a big beautiful mess

Dad Comes North

My dad visited me last week, and it was wonderful to see him, as always. “Inspiration” is not quite the right word for him, so much as “motivation” or “reason” or “root.” He took me out of America for the first time, when I was 9, to Madrid. That trip caused me to study Spanish, and ultimately to return to Madrid for a semester when I was 20. He took me with him on his Fulbright to Montenegro when I was 15, and that trip in many ways directed my path in college, to Russian, to Moscow, to follow in his Fulbrighter footsteps. His influence on me is something I’ve been privileged to take for granted, because his cosmopolitan attitudes and assumptions have pervaded my upbringing since I was very small. Seeing him here in Arkhangelsk, getting to be the reason for his first trip to Russia, was a wonderful opportunity to take a closer look at the motivations and purposes in my life.

We had a good balance of us-time and of spreading the Fulbright Word. Beyond my own personal story, the mission of the Fulbright has been more fully fulfilled between the two of us than I’ve been able to even begin in my five months here. My being here facilitated him connecting with another history professor here, and, hopefully will result in their students connecting and sharing their different understandings of World War II. Dad lectured at the American Corner and at the university, and also had time to chat one-on-one with some of the professors from my department.

And then he went home. I think that is such an important part of the Fulbright. It’s something I bring up every time I try to explain myself to people, when Russian and American stereotypes inevitably come up. I’m not here to preach America, to convert anyone. I’m here to teach about America to those who are interested. But my contract requires me to return to the U.S. I’m also here to learn about Russia, and take that knowledge back to America, to give Americans a more complex and nuanced image of Russians.

For me, Dad represents that constant seeking out of new experiences, new knowledge, new culture. But he also represents home, the going back and putting that knowledge into the American context and using it to inform a more well-rounded American perspective.

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