(Ed. note: Maggi Sliwinski '07 of East Concord, N.Y., is among more than a dozen HWS students and faculty heading for Siberia shortly after graduation. This is the first entry in her “Siberia Journal.”)
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In about one month, I will be getting on a plane in New York City and flying to Moscow, and from there to Irkutsk near Lake Baikal in southern Siberia.
First off, I have not been on a plane except for the short flights to Florida and back.
Second off, I have never been out of the United States except up to Québec. This was my last option for going abroad during college, so I grabbed it. There are seventeen students and three professors going on the trip, and it is all being paid for by the U.S. Department of Education.
As one might suspect, I am a little bit nervous about going to Russia. I don’t know a word in Russian yet — I will be taking a crash course for the next month to prepare. I’ve never been through customs in another country, and I get nervous just going through security at an airport. I don’t even want to imagine what customs is going to be like.
I am allowed only a certain weight in luggage I can take (one small suitcase and one carry-on, for a whole month).
Even though I’m nervous, I’m also extremely excited: I get to study the oldest and deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal. I will experience the Russian culture, something that not a lot of people can say they’ve done. I’m going with a great group of students (most of whom I know already), so they will help my transition into Russia.
There will be museums, cultural experiences, home stays, camping, trail building, visits to temples, and a lot more that isn’t planned (this is the cultural experience that I’ve heard so much about from students abroad).
I’ve been trying to prepare myself for my trip to Siberia, but it’s difficult sometimes with school and work taking up most of my time. I have a list of things to do, like buying proper luggage, shoes, clothing, etc., and also reading about where we’re going and learning the Russian alphabet and some useful words. The meetings I’ve gone to have helped a lot in answering my questions, and I have had plenty.
I went to the Passport Health meeting and got my vaccinations, and also learned about staying healthy in a foreign country whose conditions may not be as sanitary as the United States.
Being careful about water is important because even a drop on top of a pop can could make you sick. We've been told we shouldn’t eat anything that has been in water but not boiled. I hope that my roommate will have a better handle on safety than I do: it seems like there’s a lot to remember.
Whenever I tell someone I’m going to Siberia, I can read what they’re thinking on their faces: “WHY?” At first, my general answer was that it’s my last chance at going abroad, and that it’s free. My answer is changing now though because of the course I’m in, Russia and the Environment, taught by Professors Judith McKinney and Kristen Welsh.
Russia is a fascinating place environmentally and culturally. Because I’m interested in the environment as a future career direction, but know nothing specific beyond that, Siberia may give me some inspiration or direction.
Maybe I’ll end up working there some day.