My Summer in Belarus — The North Star Reports – By Mariya Taberko, Photographs by Anna Taberko. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

My Summer in Belarus — The North Star Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Mariya Taberko, Photographs by Anna Taberko

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[Photo caption #1: Statue of Yakub Kolas, famous Belarusian poet, and characters from his tales.]

Growing up as a first generation immigrant in the United States, I had developed an identity crisis about “what” I was. I certainly did not feel “American enough,” despite assimilating from the tender young age of seven years old. Yet my home country of Belarus was honestly just a string of childhood memories that consisted of going to school, watching American cartoons on the television, (dubbed in Russian, of course), and some vague visions of running through the forest, gathering mushrooms and hazelnuts. Although I always referred to myself as a Belarusian, the concept of Belarus had become a sort of abstraction in my mind.

Admittedly, it remained an abstraction as I purchased my plane ticket to Ukraine and train ticket to Belarus, during the six-hour car ride to the Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and even after my dad walked my sister and I to the airport security check, kissed us both, and waved us off. It felt like reality only hit me on the morning of June 21, when I exited the train platform and marveled at the unfamiliar place that for so many years I called “home.”

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[Photo caption #2: Towers that form the entryway to the Minsk Railway Station.]

The Republic of Belarus is a small Eastern European country landlocked between Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. Its capital (my hometown), is Minsk. For the last twenty years, Belarus has been ruled by an authoritarian president and the relations between Belarus and the United States have remained quite strained. This gave me a rare perspective on the country as the number of tourists in Belarus, especially ones from the United States, is incredibly low. In fact, many travel websites have little to no information on travel to Belarus. I had the advantage of speaking Russian, one of two official languages of the country, but I also came to the country at a pivotal time for tourism.

This spring, Minsk hosted the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships, which stirred Belarus into preparations for masses of English-speaking visitors. During my stay, I saw countless busses, trolleys, billboards, and storefronts covered with the IIHF World Championship logos, despite being there two months after the tournament’s completion.
Another important event during our stay was the Independence Day of Minsk, a day that celebrates liberation from Nazi forces in 1944. This year was the 70th anniversary, and the city was abuzz with military parades, fireworks, and other festivities.

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[Photo caption #3: Maxim Tank Belarusian State Pedagogical University and Lenin’s Square stand decorated with national symbols for Independence Day.]

It was interesting to be in Belarus, witnessing its “opening” to the rest of the world as host to the IIHF World Championships as well as the celebration of their independence while my family was back in the States preparing for the fourth of July. It put me back into that strange state of mind where I felt like an outsider yet again, even though I was finally back in my “homeland.”

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to contribute to The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

For all of the North Star Reports, see http://NorthStarReports.org See also, http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School and other schools around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

The North Star Reports will share dispatches from our student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Student interns have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open-access policy. K-12 teachers, please contact the chief editor if you are using these reports for your classes, HLIANG (at) css.edu

17 Comments

Filed under Professor Hong-Ming Liang

17 responses to “My Summer in Belarus — The North Star Reports – By Mariya Taberko, Photographs by Anna Taberko. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

  1. Camila Garcia

    Its very interesting how sometimes leaving in different countries and cities can change your sense of belonging and the ways you relate to the world. I think is awesome that you have the opportunity of traveling to a different country that you can call your home, and that you can connect with it even after years of leaving in USA.

  2. Steffanie Osborne

    I can’t imagine what it would feel like to return to a home that you left so many years ago, that I’m sure was very different from your home in the United States. The mixed feelings that you have about where you belong are very understandable.

  3. Becca Smith

    I think many people forget about the small country of Belarus, but it clearly has a lot of history and it’s own distinguishable identity. I would love to have the experience that you were able to get, but the place I spent the first several years of my life is only 10 minutes away – hardly halfway across the world.

  4. Chelsey L

    I thought this to be very interesting because even though I’ve lived here in the United States(Minnesota) my whole life I’ve never thought to travel and see what it is like in other country’s. I mean that my hometown is only 4 and half hours away, because I am in college, but for you having to be that far and then going back and feeling like a stranger is quite a way to let people know that not everyone is close to home and can do something like this and be able to let people know your experience. Very nice touch of adding pictures in and well written article.

  5. Carley Henning

    I thought it was really great how even after all these years, you decided to go back to your “homeland”. Even though Belarus is having problems with the U.S. it shows how much you care about your native country. Some people leave their home and never want to return back. — I enjoyed looking at the pictures also. I feel they really added an effect for this article.

  6. Katy Goerke

    Growing up, I was born, raised, and schooled all within a five mile radius of each other. There was no question in my mind where was home, until I moved to Duluth. The mental and emotional confusion I felt when I returned to my parent’s house this christmas, seems quite small compared with the scope of your up-bringing.

  7. Kyle Stepka

    I am a home body 100%. I miss home a lot and had a hard time committing to CSS because of how far away it was. After my first year it got a lot better but I couldn’t imagine being in your shoes. But I’m happy you get the time to go home even through the hard times back home.

  8. Morgan Young

    I’m a military brat, so I know what it’s like to move somewhere and not feel quite at home. I can’t imagine the homesickness you felt!

  9. Rachel Studley

    It’s so cool that you were able to travel back to your hometown after so many years and be able to reconnect. Belarus seems so interesting and I find it even more intriguing that there is so little information about in the US.

  10. An interesting look into the concept of home.

    I’m intrigued but not surprised by your comment that you watched American cartoons while living in Belarus. It’s no mystery American culture has been exported. I wonder if these external forces reinforced your the part of your United States identity, or weakened you Belarus identity. Or maybe nothing at all.

  11. It is interesting that you were able to return to your home after so many years of being away. But perhaps it may have been your original home but not your only home, it seems that since you had some elements of American culture that went with you to Belarus, which isn’t a bad thing. Perhaps there is more than one home for people who have lived in many different places.

  12. Tommy Traaholt

    Great article. I can’t really say that i can relate because i have lived in the US my entire lift, but i do think that the amount of pride you have is incredible. Not only going to your home country, but a country that is having problems with the US, makes it even more of a strong connection.

  13. Matt Breeze

    The concept of home being where the heart is appears front and center in this piece. You do a wonderful job of portraying your connections to a certain land. Seeing a celebration of independence in another country, especially a country you have deep personal connections with seems like a great experience! The idea of a large military parade on independence day is also a different concept to me. Living in America I have personally never seen a large military parade to commemorate anything. Sounds a little scary, but also tremendously patriotic and exciting!

  14. Carley

    I find it interesting how you said you had an identity crisis of “what” you were. Its an interesting phenomena how you were afraid you weren’t “American enough” too. I can’t really relate to these feelings but it was an interesting way to start out the article. Nice job!

  15. Michel Doege

    The Idea of not feeling american enough seems strange to me, but I was born and raised in Minnesota so I cannot completely relate. I think it is very cool that you went back to Belarus to connect back to your homeland. Traveling is fun for some time but it always feels good to be back home, it must have been a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing!

  16. McKenzie Ketcher

    What really interests me is the parade through the city that celebrates the liberation from the Nazi’s. My reasonings stem from the holocaust being a particularly large event in history that has always intrigued me. Since the United States was not actually controlled by the Nazi’s, it would be amazing to experience the celebration in Belarus since the events hit closer to home with many residents of Belarus. In my opinion, the celebration would certainly be more festive since the people of that country overcome a very devastating event in history firsthand.

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