After This Pandemic, I Won’t Be Going Back Home

If there’s a bright side to this catastrophe, it’s this.

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My whole family history is built around people venturing into the unknown. My grandfather left Volgograd (former Stalingrad, famous for its heroic WWII battle) to come to Moscow, moving his family there and getting a job at a local university.

His son — and my father — got accepted into Stanford’s business program, an unimaginable achievement for someone with his roots and background. As a result, our whole family moved there for two years — including the 10-year-old me — who learned English and saw “the Big World” for the first time.

It seems as if every new generation is building on top of the platform, the previous generation has left them. My father wouldn’t be able to get into Stanford from Volgograd. And I wouldn’t be writing this if my father didn’t push himself to go to Stanford.

If there is a bright side to this pandemic, it’s the one that helped me realize that it’s now my turn to walk the path less traveled by, to venture into the unknown, and build a new life for myself.

What The Pandemic Has Taught Me

On a global level, this pandemic taught me that my generation — with all its Tesla’s, YouTube, and cheap credit — isn’t invincible.

It may look like pandemics, wars, global catastrophes — are things of the past, buried deep in the 20th-century history books. But they aren’t, they are here, and we are as vulnerable as any other human population in history.

On a more personal level, the pandemic gave me a snapshot of my values. For example, I realized how important personal space is to me. My girlfriend and I didn’t think we had a problem until we were forced to isolate together in a small flat for four months straight. It not only taught us the value of having a place of your own to think and work but the price of a healthy relationship.

It made us stronger.

But if I take away the most important lesson this pandemic has taught me, it’s that I am not going back to my country.

Not to live, at least.

My relationship with Russia is a difficult one. When my father graduated from Stanford, and it was time to go back, I never wanted to. I graduated from elementary school, had friends, and could envision my future there.

Back in Moscow, I could never let go of the idea that somewhere, there’s a big world waiting for me — where palm trees grow year-round, and people smile when they serve you coffee at Starbucks.

It only made sense that when the time came to apply to college, I had just one option: Stanford. But life had other plans.

I was waitlisted and ended up choosing Babson — the self-claimed “#1 college for entrepreneurship” — which I dropped out of 7 months in to go back to Russia.

Back then, Russia seemed cool. It seemed like the place where anything was possible — and while yes, I missed the palm trees and smiling people — I told myself I’d get used to the aggressive nature of the Russian business world to become successful and make money.

I had very different values back then.

Goodbye, Mother Russia

They say that “Man plans, God laughs,” and this was very true about me.

After a few years working in Moscow, I couldn’t keep on pretending that no matter how lucrative it was — to be a big fish in a small pond — that’s just not the life I wanted.

The older I got, the more I saw how different I was from people back home. I didn’t enjoy the pessimistic views, the drinking, the gossip, the glamour, the fancy restaurants, the vibe, and the kind of political talk (about Putin and the bright or not so future of Russia) that usually occurs after the fourth bottle of beer.

I felt as if I didn’t belong there. I felt as if things I was made for are not possible in my home country. I wanted to be a writer, a creative, launch podcasts, and YouTube shows — but nobody needed my skills, my ideas, my passions.

I felt like an alien trapped on the wrong planet. Suffocating on oxygen, dreaming about going back to your real “home” — a place, where people get you, and you don’t have to explain yourself.

Then my girlfriend applied to University College London to study psychology. After some heavy deliberation, I decided to make the jump and move with her to London.

I figured I could give it a try: live for as long as my tourist visa would allow me to — and try to get back that lost feeling of the “big world” I had as a kid.

I quit my business, cut my losses, said goodbye to my friends, and made the jump.

And then the pandemic hit.

A New Beginning

My country suspended all international flights, and I was trapped in a small London flat my girlfriend was paying for.

My family was supposed to join us for my birthday in April. But of course, they couldn’t come. I was devastated.

I haven’t seen my family for three months then, and I started to miss home. Yes, I did want to build a life on the west for myself — eventually — but like with most important things in life, you want them to go smooth and not hurt too much.

Though sometimes, all you need is to peel off the tape, even if it hurts.

Something about that period of sadness flipped the switch and made me realize: I wasn’t going back. Not for the foreseeable future, anyway. And not to live.

It was incredibly difficult at first — not having any connections in this new, English-speaking world — but in a matter of months (and after intense networking via Zoom), I found a new job, started writing, and slowly transitioned to this new, western life.

I was forced to design a new life and find a new meaning. And I ended up finding a new “me”.

Psychologists say that your home country is like a “mother” (I guess, this is especially true if you’re from ‘Mother Russia’) — and any person becomes an adult when they “separate” from their mother. When the borders closed, and I wasn’t allowed to see my family — nor go back home — that was the moment I went through my separation.

Slowly, I got used to my new life. I narrowed my planning horizons to a few weeks, started working more, wrote more, and made new friends online. With each new month, I got farther and farther away from the idea of myself in Russia.

Right now, four months later, when there’s talk about borders opening, I know I am not coming back.

There are still many things to take care of — like visas and having enough money to live on — but if there is a bright side to this pandemic, it’s that it offered me a new beginning. A new life. A new “me.”

Like my father and his father before him, I am venturing into the unknown and starting from scratch in a new place.

And for that, I am grateful. If there’s a bright side to this catastrophe, it’s this.

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