WHY WE MOVED TO RUSSIA

This weeks blog is a bit more personal than most I have written, although most of them have essentially been personal observations. I have been asked many times why we moved to Russia from America, as I mentioned in an earlier blog. The motives for the question seem to vary. Some are friends who just want to know more about us; some are interested in moving to Russia and want to know more about and discuss our motives and theirs; others just think it is so out of the realm of the ordinary they would like to know what could ever make one think moving to Russia from South Carolina is a good idea. Some aren’t interested at all, and you may want to skip this one!

There is no one reason, so first I’ll review the background. We moved from St. Petersburg, Russia to America in 2008. The main reason we moved was because Oksana was pregnant, and we wanted the child to be born in America. Russian and American paperwork and documents are just too complicated for private individuals who want their child born in Russia to be an American citizen.

Coming back to America was more difficult for me than I thought it would be. I had taught at a University there, and it was the job I thought I was made for. I taught Koine Greek and New Testament at a Baptist school. I loved what I did and worked with a great group of friends. I resigned in 2005 because my marriage was on the brink of divorce. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I hated leaving that school and the close friends I had there.

That is when I moved to Russia, and stayed here three years. When we returned to America in 2008 I took a job working for my brother at a small company. We both thought it would be temporary until something else turned up. I stayed there eight years. In November of 2011 we found out my in-laws from Russia were coming in March of the following year for a two week visit. I knew the visit would go better if I “studied up” on some Russian. When we had lived in St. Petersburg I had learned very little Russian—only survivor’s Russian. After living in America for three years I had lost what little I did know. I went on Amazon and bought the first level of three levels of conversational Russian (Pimsleur) to prepare, since my in-laws knew no English. I finished it and got the second and then later completed all three levels. It was good because it focused on pronunciation and listening, and I could listen to the CDs on my way to work and back. After purchasing the Pimsleur CDs, Amazon “flashed” some books on my account as “you may be interested in these.” So I ordered a history of the October Revolution by Richard Pipes and another one on Orthodox prayer written by Orthodox monks. I became addicted! I read Russian history, practiced the Russia language lessons, and got into Orthodox writings.

I still had no intent of ever going back to live in Russia or becoming Orthodox. I just found it all very interesting. Having lived in Russia and being married to a Russian I’m sure was part of the impact. I wish I could have studied the language, history, and religion of Russia in a university setting where I could get the insights of those more knowledgeable than I in a classroom setting. Nevertheless, I was the sole bread winner and had a wife and two kids. I had to do it on my own, although Oksana tried to spare some time to help me with the language. I recently counted over fifty books I had read on Russian history and Orthodoxy, not counting the Pimsleur collection and the grammar books. It got to be an addiction that was a bit expensive.

Occasionally I started to have thoughts of moving back to Russia, but never mentioned it to anyone—even my wife. I did start looking around on the i-net for opportunities for study or work near our home in South Carolina that would allow me to use or enhance my knowledge of Eastern Europe, but I found nothing. The process, however, made me realize I no longer longed to go back to a teaching position like I had had before. Only a few of my old friends came around anymore. I think I was a pariah to some who I had thought were dear friends. My interests had changed, and it was impossible to go back to the way things were before Russia. My life was different now, and I had finally accepted that fact.

Then in late January of 2014 we got our biggest shock ever. We found out that Oksana had gotten pregnant in December. Years before, when she had her first son in Russia, she was told that she probably would never be able to have other children. She had had a hard time getting pregnant in her first marriage. So when she got pregnant two months after we were married we thought it was a fluke. That was nothing like our response when she got pregnant with our second child!  I had to endure all the “old daddy” jokes, like the one from my nephew asking about the visiting hours in nursing homes for those with children in elementary school! At first I actually was devastated and confused. But then we found out the baby was a girl and my thinking changed. I had four boys—now a girl!? It was actually exciting now.

