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Matt Kokkinos Reflects on His Final Weeks in Russia

As my time on exchange at MGIMO University winds down, it’s incredible to me to think of everything I have experienced and every place I have visited. These last few weeks have been incredibly busy with preparations for final exams and papers, but even during these hectic times, I have gotten to explore more of Russia and what it has to offer.

Through Professor Yan Vaslavskiy, who teaches Political Process in Modern Russia and who heads the Expertise and Analysis Department of the State Duma (roughly the Russian equivalent of the Congressional Research Service), we had the opportunity to visit the Duma, tour the various factions’offices, and sit in on a session of debate. We received information on the history of the Duma in Russia and the various roles it has played throughout Russian history, and in addition, we learned about the parties, including United Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, the Russian Communist Party, and A Just Russia, their structures, and their positions in domestic Russian politics.

Separately, I was able to visit Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan. Kazan is a city with impressive architecture and culture. In Kazan, there is a constant juxtaposition of churches and mosques, which is a big change from Moscow, where churches are present on what seems like almost every other block. One example of this is Kazan’s Kremlin, where there are not only Orthodox churches, but also the Kul Sharif Mosque, an impressive structure both on the inside and outside, which is lit up by blue and green spotlights. The inside of the mosque is grandly painted in blue, green, and gold, making it both a great sight for tourists and an inspiring place for worshippers. Outside, the Soyembika Tower stands nearby, dominating the view of the Kremlin. While I did get to see more than the Kremlin, it was definitely the highlight of the city.

Back in Moscow, more and more public spaces have been lit up and made festive for the holiday season, with lights and trees decorating places like Lubyanka and the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy (or VDNH, phonetically abbreviated in Russian). Lubyanka sits centrally in Moscow, nearby bars, shopping centers, and restaurants, and it seems less common to find a building without festive lights than with them. VDNH, on the other hand, is a huge open park with national buildings of all the former Soviet Republics, each with their own exhibits and specialties. More impressive, however, is the largest skating rink in Europe, which serves as a great gathering spot in Moscow, for people of all ages,well into the night.

Of course, one of the best parts of the last few weeks was the chance to visit the Spaso House, the residence of the US Ambassador to Russia, where there was a Christmas party attended by Russians and Americans alike. Terry and I were both able to attend thanks to Fletcher mafia working at the US Embassy, and we both had an excellent time.

   

This semester abroad in Moscow has been a great experience all around, and while I am excited to return home to the US, I will miss the time I’ve had here in Moscow. Here, I have had reliable and frequent public transportation, I’ve been able to get cheap and delicious Central Asian and Caucasian food, and I’ve been immersed in a location where I have been able to practice my language skills. Being in Boston has its own benefits, but there are just some aspects of being in Moscow that I won’t be able to replace.

 

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