I say with confidence that I met my closest and best friends while living in Russia. Not only was it the longest time I've ever lived in one place at once, but it was the first time I could clearly remember my experiences. The school was smaller than anything I'd come across and I lived outside the city in a residential complex called "Rosinka" ("raindrop" in Russian).
I quickly found that living out there had far more benefits than losses, as I was cast into an environment that had tons of activities to do outside instead of being stuck in an apartment all day. I went sledding and ice skating in the winter, went biking in the hills in the spring, I had water gun fights in the summer, and went for walks in the hillside in the fall.
I achieved my highest grades in school there as well as having unimagined amounts of fun on the school's extended field trips to locations like Latvia and the historic city of St. Petersburg. I'm still in contact with friends that I made there, and I always laugh and smile when we discuss old times whether it be playing soccer during lunch time or staying up late playing computer games. Since I was there for the period between 4th and 8th grades, it was a time for creating lasting relationships and adding to the treasure chest of memories.
I also learned how to play the piano taught by my Russian piano teacher Dima who cultured my yearning to emulate my sister and father's skills at the piano until I surpassed them both in skill. He taught all willing kids who lived in Rosinka, and eventually I was proud of my skills as it earned me respect with my peers as well as the adults. Though associating with anybody outside Rosinka on my own time was difficult because the trip was a long one home, when I did get the chance, it was priceless. I would spend the night at a friend's house and stay up late till 3:00 in the morning playing games and creating timeless moments. I would go home the next day, and a week later at school I'd start up a conversation about it, then I'd hold a sleepover, and the cycle would repeat and repeat.
Something I want to try again is to ice skate. In the span of 5 struggling years, I went from having my butt on the ice for most of the time to playing ice hockey with the best of them. I still have my hockey stick from Russia that I use when I play floor hockey (the next best thing to ice hockey), and it seems to fuel me with all the fun I had playing with it back then.
My best memories from Russia were the extended field trips mentioned earlier. The first time it was a bus trip to northern Russia, the next a cruise along the Volga River, then the trip to Latvia. I got even closer to my friends when it involved spending a week with them, with each day presenting more stuff to do and to digest.
Ironically, I'm returning from a vacation trip where I visited a friend in Kenya en route to Cairo, which is my new home, and I have a 15-hour layover in Dubai before going home. The ironic part is that when I was in Kenya, I learned that a friend I knew from Russia was living there, and though I wasn't able to talk to her directly because she was on her own vacation, I called her house and told her parents to tell her hi.
And even more, that layover in Dubai--well, one of my best friends from Russia of 8 years lives there, so instead of staying in the dreaded terminal from midnight until 3 in the afternoon, I stayed at his house until it was time catch my flight home. The other part of living there was being exposed to a completely different lifestyle that exists in the United States.
The decisions made by the politicians on the home front directly affected the lifestyle I led at home. The biggest event was an attack on the embassy there, and it caused quite a stir. I wasn't allowed to go there anymore, so I couldn't attend after-school activities until everything had calmed down. That introduction into the world of living overseas definitely prepared me for anything else I might come across. The best example being 9/11. Since I now live in the Middle East, I have to act differently and watch what I say around people concerning al Qaeda and the like.
Ultimately, living in Russia is what created the beginning of what became the rest of my life. I can't imagine living my life any other way. Russia is a permanent part of who I am now, and I'm proud to say that I've lived there.