Settling in the Small, Quiet City of Belgorod

It has been a while, I know. I just moved to Saint Petersburg for my new job (Yaaay!) about which I will write in few hundred episodes for sure. Either way, this week I want to write about Belgorod in general. The small Russian city that became my first home in the Motherland. So let's begin!

Why exactly Belgorod, Leandro? Why not Moscow?

Oh, yes, that's the first thing people ask me and I am sure you would ask me the same. You know, after a while you start noticing a pattern in these questions. Also, I would like to point out that normally when this question comes from a Russian, they tend to regard Belgorod as some kind of village where the Soviet Union hasn't fallen yet, and even I thought that I was going to a Soviet-style city with all the red flags and shit. That is almost totally not the case with Belgorod.

The blue chapel near Belgorod State University. Photography is one of my hobbies. (Yep, I took this picture)

Why is that not the case? Well, first let me try to explain my (and my Russian friends') definition of what would be a Soviet-style Russian village.

That would be Kursk. Just kidding. I totally don't love Kursk. Seriously now, what you normally expect of small Russian towns is a certain atmosphere that resembles the late Soviet Union years, with lots of panel buildings, unkempt sidewalks and streets, 50 shades of grey when it comes to public spaces, specially in the winter. As a dear friend Gustavo described, it would be something you expect to see in Chernobyl. He actually meant Pripyat, but I got the reference. 

Resultado de imagem para Pripyat
Pripyat, or what you would expect from a typical Russian town. I am kidding, of course!

So, have a look at the picture above. Have a deep, long look at it. But not for too long, or you'll get cancer. That is exactly what Belgorod is not. Although many Russian towns still have panel buildings (which might as well be in a decrepit state, exploding, and/or abandoned), Belgorod actually impressed me with how European and modern its architecture looked like. 

It is indeed a small city (with a bit less than 400,000 inhabitants), but it is a very modern-looking city as well, something unexpected when you are so far away from Moscow and Saint Petersburg (hell, not even some of Moscow's outskirts look that nice, really)

Resultado de imagem para belgorod city
You can't erase your soviet past, but you don't have to trap yourself to it.

Of course, the communist past is still visible. The whole city is dotted with panel buildings, there are some industrial sites and railways, both in operation and abandoned. There are many memorials to WWII, which of course, was a very big deal for them. By the way, one of the biggest tank battles in history happened near Belgorod. Some might say it was near Kursk, but I don't like Kursk, so I say it was near Belgorod. I actually even visited a memorial there. 

The Prokhorovka Battlefield Memorial, which I visited while living in Belgorod, and awesome clouds.

In contrast with many other cities ravaged by the second world war and the crisis of the soviet system (that is, all Russian cities), Belgorod is a very pleasant city to live in. The streets are very clean. The city center is full of parks, boulevards, and beautiful buildings. There are some shopping centers as well, which was also impressive (for me at least) in a city with no more than 400,000 people. 

But I digress. The question at the very start was why I went to Belgorod and not Moscow for my language course. Well, besides being one of the cheapest Russian language courses at the time, the university is fan-tas-tic!

Resultado de imagem para Belgorod State University
You've seen it before in Episode 2, but I will show it again. Would you really expect this huge university in such a small town? I certainly did not expect it!

And my personal opinion is that I had one of the best Russian language courses available. Take that, Moscow State University. I must confess, though write this not because I saw statistics or studies, because probably there are not, but because I had the opportunity to compare it to some other language courses, either personally or through friends. I would not have done things differently if I could.

The view from my dorm room during a winter morning. (Yep, I also took this picture)

Also, a final note about Belgorod: Something I could see in the teachers and faculty members was this willingness to do a good job, to teach with excellency, to really be an educator. Maybe, and I say "maybe" here because I certainly cannot be the judge of this, it could be described as a (very good) memory of the soviet spirit that we unfortunately no longer see in most of Russia's educational system, with very few exceptions. 

Whatever the cause of this Belgorod spirit, I am grateful I had the chance to learn Russian there, this is definitely an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Had things gone differently, I would have never learned Russian or decided to stay for my bachelor's degree in Moscow (more about that in 2 or 3 episodes).

So I guess for today that's it. Not many jokes in this episode, I know. I just really didn't have the time to think it through because i've been quite busy recently. Hopefully next episode will be funnier. :) 


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