TBILISI, GEORGIA: Anna, 17, was hanging out with friends when I asked for directions. As Anna led me to my destination, she said she would like to become an architect and hoped to study in Norway, where she heard the universities were better. She lives with her aunt because her father died about 10 years ago and her mom recently went to work in Turkey, due to the tough economic conditions in Georgia. Anna, who was named after her Ukrainian grandmother, smiled and laughed a lot as we walked, but she admited she sometimes feels her parents' absence. Thus, she tries to keep busy, drawing or meeting friends in her free time. She is looking forward to attending an outdoor music concert in July.
ULAN-UDE-EASTERN SIBERIA: Ulan-Ude looks unusual for a Russian city. It is dominated by wooden homes - many old - rather than high-rise apartment buildings. Thus, some locals called their city "a large village." You can view the wooden homes as a sign of regional poverty or national beauty. Lena, a native Ulan-Ude resident who loves rock-n-roll and H&M, chose the latter. She has been running an Instagram blog focused on fashion for about two years, but a little more than a year ago, she changed its style. When she posted a photo of herself in front of an old wooden home in the center of town, an Ulan-Ude resident asked where the photo was taken. "I was shocked by the question" as it was in the center of town, she said. "Thereafter, I decided to introduce my city to everyone. Why not make wooden homes fashionable?" Lena began to regularly pose in front of the colorful, old homes, attracting the attention of the photographer managing National Geographic Russia's Instagram account. He named her account of his 10 favorite. Lena said she hoped her photos will spark an interest in the city's architectual heritage. She has received a proposal to present her photos at an exhibition dedicated to Russian wooden architecture later this year. You can view her Instagram blog at @royal_lena
Polina was sporting dyed red hair, a green jacket, green necklace and green nail polish as she headed home along the Rostov streets with her friends - and a cat - to have tea. Polina said she and her friends have been spending a lot of time at her apartment lately listening to music, talking and drinking tea. A first-year architecture student who works part-time in a cafe, Polina said she is passionate about her studies. ''I love it, it is my favorite activity. I have an unusual teacher and we draw some crazy things.''