After a restless night on the crampt overnight train from St. Petersburg to Moscow and an exhausting tour of the city's main tourist attractions--including an hour of our tour spent solely on the royal carriages--we arrived at our hotel to check into our rooms for a nap before the state circus (dancing bears!). As soon as the thirty-some of us entered the lobby, we realized with amazement that we were not the only Americans. We heard English--American English--for the first time in what seemed likes ages. After aquainting with some of the students, we understood that there was a group of law students from Northwestern who would be staying at the same hotel for a couple of days before moving on to their next destination. Weary from our long train ride and tour, we left the conversation at that and stumbled up to our rooms to take a refresher nap. To our shock and overwhelming joy, the beds were endowed with thick mattress toppers, multiple clean pillows, and a comforter that when wrapped up in it, felt like what it must have been like in the womb.
The next morning as we delighted ourselves with the buffet breakfast, I chatted with some of the law students. As we talked across the gap between our two tables, one with undergraduate students who had been living in Russia for two months, and the other with several twenty-something young professionals who were experiencing Russia with fresh eyes, it felt as if we were from opposite sides of the world. One of the law students described how they were hoping to interview several native human rights advocates in the Moscow area for their group report. Both pleasantly surprised and partially amused, I asked, "Have you found very many willing participants? After all, Russia is the second most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist, especially one reporting on human rights." He nodded in agreement, yet seemed hopeful. He continued to explain that they were particularly focusing on the conditions of Russian detainee centers. Sighing, I replied that unfortunately, Russia has one of the highest pre-trial detainee populations in the world, and of those unfortunate human beings, many die before their trial date due to the dangerously high rates of tuberculosis in the prisons.
He confirmed the information, exclaiming, "Exactly!" with a puzzled look on his face. I explained that I have been intersted in everything Russian for many years, and that the principal focus of my studies on human rights relates to Russia and the former Soviet Union. He seemed impressed, but somewhat confused. I added, "A year or two after I graduate from Georgetown, I would like to enter law school." I asked what tpye of legal career he hoped to enter upon graduating, to which he replied, "Corporate." I asked the other students at the table--"Corporate...corporate."
"What motivated you to come to Russia then?"
"We also work as the school's ambassadors in recruting qualified international students. For this trip, those in the realm of human rights."
"Well, then. I wish you good luck in Russia. It truly is another world."