Chapman Kremlin Fellow explores an optimistic, business-minded Russia
When Megan Demshki ’12 arrived in Moscow last month and stepped out into the city’s biting air, she discovered what generations of armies and travelers have famously underestimated – the Russian winter.
“It was absolutely freezing. For the first time I experienced wind, snow and rain all at the same time,” says Demshki, Chapman University’s Student Government Association President and one of 15 American university students chosen to visit the capital city as a Kremlin Fellow with the Russian Federation’s Federal Agency on Youth Affairs.
But Demshki and the other Kremlin Fellows, all student government leaders selected from universities throughout the United States, also discovered a busy city, a loyal and optimistic student population and a uniquely Russian style of democracy during their week-long visit. The program is hosted by the Russian government as a means of fostering Russian-U.S. relations. During their visit the American students met with Russian entrepreneurs, students and government officials, including Vladislav Surkov, the politician credited with coining the term “managed democracy” to describe the country’s developing political system.
Throughout all the visits, whether with students or government leaders, Demshki says the Russians always underscored their desire for stability. For Demshki, it was a first-hand view of the Russian experience.
“We heard that word ‘stability’ in literally every meeting we had,” she says. “I realized we take our stability for granted. That stability has allowed us to have (political) movements on top of it, while they’ve had a rough go of things. They’ve had revolutions and civil war and a complete political turnover in the last 20 years.”
Demshki was also impressed by the confidence her Russian counterparts exhibited for their country’s future and their interest in building entrepreneurial traditions. Among those with whom students met were representatives from The Skolkovo Foundation, which supports entrepreneurial development.
“They have an incredible optimism for the potential for their country to support a democratic state,” she says.
For their part, the Russian students were keenly interested in American pop culture and whether the idea of “the American dream” was still possible. And they were visibly surprised when, upon asking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other topics of international concern, that the American students were of a divided mind, Demshki says.
“We’d all have a different answer, and they would just laugh. They thought that was really interesting,” she says.
But some of the most lasting memories of the trip will be the friendships made.
“On the last night coming back on the Metro with everyone laughing and everything, I realized we had all found something in common and not just sat in a stuffy room and talked,” she said. “It was an awesome occurrence.”