Ever since I found out that I would be coming to Russia on a Fulbright, I've periodically fallen down the travel blog rabbit hole. It happens when I'm searching the internet for some miscellaneous piece of information about living in Russia that, inevitably, I can never find. I set off on Google looking for something specific, and end up spending at least an hour reading some random person's travel blog about their time in Russia.
Tonight's travel blog rabbit hole was called A Girl and Her Travels and was written by a girl who lived in Moscow as an American expat for four years. She has a lot of "tips", most of which boil down to "try to embrace your experience as an expat!" That got me thinking.
I've already had some really cool experiences, and I'm not even a full month into my Fulbright. Kingisepp was great, a Russian friend took me to a lecture by a French comics artist that was great, tonight I went to a French speaking club at an anti-cafe and that was pretty great (I'm definitely going to continue attending the French club). This weekend I'm going on a historical excursion to Старая Ладога (Staraya Ladoga) that may or may not be great, and the following weekend my friend Natasha has invited me to her home in Tikvin, which is definitely going to be great.
All that said, I definitely miss home. Every day. Because every day I wake up and I am reminded that I am in a strange place where everyone around me has different expectations than I do. This manifests itself in all sorts of little ways: my laundry situation, changes to my schedule, buying groceries, what situations are problems and what situations are just nuisances, etc. And on an individual, case-by-case basis, none of these things are a big deal. Rather, they add up to make me feel, very subtly, very consistently, and very profoundly that I am a stranger in a strange land. You can't escape that feeling, and no matter how great things are going, you will always feel a little out of sorts for the simple reason that you are, in fact, out of place.
Being in Russia can sometimes feel like being in exile. For me, that feeling of exile in turn makes me out of sorts and listless. The canonical advice for feeling listless is to get out and do something fun that reminds you that it's better to be wherever you are than to be home. That advice is good until it backfires, until you go out to do something fun only to end up feeling even more isolated and exiled because you had an unfriendly waitress at the restaurant you took yourself out to in an attempt to cure your very listlessness.
That's why I remind myself that I can go home, and that I am going home for the holidays. I think sometimes it can be seen as a travel-blog faux pas to talk lovingly about going home, but I like to remind myself that I'm not stuck in Russia for the rest of my life if I don't want to be. I can go home again. That doesn't mean I don't want to be here; it doesn't mean I'm not incredibly grateful to have received a Fulbright. What it means is that I'm not an exile. I'm sure this would not be true for everyone, but for me, reminding myself that I can go home again helps me appreciate my time away even more. It brings back the rarefied feeling of exoticism that can get lost in the day to day slog of teaching and trying to figure out where to take out my trash by highlighting that this is temporary, a fleeting time that I should make the most of. It helps me appreciate that hypothetical unfriendly waitress, because she becomes a symbol of an exciting exotic experience, rather than a symbol of a permanent state of unpleasant exile.