St. Petersburg: Lesha, a 3rd year music student in St. Peterburg, was waiting for friends at the airport dressed in an USA print t-shirt. Lesha grew up in Novosibirsk, Siberia's largest city, and took to music at an early age. Lesha, who enjoys pop, rock, jazz and classical, prefers playing the piano.
KAZAN: Alyona is studying economics and writing her diploma work on special tax regimes. She hopes to work in business upon completion of her studies. At the same time, she is getting a degree as a math teacher. I asked her why dhe needed that. "I do it for myself. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it."
MOSCOW: Daria, 17, was returning from the Tretyakovsky Gallery, one of Russia's best known museums. A native of Crimea, it was her first visit to the museum, so she spent four hours walking around. Having studied in an art school, she wanted to see up front the paintings by Repin and Vasnetsov that she read about in her text books. Daria said she studies philosophy and would like to become a speaker in her hometown. She said her shawl represents Slavic culture and religion.
MOSCOW: I have noticed quite a few guys in Moscow wearing bow ties in recent months, including in creative ways. Danil, 18, was wearing his bow tie with a polo shirt as he hung out near the Moscow river with three female friends. A student at one of Russia's top economics universities and future banker, Danil said he has about 6 bow ties and started wearing them 2 years ago.
MOSCOW: Sonya, 18, was handing out flyers for an English-language school inside the Moscow metro near the exit on a chilly Sunday spring evening. She said she works about 12 hours a week to have extra pocket money while studying at a polytechnic. Sonya said she loves to draw - something that is a family trait - and showed some photos of her work that she had saved on her phone. She said her mother, grandmother, aunt and sister all draw. Sonya wants to use her drawing skills to earn a living...but not in the typical way. ''I want to become a tattoo master because I really like the concept of body art. Someone will carry on their body your artwork for their entire life.'' Sonya said her mom recently let her get her first tattoo. It was a drawing of a fox on her shoulder.
ULAN-UDE, EAST SIBERIA: Light snow was falling as Medegma, 18, waited for a bus in the shadows of the largest Lenin head in the world. Sporting a New York winter hat, Medegma said she moved to Ulan-Ude from a town about 800 kilometers away to study economics. However, she said economics isn't her passion, so she thinks she will join Russia's armed forces after graduation, mentioning the interior ministry. Medegma said she studied Buryat national dances, loves melodramas and reading, adding that she will reread some books. Her favorites are War & Peace and Quiet Flows the Don.
CHITA, EASTERN SIBERIA: Chita, which lies about 400 kilometers from the Chinese border, suffered during the 1990s economic turmoil just like many other Russian cities. Yura said his mother, a single parent, made ends meet by buying clothing in China and reselling it in Russia, 'like many other people'' from Chita. Yura said his grandmother watched over him when mom was traveling. Yura said his mom came to like China and Chinese language. She even took him on a vacation to China. That must have influenced Yura. The 22 year-old is now finishing a bachelor's degree in Chinese. He just took a job at a hostel in Chita to save money to continue his studies in China. He said the Russian economic crisis and subsequent ruble devaluation have made studying and living in China more expensive. ''China is the future,'' he said. ''We live near China. It makes sense to learn the language.'' Like many students from Chita, Yura said he will look for work in other, bigger Siberian cities like Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk. ''There aren't many jobs here.''
Dasha, a third-year foreign language student, was sitting in a cafe near Moscow State University studying. She studies Finish-Hungarian as well as Czech and Lithuanian and hopes to do post-graduate work in Hungary. ''I love the country and the language. It is very difficult as its not Indo-European.'' Dasha practices Irish dancing four times a week. It is something she has been fascinated with since childhood. ''When I was about seven years ago, I saw River Dance and I simply loved it, especially the boots with the clicking sound. I said when I grow up, I will learn it.''
While in Khabarovsk, I poppoed into a new 'hipster' bar called Beer Beard and met some of the interesting patrons. Elizaveta, 18, was with her friend Zoya at the bar. She lives in a village of about 600 people some 30km from Khabarovsk. She studies at two universities in Khabarovsk and gets up between 5am and 6am to prepare for classes. She said she has been working since 11 - after her father passed away - to help her mom, a village school teacher. Her mom saved up and sent Elizaveta to the Black Sea in the south of Russia last summer for her 18th birthday - the first time Elizaveta flew on a plane and saw the sea. "I cried from happiness - like a child," she said of the experience. Elizaveta - like many other young people I met in the Far East - would like to move to St. Petersburg. "It is an amazing city...romantic..each street full of history."
Danila, 19, was walking along a pedestrian street in Moscow, on his way to meet his girlfriend, a dog at his side. He said he bought the dog ''because I really like this breed...but he is still not well trained.'' Danila said he enjoys skateboarding, BMX biking and computers and is now in his second year at Moscow's information and communications university. I asked why he chose that study. ''My brain is wired that way,'' he said.