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Zdhanova, citizen of the world: Russian-born Japanese student dreaded coming to UNK, but Kearney stole her heart
Marjo Rouvoet
JMC 215
Photo by Marjo Rouvoet
Yulia Zdhanova is an outside person. One in three meals I eat outside she said.
Yulia Zdhanova
Russia via
Japan via

She is a city girl who loves to go shopping. At home, whenever she wanted to go out, she could order a taxi. She could order food in the middle of the night. Shops were open 24 hours a day.

At first she was not all that excited about coming to UNK. Nevertheless, she went with her plan, and she now considers it to have been a good decision. “I’m glad I came. It is nice. Everything is so interesting and so new to me.”

Yulia Zdhanova, a junior, majoring in English, describes herself as a Japanese Russian who loves cooking, writing, learning and traveling. Her interest in cooking and learning made her travel the globe as she studied in Russia and Japan, cooked in France and now studies again in America.

“I consider myself a citizen of the world,” she said. “I think I can survive pretty much everywhere. I think if I would call just one place my home, I would always miss it. I have so many homes; all of them are my home.”

Zdhanova’s first home was in Moscow, where she was born. Subsequently, around the age of eight, she moved with her family to Sapporo, a town on the island of Hokkaido in Northern Japan. Now, at the age of 26, America will be her home for a year.  

Her first impression of America was that everything in the country is huge. “In Japan everything is tiny– tiny phones, tiny buildings, tiny cameras.” That didn’t always work for Zdhanova. Japanese shops  sell only small sizes which do not fit her. “I am a giant in Japan,” she says. Thus, when Zdhanova travels to other countries she brings with her a suitcase that is half empty, so that she can bring back clothes in her size.

American people overwhelmed Zdhanova in the beginning. “They are more ‘overdone’ here,” she said. She felt uncomfortable in the beginning. “I hated it, I didn’t know what to do. I told my friends, ‘Please don’t introduce me to anybody.’ I didn’t know when to hug, when to kiss and when to say hi. In Japan we just bow our heads.”

However, America changed her, and she likes it now. “I am becoming sort of like that. I like how people say ‘I love you.’ You do not say that in Japan.”

Her family has noticed a difference after she told her mother how she loved her and how she was missing her. “My mum told me I sounded American when I talked to her on the phone. I had never told her that before,” she said. “I feel so weird, it doesn’t feel like me anymore. I used to be a person who had to go out everyday, but here I am on campus everyday. Things are slower, but I really like it! I didn’t expect that.”

Moving to another country has not always been easy for Zdhanova. “When I first came to Japan, I didn’t speak Japanese. It was hard to be in school. I was one of the only foreigners. Everybody would stare at me, and be mean. After a few years I made friends, and now I am fine. But, it was hard.”

Zdhanova still misses things in Japan though. “In Japan I have a dog, and I always walked with him after a meal. I miss him whenever I see another dog.” Zdhanova also misses her family. “My two sisters and I get along very well. They are my best friends, but we fight a lot as well. When I need real advice, I ask my sisters. I’m lucky to have them.”

She has become accustomed to being apart from her family, since her parents always traveled a lot for their work and her oldest sister left home when she was 17. Her family is also busy, so they do not often eat together. But when they do eat together, two or three times a month, it’s like a party. “It’s a family meeting, and an opportunity to cook,” she says, laughing.

Zdhanova loves to cook. “It is the process of concentrating on one thing. It is another world– to cut onions and fry potatoes. You can throw all your other thoughts away.”

She likes to invite people and cook for them and then watch them eat. “That’s when I most miss my family,” she said.

Zdhanova has mastered a wide variety of international cuisine. She learned to cook Russian from her mother, Italian from her sister, who worked in an Italian restaurant, and she specialized in French cuisine in school in Paris. Additionally, she and her sisters love Japanese food, which she has taught herself how to prepare.  Zdhanova considers Japanese food her favorite. “The best thing in Japan, compared to Kearney, is food. The food in Sapporo is good and healthy. What I really dislike here is that there is no fish. I miss sushi.”  She tries to buy frozen fish to cook in her own room in Nestor about five or six times a week.

Although Zdhanova enjoys cooking, she also enjoys learning very much. “My favorite things, and I know this sounds weird, are classes. I love learning things.”

She says lectures here are fun and different from Japan. “We never have discussions, as it is not part of our culture to ask questions. It is so different here. I freaked out in the beginning, because I did not understand everything here, but the teachers explained it to me. It is nice that they take time for me.”

Whereas she first dreamed of becoming a restaurant manager, she has changed her mind. She now wants to become a Russian teacher, just like her father.

Greetings: How to greet somebody in Japan or Russia

In Russia people use three kisses to greet others. According to the orthodox religion, one kiss is symbolic for the Father, one for the Son and one for the Holy Spirit.

In Japan people greet each other by bowing their head:
• 45 degrees to customers entering
• 90 degrees to customers leaving
• 15 degrees when you meet somebody.


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