When she was born in September of 2014 I knew I did not want to miss her young years by leaving for work and coming in too tired to play. I had learned from experience how quickly the years pass, and they grow up. So I started thinking about what I could do to have the family time I craved. I thought of semi-retirement and working part time. My brother was fine with that. So I checked with the Social Security office and found out that with two minor children I could retire early and my benefits would be double what it would be with just my wife and me. Now, Social Security isn’t much, but that did sound better. On the other hand, I feared if I stayed in my old job part time it would end up not being truly part time. I had grown into taking care of many things there, e.g., office manager, inventory and purchasing manager, customer relations, sales and more. I had trouble taking a couple of days off without the phone ringing from work.

Then not too long after she was born we were in a Skype conversation with my in-laws in Russia. My mother-in-law, Sveta, said, almost in passing, that the director of the secondary schools was closing the English program in Luga. English would still be offered in the schools, but they had a program here in Luga which had won several awards. The director no longer wanted the headache of doing all the paperwork for that program. Sveta suggested that since I had taught English in Russia before I could sure get plenty of students.

I said nothing to my wife but could not get it off my mind. I thought, I prayed, I examined every angle and thought of every reason not to follow up, but it would not go away. Then after about two months Oksana and I were on our walk late one afternoon and were almost back home when she said, “You know, I never thought we’d move back to Russia, but I can’t get what mom said off my mind.” So we started discussing, praying, and analyzing everything together!

Several factors merged in our thoughts. One was financial. It took me a long time to learn the sales and business world, but I had finally gotten to where I was making a decent income. Yet it required a lot of time and energy, and it was not particularly fulfilling to me. Further, it takes a lot of money to live in America. I don’t mean to live elaborately.  I mean just to have a home, cars, and clothes. If my sales fell off one month we struggled. We rarely went out; we bought clothes second hand; we were careful to hold down expenses. We still had trouble making ends meet some times. Health care with three kids was a big issue. “Obamacare” was devastating to us. We made too much to benefit from it but not enough for it to be of any advantage to us. It was a heartless piece of legislation. We talked to friends in Luga, and the cost of living was so much lower. We could never live on my social security benefits in America, but our research indicated we could live comfortably on it in the small Russian town of Luga.

The second component of our thinking evolved around the political situation in America and Russia. As the political talk increased in 2015 in anticipation of the 2016 elections I grew more pessimistic about a stable political future in America. I read a book called, “The Deep State” by Mike Lofgren. The book completely changed my thinking on American politics. The author spent practically his whole career working for Republicans in Washington D.C., mostly in the Senate and mostly for John Kasich. He presented his information in a way that convinced me he was being honest. His main point was that D.C. is not run by the politicians you see on T.V. There is a whole world of invisible bureaucrats who control things. Their primary interest is in keeping America involved in conflict, war, and the sales of arms. They want a huge military budget, but not for the privates, corporals or low ranking officers to get deserved salary increases and benefits. They do not care about them. They are pawns to send into wars. These bureaucrats care about arms producers and dealers. Follow the money! The arguments about domestic issues like abortion, women’s right, etc., are primarily for show. Nothing ever really changes on those issues. The “conservative pro-life” Republicans had a majority in both House and Senate when the videos of  Planned Parenthood selling body parts came out, and how did their federal funding change?  Party differences are not significant. Neocon Republicans and neoliberal Democrats really work off the same page. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, for example, may appear to be on different sides, but do not be deceived. Look at their positions on conflicts around the world. America has gotten so used to being involved in wars around the world that most of us no longer can name countries where our military men and women are dying.  We reward diplomats for their contributions to important politicians, not for their ability to solve conflicts without the loss of life.  I wanted very much not to believe him. But the book was a best seller, and I could find no one who wrote a response proving his work was a distortion. The most chilling part of the book was when he described talking with a lobbyist for a company that made weapons. After 09/11/2001 he told Lofgren with some sense of glee, “We’re gonna make a lot of money out of this!” Lofgern alluded to Cicero’s quip that the sinews of war are infinite money. I wanted to throw up.

