HOS Symposium Trip Blog 2019

Welcome to the HOS Symposium trip blog! As part of the yearlong program on Russia: Revolution and Resurgence, students and faculty will embark on a journey to learn about Russian heritage and culture.

March 15 - Depart from U.S.
March 16 - Arrival in Saint Petersburg
March 17 - Visit to Russian Museum, city bus tour, and Russian language lesson
March 18 - Visit to Hermitage Museum, cooking class during lunch, and exploration of Grand Market Russia
March 19 - Russian Ball
March 20 - Visit to Pushkin Imperial Palaces and evening flight to Kazan
March 21 - Sightseeing in Kazan and visits to International School of Kazan and National Museum of the Republic of Tatarsan
March 22 - See Temple of All Religions and explore the island-town of Sviyazhsk
March 23 - Visit Gymnasium No. 4 (public boarding school), Old Tatar Quarter, and walk along Kazan city center. Overnight train to Moscow
March 24 - Arrival in Moscow and bus tour
March 25 - Tour of Red Square and Kremlin
March 26 - See Museum of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Moscow University of Foreign Affairs
March 27 - Depart from Moscow to U.S.
  • Moscow
Day 13

So we sit down to our final breakfast in Russia. Our suitcases are packed, documents in order (hopefully!) and home beckons. It has been a whirlwind of a trip. Where to start? Russia is a much misunderstood country. In the USA, our stereotypical view of it could not be more false. This has always been true, in Soviet times but especially now. This trip has really brought this fact home to us all. Majestic architecture, delightful people who are devoted hosts, a country whose people have suffered more than any other on earth, and yet whose soul is warm and welcoming.

Our twelve days here have been filled with many uplifting experiences as well as daily challenges. I am so proud of this group of weary but enlightened young travelers. Each day they learned and grew from their experience. Once home, I hope they will spill their hearts and tell the story of this wonderful trip. No doubt their stories will have some hyperbole - in truth we only had borscht three-four times at most! Each individual story will no doubt have its own highlight. For me, nothing can surpass our spiritual and inspirational first steps on to Red Square in the morning sun, the plaintive orthodox chant ringing in our ears, with St Basil’s Cathedral’s in silhouette.

And now some thank yous: first, my two stalwart co-chaperones, Ashley Kolovitz and Emily Wagner, who worked so hard with the students and kept the ship afloat during some challenging moments; Kamil Nigmatullin, our Kazan parent whose hard organizational work and hospitality made our stay in Kazan memorable; the staff of the Stuart Center, in particular Erin English and Matt Nink, whose tireless efforts helped us prepare the trip and navigate the bureaucratic challenges; the CIEE staff who helped us so much, in particular, Anton Stepanov (“Mr. Cool”, St. Petersburg), Nancy Kogin (Moscow) and Irina Makoveeva (“Mary Poppins” who seemed to be everywhere!); Dr. Strudwick, who made this all possible and asked me to lead this trip; finally, the 16 students, who remained positive throughout the trip, calm and poised under pressure, and a credit to themselves, their school, and their various countries.

Sorry for one last cliché! I have traveled much, but leading HOSS trip to Russia has been a pleasure and a privilege. Cпастбо всем!

-Mr. Ryder

  • Moscow
Day 12

This morning, everyone was allowed to sleep in, which was certainly appreciated since almost everyone clocked around 10 miles of walking yesterday!

The breakfast at the Hilton in Moscow has been many people’s favorites with made-to-order omelette or a traditional fare of cottage cheese pancakes and sweetened condensed milk. I could get used to fresh pressed orange juice every morning.

The trip in general has been based around tourism and a whirlwind overview of three major cities in Russia: St. Petersburg, Kazan and Moscow. One aspect of the itinerary that has been especially selected for LFA is the visit of 4 different high schools throughout these cities. The goal is that students partake in an experiential learning program not just around culture and history, but also have meaningful interactions with Russian peers. Students have broadened their understanding of what it really means to live and go to school in Russia by conversing with the students from these schools. As we are invited into their schools, we see the similarities in what it is like to be a teenager, but also the differences in their educational programs and the basics, like what they eat and the educational school system. About half of the schools have never had visitors from the United States or may not have even had an in-depth conversation with another American teen, so they were particularly excited to engage with our students.

Tomorrow we leave for home, so today is our last activity day in Russia as we head to the school in Moscow. Most of today’s agenda is centered around activities in the school.

