Everybody keeps asking me if I’m excited to go home and I still don’t know how to answer. Of course I am—seeing old friends and loved ones is always a pleasure and there’s always something to be said for that feeling of being “home.” I think Russian has it right in the way it uses the word Дом (home). While when saying “I am in Russia” would use the construction “Я в России,” “I am home” ditches the “В” preposition that is obligatory in every other “I am” phrase and simply is “Я дома.” Similarly, every other construction around “home” differs from others—perhaps because nowhere else is ever quite like home.
Despite all these feelings of “going home” and going back to family, friends and boyfriend, I can’t help but be at the same time immensely sad. The friends I’ve made here are from all over the world and I don’t know if I’ll see them again. The romantic side of me is skewing the famous quote “We’ll always have Paris” to “We’ll always have Peter,” and then once more to “We’ll always have Facebook.” However, I know that regardless of how scarily personal Facebook becomes, it will never replace human contact.
However, more than anything, I am going to miss my host family. That another family welcomed me into their home with such kindness and such generosity still amazes me. My host mom has done so much for me during my stay in Peter—and far beyond what I ever expected. She had to give me breakfast and dinner every day—but she also gave me fruit to bring with me for lunch and there was always a candy bowl on the kitchen table, which she kept full despite the fact that she herself doesn’t like sweets. She let me cook an entire Thanksgiving meal in her kitchen, and when I forgot the lid to the dish the sweet potatoes were in, she didn’t get angry even when it took me two weeks to get it back. She taught me how to make borsch from start to finish, a lesson which even included how to julienne carrots. My host mom was also required to do my laundry every week (most Russians are very protective of their washing machines so for most students, including myself, doing laundry oneself was not an option). Not only did my host mom take care of my clothes, but my host dad also helped me clean my boots every day of the salt and muck that frustratingly always accumulated on them. These same boots they took to get the nub on the heels replaced when the rough pavements and ice finally got to them. However, my host family not only took care of me physically—but also emotionally. Every time I had a bad day, my host mom immediately knew and we would talk about whatever it was, instantly making me feel better. The day after I lost my debit card, not only did she walk me to the bank to pick up money after at first I was not able to find it alone, but when we got home I saw that she had left a chocolate bar sitting on my desk. Today she gave me a farewell gift, afraid that we would not have time tomorrow, and we talked for a while. She told me that she had loved having me stay with them and that I had really felt like a daughter to her. I instantly and honestly responded that she had also felt like a mother to me.
Of course, the people I have met here will be missed, but so will the place itself. Peter, like any big city, has a life of its own. People joke that Russia only has three places: St. Petersburg, Moscow and Siberia. By this they mean that Russia has two big cities, and the rest is vast land and small towns. While this is changing, it’s still fairly true. In Chekov’s play “The Three Sisters,” the action happens in one of these small towns and one of the sisters, starry-eyed, dreams of “to Moscow!” Moscow to her doesn’t just represent a city, but promise, success, glamour, hope and excitement. This same mentality holds true for Petersburg as well. Living in Petersburg is like living in New York if the rest of the New England area looked like Kansas—it’s alluring and thrilling, and you dream of seeing the statue of liberty one day. Because it’s so big and such a dream city, you see all kinds of people. Having never left her hometown before, 20 years ago my host mom moved to Peter from over 700 miles away because she had dreams of a better life for her and her family.
That’s the kind of city Peter is. That’s the kind of place and the kind of people I’m leaving. And that’s why I can’t help but have mixed emotions.