Are you looking forward to going home?
I can’t count the number of times I was asked this question before leaving Russia, and every time I wondered whether to give the easy, non-committal answer or to explain the whole story. I inevitably encountered surprise when I said that I wasn’t going home for another seven months (not even for Christmas), having already spent three months away, but I felt uncomfortable then explaining my situation. It made me realise how privileged I am to spend this year travelling as part of my degree; what I have is an opportunity out of reach for many in Russia.
Well, then, are you looking forward to going to Austria?
Stupid question. Austria may not be home, but the grass is green and it’s raining.
Green? I take it back. Upon my arrival into Scheffau, it began to snow, and I woke up on my first morning to an entirely white landscape, even down here in the valley. What can I say but that I brought it with me? And in spite of the fact that Siberia has been covered in snow since October, the novelty has not worn off. Trees bedecked and glittering, fields swathed in a white blanket: this is splendour unrivalled by any tsar.
You know, of course, that Siberia has very cold winters; but do you know what a Siberian winter sky looks like? Cloudy. Ever since the snow first fell, apart from three or four days, thick white-grey clouds were ever-present and blue skies and sunshine were few and far-between. It’s different in Austria. There’s snow, but there’s sun too: here is splendour indeed.
I am working as a ski instructor in a little mountain village called Scheffau. My employer, Ingrid Salvenmoser, is a former competitor and medallist of international slalom competitions but has since set up her own ski school: skiing, she says, is still her passion. She has thrown me in at the deep end; I have no experience of ski instructing, and very little formal tuition, but Ingrid nonetheless trusts me to take children up to the top of the mountain and teach them how to ski. So far, so good – only a few bruises.
And now that you’re in Austria, do you miss Russia?
There was much about Russia that I loved, above all its people. The honest answer, however, is that I feel safe here, surrounded not only by a language I can speak with relatively little effort, but also by the mountains : Russia was vast open spaces (broken only by vast cities), whereas I grew up in hilly Devon, studied in hilly Durham and holidayed in the Alps. I feel comfortable here as I have not for several months. This is not quite home, but close enough, for now.