Photo Credit: Airbnb
What It's Like Being A Black Russian Woman
Victoria Nadezhda Bela’s background is unique. The 21-year-old was born to an Equatorial Guinean father and Russian mother, but raised in China. It’s an experience that has its benefits — she speaks Russian, Mandarin, and English — but being a Black Russian woman has also piqued the curiosity of many.
During her undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester, where she majored in environmental health, people were often surprised to learn that not only wasn’t she American, but she was Russian. Even in her home country, which spans across Eastern Europe and Asia, her compatriots were typically shocked to discover that she was a native.
“I almost never noticed when I was younger,” Bela shared with Travel Noire. “My mom always tells the story of when I was four years old. I thought that I was Chinese because I had lived there since I was one. Because I’ve always been kind of used to my situation, I’ve never really thought anything of it. But certainly, there were times when it was a bit more isolating in Russia, I’d say just because I think society isn’t as accepting here of people who are mixed or who are not purely of Russian descent. But it is also changing a lot. I think everything around the world has changed so much that it is less uncommon to meet someone like me now.”
“I always had a thought that maybe I was the only one, which is not possible,” she added. “But no, I’ve never met another Black Russian in my life. And that was actually why I started a Tik Tok channel. And I ended up meeting multiple other Black Russians with a similar background to me through that.”
Bela started her popular channel, which has amassed over 100,000 followers and almost three million likes, during the pandemic. She produces videos in Russian or Chinese about growing up mixed. Through the platform, she has met other Black Russians and Black people from predominantly white countries.
“It’s been a really great opportunity to connect with other people that have experienced life in a similar way that I have,” she said.
Now Bela is getting an opportunity to extend her reach even further. She is one of 12 participants selected for the Live Anywhere on Airbnb program, inspired by the growing flexibility of operating remotely. She was chosen from over 314,000 applicants to live exclusively in listings on Airbnb worldwide for approximately one year. The highly coveted escapade couldn’t have come along at a better time for the recent grad. At the time of her application, Victoria had just been accepted to pursue a Master’s degree in Chinese Public Policy at Peking University. Due to the pandemic, there was a hold on visas for international students in China and it was more than likely Victoria would have to start her degree online. Instead, she can travel while completing her studies.
“I’ve been doing my undergraduate degree for the past year and a half, during the pandemic, mostly online. I was on campus and that was really difficult being in the same place for the entire time and seeing my room while studying and finishing my degree. So this is perfect.”
Bela is finalizing her itinerary but is eager to explore life outside of Southeast Asia and Russia. She has her eye on Europe, Serbia, and Montenegro. There’s also a strong desire to add a couple of new languages to her portfolio.
“I’m thinking to maybe start learning Spanish while I’m kind of doing the travels when I’m studying for my masters.”
But what she’s most looking forward to is gaining an intimate knowledge of the areas she will visit during her year-long adventure. This is more than a vacation.
“I’m hoping that with long-term staying within each of these locations, I can get a sense of appreciation for them; that it kind of feels like I’ve actually lived there and that’s my home. So maybe knowing some really cool local spots that people who are just passing through wouldn’t have known of or something like that. It’d be really cool to more individually get to know some of these places. And I think in the end if I can feel that I’ve achieved that I’ll be really happy.”
Follow Victoria on TikTok.