Its one thing to travel to a different state, to a new city with the exciting unfamiliar. However, when one travels to a different country that speaks a language that has absolutely no meaning to you… that’s something else. That is an experience in and of it self that not many have had and one that can be both fun and frightening at the same time. None of this occurred to me at the time of course, the time of crazy planning and packing right before the trip. It was arranged that after I came home from the NFL National Debate Tournament and debate camp that we would pick up and leave for where my parents came from in 1991. 1991, the year of the collapse of the Soviet Union and when my parents decided to leave Russia to come here to South Dakota.
To really understand what it was to have been in such a foreign place (literally), one must understand what I was thinking about before hand. My head has been in philosophy books for months, preparing for the tournament. The last time I had seen my extended family was 12 years ago when I was in kindergarten. Effectively the people I were about to see were complete strangers to me, strangers who I couldn’t even understand. We flew from the Sioux Falls airport to Atlanta and then from there boarded a Delta flight headed straight for Moscow.
When we arrived at the airport everything looked foreign, not counting the different language and people. One thing that is taken for granted is the infrastructure of US airports, and I assumed that every country had a similar structure and airport policies. I was completely wrong, and the Russian airport even seemed to be disorganized and inefficient. People were just pooled through long lines, being loosely checked by security and customs. Then again this could be due to my perception of not knowing what was going on, but I’m confident that I viewed the airport as objectively as possible. When we presented our passports to the officials they started talking to us. I had no clue what they were saying, as my knowledge of Russian is extremely limited. I had to beckon my parents who had gone before me to come back and explain to them that I have no clue what they are saying. It turns out everything actually checked out and that I was free to go forward.
My relatives were waiting for us and we drove to their apartment. The 12 year reunion wasn’t as emotional as I thought it’d be, but at the same time my parents still kept close contact with their relatives so it made sense. Many of my relatives asked me if I remembered them (in Russian of course) and all I could do is awkwardly shake my head without being able to communicate with them any further. We were in Russia for my cousin’s wedding, and we were exhausted by the 12 hour flight.
We visited the Kremlin and Lenin’s body, and took a train to see St. Petersburg but all of these places seemed too unfamiliar to me. It was only until the wedding where I felt at least a little bit at home. Surrounded by family and the wedding party (the wedding ceremony itself is very brief, lasted 10 min) with Russian and Armenian music, eating delicious food and seeing everyone having a good time. Only after removing yourself from what you are familiar with can you truly see the joys of traveling and family in its purest concentrated form.
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