Minorities Abroad Project
Name: Morgan Jerkins
Destination: St. Petersburg, Russia
Time Abroad: Summer 2012
Ethnic Self-identification: African-American
My name is Morgan Jerkins and I am a rising senior in the Comparative Literature department of Princeton University where I “specialize” in 19th century Russian Literature and 20th century Japanese Literature. I am an African-American woman who traveled to St. Petersburg to study intermediate level Russian in the summer of 2012.
Before I went to Russia, I was given a disclaimer by my professors about the rise in hate crimes against minorities, such as myself. I even had two other African-American friends from Princeton and another Ivy League university who declined the offer to study abroad in Russia because they were afraid that they would be targeted and attacked. But ultimately, I decided to go.
Yet I was really scared. I was so scared in fact that I thought that I would be attacked as soon as I left Pulkovo airport. With the exception of my Asian roommate, I was the only other minority in my program. In the beginning, I felt hindered from traveling around St. Petersburg because I was afraid of being taunted or hurt. It was a rough transition, I admit. I was afraid to go on the subways by myself in broad daylight for the first three weeks.
And even though the constant stares had never gotten old because I just wanted to blend in, I don’t regret going to Russia. Despite its controversies, St. Petersburg is a beautiful place and I’m relieved to say that I wasn’t harassed at all. I was able to enjoy all the wonderful literary museums, ballets, and just regular sightseeing. I did take my precautions as if I were in any city and I came out just fine.
The best advice I’d give to any other students of color considering going to Russia is to not be afraid. Let’s be honest here: if people of color have learned about all the atrocities America has inflicted upon Native Americans and African-Americans, for example, they would probably choose not to come here. It’s good to be aware, but don’t let your fear consume you. I’d suggest just walking around like you know where you’re going and maybe go with a group as you walk around the city. It is a huge bonus when you’re with a native. Keep an eye out for drunkards and stay as far away from them as possible. But otherwise, relax. Don’t draw attention to yourself. You’ll be stared at and perhaps people will ask questions but you’ll be fine.
Morgan Jerkins can be contacted via email.