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Actively Seeking Adventure

Jillian rides the ferris wheel. Anna Semina

My favourite must-do activities in Novosibirsk, Russia.

If you ask my students what’s fun about Novosibirsk, they will say, “Nothing, go to St. Petersburg.” Then, they’ll go back to scrolling through their iPhones and cursing at each other in Russian because they think I can’t understand them. (Before leaving for Novosibirsk, some Americans falsely led me to believe that Russian children would be more obedient. No. Russian teens and kids are just as sassy, sleepy, mean, nice and cute as the American ones.)

I disagree with their assessment of the entertainment Novosibirsk has to offer. I love having different cultural experiences, plus going out is much more affordable in Novosibirsk than in NYC. Yes, the city can be cold and dusty, but that doesn't stop me.

Here is an arbitrary selection of fun things that I’ve done.

1. Art museums

I find going to museums relaxing, inspiring and educational. I would recommend the Novosibirsk State Art Museum and Roerich Museum for art lovers. The State Art Museum hosts modern Russian art, as well as older pieces in their permanent collection and on loan from Moscow. They also have a lot of free lectures and events. Meanwhile, the Roerich Museum honours its namesake, the Russian painter and philosopher Nicholas Roerich. (Locals are very proud of him and shocked that I’d never heard of him prior to my arrival.)

An interesting part of going to museums as an English speaker is that museum staff pay close attention to me. They guide me from room to room, turning lights on and off, as though I’m either a very important guest who deserve a personal tour or a very unimportant guest who needs to hurried out.

2. Novosibirsk Zoo 

Zoos remind me of my childhood and it’s a bit sad to go to one without my parents, but so be it. Every local I’ve met has recommended that I go to the zoo, so it was definitely a must-see for me. 

3. Lenin Square

I’m not sure if Lenin Square would be considered an excursion since I pass this area regularly, but there are points of interest here. Lenin Square and the surrounding area host multiple theatres for fans of ballet, opera or orchestra music. It also offers many monuments, parks, stores, restaurants, bars, clubs, movie theatres (movies are in a foreign language with Russian subtitles or dubbed in Russian), and the Novosibirsk Museum.

4. Akademgorodok

Akademgorodok (don’t ask me to pronounce it) is a college town outside of the city centre. I live and work in the city centre, so taking a little trip with some other people was a welcome change.

Many people in Novosibirsk live in the city, but also have a little country home elsewhere. This is not viewed as a luxury, but a normal situation for two reasons:

1) Urban life is stressful and people need to retreat; and

2) When Russian was the USSR, the government distributed or cheaply sold many of these “country homes” and families have kept them from that era.

The point of this aside is to say that many locals would prefer to spend a day off anywhere beside the city where they sleep, work, eat and shit. I’ve never held this mindset before, but I like it.

Anyway, Akademgorodok has lots of nature, interesting architecture and monuments and numerous chic cafes that remind me of New York. Akademgorodok is a also the unofficial “scientific centre” of Siberia.

Fun fact: In Akademgorodok, you can buy a domesticated fox, bred for companionship. 

One of the learned lessons that I plan to take back to America with me is the importance of having fun. Like most “life lessons,” this sounds painfully obvious, bordering on idiotic. But one of the reasons why I came to Novosibirsk was to feel happy. I was stuck in a New York rut, so I decided to make a change.

After I left college (*cough* five months ago *cough*), I believed that I needed to sleep, work, eat and shit. However, I pointedly did not think that I needed, or even deserved, to be happy too. But everybody does; and that’s why the fun little or big things that occupy my precious spare time matter to me. 

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Jillian Elkin

Jillian Elkin works as an ESL teacher for kids and teens at the EF Education First school in Novosibirsk, Russia. Her interests are film, writing, and cake.

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