The Start of Something New

The best feeling is the start of a journey. Every time I embark on a new adventure, I am filled with gratitude, excitement, and so much joy. My most recent trip with my fellow study abroads, senior interns, and program leaders was no exception. It started off with a 16 hour overnight train ride from Riga, Latvia to Moscow, Russia. We stayed up late playing card games and talking way too loudly. Our excitement was palpable, as we couldn’t wait to finally reach our destination.

We were only in Moscow for three days, but from the moment we arrived and I saw the streets filled with flowers for Women’s Day, I would have loved to have more time. But in the 72 ish hours I did have, I took every opportunity to explore. Our first stop after dropping backpacks at the hostel was the Red Square. As we entered the ornate gate and walked towards the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral, we were surrounded by the Kremlin, GUM department store, the State History Museum, and Lenin’s Mausoleum. It felt like a dream, but as we were able to walk through the majority of these immensely historically significant buildings, I began to realize I was actually in Russia.

One specific memory I will treasure is even sweeter because it was not on the itinerary and couldn’t have been planned in advance. That first night, I ventured out with Chloe and Vika, our study abroad intern (who speaks Russian) to Zaryadye Park. Surrounded by city lights, couples, groups of friends, and families, we walked along the Floating Bridge which juts out over the Moscow River. It was cold, but that didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the night. I was amazed at the number of people we saw.

After wandering, we found an enormous outdoor amphitheater where we sat to take in the view of St. Basil’s Cathedral in the distance. When I was ready to speak up and mention heading back, a guy about our age approached. In a halting, slow conversation with Vika translating, we understood. He was there with a few friends, and they all planned to go to England this coming summer. They had heard us speaking English, and wondered if we’d be willing to have a conversation to help them practice.

We all agreed, why not, and moved lower down in the seating area to join his friends. Everyone was introduced, and we shook hands. I could never recount every word. But I don’t need a photographic memory to remember the feelings I experienced. Who could ever imagine I would be here? Sitting in Zaryadye Park in Moscow, having a scattered, partially translated conversation with Russians. They were all surprised to hear we were from the United States, and like most people when we told them about our semester in Lithuania, their response was wait where? Their excitement was obvious when we said we were going to St. Petersburg next.

In the second half of the conversation, they wanted to know if American stereotypes were true. Did everyone look like models in high school? Did the popular jocks all drive pickup trucks? Were the hallways really so empty and organized between classes? I couldn’t help but laugh, and Chloe and I did our best to reassure them that no, high school is not like it is in the movies. It wasn’t the most deep, meaningful conversation, but it didn’t need to be. It was enough that we were able to connect just from a random, chance encounter.

The rest of the trip was filled with wonders, and you will be hearing more about them in blog posts to come. But that first night in Moscow, I learned it is always the right choice to say yes to something new. Fear and tiredness can feel like insurmountable obstacles. But the regret of saying no and wondering what if is worse than just taking the chance and experiencing something new.

Sylvia Leary

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