Letter to the Editor | Opinion

To the Editor:

One can truly wonder about how large our world is and how small a human being is in comparison to the almost infinite number of marvelous places to learn about along the undetermined years of life and luck to eventually go around and see the world, or at least some parts of it.

Traveling has been a privilege – a matter of sufficient finances, courage and time. Not every person could afford it centuries ago; not everyone can afford it now either.

For the author of this text, the mere opportunity to travel outside of his hometown has been delivered by a play of destiny. At the age of 15 this author has proven the capacity to be a good ambassador of his home country and a grateful guest in a country that once used to be a Cold War opponent. This author has been awarded the privilege to come to the United States as a student for a U.S. Department of State-funded exchange program, established by the Freedom Support Act in 1992, and titled ‘Future Leaders Exchange’(FLEX).

The idea behind the program was that there was no place better or worse around the planet – it was simply just different. This was the mindset to carry throughout the whole year on an exchange, and it turned out to be a wonderful way of calibrating one’s attitude towards the truly different world around for all the years ahead.

In this spirit, the American councils, themselves, took care of placing the exchange student by almost a lottery scheme – families across the country could pick any student that got awarded to go on an exchange. A student, then, could end up going to any of the 50 states of the federation.

This is precisely how this author got to come to live in Northeast Mississippi. This was also the moment when a life of the author could never simply be ordinary: the author would never again be like the people in his hometown.

The author could never simply be ordinary. The author would never again be like the people in his hometown. The author crossed the planet just to come to live in a very small southern town. This simply hardly happens to a tourist – this is the play of destiny.

What do you do to a Russian who comes from a post-Soviet industrial town, from all the cultural backgrounds and ways of thinking and understanding the world? Once this Russian puts on blue jeans, leather boots, a warm country jacket and goes out onto the front porch of an antebellum gorgeous cottage, which is just a five-minute walk away from the Main Street of Aberdeen – the town of historic glory and magnificence, once a center of agricultural trade and a native jewel of a larger crown of the American South and all the heritage it bears – this is simply mind blowing, isn’t it?

A Russian normally isn’t supposed to be here and to be an insider into the lives of these people… A Russian isn’t someone who you would expect to walk into the beautiful antique-decorated bakery and have biscuits for breakfast. A Russian young man who carried a little suitcase of clothing but a large-size bag of memory and experience feels very special to be here. And very grateful to the destiny for allowing the opportunity to come precisely here.

Aberdeen, Mississippi. The whole experience of this author must be more proactive to the American citizens for they are introduced into the special ways of the South more than the Russians, or any other people who live in Europe or Asia or Africa. That is what is hard for one’s mind and precisely for the author’s. How small we are in this larger world composed of the small towns and communities and billions of people with so many exciting life stories to share.

However much one would have dreamed about knowing the whole world, there is a doubt that it could be impossible simply because a life was too fragile and one could never know how many days, months, weeks or years there were to still live and explore.

However, there is this very special joy of returning to a place you have been to a significant amount of time ago. While writing this, the southern sun is patting the author’s knees. The quiet, fresh air feels like paradise obtained again. Most importantly, six years after the last visit, this place truly feels like home. It does so because it remembers you. It recalls you back when you were 16 years old. It embraces you and it smiles to have you back. And it feels very right to be back.

It feels special to call a place like Aberdeen, Mississippi your home. Because how could this ever possibly happen to the author – a Russian, born amidst a pine forest covered in snow for eight months and lit by the sunshine for the rest four.

A Russian who comes from a fine family, a Russian who was growing sitting on the laps of his grandparents, a Russian who was injected by the Russian cultural code in the most comprehensive nature. It felt as if that wasn’t enough for the author if he ended up being injected by a cultural code of a different side of the globe.

How does it feel to be Slavic and to have served in the country origin’s military and knowing that the author was first and foremost a Russian but came to live in the United States at such an age when he was still flexible for adopting a new and very different culture as intelligently as if it was of his own?

Not coming here to the United States as a tourist to see the Empire State Building, take pictures and leave but to come to stay with a family that received you as a son of their own for one year, to attend a high school here, to become part of a local community. How does that feel? Believe this author, this is the experience that comes back in thoughts, ideas and memories every night and day.

What feelings does this experience provoke? Pride. Pride for being different and special in this sense. Pride for accommodating more than just one culture, philosophy, worldview into your own mind. Pride for being a Russian but understanding the United States, but never seeing this country as a foreign – because it is not foreign to you.

It is your home. It is a place where you were received with love, hospitality and where your dreams were accepted and fulfilled. Home is where you are loved. The United States, in this respect, is forever a home because there are people who love you, and you love the people who live here.

You value connections with them and take good care of them by visiting and participating in each other’s lives. This is the power of international exchanges and the gift that everyone who eventually holds a sufficient amount of courage to step out of the own house’s door to walk into the world of unknown, suppressing all the fears and illusions about what one imagines about a place he or she has never been to, but growing on one’s faith to march along and to bring nothing but love for people however different they turned out to be – how and when do you know who you are to meet. But it is of worth bringing love with you because love saves and heals and makes the whole world seem and be very different.

Aberdeen, Mississippi. Home. The antebellum South – the place the author has references to. The Southern cuisine, arts, accents, relationships, history, books, music, streets, fields, forests, roads – the author is part of all that too. This is pride in whoever shares it is the pride that empowers to live on in the own ways – different or similar from others but own and antique.

The author has a feeling that he never chose to come down here six years ago and start a whole new life down south. The author simply believes that it is worth to listen attentively to the signs of destiny and to the ways in which it rolls out. With this careful listening, it is important to walk into the doors that want you to open them and to never bang voraciously into the doors that are locked – there is always a purpose to something, and inquisitive approach requires us to think so.

This shall be the author’s destiny. The deep southern origins almost as native as the Russian ones. Every experience is a gift. Any gift, however, requires a very grateful, respectful and careful keeper. The gift to belong to the South certainly does require that.

Ilya Kursenko


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