Our school visit was to MGIMO Gorchakov Lyceum, a school located in the suburbs of Moscow. It is a prep school that focuses on International relations. It is affiliated with a college and they share the same campus. The branch is only 3 years old with around 130 high school age students. Around 30% of which are boarders. All students are encouraged to participate in travel experiences. The travel experiences are education-driven, centered around visiting embassy’s and government agencies from different countries. There, the students gain a better global perspective and understanding of their career path.

During our full day visit to the school, the students each had brief presentations about their respective schools, school tour and lunch. After lunch students gathered in mixed groups to come up with their ideas on what an ideal teacher or school would look like in the Digital Age. The students then presented to everyone with an illustration or mind map.

The visit ended with an intense relay race where teams were divided into twos with mixed US and Russian students. The students looked like they were having a blast. I think our LFA students even had more of an aptitude for these sporting events than the Russians. We also met one of their PE teachers/volleyball coach who was a former Olympic athelete.

Our day with the students ended around 4 p.m., but for the Russian students, their school schedule doesn’t end until around 7 p.m.

When we arrived back in the city proper, we had a short break at the hotel and then took the metro to Avia Park mall where the students had free time to walk around and were given a stipend for dinner. The students were all very excited to have more “American” food for a change (McDonalds). The mall is the second largest mall in Europe. This mall is pretty impressive and very family oriented. The mall had one of the tallest cyllabdrical aquariums in the world!

The evening ended with a group reflection at the hotel to provide some closure for our trip and hear from everyone how the experience in Russia has shaped them. It was wonderful to hear that everyone enjoyed the trip, especially Red Square and overcame obstacles like the jet lag and traditional Russian food.

As with most, this was my first trip to Russia and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about its rich culture, tumultuous history and its warm people. I would say this experience has reshaped my view of Russia and defied stereotypes. My favorite part of our tour has been our visit in Kazan. The intersection of Islam and Christianity living in harmony was warming to witness and provided me with a sense of hope for our country. Many thanks to our gracious hosts and trip planners Kumil and Azi Nigmatullin, for which the trip to Kazan would not be as special.

I’ve also enjoyed spending more time with these 16 extraordinary students. This trip was definitely an education focused travel experience, but not one of them complained to me. They didn’t show any tiring of the countless Mosques, churches and historical landmarks we took them to. It was wonderful to get to know them all better and witness them absorb a deeper world view of Russia and its people. We couldn’t have asked for a more respectful, responsible and kind group of young adults to share this experience with.e most everyone clocked around 10 miles of walking yesterday!

-Mrs. Kolovitz

  • Moscow
Day 11

As luck would have it, we were blessed with the most beautiful weather for our day at Red Square. The sun was shining, birds were chirping and the sky was a beautiful shade of blue. We set out on the Metro at 9:30 a.m. Luckily, after our evening metro tour, everyone was familiar with how to get around which was good because it was much more crowded during Monday morning rush hour than it was Sunday evening. I enjoyed seeing the people of Moscow going about their daily routine as we all became part of the large crowd.

When we first arrived, there were not many people at the square and we were able to absorb its grandeur without the hustle and bustle that would come later in the afternoon. Our tour guide took us to the “center of the universe”, a spot near the square, where people come to toss coins and make a wish. Many of the students in our group eagerly participated in the ritual.

We entered the Kremlin walls for our 11:30 a.m. tour and I was taken back by how peaceful it seemed there. We looked all around and our tour guide pointed out the red, rotating stars that topped several buildings. He shared that they were symbols of communism and that the stars, and other communist symbols are kept to remind the people of their past. He said that by doing this they hope not to repeat the same mistakes in the future. We walked around and visited a few orthodox churches. Inside the churches we learned that you can always find the name of the church by looking to the first icon on the right. These churches were so ornate with icons covering every inch. We also visited the church where the Tsars were buried.

Saint Basil’s Cathedral was next and the onion domes were magnificent. Approaching the cathedral it looked like something straight from a fairy tale. The colorful domes against the blue sky were unforgettable.

By lunchtime, the group had walked almost five miles, so needless to say they were happy for a break. We ate at a traditional Russian cafe inside the first indoor mall in Europe.

After lunch and a small break for free time, we went to the famous Gorky park to see a modern art exhibit at a museum, the Garage. The museum doesn’t have a permanent collection, rather it rotates the art and installations of many artists. I enjoyed seeing the art which was very different than the portraits and other pieces exhibited at the palace museums. This museum was reconstructed in what used to be a park restaurant many years ago. The restaurant’s original mosaic greets every visitor.

