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!