As I’ve spoken of before, one of the best parts of my gap year has been been meeting people from all over the world. I’ve met people from places I’ve never even considered going to, and people from places I wouldn’t imagine going to. Some of the most interesting people I meet come from places that, as an American, I would think twice before visiting. In my studies abroad, I’ve personally experienced next to no harassment or prejudice due to my citizenship. Perhaps it’s different elsewhere, as I am in Europe, but so far, I haven’t felt it.
One of the people I had the pleasure of sharing a class and a few meals with, Igor, happens to be from Russia. In fact, he works as a tour guide in Moscow. After he returned home, I received a message from him encouraging me to visit him in Moscow. Despite wanting to visit, I politely declined, citing the political situation between our countries and a fear for my safety. He responded with this message (slightly edited for clarity).
“Problems between our countries in politics not between people, so don’t worry. Of course, not all Russians like Americans but in general in Moscow and Saint Petersburg people are very friendly and can speak English, especially young people.”
This is a sentiment I’ve heard and experienced time and time again. I’ve shared pub crawls with other Russians. Meals with folks from China. And an afternoon with a Moroccan fellow (I wrote about earlier). Igor expresses the sentiment I’ve always heard perfectly. The problems are in politics, not people.
I bring this up now after a trip to Greece. While a European, EU country, Greece shares a border with Turkey and sits across the Aegean sea from Libya, Egypt and the Middle East. Instead of flying West out of Athens, I could have flown east for two hours to Tel Aviv, Aleppo, Damascus, or another hour to Baghdad. Being in such close proximity, Greece, and it’s waters, are the first point of contact for many a refugee fleeing turmoil in the Middle East. (Along with Italy, Hungry, and other European external border countries). While I don’t claim to be an expert in the refugee crisis by any means, I do read the headlines.
As an American, my message in this post is to draw attention to the issue of asylum seekers in relation to The States. While it’s easy to think of as a European problem, as those refugees that have the means to make it The States likely already have, I disagree with that mentality. History has shown us, on our side of the Atlantic, the faults with neglecting ‘European’ problems. The US is a country of immigrants, and has more than the capacity to help out a few more. After reading my post, I encourage you to remember the words of my friend; “Problems between our countries in politics not between people, so don’t worry.”
If you’re interested in seeing photos from my recent travels, check out my next post coming tomorrow!