Every trip we take is a chance to learn something new about ourselves and grow. One of the things I was most excited about before leaving for my year long study-abroad trip in Moscow was the personal growth I expected would come with living in a foreign country for so long. I’m a firm believer in the old adage that you only start to learn about yourself once you have stepped outside your comfort zone and now that I’m home I can say that I got every uncomfortable, amazing moment I had ever dreamed of experiencing.
To give you some more background on my time abroad, I arrived in Moscow in early September of 2012, stayed for a the fall semester, spent 40 days traveling around Europe, came back to Russia, spent another 4 months there, traveled to the Ukraine, and final flew back home at the end of May 2013. My very first time outside of the US was a 263-day crash course in living outside of my comfort zone, and it brought a lot of things I never realized about myself into full view for the first time in my life.
Moscow, First Impressions
The biggest issue that I had when first arriving in Moscow was that I was kind of an idiot. I had taken two years of Russian before arriving, but it didn’t serve me very well flying into the airport at 1:30 in the morning while I was searching for my cab driver. I did end up tracking him down all right, but I got hustled out of about 20USD by my “helpful” English speaking Russian assistant in the airport, and another 10 by the cab driver for fees I later found out were made up. I was in such a state of stupor for the first month that I could hardly speak or understand a word of Russian, despite my previous years of course work, and to top it all off, I had the genius idea to buy boots once I had actually made it to Russia.
My logic behind this last decision was that it would save me some room in my already over crowded suitcase, and I figured that anything I bought in Russia would be able to stand up to the Russian winter better than a pair of boots bought at home. The only issue is that most of what’s available in Moscow is also available in Colorado, and it’s at least twice as expensive. I had not planned on needing 200USD, or more, for a pair of boots, and was more than a little upset when I did finally drop 225 on a nice pair of leather boots in St Petersburg, where we encountered our first snow.
In My Boots
I wore those boots every day for the next 7 months, right up until the beginning of May, and they took me some incredible places. I danced in night clubs in Moscow till the sun came up, padded softly through the cobble stone streets of Prague on Christmas, stood my ground in a tidal wave of people on the main square in Berlin during New Years, and I did it all with those boots laced up around my feet.
Would I have done things differently had I had to simple forethought to bring my own boots? Absolutely. That being said though, those boots are perhaps my most prized position now. The leather doesn’t shine like it used to, the laces are starting to flay in places, the soles are worn smooth, and I ground about an inch off of the inside of the heel on both boots, and while they might not be the prettiest, I have every intention to put them in a Plexiglass box as a display piece in my new apartment.
Reflections of a life in Moscow
They represent the literal steps that carried me from being an know-nothing kid landing in Moscow, to a much more experienced person who saw 10 new countries in the course of a year. Every knick in the leather is a found memory of a misstep that taught me something new about myself. The crack in the bottom of the sole that lets in water shows every fork in the road, bend in the path, and dead end I hit along the way, but when I look at those boots, when I take them in as a whole, I see every lesson and hard won personal victory that I had during that time abroad.