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Teaching in... Eastern Europe and Russia
The past few decades have brought major transformation to this storied part of the world. The rebirth of national and cultural pride, along with increased integration into the global community, have exploded the region’s old sense of unity. While Russia has maintained its boldness, states like Latvia and Ukraine have shed their Soviet skin and can now define themselves as self-sustaining nations and peoples. What Eastern Europe has maintained is its appeal to those hunting for discovery and adventure abroad. With isolated natural sites, cities practically bare of tourists, and remarkable affordability, this region provides experiences altogether different from those of its western neighbor.
People, Culture and Politics
While the region’s structure has changed greatly, the varied cultures of Eastern Europe have stayed close to their social traditions. Events like local festivals, soccer matches, and Medieval reenactments are very popular, but the social center of most Eastern European countries is still the home; an invitation from a local is a truly meaningful gesture. There is a genuine curiosity, in fact, about Americans, and therefore opportunities for true cross-cultural experiences. Some travelers talk of Eastern Europe throwing them for a loop—where else can you find homemade alcohol on every block, or take the same train across seven time zones—but nearly all find the quirks endearing. Politically, the region is still changing, with some countries becoming independent and many members of, or candidates for, the EU.
- Russians take off their shoes whenever they enter a house. Many hosts even keep slippers (“tapechki”) for theirguests to wear.
- Beer-brewing is a valued tradition in the Czech Republic—the per-capita consumption of beer is 160 liters—and you can find cheap, excellent beer in any town in the country.
- Tension does exist between certain countries, and assuming someone’s nationality can offend him/her if you’re wrong. It’s best to wait for it to be revealed.
- Most Russians value honesty, even brutal honesty, over niceties. Direct, open communication is highly appreciated.
- Russians have a strong sense of national pride, and the country’s history with the US and UK can still make for uncomfortable situations. When in doubt, try to avoid talking politics with Russians.
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