While discovering Phuket these past few days, I would never have expected to feel like I was back “home in Russia” as a child. This experience was so fascinating to me and it initiated so many memories, or reflections, that I wanted to share.
*** Spoiler Alert ***
Sometimes you have to travel a great distance to (re)discover your heritage. And, certainly the cultural diversity present within INSEAD helps greatly in this regard.
Let me begin with the more interesting observations I made in Phuket.
Of course, I’ve always known that Russians fancied Phuket greatly as a holiday destination. But imagine my surprise when I noticed that all of the airport signage was in Thai, English and – Russian. My hotel was more international – at breakfast I immediately noticed the classic and not so surprising mix of languages. Then, as I dislike going back to the same places and thus want to see everything, I decided to discover the various beaches nearby. On my list: Patong (party), Karon and Kata (family action) and Bang Tao (beach clubs).
Arriving at Patong, I was fascinated by all of the activity! I was only guessing from the many clubs and restaurants how busy Patong must get in the late evening. Impressively, all I heard around me was Russian, mixed with some British. Lots of young Russians on vacation, and the first language to address anyone was Russian. I am convinced the beach vendors spoke better Russian than English, selling Parachute flights and Jet ski drives. Demand was high this afternoon.
Next day, I went to Karon and Kata beach, and this is where the overwhelming magic happened – many, many families with kids playing along the beach. The exact same games I was playing at the beach when I was small. Building their sand castles the exact same way I was taught by my parents. The mums constantly worried about their kids spending too much time in the sun and water, thus risking sunburn. The little sister calling the big one to go swim with her. The intonation in everyone’s voice, a very typical Russian intonation. I felt like a child again, back in summer time, playing in the fine sand of the Wolga river beach. It was incredible. I never expected to feel so much at home in a place so distant from home.
This feeling was even more surprising to me as I never considered Russia being my home since I grew up in Germany. I never had Russian friends. In the last 5 years, I only visited Russia within the setting of a culture trip with my friends and the proclaimed goal to show that Russia is more than the Kremlin that you see each time on the news.
I started reflecting on my Russian heritage and came to another realization – a dinner with the Russian INSEADERs was one of my highlights in the social interactions at INSEAD so far. While we met for only the first time, there was an immediate connection, different than what I experienced at the other dinners. Another interesting thing worth mentioning – for the first time in my life, I was sitting at a table enjoying dinner with 8 other Russians, who were all MY colleagues. Not just someone else’s acquaintances with me joining the dinner. I had to travel very far to meet people, of similar age and of my own cultural heritage!
I suspect that many of my INSEAD colleagues feel the same. As INSEAD admits only about a maximum of 10% of each nationality, the student body is quite diverse. But most likely, you do have a group from your nationality and when everything is new, this is the most familiar thing you have. People speaking your language and sharing your culture.
For those of you who were reading the blog entry because of the beach review, let me finish with the comments on Bang Tao beach. This one was best for me as I just wanted to relax. You can walk forever on the fine sand and the beach is immense. For those searching for more activity – there are several beach clubs spread out along the beach. I was there on a Saturday afternoon, none of the clubs seems particularly full, so even here you could relax. Of course only if you don’t mind loud Pop music. However, if you have this crystal clear water before you, why would you spend any time hanging out by the pool in a beach club?
If you call the northern hemisphere your home, I hope this blog does not leave you depressed from all the lack of sun you had to suffer and the cold you had to feel from the chilly claws of the “beast from the east”. From what I can read in the news, you too are finally able to feel warm sunshine announcing the arrival of spring. If you want to prevent sun deprivation next year – apply now and join the Singapore campus. Simply, there’s nothing quite like perma-sun!