This time in Moscow was different - next to all other things I was running a kick-off meeting for a project (will tell more later - when marketing stuff is out :) with several European and Russian partners. For many Europeans it was the first experience in Russia - signtseeing, but also learning about the culture and preparing for the joint work.
I wonder if I was annoying with all my questions about their experiences :) I was so curious to know what did they discover, find different, similar, worth attention... Even with open borders Russia is still pretty much unknown for many foreigners: image of Russia is a strange combination of cold war time impressions and stories in the media magnify specific issues, but do not tell much about everyday life. I'm happy that this trip made it a bit different at least for a few people.
What I found interesting (and - in retrospect - it shouldn't be that surprising) that most learning about culture came through experiencing it - finding a way around the city and, especially, three days of joint work with Russian people (like a discussion on financial issues of the project that illuminated many issues that Russian businesses are facing). I was there with two colleagues, and, inspite of all my attempts to prepare them by telling stories it feels like my stories were nothing compared to the richness of their own experiences even in a limited number of situations.
We didn't design on purpose for those experiences, but, given my believe that understanding cultures - similarities and differences - is crusial for this project, I really would like to think how to make "learning about culture through experience" element stronger next times.
I also think about this from an ethnographic perspective - I've read too much about learning culture through reflecting on moments where you as an outsider do not fit. What is strange and funny is my own role - I was constantly switching between being Russian, being someone living abroad and being someone in between - understanding both sides, trying to mediate for common language, thinking of mediation process... This in-between position shows me a way to redefine my own identity and go beyond my current dichotomy of being a guest in the Netherlands or being a stranger in Russia.
And - in case you are curious - main impressions of our European guests (my biased summary ;)
- passion of Russian people
- beauty and scale of Moscow
- green and beautiful parks
- life that never stops (like bookshopping after midnight - and seeing that there are others :)
- a strange combination of a modern high-standard city (could be any European capital) with third world elements - differences that somehow co-exist next to each other