Saturday, December 15, 2012

Последний день в Москве

I will always remember my final day in Moscow.  The city was beautiful, awash in sunshine.

Patrick's host parents invited us to the Tchaikovsky Conservatory to hear a concert.
Patrick's host dad, Matt, Me, Patrick's host mom
Both the music and the venue were beautiful.  The arts in Moscow redeemed themselves after last night's circus misadventure.

Calmed from the music, I returned home to my packing nightmare.  How was I going to fit everything into my suitcase!

Before I knew it, the sun had set and it was dinnertime.  My host mom and sister prepared an elaborate final dinner for me complete with salmon and wine.

In Russian tradition, we toasted to my memories, my time in Moscow, my upcoming marathon training, and my future.  We toasted quite a bit, enough so that after dinner, when I ventured into the city for the final time, I barely felt the below freezing temperatures.

I needed to see Red Square one last time, to see the magnificent city lights, to hear the rush of the Metro, and feel the chill of the air against my skin.

Spending a semester in Moscow has been a life changing experience; one that I will always remember and one that will forever impact my perspective.

I felt I needed to toast the city that has given me so much.

Shivering in the cold, Annie, Patrick, Kyle, Gelya, and I raised shot glasses of Vodka "To Moscow!"

I will miss this city.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Russia in the wintertime is magical!

Annie, Stephanie and I went ice skating in Gorky Park this morning.  In the winter, Gorky Park is transformed into a huge ice rink!  All the paths that are normally walkable, are coated with ice.  We had so much fun despite the fierce cold.

Then, my day took a turn for the absurd.  Kyle bought us tickets for the Russian Circus.

It was weird.  The highlight of the show was a parade of bears riding on cows.  Что?

(Photos of Gorky Park and the bears to come soon!)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

что Сколково?

Two years ago, I wrote a paper about Russia's Skolkovo Project.

The Skolkovo Project is known as Russia's attempt to replicate the Silicon Valley's successes in technology and innovation.  Projects are underway, such as the construction of Skol-Tech, an engineering school to complement the already built Hypercube and School of Management.  Those involved in the project hope that Skolkovo will be a testing ground for new ideas in business, technology, and society.

With the help of the Stanford Program, we were able to attend an "Open Government" Conference at the Skolkovo Hypercube this evening.

The Skolkovo "complex" lies twelve miles west of Moscow.  I write "complex" because there is hardly anything there; the business school consists of a small cluster of buildings a short distance from the main Skolkovo entrance, and then, inside Skolkovo, there is the Hypercube, which is a seven story cube in the middle of a snowy field.

According to our guide, the Skol-Tech Engineering school will be opened in 2014.

Our evening in the Hypercube began with a talk about the Skolkovo Project.  "What is Skolkovo?" rhetorically asked our guide.  "Well, that is what we would like to know too."
Interior of Hypercube
Hypercube Auditorium
Following a brief tour of the Hypercube, which is purposely designed to look unfinished with concrete walls and visible metal bolts, we assembled in the main auditorium to hear from a panel of international ministers and political figures including Russian Prime Minister and former President Dmitri Medvedev.

The panel discussed the necessity of Open Government in enabling its citizens to advocate for change.  Open government projects such as access to documents and data are important steps for Russia as it seeks to better its credibility in the business world.  However, pledging to join an Open Government Partnership is one thing; actually enacting these procedures is a far greater demonstration of openness than any partnership.

*I wasn't sure how tight security would be, so I only had my point-and-shoot camera.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Алмазный фонд ... в конце

I finally saw the Diamond Fund!  For anyone who wants to guarantee herself tickets, go at 10:30AM on a Tuesday morning.  The guards will laugh at you because they are bored (especially if you have a fork in your purse ... yes, that happened and no, I don't know why I had a fork in my bag), but seeing the most prized Russian jewels without crowds is very much worth the ridicule.

Great Imperial Crown
Peter the Great started the Diamond Fund after seeing similar collections on his travels in Europe.  He issued a proclamation that ordered each of his successors to leave some of their jewels to the state.  The Diamond Fund was originally located in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, but was moved to Moscow in 1914 to be kept safe from the invading German Army.  Through Russia's revolution and years of Civil War, the collection was forgotten in an underground vault.  In 1927, the vault was reopened.  However, at the time, the Soviet economy was struggling.  The next year, 2/3 of the collection was auctioned off.

