"Why did you choose Arkhangelsk?" That question normally arises among the locals I meet within the first five minutes of the conversation. The situation is not new to me – I may have answered 1,000 times the question "why did you choose Riga" in the past three years – so I tend to be creative with my answer after the 15th time of hearing the same question. This time I came up with the idea of being a Spanish spy who was looking into new territories in case Catalonia decided to go independent.
One thing, however, is different: here nobody asks me why Russia but why Arkhangelsk, the city that doesn't seem to be the most attractive one for locals especially when you tell them that you are from a place everyone calls a paradise. That can give you an idea about how the Russian mentality differs from other places I have been to, and how being proud about the country is one of the cornerstones of the culture.
When thinking of what to write about in this article I wanted to stay away from describing my experience here with the typical stereotypes about Russia (even though some of them are quite close to the reality), and focus more on what this experience has meant for me.
In that regard, I have a way of measuring if I am enjoying the experience of living abroad: the perception of time. And here, like in Riga, almost seven months seem to have been years. I have passed through many stages in here, crises of "faith" and wanting to go home, but generally I have noticed how I have gradually found my place here. I will confess that as time passes by, every time I visit home it's more difficult to leave, but after my last holiday something unusual happened: when I arrived from Canary Islands I found myself at home again after only ten minutes in my dormitory.
On a professional level, in NArFU I have found a place to develop myself, a place where I can participate in projects, conferences and seminars – even TV programs. I can call people working in the international office friends who are always ready to help and propose new ideas. My research about the Arctic policies of the EU has been benefitting from the input of my supervisor at the Institute of Social Sciences, and I have been surprised by the numerous activities the university organizes.
I feel good here and I am even thinking to extend my stay for one or more years. Time will tell where I will fly next, but I am sure I will profit from the (at least) five months that I have ahead of me in this city. Yes, maybe Arkhangelsk is not Hollywood, but for the many movie stars you could see in California, you would never see the polar nights.