We always tend to offer diverse travel and study programs. That is why this year we decided to show our students something different from the glamorous life in the Russian metropolises. Our goal was the Russian province, more precisely the settlement of Balakirevo, which is located 130 km northeast of Moscow, directly on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Balakirevo has around 10,000 inhabitants, most of whom work in heavy industry. We designed a special program for our students.
Following the tradition the inhabitants of the settlement greeted us with bread and salt, sang Russian folk songs and danced for and with (some of) us. Within the next five days we visited the secondary school, where our students had the opportunity to practice their Russian talking to the headmaster, the teachers and the school children.
The invitation to visit the local police college became the highlight of our trip. After all, normal tourists would rarely get such insights into the life of Russians. Or not at all. What did we learn in the police college? How to march, of course! This was impressively demonstrated to us by the police students, and we were even allowed to participate in the march. We also took an amazing lesson about fights and weapons. Afterwards, students‘ and our curiosity gave free rein, and we exchanged questions and stories about life in Russia and Switzerland. And as if that wasn't already exclusive enough, we also had the opportunity to visit the head of administration of Balakirevo in his office. He told us about the current situation of the small town and organized a trip to a metal factory for us.
Of course, all our meetings and visits ended with a feast. We tasted typical Russian pancakes, pelmeni (dumplings with meat) and schnitzel, as well as baked in the pot pork with potatoes. On the last evening we visited a local family who treated us with shashlyk(grilled cubes of meat) and homemade vodka, played guitar and sang Russian hits.
Besides all these experiences, all our participants will remember the warm people hospitality, as well as collectivism, the family cohesion that shapes Balakirevo life until today. We also made an impression on the inhabitants of this settlement. The local newspaper of the city of Aleksandrov published an article about our visit including interviews with the participants. Giving an interview to the newspaper in Russian was not a big deal for our participants, as during their trip they greatly improved their level through talking to Russian families and officials from morning till evening every day.
Apart from the Russian province, we did a bit of a classic tourist program and visited the three ancient cities Suzdal, Sergiyev Posad and Alexandrov, which all belong to the Golden Ring. The departure from Moscow made the city life inevitable. Nightlife was of course included. But we do not report about that here.