I am extremely glad I went to Russia with Dr. Knell's faculty led study abroad program.
The first reason is that this trip helped to break down so many stereotypes. I, as many people do, had an expectation of what the people of Russia would be like. Though one or two things may have been true the rest were clearly stereotypes. Our hosts were extremely gracious and set up a lot of cultural excursions for us.
Upon reflection, the first thing I noticed was how cultural Russians are. They have culture infused in everything they do. For example, in order to teach young kids how to read they teach through Russian folklore. On their chocolate wrappers (which they have a lot of and I have grown to absolutely love!) they do not just have pretty images as we do here in the States but they have images of things representing some aspect of their culture. This could be seen in packages bearing images of the national animal which is the bear, or some have images recognized from many of the Russian fairy tales and folklore.
I also noticed that Russia is a very symbolic nation. Everything, including things that you thought were random, has another meaning and learning about Russian culture helped to understand why things are they way they are.
An example of this would be the food. Every meal we were served was a four course meal! This was extremely hard for us because we did not expect the food to keep coming for one thing, and the second is that it was rude not to eat it, and I personally wanted to try everything I could. Whatever was not finished such as the breads (Which they always served ALOT OF) they would tell us to take home.
After visiting the home of Ivan the Terrible and learning about ancient traditions I learned that Czarist royal meals were actually served with 62 different dishes, and it was rude to the king to not sit and try every one. In those times as well, what you could not finish was packaged up to be sent home with you. So that helped explain to me that the Russian idea of meals were obviously long held traditions.
There are many, many more things like this that I learned, and I have been truly affected and changed for the better. I now know what it is like to try to navigate on your own in a country that does not speak your language, I have gained a different perspective into culture and what it means for different people. I have seen how much our culture influenced theirs. This was a great experience and if at all possible I am going to try to study abroad next summer as an alumni.