10 years ago last month, I was on a plane crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. I was headed to a little town by the name of Timashevsk in the great country of Russia. I had no idea what was in store for me. This was before the wide-spread access to Internet. In 1997, I believe we had a computer, but I don’t think we had Internet yet. Anyhow, all I knew about where I was headed was the address that was written on the piece of paper that had been mailed to me. I was set out for a 6 month trip as an exchange student. I was 16. I had never taken a class in Russian. I taught myself the alphabet, numbers 1-10 and how to say ‘My name is …..” while en route on the airplane. That was all I knew.
There were 6 of us Americans traveling to Russia with YFU. Three females, three males. I was coming from California, another from Massachusetts, Louisiana, Michigan, Maryland, and I can’t remember where the last girl was from. Oh well. Not important. Point being: we were quite a diverse group. While on the plane, we all compared to which addresses we were headed. I was the only one going to Timashevsk (a small, rural town near the Black Sea region of Russia). All the others were going to Krasnodar, a much bigger city about half an hour away from Timashevsk. As it turned out, one of the other girls did end up being in Timashevsk near me! Her families changed last minute. That was a simple twist of fate that I am grateful for. She ended up becoming a very good friend of mine (and we recently reconnected after 9 years!) and I think my stay in Russia wouldn’t have been what it was if she weren’t a part of it.
I absolutely loved my time in Russia. I lived with a host family: Galina (the mother), Anatolia (the father), Oksana (daughter; she was my age) and Marek (son; he was 8 or 9). I could write many many posts just about each of them, but I will try to keep this short(ish). I recall feeling very homesick about 2 months into it. I remember just aching to hear English, for anything American. I cried often. There must have been something about this breakdown, because I think it was soon after that that the language soon became much easier for me to jump around in. I even began having dreams in Russian near the end of my trip. My host-father, just before I left, told me that he thought if I could just stay another 3 months, that I would be fully fluent. I was really that close. (Of course, now, all of that is deep in my brain somewhere…my Russian is so poor now).
When we left Russia, I cried and cried. I didn’t want to come home. Once back home, I felt more homesick for Russia than I had felt for the US while in Russia. I listened to the Russian music I had brought home constantly. I wrote letters (in Russian) to friends in Russia. I reveled in sharing my memories with everyone who asked. I had a very hard time integrating back into high school. The normal high school concerns (homework, gossip, proms, GPAs) just seemed so freaking petty. Who cares? My perspective on life was totally changed. I felt like a foreigner. Truly! I had no idea this would happen. Luckily, one of my good friends back home was Russian (from Azerbaijan), so I could go to her house and hear the language, eat the foods, enjoy the customs that all made me feel more at home. My biggest regret was that I eventually lost touch with my host family. It was a stupid teenage thing.
When I lived in Russia, I felt more at home than I have anywhere else I have ever lived, including now. I don’t particularly care for the government, but I was oblivious to that when I lived there. All I knew was that I felt/feel Russian. Simple as that.
I am thinking about when to plan a trip back. I want to take my family with me, so it will be a few years to save up enough money for the trip. But, it will happen. It has to happen. To start with, I have begun my search for my host family. I have their last name, but there is very, very little about Timashevsk online. I can imagine many people there still don’t have Internet. However, on a whim, I googled my name along with the name of the town. I got 5 results. 🙂 One of them was a link to a search ad that my host sister posted on the Internet 2 years ago. She was looking for me. Oh. My heart lept! Wow.
I really hope her email hasn’t changed in the last 2 years. Time will tell. I hope I get a response to the message I sent her.