I recently spoke with Erinn Murray, a 28-year-old from Indian Harbour Beach, Florida who has spent several years abroad. Although she now lives in the US, I spoke with Erinn about her time living in Russia and Ukraine.

NEWSREP: What brought you to Russia? Did you speak the language?

Erinn: I decided that I absolutely wanted to learn Russian (and no, I don’t have any Russian/Ukrainian heritage). I ended up moving to Odessa , Ukraine in the fall of 2012 to teach English/study Russian, but the wages were terrible, and it was really tough to get a work visa. So in the end, I decided I needed to go somewhere else to continue working on Russian, and Moscow was the obvious choice. At the time, before the cost of oil crashed (and thereafter the Russian ruble), the salaries were amazing, and it was very straightforward for an American to get a work permit.

N: What was the most shocking part about living there? What did you miss the most from the United States? What do you miss most about Russia?

E: The most shocking part of living in Ukraine/Russia was probably realizing that the system really couldn’t function without corruption, and recognizing how widespread (and sometimes blatant) that corruption is. For example, a surgeon in a city like Kazan, who might operate six or seven days a week, will probably only earn around $300 per month, officially. So he/she will expect small bribes (a little money, or maybe some expensive cognac or chocolates) for a consultation. You can move yourself, or your grandma, or whomever, up in the queue for surgery if you’re willing to pay a more significant bribe. Or because the dentists are so underpaid/underfunded in L’viv, they’ve probably had to buy the examination chair themselves. They even pay out of pocket for novocaine. So they will expect you to give them some sort of gift to offset their costs, or make it worth their while.

I sometimes missed the predictability of the U.S., particularly in my early years of being an expat. Russians talk about their souls all the time. The first time I heard it, I thought the person speaking was crazy. But by now, I really miss the Russian soul.

Image courtesy of Erinn Murray

N: How did the locals treat you? Were there other expats? Did you develop a friend group?

E: The locals in Russia were lovely. People are really outgoing. I always say that you can’t be alone in Russia for more than 15 minutes before a stranger inevitably starts a conversation with you. Apparently I look Russian/Ukrainian, so I don’t really stand out, which is nice. It gets really tiring looking like an outsider in places like China or Vietnam or India, because from square one, your interaction is based on your “otherness” rather than the things you might have in common with the people you’re engaging with.