My name is Brad Yakemchuk. I'm a Canadian who decided to visit Russia with the goal of learning Russian. Before jumping on an airplane, however, I did a lot of research and found several options for my visit. Knowing very little Russian, and knowing little about Russia in general (apart from the prejudice everyone has heard from friends and the media), I was very cautious when making my final decision. In the end I found Svezhy Veter to be the most attentive to all my questions and concerns. After the first of many emails, I was confident I was talking to "real" individuals who had the patience and sincere desire to help ease all my anxieties prior to my trip.
Several months into my visit to Russia, I still have no regrets about my decision to come to Izhevsk. The program has lived up to all my expectations and I feel I have been fortunate enough to see a Russia that many visitors to Russia may never experience.
Like most visitors to Russia, my first experiences included the architecture and galleries of Moscow and St Petersburg. Without trying to belittle these impressive sights, however, I can honestly say that these are not Russia's true treasures. Russia's true treasures lie within the hearts and the homes of Russian people themselves.
While in Izhevsk I've experienced Russian generosity over the holidays in the homes of Russian friends. I've celebrated birthday parties where food, drink and song are plentiful. I've felt the extremes of running from icy waters to the warmth of a Russian banya in January. I've even been privileged enough to join a hockey team and play under the lights on many crisp winter nights. It has been these experiences, the experiences you cannot find in a travel brochure, which I have treasured the most.
If you want to come to Izhevsk, but are still scared of the "unknown", I can assure you that there is little to be worried about. Apart from slips and falls on the icy winter sidewalks, there is no more risk in Izhevsk than you would experience in any town of equal size in the U.S. or Canada.
The people are not waiting to victimize the next foreigner. Most have little experience with foreigners and show a mixture of curiosity and sincere generosity. I do not consider myself an "adventure" tourist and have little travel experience apart from lying on a beach in the U.S. or Mexico, and if I can make this trip, I see little problem for anyone with an open-mind and the desire to discover the "real" Russia.
Volunteered: November, 2001 - April, 2002
Return visit: 2003