Monday, March 11, 2013
I have never felt so welcomed anywhere in my entire life as I did in provincial Russia. The hospitality our entire group was met with was almost overwhelming and entirely unlike anything that I think could be found in the United States. The people we volunteered for, the students, and the villagers we met were always excited to see us and went out of their way to make us comfortable. While we did not get a long time to interact with the students we met in Vytegra, they left a lasting impression on me. On only our second meeting, they hugged each of us individually in greeting and to say goodbye. Our final goodbye on the last night was difficult for everyone and there were many promises of visiting each other, and while we really barely knew each other it still seemed fitting. Despite the fact that our sphere of communication was limited to the small overlap where our Russian and their English met, it was not necessary to know every single word we might want to say in order to make personal connections. We had a snowball fight with them on our first night, which was a fun bonding experience that required essentially no words at all.We were presented with gifts from nearly everyone we met, which we had been told before the trip that this was something to expect, but I was still surprised by how often it actually happened. Nearly everyone we met, from students to the hotel to the town administration had some sort of gift for our group. They had even planned ahead of time to help celebrate Women’s Day on the 8th of March for all the women in our group, and we all got scarves, chocolate, and flowers (the picture below is of me holding my flowers at our Women's Day celebration). Even the smallest of gifts that I was given touched me because it was obvious that these people cared and had been looking forward to our arrival for a long time and wanted to make our visit as wonderful as possible. This trip has left a lasting impression on me of the genuine hospitality of the Russian people.