A year ago this week, I returned from a year-long, Fulbright-funded year in the Russian Federation. Below is a partial list, shared in no particular order, of things Russia gave to me:
1. Several dear friends and numerous colleagues, connections, and acquaintances.
2. The two best suits I’ll ever own, and the best boots.
3. Scope and scale to understand the vastness and beauty of cities mentioned flippantly or in passing by Western media—or simply used as stand-in terms for a government.
4. Adoration for Montreal-based singer songwriter Klo Pelgag, to whom I was introduced in a St. Petersburg café.
5. An affection for the deeply complex Russian language.
6. A clearer understanding of life in America under its present administration.
7. New appreciations for the feeling of otherness.
8. First-person memories of deeply moving landscapes, cityscapes, aerial overviews and train-window panoramas: the great and diverse beauty of Russia.
9. An innate need to occasionally eat borscht.
10. Tenacity in the kitchen: the willingness to cook with whatever happens to be available.
11. A broader and bolder concept of community.
12. Sadness that for a century, major capitalist and communist states spent the world’s wealth defeating each other, rather than cooperating. We could have learned and taught so much.
13. The breathtaking knowledge of what it’s like to be struck by the sun at a different angle each day.
14. A reinforced creed: that people are just people, always and everywhere.
15. Deeper disdain for the fears that keep people separate.
16. Deep stretches of intentional solitude to reflect, think, imagine, and create.
17. A love-hate relationship with public transportation.
19. This understanding: No winter can phase me.
20. A longing for ubiquitous simple luxuries: coat rooms, boot polishing machines, hat racks that mean something beyond decoration.
21. Appreciation for a grand journey accomplished and the burning desire to do something like it again, and soon.