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The expression “Mother Russia” fits my experience there perfectly. While people in Russia are surprisingly warm, welcoming, caring and affectionate, sometimes you just can’t stand them, much like your parents.
The first time I went to Russia, I lived in a lost city called Izhevsk for 9 months and the culture shock I suffered the first week was huge. I did not expect such a Soviet place, grey and old. But as I said, the surprise came when meeting the locals. Russians don’t like to smile and they can be very difficult. But living in such a remote place allows foreigners to be extremely exotic and Russians look forward to meeting you just because you’re not Russian. They would help me with anything and often they even invited to their houses for diner!
During my second year, this time as a teacher, I had a different approach to Russian culture and a deeper experience. The difference with my European lifestyle was big and I got to know what Russian bureaucracy (still very Soviet), and working life, really is. If you are going to work, get ready for a first month (months) of impossible paperwork and careless government employees.
This is a country that you can love with all your heart at the same time as you despise it, prepare for the biggest contrast of feelings you’ll ever have. While you will be looking forward to coming back home, you know you will miss it and once you’re back, you’ll look for a taste of your Russian life again.