Yesterday we went to School No. 2 where we met the Russian schoolchildren and give our presentations on America. After a long day at school we met with some of the Russian students in the cafe at our hotel. To finish the day we watched a concert put on for us by the musical school.
The trip to School No. 2 has to be my favorite activity for the day. Having lived in Germany, I have experienced both American and German classrooms, which helped me see the differences that the schools in Russia have with those of America and Germany. School No. 2 was built in the late 1800s, and reflects the architecture of the time. Even the principal looks as if she just walked out of 19th Century Russia. The students were very friendly, and we had good Q & A sessions with them. Everyone wanted to meet us, and we spent a lot of time just signing autographs and giving out our email dresses whenever we entered the hallways. The female students seemed especially keen on getting Clark, Andrew, Ian, and my contact information. While I met a lot of people, I didn't get to know in much depth anyone except for the 4 students that I was paired off with for the small group sessions. When I spoke with the Russian students later on at the cafe, I became better acquainted with several more.
Some of the students said that Vytegra was boring and that they wanted to move to Moscow, St. Petersburg, or Vologda to escape, many students said that they would be willing to return to Vytegra after graduation but could not, because there were no job opportunities. This migration to the cities and exit from hometowns is very familiar to me, as I do not expect to return to Detroit or even stay in Michigan after graduation, because there are too few jobs available in my concentration. Even though Detroit is still a major city, it seems to share many characteristics of the Russian provinces, of being in economic decline and experiencing a “brain drain” of university graduates.
After two days in Vytegra, I've noticed quite a few differences between Vytegra and St. Petersburg. While both Petersburg and Vytegra are known for shipbuilding, Petersburg has a more diversified economy and tourism to boot. Vytegra is suffering from an economic slump, which can be seen in the condition of the local buildings and the financial condition of the Vytegra museum. On an individual level, Petersburgers are much more loud and outgoing in public than Vytegrans, and are much more willing to speak with strangers on the street. So far, the stereotypes of provincial Russia that we learned in class are holding up, but we have a few more days to test them.