Not Wanted

Russian passport is probably one of the most difficult passports to live with. By “difficult,” I mean “unwanted,” “unwelcome,” “suspicious,” or even simply “uncomfortable.” Once you cross the border of the Russian Federation, your main identity document becomes more like a problem or nuisance, rather than your safety bag or a golden key that opens any door. In fact, most of the doors (or airport gates) remain closed and reluctant to let a Russian citizen enter a new world.

I was refused entry visas two times in my life. The first time happened when I was 14 years old. I got invited by my mom’s American friend and colleague to go to the USA and to study English at some summer school. I was excited beyond words! First time in the English-speaking country, first time flying across the ocean, first time seeing the world I mostly saw on TV before. And my FIRST reality check in life: the world does not want me as much as I want it. I was 14, and the American Embassy in Moscow looked and felt like a prison: multiple metal detectors, several checkpoints, hundreds of security officers, almost religious silence in the hallways, and orderly formed columns of people, trembling before an interview. I am not sure about now, but at that time people were not allowed to bring anything except for required documents: no cell phones, no food or drinks, no tissues, nothing at all. And the whole process of going from one checkpoint to the next one took literary HOURS. I was exhausted by the time it was my turn to proceed to an open window and meet an officer. Hours and hours of waiting and 10 seconds of presenting your case and receiving a harsh “NO” from the visa officer. The verdict: “Not enough proof of ties in your home country.” When the stern-looking officer gave me the document with a stamp of denial, I did not understand what had just happened. I came out of the embassy, blubbered something to my mom (who was waiting for me for hours outside!), and remained silent for the rest of the day. It was like a mild shell shock for me. Only later it hit me: I was not wanted in the USA. I felt guilty, but did not understand of what.

The second time it happened with the Japanese visa. I was living in Taiwan and pursuing my Master’s degree at NTU. My friend suggested going to Japan for a couple of weeks, and I got immediately excited to visit the Asian food mecca. It was 2011, and I was confident that visa process would be a breeze. I did not have to come for an interview, and I thought it was a good sign. Even easier. Imagine my shock when I opened the envelope with my documents and, for the SECOND time in my life, saw the stamp: denied. It turned out that Japan did not really welcome many Russian tourists at that time. They were more willing to give visas for business purposes or in those cases when private invitations were issued. I was not prepared for the second refusal. I realized that I could never get too comfortable or relaxed, being a Russian and holding a Russian passport.

With years, the visa application process has become a “regular” roller coaster of repeated emotions: stress, anxiety, feeling of being unwanted, the need to always “prove” you are not a criminal, spy, or illegal. Every time I want to travel, I need to undergo this nightmare. I cannot just pack my things spontaneously and romantically fly over to Paris with my boyfriend. Nope, there is nothing romantic in having a Russian passport.

I am now in the process of applying for a Schengen visa. I cannot really predict the outcome. It is a new experience every time. At the end of the day, I will either have a visa stamp in my passport or another visa story to tell to my friends. Either one will be fun ūüôā

New Year miracle

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I would never have expected to see so many Russian people there. My sister told me many times that Dominicana had recently become of the more popular travel destinations for Russians, but I did not take it seriously. I thought there would probably be two or three Russian couples on the resort and that would be it. For some reason, I assumed the majority would not choose the same hotels as we did. I assumed there were hotels ‚Äúspecifically‚ÄĚ oriented for Russians. Boy, was I really wrong about that. 

The magic happened like in a Cinderella‚Äôs story when the clock was about to strike 12. We spent the first four days interacting with hotel staff using our primitive Spanish (gracias, buenos dios, ola) and using English to talk to American and Canadian ‚Äúvacationers.‚ÄĚ On the New Year eve, we dressed fancy for the evening, left our hotel room, and moved towards the gala hall. And here the magic happened. Boom! One couple speaking Russian. Boom! Another one. Boom! Third, fourth, firth, sixth, and so on. It felt like we fell asleep and woke up to find ourselves in another hotel or another reality. No more English or Spanish heard. Pure Russian. As Russian as it gets. They all came to celebrate New Year at Dominican. I realised later that it was also because Russians have the longest official vacations the first 10 days of January, so naturally they all want to go on vacation during this period. The hotel was ‚Äútaken‚ÄĚ by Russian couples, as my boyfriend was joking. It was surreal. 

To be honest, I feel homesick very often. Sometimes I think about my parents and start crying, even in public places. I cannot help it. When you move to another country alone, you always have a tremendous feeling of loss. Loss of home. Loss of the luxury of seeing your parents every day or even every week. Listening to all those couples speaking Russian made me think how I wished my family were here with me to celebrate New Year. Working and studying in Canada changes you and makes you want to integrate into the society you are living in. But at those moments when you suddenly hear your native language from other people and see the cultural habits you used to have, you remember that part of you will always remain foreign no matter how much you want to fit in. And maybe it is a good thing.