After the fall of communism, the collection was opened to the public.  Some of the highlights include Catherine the Great's Imperial Crown, the world's largest sapphire, and the Orlov Diamond.
Orlov Diamond
Now, I am working on my paper!  Just one more paper and an exam to go! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Встреча с послом

Last night we were honored to meet the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Ambassador Michael McFaul, at his residence, Spaso House.

The Ambassador treated us to stories of his time as a study abroad student in Russia during the Soviet era and shared his thoughts on the challenges facing U.S.-Russian international relations.  We spoke about issues such as Syria as well as problems facing the Russian business sector.  One of the most interesting topics we discussed was the perceptions that Russians have towards Americans.  Just as I had never experienced Russian culture before studying abroad here, many Russians have never actually experienced American culture.  It is easy to forget that cultural misunderstandings go both ways.

He ended the evening by reminding us to leave room in our lives for "serendipity."  Ambassador McFaul never imagined he would end up serving the United States government abroad and he certainly took a more out of the ordinary path to get there, but he enjoyed every minute of it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

мое последнее воскресенье в Москве

Annie, Patrick, and I attempted to see the Diamond Fund again this Sunday.  We arrived at the Kremlin at around 11:00; however, the only tickets that were available were for 2:00 PM.  We already had afternoon plans to hang out with Bekah and her host family, so we decided to postpone the Diamond Fund for yet another day.  Third time is a charm!

We walked around the city, filming awkward interview segments for our FlipCam video about the BOSP Moscow program.  Being on camera makes me so self-conscious!

We found the Red October Chocolate Factory, which is now a very artsy, hipster area of Moscow.  In 1851, German immigrant Teodore Ferdinand von Einem arrived in Moscow and opened a small candy shop near Teatralnaya Square.  Finding success with the notorious Russian sweet tooth, he later opened a red brick production facility on the embankment of the Moscow River.

By 1913, the factory was providing chocolates to the Czar and his family.  Then, in 1918, the company was seized by the Soviet government and renamed "State Confectionery Factory Number One."  In 1922, this lengthy name was changed to "Red October."  The Soviet government funded the expansion of the chocolate factory and expanded its offerings to include such notable sweets as Southern Nights, Stumbling Bear, and the infamous Alenka.  
The Red October chocolate factory has since moved to a 48,000 sq. meter facility in the suburbs of Moscow and continues to produce delectable Russian sweets.

After our stroll through Moscow, we met up with Matt, Ron, and Sharia and went to Bekah's house for afternoon tea.  Her host family is so accommodating and kind!  This is actually Bekah's second host family since she encountered a few problems with her first family.  I really glad she decided to move and has been enjoying time with her new family!

In other news, I have the written portion of my Russian language final exam tomorrow!  I'm so nervous!  Wish me luck!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Я ненавижу времени

I greatly dislike all the endings and good byes that are beginning.  Earlier today we had our final Russian class, then this evening we had our Bing Dinner at a Georgian restaurant called John Joli.

John Joli had a great atmosphere!  It was very festive.  The food was excellent, but, (though it sounds trite), the best part of the evening was the company.  Over the past few months, I feel as though the participants in our program have developed a very unique bond.  I love everyone so much and never want the fun times in Moscow to end!

We have one week left in Russia.  Let's make it count.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

идти быстро

Remember way back to when I first came to Moscow and felt like my "California saunter" did not fit in with the fast-paced Moscow life? Well, I have since gained some power walking skills, partially out of desire to fit in and partially out of necessity. Yesterday, as I speed -walked home with a throng of fans from the hockey game, I could not wait to get inside and out of the below-freezing temperatures. I realized that years of hustling through the cold from warm respite to warm respite has probably predisposed the Moscow population to speed-walking.

Thankfully, I have had a little over 2 months of training in pleasant weather before I needed to make actual use of my power walking skills!  Tomorrow's forecast is calling for a high of 26 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn't terribly cold.  I have definitely experienced worse in the suburbs of Philadelphia; however, when I need to walk outside from the Metro to the Academy, that 26 degrees starts to feel significantly colder. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

кататься на коньках

After a meeting with a former alumn from the Moscow Program who now works in the Department of Defense, we went to Red Square to go ice skating!

This was probably my second time ice skating ever.  As soon as I wobbled  onto the ice, one of the workers came over offering to help.  I guess my incompetence was that obvious.

