During a match between Uzbekistan and Pakistan, Alexei Bogdanov inched his way closer to the girls from the U.S. team who were seated on the bleachers overlooking the field. He started a conversation with the girl closest to him. Later, they shared their contact details and took selfies together.

“The best memory is how many new friends I made,” Bogdanov said. “I made friends with the kids from Egypt, the U.S., Kazakhstan. I know a little bit of English and I also use a translator app.”

Shedding stereotypes

The children were also proud of how Russia had treated their foreign guests.

“I really love how welcoming my country was to all of these different people,” said Eduard Movsisyan, a 15-year-old camper. “They also did a lot of reconstruction to make it nice for them.”

Ahead of the World Cup, Moscow embarked on citywide renovations and restorations to prepare for the large influx of tourists. (It didn’t hurt that mayoral elections will fall in September following the tournament.)

The renovations — among the children, at least — have been a hit.

“I came from Tomsk for this summer camp,” said Ogloblin, referring to a university town in Siberia. “The last time I was here was when I was six. And it looks so much better and cleaner now.”

“It has changed so much and definitely for the better,” said Tridrikh. “It’s better, cleaner and so much prettier.”

But the main takeaway for Chudaikin is that, before the tournament, he had heard that foreign media were presenting Russia as a “mean, unwelcoming place.”

“Look how many foreigners came here and everything was the opposite of what people thought would happen,” he said.

“People always talk about Russia in stereotypes. But why do that? Hopefully the World Cup showed that we’re not like this.”

Lena Smirnova contributed reporting