Since I've arrived I've been in absolute awe of how clean this country actually is. I think that, despite the jet lag, the first few days of my arrival were marvelous. The truth is, I've been rather too busy to update or to even call many people. Partly because I haven't seen Phil for months and I want to spend as much time with him as possible; another reason is that we've had to go to numerous holiday parties since my return (his mom was also in town until today).

I was warned about reverse culture-shock upon returning to this country. Although I have not found myself completely immune to this phenomenon, I have also (fortunaately) not been completely consumed by it like many of my classmates. I don't think this would be a proper "post-trip" entry if I didn't at least give mention to many of the important life lessons that I've learned.

This morning, and for that matter every other morning that I've been here has been beautiful: a moderate temperature somewhere in the 70s; clear, crisp blue sky and the clean, bright morning sun creeping in through the bedroom window. It's perfect, I think. But this morning especially I begant to think about what going to Russia (and coming back safely) really means to me. I sat in the chair with my cup of coffee in hand and I thought: I can't believe I went to Russia. Not because it was especially bad or frightening. Actually, once there it wasn't that bad. No, it was the fact that four months ago, I was terrified of leaving my life and my country and everything that was familiar for a country that was cold and unattractive. Had I been going to Positano, Italy, it would have been a completely different story.

But I did it, and in retrospect, my time there flew by. It's true that I wasn't always thrilled about inhaling Carbon Dioxide, riding on an over-crowded metro, and having to face the pack of wild dogs near my neighborhood. Yes, all those things tend to wear down one's nerves at some point. But I have learned many things. Most importantly, that I lead a certain lifestyle of sailing during dusk and drinking wine at the beach. I like clean roads, the bright sun, shiny object, beautiful people who smile, cocktail parties on yachts and clean air. I also like having WiFi and driving my own vehicle (without having to pay over $2 in gas, mind you).

The average Russian doesn't have that lifestyle. The truth is that most apartments are cramped, the hot water may be turned off randomly at any point during the week, and the entire city of St. Petersburg smells like body odor. The point is that we have many, many things in this country--we have resources such as public libraries and we hardly use them. The average Russian is not allowed to take a book out of the public library, and even when you do find yourself there, it's almost impossible to enjoy anything with the rudeness of the librarians and the second-hand smoke.

Other countries love to hate us, although we shouldn't feel ashamed of the things that we have. Although I do believe that we all need to start looking around us at all the things that we have, and be grateful. The truth is that it takes me 10 minutes to walk to class every morning when I'm on campus, so, why not do it more willingly? It takes me five minutes to get to the gym, so, why not do it every day (especially since it's free)? There are friendly, knowleadgeable librarians--one for every department...so, why not ask them to find me obscure articles and books?

Why not try harder...be more happier and healthier? That's what I've learned from being in Russia. I was happy there, even with all my limited resources...so why not here? In all, I had to travel halfway around the world to figure out that here, I've got a great life. I think that with the new year, this lesson couldn't have come at a better time.

aeka at 8:30 a.m.