These past few days at our Winter Bible Conference just outside Moscow caused me to reflect on the very similar conferences I experienced as a college student in Denver, Colorado an indeterminate number of years ago. Although conference goals, spiritual atmosphere, fellowship, outcome, etc. of such conferences across the world remain very similar, I was struck this year (and perhaps every year to some degree) by just how differently these conferences feel culturally. To provide a short glimpse into some of those cultural (or perhaps lifestyle) differences, here are some of the comparisons which come to mind.
- Hungry college students remain hungry college students every year at the Denver Christmas Conference. There are no meals provided, however, the Adamsmark Hotel right on the 16th St. Mall in downtown Denver provides even the most particular foodie several delicious options for satisfying one's hunger. I remember stocking up on some non-perishables for breakfasts and lunches, but venturing out on the town with friends for dinners.
- Every meal at the Russian Winter Bible Conference is provided and prepared as part of the service of the hosting conference center. Students and staff alike depend on these hearty meals as typically conference centers are a bit isolated and eating out is not something done on a student budget or out of respect for a student budget. Meals are very much expected here: a breakfast porridge of some kind (oats, rice, wheat, millet, etc.), a lunch of soup, salad, plus some kind of main dish, and a lighter dinner with tea on the side. Some personal highlights: a morning breakfast porridge made of macaroni noodles and milk, a liver lunch with buckwheat on the side, and a fresh salad of boiled peas, potatoes, beets, ham, onions, and mayonaise. Bon appetit!
- Our conferences here in Russia host students from all over the Russian Federation - that's nearly 11 time zones of cities and students coming together in one place. We had students this year all the way from Vladivostok who fortunately were able to fly affordably to the conference, otherwise their time on the train traveling to the conference would have easily doubled the length of the conference. It is not uncommon for students to spend 2-3 days on the train in order to attend our annual conference: their commitment and excitement to be with us are both humbling and encouraging. In total, though, we typically see 50-100 students from the entire country attend each year.
- US conferences are done regionally, but still bring in massive amounts of students - some who road trip for hours in order to attend together. Conference numbers differ from region to region, smaller conferences hovering close to 200 students, while larger conferences hosting 1,000 students or more each year.
- Although the conference content is always interesting, what I remember most from my US conferences centers more around the fun we had together after hours: crazy games of tackle spoons, photo scavenger hunts of downtown Denver, and dancing, dancing, dancing - most conferences now even host a $1 retro prom one night of the conference.
- In Russia, I believe the extracurriculars are also just as important as in the States and, with a few exceptions, students seem to enjoy very similar activities. Games of Uno, Phase 10, and Monopoly Deal take the place of any game using traditional playing cards, though, so as to avoid the image and temptation of gambling among Russian Baptist and Orthodox believers. Similarly dancing is also mostly prohibited, except for showcasing or teaching different national dances (Caucasian, Moldovan, Ukrainian, Siberian, even American country line dancing have been featured in conferences past.) Also, due to the climate and location, ice skating and ice hockey also serve as fun free time fillers during the Russian conferences. Some staff are notorious for coming primarily for the hockey and secondarily for the conference.