Dispelling Myths about Siberia

An Exchange Students POV

Sunday Aug. 31st, 2014

This year I had one of the greatest adventures in my life - I spent 10 months on an exchange program in Bozeman, Montana. For me it was a truly amazing and unforgettable experience to try to live in a totally different culture, participate in new family activities and traditions, meet new interesting people and just see a completely new world.

However, the main goal of an exchange program is not only to take what is given to you, but  to share your own culture with others. I noticed that people in Bozeman have a lot of stereotypes about Russia and especially the place where I am from - Siberia. When I say “I am from Siberia”, everybody imagine this: a piece of frozen land in the middle of nowhere, where snow falls every single day of the year and people get from one place to another on sledding dogs and bears.
If you come to Russia in the summer you probably will be surprised that we actually have summer; usually the temperature gets to 80”F! And you will be amazed by Siberian nature: endless forests full of animals, mushrooms and berries, huge number of lakes and people fishing on it, chains of mountains covered with snow...we think there is no place more beautiful than Siberia in autumn, when everything becomes gold and red.

Siberia itself is a huge region, it is more than a half of Russia, but I live near lake Baikal a one day car ride from China.

If you’ve ever been to Russia and never visited famous lake Baikal - you missed a lot of fun, especially if you enjoy spending time outside and hiking. Baikal is world’s deepest lake, in some parts depth can reach about 7 km! Also it’s so wide that no swimmer could ever cross it. I honestly don’t have words to describe its beauty, every time I see it my heart stops in delight. It’s one of these places where you want to come back again and again. Baikal is over 25 million years old and has very rich history, old legends, mysterious places and a huge number of unique animals. There are over 57 types of fish, and 27 of them exist only in Baikal, nowhere else! By the way, our lake is cleanest lake in the world, if you drop a bright disk on the bottom, you still can see it even 40 meters down!

Another great place to visit is National Park Alkhanai. It’s not as big as Yellowstone, but it’s still worth a visit, especially if you like history and ancient stories. Alkhanai got its name from Buddhist legend. Centuries and centuries ago one young girl was forced to marry a very rich but mean prince. The girl decided to run into the forest, but her father sent people to bring her back. She ran deep into the woods and cried “Alkhanai!” what means “Be quite!”, and asked all animals and birds in the forest to stay silent so she could hear her followers. And since this time you will never hear birds singing or bears growling, only silence. It’s not the only mystery there: if you really want to have kids, but for some reason you can’t, you need to go to visit Mother’s cave. On the first sight it’s a small and ugly cave, but if you go in there and ask Mother Nature for a child and take a little bright rock from there, your dream will come true! I myself saw, left by happy families, certificates of new born babies.

Another people’s belief is Crack of sinners: a small path in between two mountains. If you can go through it easily it means you are clean and innocent person, but if luck turned back on you and you got stuck in there, it means your sins don’t let you go. On my eyes the last time I visited, one pretty big man squeezed through it without any effort, and just right after him a guy as skinny as me was completely stuck in there!

My favorite place is Shambala. Shambala, Buddhist believe, is an Utopian country hidden behind the wall. When it’s raining or if you splash it with water, you can see a door with old ornamentation and strange letters. People believe that one day when there is a person with a kind heart and beautiful soul, Shambala’s door will open for him. Maybe this door was carved in stone by people, but who knows? Maybe you are this person who will open Shambala.    
Mira is a high school student in Siberia, she has shared centuries-old and mysterious Siberia treasures with Bozeman Magazine with help from Erin Roberg. Mira would love to come back to Bozeman and work as a journalist. She thinks her perspective on the differences between her life here and in Siberia, as well as dispelling myths about Siberia, are important and interesting.