FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Hanna Miller started walking across the state of Mississippi in October, her beginning point on the Alabama state line near Tombigbee State Park.
She has stopped in several places, luckily finding at least a backyard on private land to sleep in, along with her friend Katya Korableva from St. Petersburg, Russia.
"If I had been doing this by myself, I don't think I would have finished it," Miller said through laughter as she hiked along Old Highway 49 south of Camp Shelby.
Miller is not only walking the Magnolia State, for its scenery, which has experienced below freezing temperatures during the last leg of her trip. She is gathering stories of Mississippians to learn more about their perception of themselves, their state and of the Russian culture.
"I just missed being outside and being warm and being in a familiar place," she said, recalling the day she thought of the "almost silly" idea while studying in Russia. "Then [I] began to contemplate, 'Well, how familiar is Mississippi to me? I haven't lived there in five years, but I still call it home.'"
The project is called "Mississippi Heard."
Miller began the first half of her project in Russia, which was completed last year through a Fulbright Grant. She traveled the country by train, gathering 60 stories- some arranged through Korableva, others at random. The questions she asked were the same ones she has been asking along her route in Mississippi.
"One of the points of our project is that we feel there is a lag of.. real cultural exchange between Russia and America," said Korableva.
Korableva said there are more similarities between Russians and Mississippians than many realize, specifically regarding economics and the role that politics and religion play.
"Some of the stereotypes, the do prove to be true," she said, "but they cannot describe my experience here."
Both Miller and Korableva agree that Mississippi and Russia share a past that still greatly influences the present-day society. However, Miller said that people in her home state are "aware that others see it branded by its past."
"It's a place that's struggling- and struggling hard and doing well with- escaping that identity, at least here in an insular way," she said. "This [project] is kind of part of saying, 'Recognize it, world.'"
Miller hopes to display her multimedia projects in an exhibit in 2015 through Mississippi Modern. Korableva plans to transcribe her experiences in Mississippi into a Russian document to take back home.