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In Russia, nothing is as it seems

Heleen Ris and Janneke Toonders, Radboud University Nijmegen

In April 2018 a group of students from Radboud University Nijmegen visited Saint Petersburg on a research and study trip.

Studenten RU Nijmegen

We were asked to give an impression of our trip to Saint Petersburg, where we stayed from the first  till the eighth of April. Our group consists of eleven students and three teachers. The students are each working on an individual research: a comparative study between Russia and Italy on a subject of choice within the themes of religion, identity and citizenship. The weeks before the excursion we were given lectures on these topics in relation to Russia. The following weeks we will focus on Italy, since we are visiting Rome at the end of April.

As one of our teachers said: in Russia is nothing as it seems. One the one hand one might expect to encounter a whole different society or culture and find out that we are not that different at all. For example, they have canals just like in the Netherlands. But, on the other hand, when one expects Russia to be not so distinct, they might find that there are indeed substantial differences. For example, crossing the roads could be a challenge sometimes.

What was unexpected was the winter coldness, that was still lingering over the city. When we arrived the Neva was still frozen, but as we were leaving the ice was breaking and the spring was just around the corner. Irrespectively to the weather, we had tons of fun. We were also very lucky to see the city in the sunlight, which gave the buildings a magical touch.

Regardless of the language barrier that we encountered now and then (when our expert Evert van der Zweerde wasn’t around), the citizens were welcoming and always willing to lend a helping hand. We met lots of interesting (special thanks to Aleksej Koerbanovski, Arjen Roodvoets, Sergej Podbolotov, Nikita Lomagin, Natalia Pecherskaja), funny (like our guide Elena Koetnaja) and passionate people during our visit. Impressed by their knowledge, we gained a new and fresh perspective on Russia. Overall the impression that we got during our trip is one that we will benefit from, not only in our further (academic) careers but also in our everyday lives.

One very interesting daytrip was our visit to Staraja Ladoga. Our tour guide gave us a very elaborate presentation about the history of the place. Another very special experience for us was the visit to an Russian Orthodox church on Good Friday and during the night before Easter. We are grateful that Arjen Roodvoets introduced us to the Russian Orthodoxy and gave us information about the liturgy we perceived. The colorful cathedrals were in great contrast to some grey, communist buildings.

Saint Petersburg is a wonderful city with lots to offer. Special thanks to the Netherlands Institute in Saint Petersburg (especially to Maria Kachalova), who arranged not only very interesting lectures but also interviews with several informants for multiple researches. We are very grateful for their warm welcome, the program they compiled for us, and their overall guidance. Without their help we could have never gotten so much information about Russia and our researches will greatly benefit from this.

We are missing Russia already and are dreaming of our next visit!

On behave of the whole group of students from the Radboud University of Nijmegen,

Heleen Ris and Janneke Toonders

11-04-2018 Nijmegen, The Netherlands