At the moment, I am living in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), conducting research for my dissertation. In addition I take Sakha language classes in the faculty of Yakut philology and culture and Sakha State University. The classes are excellent and I enjoy my time in the university immensely.

"I was amazed at the size and immensity of the Russian East."

I first became interested in the North in 2001 when I had the opportunity to travel across the Russian Federation on the trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow to Ulan-bataar, Mongolia. At the time, I hadn’t any experience with Russia or Eurasia at all but enjoyed the trip and furthermore was amazed at the size and immensity of the Russian East. In the US, when people think about Russia, they think largely about Moscow and the west and know little about the rest of Russia. But travelling on the train, I was just one day in western Russia and four days in Siberia. When I returned to the US, I wanted to know more about the Russian East and began to study Russian language with the intention of returning someday.

I first took courses here in 2005, for three months, then again in 2007 for three months. In 2008, I have been here for one year, taking Sakha classes and working with professors at the university.

My experience with the North has been only positive. I have been impressed by the strength and also friendliness of people here, not simply surviving in these harsh climatic conditions but living and raising families and introducing me and other foreigners to the beauty and richness of their homeland.

I have enormously enjoyed my time in the north. The nature is beautiful and I have received nothing but kindness and welcome from my friends and acquaintances here.

"...people are not so different in the end."

Studying here has been absolutely unlike any other educational experience. I have had the opportunity to be exposed to completely new ways of living in the world and to see, also, that people are not so different in the end. That is to say, I have been able to learn the similarities and the differences, to find the way to reach across cultural barriers and also where they cannot be crossed. If I were to answer more concretely, I would note the small classes, the close relations between students and professors and more broadly between families, who support each other from village to city and back again.

As I am nearing the end of my PhD, I doubt I will participate in any concrete exchange programs, but I fully intend to continue coming to the North and to Yakutia. I hope to be able to visit other regions, compare experiences, but also to return to Yakutia which has become like a second home to me.

"...come with open eyes and open ears,"

For other exchange students, I highly recommend them to come Yakutia, but to come with open eyes and open ears, to set aside preconceived notions and to avoid quick judgements. Things are not like they are in America or anywhere else in the world. Sometimes that can be frustrating, sometimes that can be scary even. But people live here, work here and have done so for millennia and they have their own ways of doing things. If you can put aside your comfort zone, not demand the things you’re used to, then you will see what a wonderful place this is and how amazing life can be.

To learn more about the GoNorth program, please go here: GoNorth

Photo: Susan Hicks in Siberia