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When I started thinking about what to say about my year in Moscow, I realized that the most people seem to have a distorted image of Russia. Despite what the Putin memes or Rocky movies will have you believe, Russia isn’t some isolated, third-world country with cold people. Quite the contrary! Speaking from personal experience, Russia is a beautiful country with extremely warm people, a fascinating culture and sights that will surely leave you speechless and for all those reasons, it holds a special place in my heart. If you’re ever looking for a different travel destination, I would highly recommend it!
Moving to Russia in 2014 came as a complete surprise to Fabio (my younger brother) and me. I was 13 years old at the time and had just finished 5th grade. Our dad had been working in Moscow for around a year at that point, coming home to Croatia every few weeks to visit, but there wasn’t any mention of all of us moving there. During our spring break, we felt we had the perfect opportunity to visit Moscow for a week, so my brother, mother and I visited my dad in Moscow. He lived in a small, one-bedroom apartment at Paveletskaya Plaza, a big metro and train station 20 minutes from the Red Square. Despite the giant construction site under our noses, we fell in love with Moscow and St. Petersburg instantly but were, naturally, surprised a few months later when our parents told us we’d be moving to Moscow for a year. No 13-year old loves being told they’re moving away from their friends, familiar faces and city but the decision was already made.
Picture 2. – Paveletskaya Plaza
A few weeks before the school year started, my family filled our car to the brim with everything we could and set off on a pretty wild adventure; we drove from Zagreb to Moscow by car, crossing and stopping in Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Lithuania on the way. The journey there and back was an adventure worthy of its own blog post, but the part I’ll never forget was the border crossing into Russia when officers searched our entire car, moving car seats and emptying our trunk in a search so intense it looked like something being done in a spy movie.
Picture 3. – Our first day of school
We moved into my dad’s apartment and tried to get our bearings as best as we could for about a week before school started. On the first day of school, our parents dropped us off at the English International School of Moscow, and we met our classmates. I remember thinking how weird I will seem to my friends, an unknown Croatian joining the class out of nowhere. But, as I would soon find out, I was far from the only international student, and was far from the weirdest transition the school had ever seen; it was quite common for children of diplomats and highly-ranked businessmen to join the class for literally two months, then move again. The transition in school was the part my young self was most worried about seeing as I didn’t know what to expect. As it turned out, almost everything was different there, even the seemingly insignificant details; my class was made up of just 15 people, classes were in English (with the exception being mandatory Russian), the school was very well-equipped with state-of-the-art labs and IT rooms, there was a minivan that came to pick us up every morning, etc. The approach to learning was completely different, with most of my assignments being project-based and the relationship with teachers and classmates being much more intimate seeing as the school was only a couple hundred people in total. But despite these differences, I quickly learned to love it. I became good at project-based work with frequent essays, written reports and presentations and became one of the best students in my class. My favorite class by far was ICT. Our teacher, Mr. Brooks, was the most passionate teacher I’ve ever had, always going the extra mile to show what we were learning about in real life and tried to adjust the curriculum to our classes’ interests as much as possible, even going so far as to build Minecraft worlds to demonstrate what we were learning in class. I’ll also never forget disassembling one of the school computers to see the different parts of a computer for myself or our assignment of picking out parts to build a computer ourselves. This class is one of the main reasons I love ICT as much as I do today and showed me the impact a passionate teacher can have.
Picture 4. – Gorky Park
When not in school, my family and I tried to explore Russia as much as we could, which resulted in us visiting a new part of town almost every week.
Moscow is a huge city, totaling nearly 12 million residents, meaning that even in an entire year of exploring, we just barely managed to scratch the surface of what the city has to offer. There were too many places to name, but some of our favorites were Gorky Park which transforms into a giant ice skating rink in the winter, the iconic GUM shopping mall located on the Red Square, the Tsaritsyno museum-reserve, which looks like it was pulled straight out of a fairy tale, etc…I could go on forever. Shortly, any walk through Moscow is bound to have you discovering some new place you’ll fall in love with. The same goes for museums; with such a rich culture and heritage, Moscow has a museum for anybody, ranging from the Lenin Mausoleum where you can see Lenin’s preserved body (photographing is strictly prohibited, though) to Tretyakov Gallery, which is home to more than 180 thousand pieces of the finest Russian art.
Picture 5. – Moscow
Picture 6. – Fabio and I
Picture 7. – A cold day in the snowy Moscow
The thing I learned from our time in Moscow is not to be afraid of new experiences, but rather to embrace them as opportunities. Whether the new experiences are traveling, moving or a new job, you’ll always get something from it. In addition to learning Russian and having friends in a dozen different countries, my time in Moscow made me a much more mature and confident person and I would 100% do it all over again.
Picture 8. – The underground