Indonesian Puspita Atirennu shares her impressions about endless museums, stereotypes about Muslims and dislike for frozen vegetables
Indonesian Puspita Atirennu received her bachelors in Russian literature in her native Jakarta five years ago. During her studies, she had been imagining St. Petersburg as it was described by the classics of the 19th century. Three years later,when she came here to study the master's program and did not recognize the city.
She shares how modern Petersburg differs from the city in books, why Russian society seem Islamophobic and how St. Petersburg teaches foreigners perseverance.
AGE - 27 years old
OCCUPATION - Student
IN ST. PETERSBURG - Two years
I graduated from Baccalaureate in Indonesia, decided to focus on Russian literature and immersed myself in the subject. To better understand the culture, I went to Moscow for an internship in 2012 and studied Russian language and art history of Russia for about a year. As a result, I had the "second level" of proficiency in Russian and the degree.
In 2013-2015 I worked in Indonesia, but I really wanted to enroll for master's program. There were two options: either in Indonesia or in Russia. And I managed to enter only Indonesian university on international relations.
Then I got lucky: in 2016, St. Petersburg State University started a new master's program. I did not expect to get accepted into the St. Petersburg State University but the ability to speak Russian helped me a long way.
For a long time, I was advised not to move. As Indonesian Muslims, my parents asked me ""Why are you going to the Communists?" Having been inspired by a Russian girl who studied Indonesian, I replied Russian Literature was my life and that was what I wanted. They allowed me go to Russia.
Initially, I had an idea of St. Petersburg only from books: a gloomy gray city, intelligent people who are constantly reading and disgusting weather. Only the third perception got confirmed: I do not feel melancholic here, and the citizens of St. Petersburg are more likely to surf on phones and computers rather than read books. Of course, I do not like the weather, especially considering that I live near the water where the wind is blowing and I'm catching cold.
I also thought that people here would look like the citizens of Moscow who are constantly in a hurry and are busy with work. But it turned out that the citizens of St. Petersburg are kinder. They always show you the way to destinations, communicate with you and help you, even if they are not familiar with you.
What did Russia teach you?
I am a Muslim and grew up in a Muslim country. We have a different mentality. In Indonesia, for example, it is not accepted to openly express feelings: people do not embrace on streets, and even kiss on lips. In St. Petersburg, this is treated differently, and for me it was strange. I do not evaluate if it's bad or good: just unique perceptions in two differing countries. Nevertheless, pretty soon I stopped even wondering.
At the same time, of course, it's a pity that not everyone in Russia respects other cultures. I do not wear hijab at my own choice, and my friends wear it. One day, after the terrorist attack [in the subway on April 3, 2017,] my friend,who was wearing a hijab, was sitting in a cafe opposite Technological Institute. A man approached her and started screaming that she should leave and that it happened because of us. Another friend of mine, also in hijab, was walking down the street, and a man ran up and tore it off her head, which is an insult.
It can be assumed that everything is happening because of IGIL (the Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant, IG - the terrorist organization forbidden in Russia), which created the image of Islam as a fuel for terrorism. But this is not so: they simply use our religion. And I still do not know why Russian society does not understand this. It seems to be some kind of Islamophobic.
However, I learned to keep myself in check and not suffer in vain. It's not just about insults. In their example, Russian people show that they are stable, and you take it. It's so cold here, and people, even old ladies, calmly walk with their purpose, ignoring blizzard. I cannot imagine that old ladies in Indonesia empowering themselves and walking with huge packages through the bad weather.
Who played an important role for you?
My scientific supervisor. There are different teachers, and she is one of those who really cares about you as a person: she gives advice, supports me in difficult moments and even once met with my parents.
Such support is very important, especially for foreigners. After all, I thought that everything would be very smooth, but there were unforeseen difficulties (even the same loneliness) - and you do not know how to overcome them. And then there is a person who does not have to support, but still does it.
What would you like to transfer from your country to St. Petersburg?
Russia and Indonesia are very different countries in all aspects. Both countries are unique - and that's good.
Everything is different even at the level of attitude towards the state. Here, however, the overwhelming majority of people love their country, they are patriots. And we are increasingly focused on the West, trying to take something from there. And to call any of these options being good or bad is impossible: in the first case it is devotion, and the second allows you to borrow all the best and live better.
Unlike Indonesia, the cuisine is Russia in not spicy, and it is rather difficult to find fresh vegetables. As to why there are no fresh vegetables in Russia is a question I do wonder about. I do not understand how everyone eats frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables from Russian stores are not even vegetables in full understanding. I really do not like them.
Five findings in St. Petersburg:
1. The endless number of museums
For two years, I often visit museums, but I still have not visited everything. I always learn aboutthe openings ofmore new museumsand exhibitions. I do not even know how many museums are here, and I do not know people who have visited them all. I hope this is even possible.
We have a different climate in Indonesia and few ice rinks. And here there are those who work all year round. Skating is now my hobby.
3. The diversity of religions
In Indonesia, I mostly saw mosques and expected to see here mostly Orthodox churches. But there are a lot of things here. In St. Petersburg I first saw how Buddhists and Hindus pray.
4. Public Transport
There is a convenient public transport in St. Petersburg: buses, subway, and trams. In Indonesia, this is worse, so for me it is really a godsend.
Diving into an ice hole is something strange. I myself have not tried it for obvious reasons, but it looks very extreme.
Why are you here?
I am studying. This is the place where I have gained good knowledge, learned something new and, most importantly, developed.
Soon I will finish my master's degree and will have to start work: it's still unclear, here or in Indonesia. And it's unclear what I want more. On the one hand, I know Russianculture, I can live well here, on the other hand, Indonesia is my home.