As the campaigns of the numerous candidates got rolling I was no longer the political junkie I had been. I faded into cynicism. And what would all this mean for us—a Russian-American family? Increasingly what was said about Russia reminded one of the manipulative paranoia of Joseph McCarthy. To fast forward briefly, since then as the election has gotten closer, I note how every time Donald Trump mentions he’d like diplomatic ties with Russia to be stronger to fight ISIS both Hillary Clinton and the mainstream media started talking of his “bromance” with Putin or claiming he was Putin’s puppet or whatever. Let ISIS keep chopping off heads of innocents. Trust the candidate, the real enemy is Russia. As I said, I’m far too cynical now to have a political purpose in making these statements. I don’t care who you vote for. But the fallout from this stupidity was I felt squeezed and quite insecure as to what would happen if we ever did want to make a move to Russia. I concluded we better do it sooner rather than later if we were going to do it. One frustrating thing is that you simply cannot trust what the Western media or especially the American media and what the political wags say about Russia. The picture they paint is a complete distortion in most instances. Whether it is Chris Matthews or Charles Krauthammer, it really is the same stuff from people who do not know the language or the culture of Russia. They’ve never listened to a full speech from Vladimir Putin, but that does not stop them from droning on. They are static in the ears of those who want to know what it is really like. But I digress.

Another consideration was our boys and how they would handle the idea of a move to Russia. When we told Roman and Gabriel that we were thinking about moving there they both immediately said they liked the idea. My sixteen year old stepson Roman was ready to move immediately. Seven year old Gabriel was positive, but still apprehensive. He feared riding on a plane, but that quickly faded. He liked the idea of being around his Russian grandparents. I started researching education in Russia. I was pleased with what I found out. We had great experiences with teachers and administrators in the schools our children attended in South Carolina. We were concerned about the increasing role the U. S. Government plays in education, however. The social agenda was highlighted later by what seemed to us the ridiculous issue of transgenders and bathrooms. It more and more seemed no issue was too “far out” for the government to step in and force what was politically correct on local school districts. That was not a problem in Russia, as I have written before. If “fluid distinctions” between the genders are what one likes, then you will not be happy with public education in Russia. Conversely, parents like us who are far more traditional are not as comfortable with public education in America. From discussions with people here in Luga about the schools we learned that children here are introduced to certain math courses and the “hard sciences” like chemistry and physics at an earlier point in their education than children in America. International scores of children in Russia are on the rise. We concluded that they would get a very good education here.

We also let them know there were things about life in Russia that were not as nice as America. We would be living in a small apartment, and they would not have their own rooms with plenty of space. There are no fast food restaurants like MacDonalds or Burger King in Luga. We rarely ate at them anyway, but they did say they would miss Chick-fil-A. Of course, an overriding issue for the boys and me was the language issue. Roman was better than Gabriel, but he did not understand the more complex grammatical aspects of Russian grammar well. I can communicate the basic things I need to, but my listening skills are not good. I have a very difficult time with “native speakers” unless they consciously slow down. Gabriel knew no Russian. So we knew struggles were ahead in those areas, and decided we will simply have to work hard. We would not let the language “barrier” stop us. Learning Russian would be tough for us, but it is essential.

After many discussions and tentatively coming to the decision to move, I sought out some responses from people I trusted. I told my best friend with whom I had taught for 14 years and had known much longer than that. He said he hated to see us move but at the same time he was not surprised and even a bit relieved. Essentially he said, “Man, you have been talking to me a lot and boring me some about Russian history so long I’m ready to see you go over there! You need to do it!” I also told our priest and wanted to get his response. He was very positive and also had a somewhat humorous response, “I’m almost envious. I say ‘almost’ because envy is a sin and I’m not to the point of sin, but I am almost envious.” I spoke to others and everyone we talked to said they thought it seemed like a natural move for us. The hardest part was the thought of leaving my two sons by my first marriage and their families. My oldest son was not surprised. He seemed to have “seen it coming” to some degree. My second son was more surprised, but he was also supportive. As I thought then, moving away from them has been the hardest part without question. I miss my boys.

We made the decision to move here the fall before we actually moved. I gave an eight month notice at work! That gave us a lot of time to prepare physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I thought maybe it was too long for goodbyes, but I see now it was not. It also allowed us to let the decision sink in and “settle” in our thoughts. I constantly examined and reexamined my motives for moving. I knew this was a huge decision to move our family of five half way around the world and essentially start over. I did not want to move until all our minds were completely certain that we should make this move. We all were agreed that this was right.

