Grace is from Salem, OR and participated in the 2017 Russia summer program.
Здравствуйте / Hello,
I think that it’s worth saying that unlike many of the NSLI-Y summer program students who joined my Kirov program with a serious interest in foreign service, I initially wanted to participate in the NSLI-Y Russia program simply because I love to read Russian literature.
For a long time, my conception of Russia has been tied up in the (translated!) words of Turgenev, Akhmatova, Lermontov, Zamyatin, Kharms, and others. Nevsky Prospekt, dueling, and teatime have (unfairly) defined my view of Russia and the Russian people for years. As a very introverted person, Russian literature has provided me with a safe space that has allowed me to ‘meet’ characters and enter new environments without leaving my bedroom. My time on my NSLI-Y program taught me that isolation does not lead to successful reading. Books rely on the willingness of people to engage with their ideas outside of the text. Such interaction forms the basis for new books, and even more importantly, it prevents people from prioritizing their own conversations and views over those of others. I now know that the quiet contemplation that I love and the unpredictable dialogue that I fear are mutually dependent.
In order to become productive global citizens, I think that it’s important to view people as books that should be read and analyzed compassionately, carefully, and respectfully. At the same time, however, know that I will not be able to fully understand and participate in the country without consciously challenging myself to leave my bedroom and stumble along my own metaphorical Nevsky Prospekt. It scares me to not know what I will find along the way. That being said, my time in Kirov has caused me to recognize the importance of venturing outside of comfortable spaces and initiating difficult conversations.
I love Russian literature with all of my heart, and I know that I will always love to retreat into my cave and enter my cherished literary worlds. Ultimately, however, I hope to push myself to become a more reflective member of the world that surrounds me by ‘meeting’ characters outside of books. As a shy person, this is a difficult task, but it is one worth pursuing.
Here is to continuing the journey that I started in Russia – one full of new books and new people.
Thank you to Russia for being a country that is even more beautiful and complicated than its literature. There is no higher compliment.
Explanation for photos: These photos were taken at the beautiful and historical Kirov library (known in Russian as Библиотека им. А. И. Герцена). I met a visiting American historian of Soviet education who was doing research in the archives! I also connected with a very kind Russian librarian who gave me a free tour of the art and literature exhibitions.