After the museum we took the metro, which we are now pros at, back to the hotel to rest before dinner. We had Georgian cuisine for the second time but were able to try many new dishes. The Khachapuri, cheesy bread, was still a crowd favorite however.

After dinner half of the group went back to the hotel and the other half went to see Red Square at night. The square in the evening was spectacular as all the buildings were illuminated. It was grand but peaceful. The perfect way to end the day.

-Ms. Wagner

  • Moscow
Day 10
We arrived in Moscow around 7:30 a.m. We honestly had the best breakfast ever. It was a buffet style at the Holiday Inn. We sat around for two hours eating and napping in the dining room. We learned that Moscow is the biggest metro center in Russia. Teni compared it to the NYC of Russia. Our tour guide said it is the biggest city in Europe. He was pretty amazing and sounded like a Russian Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver.”

We also learned that Putin works within the Kremlin/Red square. The Kremlin walls seen today in Russia were built in 1492. We talked about how communism is still incorporated into monuments and buildings around the city because Russians use these as learning instruments for their children. The idea is that when they see the icons of Soviet Russia, it sparks a conversation that parents use to teach their children the wrongs of the past. Our tour guide Edward spit some truth when he said, “There is no truth in news and no news in truth.”

We saw a giant monument to Peter the Great that used to be a monument of Columbus, but America didn’t want it so Russia got it and replaced the face. Yeltsin, the first president of Russia, rebuilt Christ the Savior church in 1997 after it was destroyed in soviet time. Though we weren’t allowed to take photos inside, the church was beautiful beyond compare. Words can’t even fathom how holy yet glamorous the church was with all its decal in gold and the icons of holy biblical figures. Everyone in our group felt moved by the Holy Spirit within the church. Some people in our group were almost in tears from a deep feeling within.

We had lunch on Arbat Street where we had lunch and got to walk around and get souvenirs. After lunch, we got to go back to the hotel, checked in and we all took naps because of our long night before. The hotel is definitely top three ;). After that we went to dinner where we got to order our own meals which was great. Everyone got what they wanted, though there was a bit of confusion due to the language barriers.

After dinner, we took a tour of the metro system in Russia. It was so beautiful because the whole system looked like its own museum. Our new tour guide explained to us that Soviet Union created the metro system to flex on the rest of the world the capability of a socialist power. Within the stations were statues, mosaics with and without gold, balconies, and other glamorous decors that made Chicago Metra and L system look like a trash heap.

-Teni and Hadley

  • Kazan
Day 9

Today was our last day in Kazan. We were required to meet in the lobby - fairly early - at 9 a.m., packed and checked out. The bus ride was a bit bumpy on our way to the girls public school, but when we arrived, the girls were beyond welcoming.

Just like the other schools we visited, they gave us a tour around. But what made their tour different was an unexpected cooking course that led us down to their dining hall. There, we sat and talked, exchanged Instagram handles, shared our common interests in pop culture whilst we enjoyed transitional Tartar desserts (the dessert names I can’t remember but can’t google either there’s no wifi on the overnight train - I’ll come back to this later). Anyway, I was beyond surprised that the girls knew and loved k-pop (which became something some of us were able to converse about). We also talked about the places we visited, where we were about to go next and what we liked about the Russian cities. After lots of group pictures, selfies and exchanges in American and Russian gifts we left there.

There, we took a group picture but nothing much happened except for the fact that we experienced some light snowing. This was not the case, however, when we embarked on our walking tour. It started snowing a little more heavily, especially when we visited a traditional Tartar yard with animals. The pens held goats, chickens and a horse.

Lunch took place in a cosy room around a long table. Most of us either had horse meatballs or a horse steak. (The meat had a gamier smell and a tougher bite than beef - if you were wondering).

After lunch, we visited city hall where only a few of us attempted ballroom dancing in the main room. Our gracious host; a senior student at LFA (Azi)then gave us quite the performance, showing us how a real waltz was danced. Students then began preparing for the 12-hour train ride ahead. Snacks and drinks were bought at the store in the mall whilst students who finished early had the time to walk around and explore.

Soon, it was time to leave in order to make our train ride. We arrived and boarded after one security screening and got settled in immediately. Some chose to stay in the rooms whilst others enjoyed card games in the restaurant 3 cabins away. The train ride was an exciting experience as most of us had never been on an overnight train before. Surprisingly, we had no problems going to sleep as the train rocked us to bed.

-Ellie and Kathryn