Russia has had a potent influence on the history of the West, yet for many it is unexplored territory. Its stereotypes and images loom large in the modern zeitgeist, but they are often unmeasured and unchallenged by the personal experience of travelling to this vast and proud nation.
This is largely due to the antagonistic shadow cast by the Iron Curtain and years of Cold War suspicions. Students who do travel there will be thrilled to find that behind this shadow, behind the stereotypes, and behind the harsh visage of unexplored territory lies a nation waiting to light up and educate the paths of travellers.
A Byzantine Soul
The wealth of Russian heritage has deep roots. Stretching back long before the austere face of Stalinism, the nation has seen many territorial and hierarchical changes, but one strong vein of culture has remained stalwart throughout. Students on educational trips will be able to explore first hand the preservation of Byzantine Roman culture entrenched through the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church. The rituals, the iconography, the art and finely crafted domes on churches such as St Basil’s, all hark back to Eastern Christianity and Constantine’s empire.
The Home of the Tsars
The story of the Tsars has captured popular imagination. Students on educational trips can go beyond the veneer of these stories and explore the fascinating history in greater detail. From Nicolas the Second to Catherine the Great, and from Rasputin to Tsar Peter, the array of drama and tumult that surrounded the many years of tsarist rule will captivate the imagination and help students understand much of Russian customs.
The Land of Rare Words
For students of literature, Russian is a sacred island in a sea of easy words. Educational trips will allow students to explore the provenance and history surrounding some of literature’s great masters and greatest works of literary art. From Solzhenitsyn to Tolstoy, Dostoevsky to Chekhov, Russian writers have imbued their words with stark energy and grace; they have transcended the complexities of the Russian language and won the battle against the boundaries of translation. A chance to learn a little Russian and visit the inspirational sites of these great writers will not easily be forgotten.
The Flourish of Communism
Perhaps the most well known image of Russia is that of the Soviet hammer and sickle. Yet, it is also perhaps the most misunderstood. Students of politics and history, as well as students who simply wish to better understand the modern world will do well to take educational trips to Russia to better understand the gritty details of life under the Soviet Union. The museums and tours of St Petersburg and Moscow will help students appreciate the lifestyle of ordinary people under Lenin’s legacy, and also help them see how the nation has faced both high and lows after it emerged from that stage in its history.
Angela Bowden works for STS (School Travel