“The Pleasantly Surprising City of Narva” by Jacob Foehr

Would you like to know the first impressions that Narva left on me? Well first off, the city has an uncanny resemblance to Camden, New Jersey, complete with ramshackle apartment buildings and the constant sight of graffiti. When we pulled up to the dormitory I thought for sure that I was being punked. Last summer I stayed at Moscow State University, and I was certain that I would never encounter a dormitory with worse conditions; however, as the bus rolled up to my new home, the broken glass and graffiti, combined with the group’s silent cries of disbelief, was enough to confirm that this dormitory was worse indeed. The lawn was overgrown, the pavement crumbling, and the basketball court unfit for activity of any kind. As I took the long walk to the fifth floor I cursed myself for coming to this God-awful place instead of spending long days at the shore. But upon reaching my room I was pleasantly surprised by what awaited me. I saw freshly painted walls and fresh linens stacked atop my bed. I saw a full kitchen, complete with an oven, refrigerator, microwave, and cabinets and shelves for storage, not to mention the television and armchair. More than impressed I was shocked. How could such an abysmal sight on the outside be so contradictory to the view from within? I soon realized in the following days that this dichotomy is perhaps the most defining characteristic of Narva. For instance, the university is an unimpressive sight from the outside. But but if one is to venture inside, he will soon discover a clean, modern institution with facilities that rival, if not surpass, the conditions of most universities in the United States. Everything is state-of-the-art. The lobby is a welcoming sight with beanbag chairs strewn about. The walls are all glass; the floors all wood, with laser-pointed signs indicating the nature of each room. The building can be no more than a year old. Additionally, the lunch that is provided by the university is first rate. There was not a single person in the group unimpressed by the three-course meal of fruit, soup, and an entrée; and furthermore, there is never an aesthetic detail overlooked. Whether we eat lunch in the café or in the larger basement room which doubles as an art gallery, the excellent host never fails to assemble a picturesque atmosphere or to provide a flawless meal. And the cherry on top? Everyone at the university seems more than happy to provide us with these accommodations. The meal is delivered with a smile and a visible concern for our absolute comfort. It’s truly amazing how my attitude towards this city and this trip has changed within a week. Narva is truly  a diamond in the rough. Now with the utmost optimism I look forward to seven more weeks in Narva, and I am eager to see what other pleasant surprises this country has in store for us. .IMG_4127

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One thought on ““The Pleasantly Surprising City of Narva” by Jacob Foehr

  1. Jacob, glad I read to the end! One thing that it often true in Russia, and I’d be curious to know if it’s also true in Narva, is that the outside spaces–or even communal spaces–are not considered part of private property. For this reason, no individual is responsible for taking care of them. The vast majority of elevators in Russian apartment buildings are graffiti-filled, stinky, shaky cages. It is often the case that an unimpressive, or even seemingly ramshackle Russian building gives way to tremendously beautiful interiors. And, of course, as you mention here, the wonderful feeling of a generous and hospitable host can double the sense of beauty!
    Check out private apartments and homes and let me know if you see the same dichotomy. If you do: ask your hosts to explain it! It’s an interesting question.

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