Haniel Spring School 2014: Day 5

by: Hannah Saley

I have the incredible privilege of giving you a mid-week update. We have now hit the hump of the trip, and it’s been nothing but an exciting opportunity as we continue to soak up the knowledge and culture, through lectures, mingling with Russian students, and by just roaming the city streets. Though most of us have been extremely cautious in leaving the hotel on our own as all the street signs seem to look the same. In addition, the streets seem to have an uncanny way blurring together as the Old Russian revival baroque buildings line the way. Thankfully most of the time we’ve been travelling in blobs, blindly following each other and not understanding a word spoken from around us. In struggling with simple things like how to say hello we quickly became experts at gestures and exaggerated facial expressions.

Despite these laughable moments it has been interesting to reflect on how those of us who joined the trip all had a different understanding of Russia prior to coming. Yu mentioned in the first blog post of feeling a sense of nostalgia as she stepped into a country that had so much influence on her own. Some had a parent from Russia or had done a semester abroad in Moscow. In my case, although my grandmother was originally from Russia it was just a far away land that had some sort of impact in this world. I had no conception of what current society would be like, felt no attachment to the history, and my expectations consisted of a blank page ready to be filled, in other words non-existent.

Now three days into the trip we’ve sat through fascinating lectures relating to border policies, spoke with the local administration of both Ivangorod (Russia) and Narva (Estonia), tried various traditional Russian dishes and even drank together with a fellow Russian friend Vitaly making us pretty much family (please note previous blog post). Although I can now better understand the intricate relations surrounding these groups of people and countries, it hardly begins to scrape away at the complexity of the two cities that sit side by side in different countries.

I was able to get a tiny glimpse of the weight of this nations history from the collapse of the Soviet era till 1991 when Estonia re-gained its independence and so forth. I am finally able to understand the complexities in the discourse of nationalism and begin to uncover some of these cultural idiosyncrasies within Russia and it’s surrounding Baltic border countries. I have felt a sense of relatability in learning about the stateless citizen as a Canadian passport holder but as one that has lived a nomadic life her whole life and with ethnic ties to more than one country. In touring both the tower of Ivangorod and the tower of Narva I was able to feel the rich saga that engulfed these two separate territories.

Prior to that day we had a lecture by a CISR (Centre of Independent Social Research) sociologist Olga Brednikova who warned us that it would be an emotional experience. I’m not sure I quite understood what she meant until we dragged our suitcases across the Ivangorod-Narva border and literally stepped into a different time zone. The experience was unparalleled as we passed through two border controls one leaving Russia and another as we returned into the EU. It was a great first half of the week in Russland.

Spasiba. Thank you for hosting us Russia.