After the way my volunteer and homestay experience started in St. Petersburg, I almost cancelled my participation in the Geovisions Conversation Corps program in Moscow altogether.
I was afraid I would be stuck far outside of the city again.
I was afraid I would live with another family who didn’t really want to learn English.
I was afraid I would spend another month feeling useless and wondering what I was doing there.
And to be honest, I was never all that excited about visiting Moscow in the first place.
I felt like I couldn’t visit Russia without going to Moscow, but as I flipped through my guidebooks, I could not find a lot in the city that I was dying to see. At the very least, I figured it might serve as a good base from which to visit the surrounding Golden Ring cities such as Yaroslavl, Suzdal, Vladimir and Sergiev Posad.
I didn’t cancel my Moscow homestay, but I did cut it back to two weeks (instead of a month), which ended up being close to perfect.
As soon as I started corresponding with my hosts, Tim and Olya, I knew my Moscow experience would be significantly different than St. Petersburg. They seemed excited about hosting me, responding quickly to emails and even creating a “program” of sightseeing and other activities for me while I stayed with them.
Tim and Olya picked me up from my Moscow hostel on a Sunday morning in a green monster of a car with California plates and a country western themed interior. This was Tim’s baby and he was proud to show it off to me, especially revving the engine and speeding along the Moscow highways at nearly twice the legal limit! I never did get used to that and the more I cringed, the funnier Tim seemed to think it was.
About an hour later (blame Moscow traffic for that), we arrived at their flat in Mytischi, a suburb of Moscow. They lived in a two room apartment in a new high rise building, part of what looked like a much larger development. It was small but cozy. My room was what would otherwise be the living room, with my bed as a pull-out sofa.
It pretty much had everything my homestay in St. Petersburg didn’t:
An indoor toilet.
An indoor shower.
A full-sized bed.
Heat (worth mentioning twice).
That night, Tim and Olya took me to the Circle of Lights light show in Red Square, followed by a drive around the city and up to one of the highest points for some incredible views. Then we went for gluhwein (hot wine) and dinner. Back at the flat, they introduced me to one of their favorite TV shows – Breaking Bad, dubbed into Russian.
I was on my own during the day for much of the first week as Tim and Olya worked all day, but I didn’t mind because it gave me a chance to rest and get healthy (I was battling a nasty cold when I arrived in Moscow), as well as catch up on some writing and photo editing. When they came home in the evenings, we either worked on English lessons or watched movies on the projection screen they set up in the living room (a/k/a my room). One night was a Russian comedy about a radio station that reported fake news stories and another night a Steven Spielberg flick.
The next weekend, Tim and Olya took me to a Moscow nightclub (I probably could’ve done without that, but I appreciate that they wanted me to experience it), on a day trip to Sergiev Posad, to Arkhangelskoe (an imperial estate just outside of the city), and to the Park of Victory. I also spent a couple days with Olya the following week visiting the Ismailovo Kremlin and market, Moscow’s newest shopping mall (complete with an exhibition of the world’s largest matryoshka dolls), the Tretyakov Gallery and a fascinating sculpture called “Children Are the Victims of Adults’ Vices.”
None of those were things I otherwise would have experienced in Moscow.
In the end, in addition to seeing the sites, I got the tutoring experience I desired when I signed up for the Geovisions program as we spent several nights working on formal English lessons. Living with a couple just slightly younger than me also gave me insight into the lives of my generation in Moscow – I heard about their concerns, their struggles, their wishes for the future. And, although I didn’t fall in love with Moscow, I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would, thanks to Tim and Olya.