Emma from Sweden came to Samara for one semester with STePs and volunteered at the office. After adapting to Russian society bit by bit, she has now decided to permanently move to Russia.
Why did you go to Samara, Russia?
In Summer 2012 I studied Russian in Cheboksary for two months. I heard about Samara and Lastochki from a woman who was working at the time at the Swedish embassy in Moscow. Since I wanted to improve my Russian and at the same time get some experience of working in Russia I applied for this project. I love to visit different Russian cities and saw this as a great opportunity to get to know Russia better.
Tell us about your project
I worked at the office which was lots of fun and also very varied. I immediately felt like part of the staff and I was given freedom with responsibility and could create my own projects. I interviewed host families and volunteers, wrote articles, created a new logotype and leaflets, and planned events. And of course I also brewed a lot of coffee!
At the office we spoke almost only Russian which for me was very good, but I have to admit sometimes also frustrating, especially in the beginning and at meetings for example.
What was your biggest challenge being a volunteer?
Even though this was my fourth visit to Russia, my biggest challenges being a volunteer were all cultural shocks which I had on an almost daily basis. Even if Sweden and Russia are very close to each other geographically, they are far apart when it comes to customs and the way people think.
Racism, homophobia, misogyny and the way society takes care of old, poor and disabled people was very difficult for me to accept or at least handle and when it comes to human rights Russia is far behind. I cannot, however, think of a more kind-hearted and generous people than the Russians, which makes me want to stay, argue and try to make a difference, even if it’s just a little one. I still believe volunteering can help change the world.
What did you like the most about being a volunteer?
I really liked that I was also able to travel during my time as a volunteer and I managed to visit Ufa, Volgograd and Yekaterinburg. I met a lot of friendly Russians but also volunteers from different countries.
Living in Samara taught me to stand up for myself and put my foot down when needed. Whether you like it or not you adapt to Russian society bit by bit and naive people get easily walked over. I still love to make cashiers and ticket inspectors smile, however. I have learned so much about Russians and the Russian way of life during my time here. A friend once said to me that Russians are like dogs: they bark but at the same time wag their tails. Russians can seem sulky and unfriendly, but once you get to know them they will immediately treat you like their own family. Russia is really the land of contrasts. I am never as upset, but also as happy, as when I am in Russia.
Would you recommend volunteering in Samara to someone else?
Does the Pope wear a funny hat? In my opinion, Samara is one of the best cities if you want to experience The Real Russia. I am so glad that I had this opportunity to go to Russia and I think I will work again as a volunteer in the future, in for example Ukraine or Moldova. I strongly recommend that you study Russian before coming here since very few people can or want to speak English with you. I had a lot of practice, but will go back to University for some advanced grammar studies.
After a total of half a year in Russia I am now sure that I want to move here permanently. Next stop - Moscow!