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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
'No longer 100% American'

BBC News Online readers have been telling us their experiences as migrants - why they left, what they like about their new countries and what they miss from the place they left behind.

Joy Hoffman, 24, comes from the American state of Oklahoma - she now lives in Germany

In 1996 my family and I lived in Ulyanovsk, Russia, for one year. Then in spring 2002 I studied in St Petersburg for my last semester of university.

Russia 'gets under your skin'
For me, Russia was a place that was different from Oklahoma in almost every way imaginable.

I had to use public transport (where I came from there was no public transport), there was no such thing as residential or industrial zoning, and, most shocking of all, there was no Wal-Mart. Everything seemed dingy and run-down.

No-one smiled and people were extremely rude to each other in public.

After my studies I continued living in Russia, working as an English teacher.

There is a spontaneity and humour about the insanity of Russian daily life that is quite addictive
My parents had just moved to Moscow and I was also fascinated by the Russian language and its literature. I found thinking, speaking, and living in such a "foreign" way very intriguing and inspiring.

I had started writing poetry on a daily basis and was discovering that the Russian experience was providing great material and inspiration for me to write about.

I had this vision of myself living a life similar to those of Pushkin or Akhmatova, sitting in smoky cafes in Nevsky Prospekt in St Petersburg and writing my next great masterpiece.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Enjoying Germany

Working in Russia is extremely difficult and the pay is very little.

I really don't consider myself 100% American anymore
Because the system is corrupt, you often have to work illegally and your employers will try to take advantage of you.

After dark it is very dangerous for a woman to be outside alone and the police are more likely to rob you than provide any protection, especially if you're a foreigner.

The fact that I couldn't trust my bosses, that I couldn't walk home without constantly looking over my shoulder, and that it's just so cold made me decide to give Russia a break for a while.

Another deciding factor was that I met and fell in love with an English university student, Tim Hancock, while on vacation in Finland in January 2003, and wanted to be closer to him.

Now I teach business English in Kassel, Germany, at a school where my bosses are fair and trustworthy.

Kassel is a pleasant place to live with clean, safe streets and an unbelievably efficient transport system.

Looking ahead

While in Russia there is no such thing as a bus schedule, there is a spontaneity and humour about the insanity of Russian daily life that is quite addictive.

I'm looking forward to a lifetime of exploring the world with Tim and searching for my true home
Also, despite the surface gruffness, once you befriend a Russian you will find yourself in a warm and truly sincere relationship.

When I lived in Russia, I never doubted my friendships - everyone was completely honest and open with one another in way that was refreshing and without any annoying political-correctness.

While a life of convenience seems like the best way to live, I believe that we stagnate without any challenges.

After my travels, I really don't consider myself 100% American anymore.

When I walk into places like Wal-Mart, I find myself overwhelmed by all the bright lights and even brighter packaging.

Russia has this way of getting under your skin - everything is raw and reduced to its most basic elements.

Living in Russia is the ultimate masochistic experience - expect to be bruised and broken. But in the end you will be remade and purified.

After all is said and done, I'm only 24 years old and I've got my entire life ahead of me.

Russia gave me a gift of self-awareness and has shaped me into the person I am today.

But there are also so many other places I haven't even been to yet, so many more adventures ahead filled with joy, sadness, frustration, anger, exhilaration, and inspiration.

I'm looking forward to a lifetime of exploring the world with Tim and searching for my true home - that place that is a little less miserable but a lot more challenging.

Your comments:

You are absolutely right! I really don't know what it is about Russia I find so attractive but it's like a mind consuming force driving me back to the Motherland. I only spent three months there and ever since my return to the States, I can't stop thinking about her. There is no reason why I should find Russia and her customs so appealing. I lived in a crumbling Soviet apartment building, ate borsch almost daily, had to deal with rude, grumpy grandmothers and alcoholics on the streets. And yet I still miss the time I spent there.
Erik Mann, Encinitas, CA, USA

Joy, you certainly have some guts! Your adventures overseas are inspiring to many of us down here in Norman. You were a little hard in Russia, I remember soccer, borscht, and kvac and yes the hard exterior with a very compassionate person underneath is my picture of most Russians. I love you and miss you dearly. Keep writing.
Matt Hoffmann (brother), Norman, Oklahoma

Joy - Always excellent to hear of your adventures! Your gift of words is an asset to all who reads them! Your enthusiasm of different cultures has forever positively changed how my family views the world, and makes you (wherever you are in the world) "not-so-far-away"!
Tami Kuske, Hortonville, WI, USA

All true and nicely written for 24 year-old Oklahoman getting an idea what she's got herself into. With her love story she'd make a film far more interesting than Hollywood political-correct flick.
Andrei, Milford, USA

I agree with you entirely, Joy. Even though you lived "in" Russia you actually saw it from outside and you saw it deeper. My daughter is of your age. I could hardly remember Russia. But the main if not the only thing I remember and miss, like one would miss an amputated leg, is friendship with Russians. I should not say Russians because we had friends of absolutely different ethnic groups. Did you read Richard Taruskin Defining Russia Musically?
Alex Thoman, Fairfax, VA, USA


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