When you hear about Russia, what images come to your mind? Grand Palaces, matryoshka dolls, vodka?
Since studying Russian history at school and in my endeavour to visit as many countries as possible during my lifetime (I’ve currently visited 42), I’ve always wanted to visit the largest country in the world and to see the Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral and the Winter Palace with my own eyes.
I made the bold decision to go on a 10 day trip of Moscow, the Golden Ring of Russia and St Petersburg and my decision to venture on this exciting adventure alone received a mixed reception which ranged from “wow that sounds incredible” to “why on earth would you want to do that?” The trip was a matter of survival: I was alone in a country far away from home which I had never been to before; I could only speak one word of Russian “спасибо” pronounced spasibo which means thank you; and under 5% of the population of Russia are English speakers.
At Cisco, I am privileged to work with people from all over the globe but there’s a big difference between this and fully immersing yourself in the culture and the language of a new country. I quickly learned it is not common to smile at strangers as Russians normally smile at people they know, if I needed help with the Russian language it was best to ask a younger person as during the Soviet Union Russians were not allowed to travel abroad; and when ordering vodka it is perfectly acceptable in Russia to order 10 shots at once instead of staggering them.
My solo trip also helped me to develop some of my key life skills. For example, on my first night I had booked tickets to see a ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow’s city centre and my hotel was on the outskirts of the city. I was told that the Metro was the best mode of transport but I had no idea where my hotel was on the Metro map or which stop I needed to get off to and this was further complicated by the fact that the Russian language is written using another alphabet – the Cyrillic alphabet. I tried to ask for help the receptionist in my hotel but she and her colleagues couldn’t understand me. I noticed that there was a Best Western hotel adjacent to my hotel and as this hotel started in the US, I thought that their staff could probably speak more English than my hotel. My guess turned out to be right and I was successfully able to travel to the Bolshoi theatre to watch a ballet. This not only helped me to develop confidence but it also made me realise what it’s like to go to a country where you can’t speak the language and people can’t speak your langauge and this helped me to develop patience and understanding.
My trip also helped me to develop my social skills and develop relationships with people who I didn’t know. After a few days I joined 14 other people on a G-Adventures tour and they became like my family. We had never met before and by the end of the trip I had shared many memories with them and developed deep relationships.
To create a culture of Inclusion and Diversity, I think we need to make it personal for our employees so that it becomes a tangible and useful corporate tool. For me, there was no better way to learn about a country, its culture and its people than to fully immerse myself in it and I’m really looking forward to my next adventure!