RD Intern Blog: Russia Direct’s new summer intern, Cameron Judge-Becker, from St. Olaf College, Minnesota, reports on his first impressions of work at our offices in Moscow, Russia.

Christ the Savior Cathedral, Cenral Moscow. Photo: Russia Direct

Shortly before I left for Moscow, my parents and I watched “Up in the Air,” a film in which George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a traveling corporate downsizer. Early in the film he shares with a protégé his insights on clearing airport security:

“Never get behind people traveling with infants. I've never seen a stroller collapse in less than 20 minutes. Old people are worse. Their bodies are littered with hidden metal and they never seem to appreciate how little time they have left in this world. Bingo, Asians. They pack light, travel efficiently, and they have a thing for slip on shoes.” “That’s racist,” exclaims his colleague. “I’m like my mother, I stereotype. Saves time,” Bingham replies.

A lot of advice travelers to Moscow receive is similarly based on stereotypes that I have found to be false. “Russian girls won’t smile, and you shouldn’t try to make them,” “beware of pickpockets on the metro,” “carry dollars for bribes,” and “the babushkas are fierce and you must always do as they say.” Ok, that last one is actually true.

My first week in Moscow with Russia Direct has been rewarding, eye-opening and challenging. Of course there is a language barrier, but, as the Bingham-esque advice I was given indicates, there’s a cultural barrier as well that creates these false stereotypes. I hope to at least put a few dents and chips in that barrier by writing about my first impressions of my work here at RD and life in Moscow.

Russia Direct is a fun place to work because we are accused of being both CIA and FSB,” explained an RD editorial team member to me on my first day at work.

Situated on the seventh floor of a state-owned office building near the center of Moscow, Russia Direct has the challenge of providing expert-oriented analysis of events and developments concerning Russia and the United States while simultaneously avoiding being labeled as “Western propaganda” or a “Kremlin mouthpiece.”

 This can be an extremely delicate dance when the current political atmosphere is so volatile, with headlines of economic sanctions, proxy wars, and blacklists dominating both American and Russian media.

My work so far has consisted of doing voice-overs for the “RD News Minute” videos, proofreading, analyzing current headline news, and assisting with upcoming infographics. I’ve developed analyses on topics I previously knew little about, such as Arctic competition, Russian mass surveillance technology, Eurasian immigration, and FIFA corruption. Later this month, I may have the opportunity to interview Russian political and scientific experts in and around Moscow, or attend conferences and forums around the city.

I could go on for pages about the internship at RD; how I got here, what I’m doing, and how my interest in Russia began. But I have limited space and I need to talk about Moscow. Many friends back home, as well as colleagues at RD, want to know if I’ve seen the Kremlin, St. Basil’s, or any of the many impressive museums in the city. Of course, I did the obligatory tour of Red Square and the surrounding areas.

However, for me the most impressive part of Moscow is underground. The Metro system is truly magnificent: Each station I’ve seen is different; some are adorned with stained glass or mosaic depictions of Soviet realism, others have bronze statues, and all have floors of marble reflecting the light of chandeliers which hang from impressive ornate ceilings.

The beauty of the stations is rivaled by the efficiency of the system. I’ve never had to wait more than one or two minutes for a train, or walk more than a few blocks from a station to reach my destination. I struggle to understand why people here would use a car for their daily commutes.

When I was planning what I would do this summer, I hoped for an internship in Russia to improve my language skills and understanding of the nation and its people. A week into my work here, I know I’ve found exactly what I had hoped for. Having the independence to pursue my own projects and ideas while simultaneously contributing to the work of a talented team of analysts and journalists is an immense privilege and rare opportunity, and I look forward to writing more about this job and city in the weeks to come.

Are you passionate about U.S.-Russia relations and want to see them improved? Do you want to familiarize yourself with expert debates and try your hand in foreign affairs journalism? Are you creative and proactive? Apply for an internship at Russia Direct! Send your resume and a cover letter on what you could bring to RD to editor@russia-direct.org. All internships are unpaid.