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Reflecting on our most recent trip to Russia, I can’t help but think of what I felt before we went. I had in my mind a cold and dark country, with a cold and dark past of oppression and violence. Now, after our travels there, I feel my mindset and previous stereotypes have expanded into a much more robust cultural outlook–there is so much more to the country than what my narrow worldview had previously allowed! Russia is a country that thrives, alive with people and culture and stories. Here are some of the unexpected things I learned:

Russian people are deeply shaped by their history and heritage. For them, their history, no matter its corruption and oppression, is still a part of who they are–as people, families, and as a nation. From what I observed, Russian people—especially the older generation, who have lived through war and totalitarian regimes—are accustomed to suffering as a part of the human existence, not necessarily running from it but showing strength and perseverance through it. When our tour guide in St. Petersburg told stories of his grandmother surviving the siege of St. Petersburg, it was inspiring to me how she lived through such a horrible experience and still survived, showing incredible strength. This for me was a contrast from American culture, which tends to “numb” suffering by materialism and pursuit of pleasure. I loved seeing the strength of this Russian spirit displayed throughout their history.

Despite their tumultuous history, the strong Russian spirit is clearly evident in their culture. When we traveled to St. Petersburg, we saw the marks of a culture that was very much alive—displayed in the architecture most of all. As I walked through the Hermitage, I couldn’t help but gawk at the opulence of it all, wondering how manmade creations could be so beautiful. After spending some time in the cathedrals, I came to appreciate how they used earthly materials to create a space that was created to cause the one entering it to be immersed in beauty, reverence and awe, resembling heaven in a way that I never would have thought before. When we visited the Kazan Cathedral during a service in St. Petersburg, I sat down and closed my eyes, listening to the beautiful music and imagining how it would be to finally enter God’s presence in heaven, how awe-inspiring it must be to be able to be where he is for the very first time. Being able to envision heaven in the cathedrals has caused me to view eternity in a different way and gives me a fresh sense of anticipation for the future.

I enjoyed my time in Russia immensely, not only because we saw so many beautiful sights and experiences, but because it allowed me to expand my previous mindset and view culture more objectively, being able to critique it but also find the incredible beauty in it. Hope to see you again soon, Россия. 🙂

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