ARKHANGELSK: "A person is like a book - each one of us has our own story. A book about me would be a melodrama. I didn't have the happy childhood that others had," said Elizaveta, an Arkhangelsk university student. She was sitting by herself in a cafe drawing a boy with big eyes. She said she draws to express her thoughts and feelings and was inspired by the Hollywood film 'Big Eyes.' Elizaveta is studying to be a speech therapist. She said she grew up in a town where mоre people than usual have health issues and that partially influenced her decision to chose such a profession. "My dream is to go to Germany to see how speech therapy is done there and in general learn more about their medical practices. I am trying hard to reach my goals."
BISHKEK: ''My Belarus grandmother had a hard life. She went through German and Siberian camps’’ before ending up in central Asia, said Daria, 25, a Bishkek native. Her other grandmother - a Volga German - didn’t have it much easier. She was exiled to central Asia during WWII. Their children - Daria’s parents - met through their shared interest in skydiving. Having German roots, Daria now wants to move to Germany. ‘’I don’t feel like Bishkek is my home. I feel I can do more in Germany.’’ In the meantime, she would like to write her grandmother's memoirs. Albina, 21, grew up in a small village in Tajikistan, before getting accepted into the American University in Bishkek. She wants to move to Germany to pursue physics, a passion from her school days. ‘’I had a good physics teacher in high school and my parents were both into math.’'
ST. PETERSBURG: Sergei, 42, said he grew up in Riga, Latvia but moved between Russia and Germany right after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He said he later moved to the US, where he lived for nearly 10 years, working part-time in a gym. Since 2006, he has been in St. Petersburg working as an individual trainer. He says he hopes to go back to the US for visit in the coming years.
TBILISI, GEORGIA: Anna, 19, is a history student who dances hip hop in her free time. She said her father and her uncle are both artists and that her uncle lives in New York City. Anna said she would like to live Tbilisi for Germany as feels her city is 'boring' and that it's hard to find work. She said students in Germany can study for free. Anna was just one of about 7 students I met that dreamed of moving or studying in Germany.
TBILISI, GEORGIA: Theodora, a Georgian fine arts student, was walking down the streets of Tbilisi wearing a computer chip around her neck. The rock music fan said she had made an installation for her university when one of the pieces - the computer chip - fell off. Theordoa decided to put a small hole through it and wear it as a necklace. She said she makes such accessories for friends as well. Theodora, like other young Georgians I met, wants to continue her studies in Germany.
TBILISI: Olya, 22, was sitting in an alley way in Tbilisi, playing with her phone as she waited for a friend to arrive. She is a 4th year medical student. Olya won't be the first member of her family in the medical profession: her mom, aunt & uncle are doctors. Olya said she would like to move to Germany in part as the medical profession is better paid there.
CHITA, EASTERN SIBERIA: Yura, 20, a third-year design student, was sporting pants with suspenders and a tattoo of Michelangelo's David on his arm as he hung out at a barbershop. Yura has already left his artistic mark on his native city, decorating the walls of a bar and barbershop. But he hopes next to leave his city for Germany, where he spent the summer with relatives. "I fell in love with Germany following my two month stay there. I love the architecture [in Germany] and have always been attracted to beautiful buildings." Yura, who has German roots, said the political disputes between Russia and west hasn't impacted one bit his love for Europe.
Anastasia was walking through the center of Minsk in nearly all black, including Gothic-styled boots. I expected her to talk about an interest in some obscure hard rock genre. Instead, she passionately talked about her interest in recreating 15th century German life with a club she joined a few years back on the recommendation of a now ex-boyfriend. She said her group consists of about 30 people, nearly split 50-50 between men and women. She said they take part in Middle-Age festivals around Belarus and neighboring countries. I asked what attracts women like herself to such clubs. "It's romantic - knights, beautiful dresses, music. You leave all your problems behind. It's an unforgetable experience." The red 'scarf' she is wearing is a Middle-Age replica she made.