A Russian Girl in the United States

From my childhood, I treated the United States as a country totally different from Europe in terms of culture. As a little girl, I considered it even an unreachable magic world with Disney and Universal Pictures characters living in. Also, I knew that it was a huge producer of mass media and mass culture: series, talk shows, music, films, musicals and modern design are made there. Moreover, I knew some pieces of history and politics of this country as well as its household, educational and economic features. So, I had a rather sketchy picture about the U.S. majorly because it is situated on a different continent separated from all the others by oceans.

As I grew up, I decided to become an art historian specializing in modern architecture and design. That is why I felt especially interested in going to the U.S. one day. Another reason was that students are not usually taught its history and art in their home countries, even though it could be so helpful for them to understand their professional fields completely.

So, I was lucky to find an international cultural exchange program called Global UGRAD which offers undergraduate students to do one semester of their studies at one of the universities in the U.S. When I found out I was chosen as a finalist of the program, I was extremely happy. I immediately realized that very soon I would be able to visit all the art museums I was dreaming of, see the most famous art objects with my own eyes, study American culture and music being able to talk to the young people creating all of it by themselves and look at the life in that country from inside-out.

I believe it would take so long to describe everything that I have experienced there, that I will make a short list of statements about the U.S. First and describe each of them after it. So, in the U.S. I understood that:

  • It is a diverse country rich of multiple cultures, as its every state and its every city are totally different in a good way
  • Detroit is a truly beautiful and amazing place (which I am in love with, honestly) with a vibrant and talented youth
  • A unified university campus motivates students and makes them study better as well as meet new people
  • Fear of failing should not exist, as everything is possible, since you have people to support you and make effort to succeed
  • There are no common beauty standards for the whole world, so people should not be judged by their appearance
  • Art and languages are made to meet new people, to exchange cultures, to learn about the world we live in and to break social clichés and boundaries

As an international exchange student from Russia, I was afraid to go and live in Detroit for almost half a year, since everything you can find about this city in the Internet is focused on its crises. In fact, when I first came there I was so surprised with it! I had never ever imagined Detroit to be so graceful. It was the first time when I actually understood the rules of architecture saying that it should be proportionate to a human. Those monumental buildings in Downtown and the way they are arranged, the river bank, the Midtown, the sculptures all around the city, monuments, parks, cafes and museums (Detroit Institute of Arts, for example) – all of that could not let me remain indifferent to it. Thus, I genuinely believe every person have to go there, see and appreciate its beauty and history, and remember its role in the automobile and music history created by Ford, General Motors and Motown.

As for the school, I was accepted to Wayne State University – one of the universities with the highest number of international students studying there. I did my winter semester as a sophomore Art History major student, and I absolutely loved lectures and professors there. Every student’s work and thoughts were highly appreciated. Moreover, for the first time in my life I lived in a dormitory in a unified campus with all the school buildings (including administration), student center (with student clubs, a game room, 3 floors with couches and tables for students to hang out or study), several libraries (one of them worked 24/7), a gym, several cafes and two cafeterias and multiple dormitory buildings. It was an unbelievable experience to live in a diverse community, spend all the day with friends studying or having fun together and meet new people with different majors every day, and I miss it till nowadays. It gave students a lot of opportunities to collaborate, to create new projects and work on them, help each other with studies, learn something new and simply exchange their cultures and languages. Also, such atmosphere helped to create a stronger emotional bound among friends which let everyone become more self-conscious and less stressed, as there would always be a person to support you.

Furthermore, I was able to travel to several other places: I have been to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Washington. All of them being gorgeous are different. Some of the cities are built on hills, and the others are on a plain surface, but it is not all about geographical facts. These cities have different atmospheres: New York is a rather business and noisy city, San Francisco is about music and creativity, Los Angeles is a homeland of films and fairy-tales, Chicago is a city of winds and modern life, and Washington is like a European city full of corresponding architecture and museums. And when my friends ask me what it is like to live in the U.S., I always answer them that I have seen only a small piece of a huge a culturally rich country, and then I start telling them how beautiful it is in its diversity.

To be honest, these 4,5 months were the most enriching and decisive for me. I learnt a lot from my art history classes as well as from my everyday life and journeys. I have visited art museums in all the cities I have been to. So, it helped me to grow as an art historian, to learn about architecture, design and music in the U.S. a lot. But I want to bring up the idea that stroke me the most during that experience.

So, there are no unified standards for anything: neither for people’s appearance, nor for the life goals, nor for the way “life should be”, nor for the studies, and etc. Everyone is different, and that is what unites us. Different cultures come together and spread their word making people understand that there are no differences between us. The only reason why we think so are the languages which stop us from understanding if we do not know them. Thus, the best decision for each of us to make is to learn a foreign language, at least one them – English.

Tatiana Neuimina

Wayne State University

Home Country: Russia

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