For associate professor of philosophy Michael Sweeney, the reminders are all around him–his 3-year-old son Mikhail’s lingering accent, the books on medieval philosophy he’s writing for the Slavonic-Greco-Latin Academy in Moscow, his wife’s longings for her homeland. Everywhere he looks are constant reminders of the nearly three years his family was stuck in Russia, struggling with U.S. immigration officials over visa rules and unable to come home.
The ordeal started when Sweeney met Natalia Zimina, a Russian student who came to the U.S. to study in 1992. Shortly after they married in 1996, they discovered an error made by a U.S. state department official on her visa that required her to return home for two years before applying for permanent U.S. residency. Having no choice, they packed for Moscow.
It took two years and seven months before she finally got her green card and was allowed to return to the states with their son. Last March, she rejoined her husband, who came back a year earlier. During their time together in Moscow, the family endured a bittersweet experience. They were forced to live in what, for Sweeney, was a frightening land, surrounded by political and economic instability, while simultaneously enjoying the security of Zimina’s loving and protective family.
Though he had a one-year Fulbright Scholarship to teach at the Slavonic-Greco-Latin Academy and the Russian Academy of Science, Sweeney couldn’t wait to get home.
“I wanted to get it over with,” he says. “I didn’t have a very good impression of Russia, and I was worried about my son. It was an adventure, but there were troubling moments. I was just amazed how people could carry on during all this crisis. The students said this was nothing. During the attempted coup, when there were tanks in the streets, they just carried on.”