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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Trying to find the words to sum up Russia

It is difficult to say everything I want to say about so large a country as Russia in just a few short paragraphs, but for the sake of my friends back home who would like a nice little summary of my adventures, I'll try…

After spending two and a half months baking in the sweltering St. Petersburg summer, I decided it was high time for a change. Russia being the land of extremes that I have found it to be, it is no surprise that after all those tank-top days in St. Petersburg, I now find myself bundled-up in every possible way against the friggedness of Siberia.

While Irkutsk is one of the most southern of Siberia's cities (only one degree of latitude north of London), we still get our fair share of cold. September and October weren't bad – an occasional snow day here and there, but for the most part the weather was surprisingly good. I spent as much time as I could at Lake Baikal (THE lake – the one that holds 20% of the world's fresh water) and other outdoor destinations. I had this image in my head of huge snowdrifts and such. That may soon happen, but not yet. I'm still debating whether these trips will be repeated in the next two months – it'll be absolutely freezing, but you only see something that beautiful once in a great while, right?

Speaking of which, I've come to a conclusion in the past few days – a realization that is difficult for a photographer like me to accept. There are some things in this country (and this world) which simply cannot be translated to a photograph. What is hardest about this fact is that so many of my favorite moments on this trip cannot be preserved other than in my memory and in an occasional blog entry. For example, I was on a night train last night from Ulan Ude (capital of the neighboring Buryati Republic) back to Irkutsk when I was suddenly and for no particular reason awoken. I looked out the window (possible at this point only because all the lights in the cabin were off) and saw something quite miraculous – a full moon gave me a wonderful view of the snow-topped mountains surrounding Lake Baikal, while in the sky, framed perfectly in my window, was the constellation Orion. It was one of those "right-place-at-the-right-time" kind of moments, and one that I will probably never experience again. But I think I will always remember lying there, as the train slowly chugged along the lakeshore, staring in wonder at all the natural beauty that was passing by my window. While my studies are interesting and I'm learning a lot about Russian language and culture, I count these moments as the ones that make my trip halfway around the globe the most worthwhile – the moments for which it is worth it to put up with the -10˚C (and lower, as I suspect the temperature will yet drop before I return to the sunny Lone Star State).

I'm not quite sure what to expect from the next month and a half. Exactly how cold is it going to get? How on Earth am I going to be able to pass all my exams (since all my classes are in Russian, including a literature class which covers Dostoevsky and Tolstoy)? And how am I going to handle things when I get back home? By now I've gotten used to hand washing all my clothes, riding the trolley or walking everywhere I need to go, and operating just about 24 hours a day in a foreign language. While I miss a lot of the conveniences of American life, I know I can get buy just fine without them.

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