So in March I bought the plane tickets and got a better deal by ordering in advance and giving the site flexible dates to fly. Adjusting has been more difficult than we thought. Even Oksana, who was born here, has had some challenging times. We prepared ourselves for leaving family and friends for a long time, but that doesn’t mean you won’t miss them terribly. We miss my grown boys, their wives and children so very much. There are very few days we don’t recount our times with them. My brother and I had, for the first time in our lives, worked together at the same place. We saw each other most every day. I knew we’d never have that again. We miss our church and the wonderful friends we had there.

We are all glad we are here, however. It is just the adjustment has taken longer than we thought. The truth is, however, I had continuing troubles adjusting to life in America the way it is in 2016. I still love America, but the America I grew up in is gone. It is simply not the same country. The majority of Americans have decided they want those changes. No one forced America at gun point to change its cultural values, how it educates its children, and how it resolves political differences. I respect the rights of others to change values and policies with which I do not agree, and I made my decision on leaving America accordingly. America has chosen to go down a path I regret. But I don’t get to make the call.

When I lived here in Russia before I always felt I was out of place because I was an American and things were different in America. Frankly, I feel out of place in America now. I am a stranger in my own country. When I go to the market here I feel like I’m back in the world of my Grandfather Freeman selling his vegetables in Pickens, S.C. We craved that simpler, more “connected” life. We had looked forward to more natural foods and nutrition in Russia and a life closer to the soil. We have not been disappointed. The schools and the moral approach they couple with education, along with a more rigorous education, is far more like what I was accustomed to early in my life and what I believe is good. I don’t even dread the coming cold weather!

When the struggles come, as they do, we know we could not have been any more careful in our decision. We discussed every angle, we prayed over every detail, and we sought advice from people we trusted. There were positive things that drew us to Russia. I don’t think any move like this should ever been done just to “get away” from things where one is. There are going to be problems and stresses wherever you are going. I know, however, I did not want to let fear of change or an unwillingness to move in faith keep us from pursuing what we believed was best for our family and right in the eyes of God.

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8 thoughts on “WHY WE MOVED TO RUSSIA

  1. What I got out of it was that you mostly decided to leave America after reading Lofgren’s book and becoming despondent with politics because of the deep state that exists there. I don’t see how going to a country with an even bigger deep state is going to counteract that sense of helplessness and disappointment. There, if some official screws you out of your money and the state decides to protect them, you don’t have much recourse. Maybe because the Russian deep state is more open about their existence, it’s more palatable? Not that I think there are many solutions to such matters since democracy probably has an upper limit with regard to populations until a deep state develops. Maybe 30 million people, or it could be a lot less.

    Obviously the other reasons, such as conservative values, life being cheaper, having an interesting teaching job, etc… are important as well. But the ‘deep state’ is interesting to me as I’m following the American elections right now, and from the outside a lot of people are depressed over things, living standards are slowly falling, and the country has basically divided into warring camps. Also trust between people has fallen to new lows and Lofgren’s book is not helping with that. I can’t imagine I would trust people I don’t know in Russia much more than your average American though.

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    • Having read the same thing, I think that what you mostly got out of rhis reflects your perspective at least as much as the authors. I think you are downplaying the other reasons he gave and stressing American politics too much. Its there, and its a strong reason, but I take away a decision that has much more balance than you want to grant. Maybe because most of us would make such a decision based primarily on the American political situation whereas our author had family, faith, previous experience living in Russia, and an admittedly deep fascination with Russian history and culture.

