Olympic torch excites study abroad students

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BYU students studying abroad look forward to witnessing Russian history in the making at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, despite security threats.

Russia has long been characterized for its coldness, both literally and figuratively; perhaps the Olympic torch will have a flame warm enough to thaw the ice.

“I think the Olympics will have a unifying effect, showing the world how great Russia is and what it has to offer,” said Mattice Hales, one of six BYU students currently in Russia on study abroad.

Hales has previously spent a short period of time in Russia as part of a separate study abroad, where she gained her initial love for the Russian people and culture.

“I think Russians are very proud of their country,” Hales said. “They’re very thrilled about the Olympics.”

Andrew Hodges participated in a Russia study abroad two years ago to get to know the language and culture of his wife, a native of Russia. He has also visited Russia in the past with his wife and says he has seen positive changes in the country as the winter games approach.

“Things are looking better in Russia as far as being socially open since the country began preparing for the Olympics,” Hodges said.

The students agree that Americans judge Russians too harshly. Study abroad participant Chris Larson admitted he was guilty of seeing Russians as cold and unfriendly people. But after visiting Russia last year, he realized he had judged too quickly.

“People in America think that they’re cold, but that’s not the case at all,” Larson said. “Friendship is deeper in Russia. It’s hard to become friends, but once you’re friends you’re in.”

“I love Russia and Russian culture a lot, and I feel like when I talk to people here in Provo about it, they just think of snow and alcohol, and there’s so much more to it. It’s a beautiful and complex country,” Hales said.

The Olympics may be unifying and brightening the Russian people, but what about the bitter cold climate? Moscow, where the students spend the majority of their time, boasts an average temperature of 16 degrees Fahrenheit during January and February.

Aaron Carlson, another study abroad participant, has decided to combat the cold with his attitude.

“It’s going to be terribly cold, but I’m looking forward to that in a weird kind of way.”

Study abroad participant Jake Balser shared his strategy for fighting the cold. “Nice coat. Nice gloves. Some thermals. I should be alright, hopefully. I’ll stay indoors.”

The study abroad began in January and will continue until April. The students will have to battle Russia’s coldest months, but they also have the unique opportunity of being in the Olympic host country during the games. With recent bombings and terrorist threats, however, Hales thinks a trip to Sochi seems fairly risky.

“I was originally planning to go, but there have been a lot of security threats surrounding the Olympics,” Hales said. “I’m still trying to decide. I don’t know if the risk is going to be worth it.”

BYU Russian professor Tony Brown organized the Russia study abroad program in 2007 and visits Russia regularly. He expressed his worry about traveling to Sochi.

“Even if I wanted to go to the Olympics, it would be very difficult just because security is so tight and being able to get a ticket is extremely difficult.”

Three students have planned to escape the biting cold of Moscow and warm up near the Olympic torch in Sochi regardless of potential danger.

Hodges, Larson and Carlson purchased tickets months ago for the Feb. 15 US vs. Russia hockey game.

“It’s one of the first things we planned,” Hodges said.

They recognize the recent terrorism puts them at risk, but they have thought ahead and intend to be cautious. Hodges explained that they will travel by plane rather than train as a security precaution.

“You have to watch your back,” Hodges said.

The three friends will stay with a friend of Hodges’ wife in Sochi. Hodges expects the game to be “crazy, super fun, with drunk people everywhere.”

Larson, who grew up playing hockey, sees this opportunity as “a dream come true” and will not allow security issues to threaten it. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“One of the reasons I did the study abroad in winter was to go to this game.”

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