For the full essay, buy a copy of the anthology The Places We’ve Been: Field Reports From Travelers Under 35 (The Places We’ve Been LLC, July 2013).
As athletes make mix CDs to pump themselves up for games, I have a playlist on my iPod called “Riding the Metro in St. Petersburg.” American friends from home browsing my music library, expecting fun, happy Russian pop, are taken aback by forty minutes of gangster rap and angry beats. A girl has to do what a girl has to do to get psyched up for her commute. Every morning, after being stuffed full of blini pancakes or sweet, cheesy, chocolate-covered sirok bars from Olga, my Russian host mother, I exit the apartment using my six-inch skeleton key, put on my headphones, and start this playlist. Leave the sweet, friendly, overly polite and thankful American exchange student in the apartment with Olga, and put on my game face. Better yet, fuck you guys, I am putting on my Russian face.