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  2. I guess I need to clear up several misunderstandings. First, the decision to come to Russia was not based on my reading of the book. I read the book after we had pretty much decided to come here. The book was informative and surely shook me up, but I did not make the decision to come here based on that information. If you go back and read the conclusion I state that no one should move based on simple dissatisfaction with where you are.
    Second, I also would never move my family to any location where I knew no one or was totally unfamiliar with the language and culture. Your last sentence indicates that you think I am unfamiliar with the culture and people of Russia. After marrying a Russian lady I met on an earlier trip to Russia back in 2002, I eventually came to live here for three years as I stated in this blog. The primary reason, as I pointed out, was the birth of my daughter and my desire to be with my family more. I have mentioned several other issues in my previous blog entries, so maybe if one only reads this specific entry then there would be misunderstanding. Also, it looks like maybe you have not read my earlier blog on why Russians like Putin. I think one could make a case for a “deep state” in most countries, but that doesn’t mean they are willing to send their citizen/soldiers to die in foreign wars for financial gain. A deep state is not necessarily an evil state. Watching a press conference with Barack Obama and one with Vladimir Putin is completely different, and I point out some differences in that blog. I do not think anyone here is pushing V. Putin around. He has his fans and his critics here, but there are a lot more of the former than the latter–but the latter can be quite vocal. Putin is very clear and thorough when explaining his goals and methods as I say in the earlier blog.
    You did not mention ever having spent any time in Russia, and I realized when I started writing this blog that confusion could result because people who have not actually lived in both “political cultures” will have to interpret my writing through the lens of what they have heard, rather than what they have actually been a part of. One reason I started writing this blog is to try and make the differences clearer. So if I left the impression I had a sense of helplessness and despair and read that book and took off to Russia, then I would like to correct that impression! Thank you for reading and interacting. It helps me to understand better how people process this information.

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  3. Hal,

    A courageous move to say the least. I admire you and your stance. I think I have become cynical as well about our political situation and the media that does its best to distort the truth to make a few bucks. Who would have ever thought selling “air” would have become so important? I know the move was hard for you. I am sorry I was not more of a help for you as you tried getting back into education. I can say you were one of the best teachers I ever had during my doctoral pursuits. I know your students will benefit from your international experience.

    I hope one day to see you again. And I hope you have found some measure of peace there in Russia. God bless you my friend.

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  4. Thanks my friend. I don’t think it was God’s plan for me to get back into education. It would have been something I was comfortable with–well, more comfortable than moving to Russia! 🙂 But I see now it would not have been the right move even if I had had an opportunity. We hope to come back for lengthy summer visit in 2017, and I really would like to get together. I will post more when the time gets closer. Thanks again for your kind response.

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  5. Thanks for your reply and clarifying things. I became really interested in this blog even though I found it randomly while searching for ‘Mark Adomanis’, an economics Russia expert who seems to have disappeared off the internet two months ago.

    I admit that it’s very interesting for me since I can’t imagine people liking Russia or the life there as compared to America, so I do like reading these entries. Though I have worked in five different countries (right now I’m outside of North America), they have all been in the developed West, so I think I can contemplate a move somewhere like Russia if I wanted to save money, but it’s hard for me to imagine that a person who lived all their life in America and who is not an automatic pro-Russian (government at least) would do so. But you did spend three years there before, so there is that.

    For the record, I do speak Russian very well (and two other languages besides English), and my wife is Russian but she is very left-wing and anti-Putin. We don’t really talk about politics, but I think this means that I won’t be going to Russia anytime soon. Salary is not what I’m used to and there are not enough jobs in my field. And I’m not Orthodox Christian. Plus, I’m very cynical and based on news from the 90s I instinctively think it’s a bad place to live and people are nasty to each other (despite the improving social indicators that keep going up year after year I still think it’s below Western countries), not to mention the whole deep state thing.

    Well, I’ll be looking forward to read more posts in the future.

    P.S. Did you look into teaching old Greek at a local university?

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  6. I thought about looking into teaching Greek again, but decided against it. I still love to read it & study it every day on my own.
    I was brought up right in the middle of the Cold War. I joined the Marines thinking they would send me to fight Communists in Vietnam! Never got sent, but I was willing. Obviously coming here made me see things differently. My wife was raised in a Communist home. Her dad is a retired Soviet officer. So we came from different worlds for sure! I know I repeat myself, but Russia is not like it was even when I first came here in 2002. I think I have to give Putin’s leadership a lot of the credit for the positive changes. I have read books on him (5 last year) and lived in his hometown, but he is still pretty much a mystery to me. I think he has done good things for Russia, and I like to listen to his press conferences as I mentioned b/c he is careful to explain and clarify and not do “sound bites” like American politicians seem to aim for. But I don’t know the “ins and outs” of Russian politics to either endorse or condemn him. I think overall he’s been good for Russia. I just leave it at that. I hope someday you and your wife can come to Russia. Would be interesting to get your take on it after all your travels!.

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