Fortunately, this is one question I will never have to answer, since I have completed my journey to Russia. Even after sharing my journey through social media, I have still been asked the question, “Why Russia”. Before I left for this trip, I offered a few standard responses based on what I believed would be my reasons. But even I was not prepared for the depth at which I would be moved based on my experience. No matter how much research you do, how many reviews you read, or how many stories you hear, nothing can replace actually experiencing it in person. So while many of my preconceived notions were spot on, there was still room to be pleasantly surprised, and in many cases amazed. So what was it that I witnessed that has me telling you that we truly don’t understand the world beyond on our own borders? Well for one it was the attitude of the people in general. Even the most unbiased of articles that I had read had warned that Russian people were generally not very friendly, and often just kept to themselves. Not that they had a certain disdain for Americans, but they just simply didn’t warm to any visitors. This could not have been further from what I experienced. I found the people very ingratiating and pleasant, particularly when they realized I was American. One example was when I met Evgeny, who was the fire arms instructor when I participated in the AK-47 shooting tour. Not only did he provide a thorough shooting experience, he then offered to take me on a tour of Moscow visiting sights that I would have never known about as a solo tourist. He gave up a full Sunday to show me his country, and his only request of me was to tell the American people that Russia is a great place to visit, and that they would be welcome to come for a visit anytime.
Besides the human aspect, there is always the convenience factor when traveling abroad. Would the standards that we are used to in America be significantly reduced when traveling to Russia. The answer was a resounding no! Not only was there no drop off of the standard services I was used to, in most cases they equaled or exceeded what I was expecting. In this electronic and social media age, wifi was everywhere, and in most cases free of charge. High end shopping and Western branded stores were in abundance, as well as traditional Russian services and goods. The notion of the old Soviet long lines for groceries and basic necessities, is as outdated as typewriters and cassette tapes. Instead I found a culture that thrives on education and honoring its history. While no one that I spoke to longed for the days of the Communist system, they still honor the people who emboldened such views, and seek to retain that history. Something that America could learn much from is their respect of history, and learning from it. Instead of trying to erase history by tearing down statues, and removing monuments because some are offended, Russian history is preserved and honored, even the parts that are not viewed positively. That history is encouraged through the affordability of entrance fees to some of their most important establishments. Entrance prices ranged from about 5.00 to 10.00 USD, with nothing more than 15.00 to enter. Imagine Disneyland charging 15.00 to get in, and once you enter actually learn something in the process.
I guess what I learned more than anything was that the more we see ourselves as different, the more we are the same. 2 years ago I travelled to China, and found that the Western portrayal of that country was a total fabrication. I would not be fooled into thinking like that for this trip, and it served me well. Each of us as individuals has a choice on how we view the world. We can rely on Western media to tell us who they are, and what to think of them. Or we can experience the world first hand, and learn for ourselves who they are, and what to think. I have chosen the latter in my life, and will always encourage individuals to seek out new adventures, and never stop learning beyond our own borders.