Josie Boyle of Decorah is currently teaching in Russia and was able to spend a day at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Josie Boyle of Decorah is currently teaching in Russia and was able to spend a day at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Decorah native Josie Boyle is teaching in Russia and making the most of her experience, including attending the Olympics.
Boyle, a 2008 graduate of Decorah High School and the daughter of Val Tindall of Lanesboro, Minn. and James Boyle of rural Decorah, is living in Krasnodar, the administrative center of the Kuban region (the area of southern Russia between the Black and Caspian seas).
Boyle has been teaching English to children and adults in a small, language school since late September; her teaching position will continue through early summer.
 “While this is my first time working in Russia, I have lived here twice before,” Boyle said.
She majored in Russian language at St. Olaf College, and studied in Irkutsk (a large city in southern Siberia) for four months, and in Ufa (near the Ural Mountains) for two months.
“Teachers at our school are discouraged from using any Russian, but it is very useful when working with young children and beginners. Also, day-to-day life would be very difficult without Russian abilities,” Boyle said.
In high school, Boyle studied Spanish for four years and really enjoyed it, so she decided to begin studying another language.
“While I was a senior in high school, I commuted to Luther and took first-year Russian. The initial choice of Russian was somewhat random, but I quickly got really into it, had a great time in the Luther class and decided to continue studying it at St. Olaf,” she said.

Stereotypes dispelled
“The best part of my experience here so far has been the slow forging of relationships and friendships with students and neighbors,” Boyle said.
“Coming from Decorah, my first impressions of Russians weren’t far from mainstream U.S. stereotypes -- they seemed cold and unfriendly. Having lived here as long as I have now, I’ve come to understand there are just different expectations and customs of public interaction, and I’ve learned not to take that personally.”
She said many consider Krasnodar the best city in Russia.
“It is quite a clean city and has a lot of beautiful public spaces and parks. The climate here is also very different from the icy, barren tundra that Americans expect from Russia. Many types of fruit grow here, and when we arrived in September, I was blown away, there were grapes and fruit trees growing in almost every yard.
“The winter here was incredibly mild. It only snowed a few times and we never had more than an inch on the ground. For the last month, the weather has been in the 50s and even low 60s. We’re looking forward to going to the Black Sea on weekends when it gets a bit warmer.” Olympics
Boyle said a highlight of living in Krasnodar is the city’s relatively close proximity to Sochi. Krasnodar is five hours north of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics were held in February.
“I’ve never felt so engaged by the Olympics before this year. The Olympic Torch relay, which carried the flame all across Russia, to the North Pole, to the top of Mt. Elbrus, the bottom of Lake Baikal in Siberia, and even into space, passed through Krasnodar in February. Many businesses and most streets closed for the day and we were able to see the flame pass,” she said.
Boyle was able to arrange spending a day at the Sochi Olympics.
“We travelled on an electrichka (electric train)-- the cheapest and inarguably least comfortable way to get there. Tickets were sold as per demand, regardless of the number of seats available on the train. Therefore, at each of the two transfers along the way, passengers had to push and run and squeeze into wagons to claim seats. On one leg of the journey, we enjoyed the company of a sleeping dog, sprawled between his owner’s feet,” she said.
The trip to Sochi lasted about seven hours each way, Boyle said.
“We arrived in Sochi at about 9 a.m., went through security and entered the network of free, modern and fast public transport that transported people between Sochi, Adler, the Olympic Park (near the coast of the Black Sea) and Krasnaya Polyana (the Mountain Cluster).”
Since the trip had been planned at the last minute after most of the “cheap tickets” had sold out, Boyle attended only one event -- the women’s hockey game Finland vs. Germany (Finland won).
“Most of the day we spent walking around Olympic Park. Although I was rooting for the USA, I was glad that Russia came in first and I was swept up in the country’s excitement as the games came to a close,” Boyle said.
Feels safe
Despite the suicide bombings in Volgograd over the winter, Boyle said she has always felt very safe in Russia.
“Before the Olympics began, there were fears that they’d be targeted for a terrorist attack, but security at the Olympics was very thorough and I didn’t feel at all concerned while there,” she said.
When asked about her position on the situation in Ukraine, Boyle said she recently attended a political rally in Krasnodar (before Crimea voted March 16 to secede from Ukraine and join Russia).
“Krasnodar’s governor spoke about the situation in Ukraine. Crimea is historically very close to Russia and over 50 percent of its population is ethnically Russian,” Boyle said.
“I’ve been reading Western news sources, which portray Russia’s invasion as violating the sovereignty of Ukraine and provoking war. But the perspective most people seem to have here is that Crimean Russians are threatened by the political situation in Ukraine and are calling for help from Russia. When you understand this close relationship Russia has with Crimea, you see the situation in Ukraine is very complicated, and I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to just villainize Russia. Of course everyone is hoping the situation in Ukraine will be resolved peacefully.”