Hey! I’m Polly Barks, a travel writer and English teacher. I’m originally from a small town in the USA but moved to Moscow, Russia in 2010. When I’m not writing for my blog or other publication, I love wandering through new parts of my city, sampling delicious cocktails, and obsessively watching Game of Thrones.
Ha! Perhaps the question I get most. The simple answer is that I studied Russian in university and it just made sense to move to Russia after my studies. The slightly longer answer is I finished university a year early, panicked, had nothing lined up, and an English teacher job in Moscow was the first job offer I got!
I planned to only stay for a year but I ended up living in Moscow/the Moscow region for five years, so I guess I kind of fell in love with Russia eventually!
Likes/dislikes about Russia and the Russians?
Likes: produkti (small convenience stores) everywhere and open 24/7, the absolute friendliness of Russians after you’ve spoken to them for even just a few minutes, the amount of opportunity available for expats in Russia’s major cities, the Moscow metro system!
Dislikes: the awful grey of Russian winters, people who refuse to speak Russian to me if I make a grammatical error (mostly grumpy old women at the shops), how economically unstable the country is right now.
Has your life style changed since you moved to Moscow? If yes, how?
My life changed a lot when I moved to Moscow, but I’m not sure how much of that is due to Moscow or how much is due to Moscow being the first place I was ever an adult.
I guess Moscow made me more outgoing, as it’s very difficult to make friends and get to know people if you’re as quiet as I typically am! Secondly, Moscow – and specifically teaching English – allowed me to be financially independent and secure in a way I probably wouldn’t be in the USA. I could never have imagined making so much money at the age of 23 as I did there and for that I’m very grateful.
What is the the first thing you do when you go back to your home country?
This is really terrible to admit, but it’s pretty much always going to be eating at Taco Bell (a terrible ‘Mexican’ fast food chain, for those who don’t know).
Does Russia feel multicultural?
For Moscow, I’d say yes, in the sense that there are people of many cultures there thanks to tons of immigrants from the former USSR. In another sense I’d say no, because many Russians are not at all accepting of these different cultures. If you head outside of Moscow, Russia is pretty much completely (white) Russian unless you go to areas where there are still strong pockets of indigenous people.
Do you feel yourself integrated?
Yes and no. In my day-to-day life I could almost forget I lived abroad. In general, people were very friendly and I lived a life that was fairly normal for an average Muscovite. On the other hand, I was always very aware that I was a US citizen in a country that isn’t the biggest fan of the USA but aside from a few dirty looks/curses from people who heard me speaking English, I felt about as normal and integrated as a foreigner ever can!
Could you tell me a few words about your blog?
Sure! I recently rebranded my blog and it’s now known as Let’s Love Local. Basically, my blog is dedicated to showing people how it’s possible to travel locally and have a good time – whether you live in Moscow or in the very middle of nowhere!
Have you ever experienced any cases of discrimination in Moscow?
Personally, no. As I said, I look Russian enough that just walking down the street I don’t have any issues. That being said, I’ve worked with non-white expats and their experience is very different: their stories have ranged from being heckled in the streets to having a family member beaten and thrown in front of a train. Additionally, Russia (even relatively liberal big cities like Moscow) is still not a welcome environment for the LGBT community although this is easier to hide than the color of your skin.
It’s a sad but true fact that a large number of Russians hold onto dangerous, outdated ideas that can be dangerous to some groups of people. From my experience I would seriously advise people of color/non-heterosexual leaning folk to consider whether they’d feel comfortable living in such an environment!
Advice to a new expat in Moscow? 😉
I’ve written a whole post here but basically: whatever you think about Moscow, it’s probably not true. You’ve got to get there and experience it for youself!