Our seance lasted an hour and a half.  It was so much fun and so surreal!  We actually went ice skating in Red Square!

I quickly hurried home to eat dinner and prepare for my second ice-related activity of the day: a hockey game at the Olympic stadium near my house!  Matt figured out how to get tickets and Annie, Bekah, Kyle, Justin, and I decided to see the game also.  There is no better sport to see in Russia than ice hockey!

I expected rowdy fans like at American football games, but instead, the fans were very tame.  Fans of each team also had their own cheers that they would begin chanting in unison without prompting from a loudspeaker.  It was impressive.

Dynamo (pronounced Dee-na-ma in Russian), the home team, won.  Of course, Justin, Bekah, and I were sitting in the fan section for the visiting team, so we weren't allowed to leave until the entire stadium and premises had cleared of Dynamo fans.  It was an interesting means of preventing fights from breaking out.

It was such a fun (and frigid) day!

Monday, December 3, 2012


Classes are ending.  We had our final Post Soviet Eurasia and the SCO class today.  For our last lecture, our professor spoke about Russia-NATO relations in the past and present.

Critical to Russian foreign policy is Halford Mackinder's Heartland Theory.  

The heartland theory proposes that a land-based power would ultimately rule the world.  In the heart of Eurasia lies a resource-rich "pivot area."  He who rules Eastern Europe controls the Heartland.  He who rules the Heartland commands the World Island.  He who rules the World Island commands the World.

One can use the Heartland theory to trace the course of Russian self-perception and outward action through history.

As our professor posited today, during the Cold War, Russia did not view containment as a containment of communism; rather it viewed containment as America's attempt to contain Russia and its influence in the Heartland. 

From the American perspective, the Cold War ended with the collapse of communism in Russia.  However, since Russia defines the Cold War not as an ideological struggle, but as a vie for the Heartland, the Cold War tension continues.  Russia will forever be defending its hold on the Heartland.

As someone who has studied the Cold War and its legacy, I was fascinated by this notion.  I wish we had more classes to discuss this topic!  I'm not ready to leave!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Время с друзьями

I had such a fun weekend with everyone from the Bing Program!

This morning, we went to Bunker 42, a Cold War bunker 18 stories below street-level.  We could hear the Metro rattling by!

The tour was a funny mix of simulation and information.

One of the most interesting parts, in my opinion, was the film they presented at the beginning of the tour, which discussed the development of the Cold War.  Since we were in Russia, the film portrayed Russia's perspectives.  According to the amusingly translated voiceover, Nikita Kruschev removed the nuclear missiles from "Freedom Island" (Cuba) during the Cuban Missile Crisis because he realized that he did not have complete control.  The Kremlin did not give the orders to shoot down U.S. spy planes; that order was given by a military commander in Cuba.  For the Soviet Union, this was a bit of a "wake up call."  The Soviet Union did not have control over use of their military equipment, and by extension, nuclear weapons on "Freedom Island," so they were willing to negotiate for their removal.  Though I had studied the Cuban Missile Crisis before, this was a different version of history than the one I studied in school.

Overall, I loved our tour of the Bunker!  It was shorter than I expected, but included great insights into the Cold War mindset.

Later that evening, Kyle hosted a вечеринка at his home-stay.  We watched the cartoon Anastasia to celebrate the beginning of December in Russia!  "Once upon a December ..."

On Sunday morning, Annie, Kyle, Patrick, Stephanie, and I went to visit the Armoury Museum and Diamond Fund at the Kremlin.  Unfortunately, the Diamond Fund tickets sold out before we could purchase ours, so we only had the opportunity to visit the Armoury Museum.

The Armoury is my favorite museum in Moscow.  The collection, spanning from the 5th to the 20th century included treasures such as Ivan the Terrible's throne, faberge eggs, armor, stunning dresses, and magnificent carriages.  I absolutely adored the collection and was grateful for the free audio guide.  I can't wait to see the Diamond Fund!

Pictures of the Armoury are not allowed; they wouldn't do it justice anyway.  You'll just have to come to Moscow and see it for yourself!

After our Armoury visit, we went to Matt's house for afternoon tea.  Matt's симпатичHaя host mother baked a delicious assortment of savory pastries and cake.  Yum!  I love visiting other peoples' home stays and seeing how they are similar and different from my own.  (I failed at taking photos this weekend.  Sorry!)

I also finally finished my essay!