Before arriving in Moscow, I knew I would miss my family, my friends and my lover, Katelyn. And I do, I miss them greatly — they’re all amazing people. But what I didn’t realize was how much I would miss something else, or rather, somewhere else. Somewhere I thought was just a fun place to go on a Saturday night, drunk and hungry with my friends. I’m talking about Freebirds. And my order? A monster steak burrito, made very spicy, with the little crumbled pieces of chips inside. I miss the prices, which, after living in the most expensive city in the world, I realize are actually quite cheap (I recently paid $16 for a cheeseburger and fries). And, quite honestly, I just miss Mexicans. There’s not a single Mexican person in Moscow, and believe me, I’ve looked.

But more seriously, living in Moscow these past three months has made me appreciate both Santa Barbara, Russian culture and the study abroad experience, each to a greater degree than I had thought. Let’s illustrate. Last Saturday night, my friend Stas invited a bunch of us over to his “flat,” which is a two-bedroom apartment he shares with his parents. The fact that he lives with his parents isn’t strange. Almost all of my Russian friends do, both because it’s a cultural norm and a financial necessity. Russian men tend to move out some time after college and women will usually live with their parents until they marry. Many families have three generations living under one roof. It’s interesting how in Russia, an open desire to move out of the house and be independent from your family is seen as very odd — and even almost insulting — while in America, the opposite is true: To live with one’s parents after college is seen as odd, and even almost sad.

So I left my apartment and headed out to Stas’ place. It took me 20 minutes to walk to the metro. Then I rode 15 minutes down one line, made a transfer, then rode 15 minutes down another line and then walked 10 minutes to his apartment. Total travel time: one hour. This is a completely average trip. As my literature teacher here says, “Getting from point A to point B in Moscow will usually take an hour.” And this has proven true. During the summer, my Russian friends and I played ultimate Frisbee almost every day, and it would take me an hour and a half to get to the park from my apartment. That’s like having your friends in San Luis Obispo invite you for some Frisbee action. But I did it, and everybody here does it, because there’s no other way. Having everything so spread out in Moscow makes me value I.V. even more than I did when I left. How lucky are we to have our friends down the street, down the hall or even downstairs? I can’t believe I used to complain if somebody had a party on Picasso. No more!

When I reached Stas’ apartment, I remembered how amazing my Russian friends were. Russian people, while gruff and distant on the street, are extremely warm and gracious once you get to know them. Everyone brings food and drinks to parties, there is plenty of silly dancing and the atmosphere is rarely sexually charged. (A note on drinking: Russians do not drink vodka straight. They think it’s damaging to the throat, and when I told them that was how Americans drink, they didn’t believe me. Here, vodka is taken with food, and if there is no food, then with a slice of lemon.) I’ve rarely felt any tension from the political situation between Russia and the U.S.; Russians are just excited to meet us, talk to us and see what we’re all about. American culture is pervasive, and I’ve noticed that Russians know more about our movies and music than I do.

Gah, I’m running out of space. Point is, studying abroad has widened my perspective on life and the world, and if you have the chance, go!