Our volunteer Emily is currently in Russia on an EVS placement for six months.
Hello! My name is Emily and I’m the new EVS volunteer for Interra. I arrived in Krasnoyarsk on Sunday and I will live, work and study here for the next six months. I was born in Germany and my family moved to the UK when I was 3 years old. My parents and I live in Scotland in a small town called Campbeltown, and I study Russian, German and Ukrainian at Cambridge University in the south of England. Last year I came to St Petersburg for three weeks and studied in Odessa in Ukraine for a semester because I love travelling and learning more about other cultures. This is my first time in Siberia! While I’m here, I will run English and German language clubs, events and presentations relating to British culture, as well as generally helping with the everyday work of Interra and the various projects it runs. Apart from that, I’m looking forward to meeting lots of local people, improving my Russian, visiting other Russian cities and going hiking in the Stolby nature reserve!
Redefining “Siberia”: A Weekend in Novosibirsk
This time last year I was working at a summer school in Germany with several international colleagues and students from the USA and different European countries. I remember that as we were getting to know each other at the beginning of the summer, we started throwing a plastic globe around the room and pointing out our homes, universities, dream travel destinations. One friend from America pointed at Russia, made a sweeping gesture across the huge space on the globe and said:
“Did you know, that to the east of Moscow there’s just… nothing?”
I laughed. Nobody else did. He wasn’t joking. When I tell friends and family that I’m living and working in Siberia, people’s minds are instantly filled with stereotypes and myths, with images of the endless taiga, wild bears, all-year-round freezing temperatures and arctic winds, and above all – emptiness. I lost count of the times my mum reminded me to make sure I took my warmest winter coat and snow boots.
While the first few weeks in Krasnoyarsk have been filled with surprises and adventures, one of my favourite aspects of life here has been getting to know the real meaning of the word “Siberia” – and sharing my stories, impressions and photographs with people at home.
People are always surprised to find out that I actually live in a big city. Yes, outside the city you can find the most typical “Siberian” landscapes – huge forests, towering stone cliffs, and all manner of unusual woodland animals that you’d never find in the parks and woodlands of Europe. But Krasnoyarsk itself – to the surprise of my friends and family in the UK – is filled with interesting, open-minded people, exciting cultural events, shops and bars, progressive political and social movements, interesting architecture… and even a couple of vegetarian restaurants!
This weekend I made my first trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway and visited my good friend Anna, who is spending a year in Novosibirsk. The city is located about 800km to the west of Krasnoyarsk and is often considered the capital of Siberia. It was wonderful to see a good friend and spend some time comparing our impressions of life in Russia. On the train back to Krasnoyarsk, while I watched the endless birch forests and tiny wooden villages float past my window, I thought about our conversations, about Siberia and the misconceptions of my friends and family. Russia is a wonderful and varied country, and it’s a real shame that people in the western world know so little about life here.
In Novosibirsk, Anna showed me around the city’s main attractions and central streets, theatres, parks, some modern shopping centres and other cultural hotspots. We also visited Akademgorodok – on the edge of the city, where various universities and institutes are located. There, where the river Ob is at its widest, we found a huge, golden sandy beach bordered by a pine forest and overlooking several small islands on the peaceful water. The air temperature was around 25 degrees. Underneath a cloudless blue sky, with our bare feet resting on the sand a few metres from the edge of the river, my friend Anna said, “Where are we right now? Italy? The south of France? No… this is actually Siberia.”
It’s so nice to think about the ways that Siberia has broken our stereotypes and continues to exceed all of our expectations. For me, “Siberia” means the snowy birch forests of Krasnoyarsk Krai in early April, as well as the sunlit terraces of restaurants in Novosibirsk city centre on a warm May evening. It is a hub of activity, interesting projects, new people.
I already knew that travelling to the east of Moscow leads to more than “just… nothing”, but working as an EVS volunteer in Krasnoyarsk continues to lead me to unexpected new ideas, places and people. I really hope that the western world will come to understand Russia in a more nuanced way. Siberia, in my eyes, really is much more than frozen pine forests and wild bears wandering amongst the trees.
You can stay up-to-date with the volunteers at Interra in Krasnoyarsk by visiting their blog here.