Over the summer, 14 students traveled to Russia as part of an international study tour for an unforgettable glimpse into the country’s history, culture and nature.
Professor Michelle DenBeste, chair of the history department, led the trip as the group visited numerous historical sites and landmarks. However, for DenBeste, it’s a familiar trip into the foreign land.
“When I first made the trip in 1990, communism was falling apart, but by the next year things were a mess with the change in government,” DenBeste said. “Now I usually go once every couple years and things get consistently better. The streets are prettier. The economy is better, which is why I could finally start bringing students.”
However, with recent developments in Ukraine, the planning and organization of the trip was problematic.
“It was mayhem,” DenBeste said. “Three people ended up dropping out of the trip. I had to call friends in Russia to see if everything was fine. And everything was fine. We had no problems.”
The transition from the U.S. to Russia was difficult, yet exciting for the students. Senior James Hernandez, a history major, said he was tentative at first, but eventually loved his time there.
“It was a bit of a culture shock for most of us. It took a while getting used to,” Hernandez said. “But I ended up loving the place.”
Upon arriving, one aspect of the trip DenBeste noted was Russia’s “overwhelmingly beautiful” infrastructure and terrain.
“We had a run-on joke with all of us saying, ‘Oh look, more gold,’ because everything was covered in gold,” DenBeste said.
While initially being greeted at times by anti-American sentiment from citizens in bars or the metro, the students still had a chance to interact and befriend many of the country’s people.
“I got a chance to spend time with two women at Kirov Park and just being away from the city and just being around local people, they were so nice,” Hernandez said. “I was really taken aback. I didn’t want to leave at that point. Every time you turn around, it’s something new. It was mind-blowing.”
“One thing I’ve learned about Russians, even if they say they hate Americans maybe on a global scale, when you’re right there in front of them, it’s not the same. They treat you like a person,” DenBeste said.
“It’s the random cultural encounters they’ll remember most,” she said.