I awoke as the plane jerked to a stop. My mom, brother and I endured the thirteen hour journey from Minneapolis to Kazan, Russia. We scurried off the plane in hopes of being united with our friends, but unfortunately discovered we would spend the next two hours in a non-air conditioned customs room that reaked of rotting fruit.
I was exasperated when I stepped into the crisp morning air and saw my friend Asya and her family running towards me with open arms. My family made the trip to Russia to visit the family of our former exchange student. It was our dream of uniting two families with very different backgrounds and establish bonds for life.
I was shocked to realize that Russia looked similar to the countryside of Minnesota. The trees atop the rolling hills brightened by the morning sun glistened like my own backyard.
As I walked into their family’s home, my senses skyrocketed. My nose smelled the aroma of fresh baked bread. I saw a table adorned with the most beautiful settings and dishes that it made my stomach growl. We took our places and began our next journey, the seven course dinner!
Conversing at the table became a challenge. My family’s knowledge of Russian was exhausted by the introductions we exchanged at the airport and besides from Asya, their family’s English was just as limited as our Russian. From gestures, photos, and Asya’s translating, our dinner conversation took off. We learned that you don’t always need words to get the message across! We spent the remainder of the day eating, laughing and telling stories.
We visited the Qolsharif mosque located in the city’s Kremlin. It is the most beautiful building I have ever seen with its domed ceilings and intricate paintings covering every inch of plaster. We toured the most respected Monistary in Kazan. We were able to drink from a spring the people believe is the most Holy water in the area and can help heal the sick. In both places, the women wrapped our heads in traditional scarves to show respect when in places of worship.
We spent a day on a yacht on the Volga River sailing, picnicking, singing songs accompanied by guitar and swimming. The view was beautiful with the banks of the river covered in trees, and the water was extremely refreshing in the summer heat.
A very popular tradition in Russia are the troika races. In order to experience the excitement, we rode the president of Tatarstan’s (the Republic in which Kazan is the capital) horse drawn carriage around the race track. The horses are extremely fast and you wish there was something to hang onto when they fly around the curves of the course!
My time in Russia was fun, exciting, and beneficial in so many ways. It was very hard to leave because there is so much more to experience and the dreaded time of saying goodbye. I learned that all of the bad rumors you hear around High School history classes about the “terrible” Russians are completely wrong; the people and the country are just like us. It has taught me to be open to all types of people and cultures. It has made me travel hungry and the desire to travel is so prevalent that I am pursuing a degree in Spanish with intentions of studying abroad in Spain. All of this is spurred by my trip to Russia and the knowledge that I have family halfway around the world and a connection to an exciting diverse way of life!
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