I recently got a Facebook message from one of my fellow Russian exchangers. She needed someone who understood and so told me how she was tired of people not listening to her view on Russian politics, of people implying that even though she spent nine months in country, she was too far from Moscow and therefore didn't really know the political situation in the country. That got me thinking about some of my own experiences and I decided to do this entry about it, so you would know. For those of you who may be reading this and are in Russia right now, this is what you have to look forward to. For any other exchangers who might be reading this, you will probably go through something similar. For the rest of you, I hope that by reading this, you get a better understanding.
It's really hard coming back from Russia. Not just because of the general leaving your second culture behind thing. It's hard because you don't realize how prejudiced Americans are against Russia until you get back and start facing it. It also doesn't help when barely two weeks after you get back, the front page of the newspapers are splashed with headlines about Russia invading Georgia. Immediately the questions started. "Were you in Russia when that happened?" "no." "Did you see this coming?" "Not really." And my least favorite of all: "What do you think of this whole situation." Apparently having just come back from Russia, Everyone wanted my opinion and my insight into the conflict. It quickly became my least favorite question though when I had several conversations that went sort of like this:
"What do you think about this whole thing?"
"Well, I think it's interesting."
"Yeah, Russia's so power hungry right?"
"Actually, you do realize that Georgia started it...?"
"They invaded the Breakaway regions first."
"Yeah, but Putin is evil and power hungry and trying to grab up land!"
I started avoiding the topic. How can you explain your side to someone who doesn't want to listen? To someone who just wants you to confirm their stereotypes? Because you get a lot of that. This is what we're taught, this is the way it is. I got very tired very quickly of, as soon as I said anything to defend the Russian government in any way, people looking at me like I was a communist, or making comments to that effect. What most people don't realize is that Russians know their government is corrupt, but their attitude is that this is the way life is. There is no history of democracy in that country so most people don't know any way to change it. Oh and by the way, if you actually ask the Russians, many of them will tell you that they approve of Putin because he's done some good things for the country. And I know what you'll probably say "It's because there's a history of Putin eliminating any and all competition and opposers." I'm not saying that this isn't true, I'm just telling you what it's like.
The other thing that really bothers me is the actual "communist" comments. I have a few friends who make this sort of comment, mostly because they know it gets to me. You fake smile and shrug, or make threats under your breath in Russian and go on. I hide how much it really bothers me and I think this is something I need to stop doing. Hiding. I need to stand up and be like "look, this really bothers me when you say things like that. " Because it does and maybe if I spoke up people would understand better.
I guess you could say this is where I'm at right now, piloting through the remnants of my exchange. It seems so long ago, sometimes it just feels like a dream. Some days I wake up and I think "Was I really in Russia? Oh. I guess so." It's rather depressing in some ways.