give my best to the project. There, It was a wonderful week where we showed our Indonesian Culture, teach Indonesian Languages, learning new languages such as Serbian or Finnish and be engaged on the Russian Traditions conducted by Russians themselves. All of this was done with the Russian Students who in the end suddenly became my good friends. We were doing acts together, stage shows, games, and discussions. This particular part of the program changed me a lot. It had put me on the situation where I have to use Russian to talk since we need to run a group. It gave me more self-esteem in front of the big audience and more views to the daily Russian life. Plus I got to meet my Exchange friends too here from many places, and we got a chance to share our feelings after months living in this winter wonderland.

The best thing after we done with the project we got an opportunity to see Moscow, the city of dreams for many people. Though it was just like a transit to our train stations to go home but every minute is worth it. The previous night we say our goodbyes to our Russian friends because we’re going different ways back home in this big country. But surprisingly, the volunteers set us with some portion of the students to meet up in the Red Square, the heart of Russia, it was a great feeling to see them once more in this beautiful place. After some walks in GUM (Moscow’s Commerce Center) and have a test of an actual Soviet Recipe Ice Cream (don’t mind the winter) we took the Metro to our respected stations and say our final goodbyes to each other, yet. A time worth remembered.

Life back home (second home) in Volgorechensk is an amusing rollercoaster ride that never seemed to go on a terrible downhill. Like, it kept going up in a thrilling way but you’d expect a sudden drop somewhere that never came. At some point it is cold with the winter artic breeze up in the coaster, but why would I mind if I’m having a time of my life? In the end all the fun and the moment run my days, run the coaster. School is where most portion of the exchange is. It is the place where I meet people on the daily basis and try to grow a relation to them since day one. The results of 5 months living in the same neighborhood, surroundings, people that years a got I wouldn’t have thought I would stand in their streets is quite better than expected. Some of them fond to me in some way, some of them simply remember my name, and some of them put me as a part of their daily life too. The other thing I learn on this exchange is to be as open as possible to people and try to connect to them, you would be cold frozen and alone if you had no one in this place. Be friendly, be kind, share a snack or two before you know it you’re sharing moments with them. I’m happy that I can choose what I’m studying here, since it is a public school there’re many options in the schedule. My weekly schedule looks like History 11th Grade, Algebra 9th Grade, German 7th, 6th, 5th Grade, English 9th Grade and so on. This way I would meet more people and make more friends even though to be honest language is still a barrier but still there always a way to interact with them. You’ll learn something new everyday. Let’s not forget the Teachers too that are really kind and patience to me if I didn’t understood something or needed to go to my “custom” schedule.

My favorite time at school is where I learn History about this Big Nation, they love they’re long and complicated history. As people have known, Russia was a former Soviet or USSR State which technically was a Communist and this word seems scary for some countries like Indonesia. Yet people kept connecting them to the Modern Day Russia which is by law a Democratic State since the 1992. Sorry to break it to you. Plus their history has a great influence to everything today. Who know what would happen if they didn’t win the Battle of Kursk against the Axis power? The world would be another place this day. They respect their history and most of the town has a WW II monuments for the losts and victories.

Finally, one of the most important thing in the exchange is to actually be part of the family (second family). You should know your chores, your ques, your places at time and schedules outside the house. In a Russian family, after some intercultural discussion with some Russians, they value family more than everything, even friends. This is the place where they share their emotions, thought and time. I started to feel as a part of them when I was invited to the big family dinners or events. Especially on New Year’s Day or Новый Год (Noviy Godd) as it is the biggest Russian tradition all over the year. Families sit down for a feast, talk together about the year and their wishes, decorate some trees and the house, then watch the (you know who) President’s broadcasted live national address to the people to keep strong through the next year until the Moscow’s clock stroke on Midnight, sang the national anthem of Russia, and finally celebrate the whole night! It was incredible scenery in the family and the streets.

Roller Coasters have highs and lows, still, it depends on how you see them. It’s not an altitude lost if you’re going down than up again and again. That how an exchange works, at least in my perspective so far. It is fast in incredible speed, the upper you go the colder it gets, some thrills here in there. But if you got the right people around, you won’t even notice the cold with warmth and fun of everything, even in this Russian Winter (though it’s still a winter wonderland). Through it there’s always something new up ahead, to learn. Like they say “Век живй — Век учйсь” (Vek zhivy-Vek ucis) which mean to Live and Learn. Just remember it’s a ride coming to an end, time is precious.

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