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Is Teaching English in Yakutsk, Russia Safe?
Written by: Kristine Bolt
Last Updated: December 18, 2020
My firsthand experience with crime has been minimal, thank God. My first personal experience with it was when my sister and I were young girls. We were waiting for our dad to pick us up from church in a somewhat secluded spot in front of my dad’s office; the office was right behind the church. A man walked up to us and started trying to make casual conversation. When we shied away from him (he was putting out serious creeper vibes), he grabbed my sister’s arm and yanked off the two gold bangles that she had worn since she was a baby, then he took off running. We were so stunned that I can’t even remember now if we said anything to each other at first. I think we probably debated going back across to church to get help, but my dad pulled up a couple of minutes later. As I recall, he drove around trying to find the guy but never did That was probably the day that my sense of personal safety and situational awareness was born.
Fast forward about thirty years for my next firsthand experience with crime. By that time, I had spent my life in a country where crime is the foremost topic on everyone’s mind (Jamaica). In fact, crime is such a serious issue that I had a security system on my house. One night while I was fast asleep, two burglars broke into said house. The alarm went off, but they knew that it would take a few minutes for the security team to get there so they still entered the house and managed to make off with a laptop. Thank God I had the security system and that the security company was highly responsive, or they may have done worse.
That was the night that I changed my perspective on having a gun in my house. I never got one, but I did have a closed circuit camera system installed. Still, I never slept peacefully in that house again.
I’ve been living in Yakutsk, Russia, for a few months shy of two years now, and I can say without reservation that it’s the safest place that I’ve ever lived, as far as crime goes. Here are a few examples of why I say that.
Before people start putting their cars away for the winter, whenever they’re popping into a building, they leave the car running. Right there on the curb. I’ll be ambling along and walk past an empty car with the engine running. Totally empty! Nobody in the passenger seat keeping an eye on things while the driver pops in. Engine running, car empty! People here do it so that the engine keeps warm while they handle their business. In most other places in the world, that would be a stolen car, not a warm, idling car.
At work, we have lockers in the teachers room. They’re not really meant for our personal stuff; they’re for us to keep our supplies and class material. There’s no space for handbags and other personal items. So we leave our bags on the chairs in the room while we go about our day. My purse is in that handbag, with my cards and cash, and I have zero concern that someone will rifle through my things while I’m not there to watch over them. It’s the rare teacher at my school who takes their bag to class with them.
I remember going Latin dancing with a few friends once and for the entire two hours that I was on the dance floor, my bag was left unattended on a chair. My friends were also on the dance floor and their bags were also left unattended so it wasn’t a situation where someone was the designated bag watcher or we took it in turns to get off the floor and watch the bags. No one interfered with our things all night. People left their drinks on their tables while they were dancing then went back and drank up. No spiking!
I used to have to work until after 8 pm at least one night every week. I generally leave school somewhere around 8 pm and, until white nights start, it’s always dark and somewhat deserted outside at that time, particularly in the winter. But I make the ten minute walk home with absolutely no trepidation or fear that someone is going to jump out of the darkness and attack me. In fact, there have been a few occasions when I've gone to a get-together at a friend's house or been at a late event near home that meant I would walk home by myself at 3 or 4 am. I do it without looking over my shoulder in fear. I’m still aware of my surroundings because I’m not stupid, but I’m not gripping my stuff like someone is going to tear it away at any moment, heart trying to beat itself out of my chest as I anticipate attack.
I think there’s a basic psychological reason for this sense of safety that permeates the atmosphere – it’s the climate. Winter lasts for more than six months here and it’s deep and harsh. The focus is on survival. People need to live around each other knowing that they can keep their attention on being safe and without having to waste precious resources on ensuring their safety. People are focused on the important things that will ensure that they continue to survive and thrive, and aren’t at each other’s throats.
On the lighter side of things, we all have to wear ski pants in the winter and I don't care how bowlegged you are, they swish when you walk. There's no way a thief or attacker in ski pants can sneak up on someone. No way. And in the summer it’s too darn hot to be chasing after someone to rob them.
Anyway, back to being serious. Of course there’s crime and tragedy here because wherever there are people, there are people behaving badly. But on a day-to-day basis, in my experience, crime in Yakutsk isn’t that major. For this reason, I’m calling Yakutsk not only the safest place I’ve ever lived but also the most civilized.
A citizen of Jamaica who holds a Master's Degree in engineering from UC Berkeley, Kristine literally traveled halfway around the world to teach English in Siberia, Russia after earning her TEFL certification online from International TEFL Academy. As an ITA Alumni Ambassador, Kristine has shared her perspectives on a variety of TEFL-related issues to help others with their transition of moving abroad to teach English overseas.
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