I’m here. In Russia.
This is the furthest I have ever been from home, the first time I’ve ever left Europe, and (therefore) possibly the scariest thing I’ve done yet.
“Why??!” I hear you ask. Good question. To be honest, the moment I got of the plane at the St Petersburg airport I was thinking the same thing. What. Have. I. Done? No, actually, I lied. I was thinking which plane will take me back home to England?!
Apparently, it’s totally normal to feel this way. Only a few people I’ve talked to who’ve been on their year abroad in Russia have been open about how tough the first day, week, month… really is. And it’s true. It’s different. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s most definitely not like home. At all.
The day started at 5am at my friend Siân’s house. She kindly let me and my parents drive down to where she lives in London and stay the night so that the mad dash to Heathrow Airport wouldn’t happen even earlier in the morning. (We would have had to have left at 4am at the earliest).
We ate, got to the airport and checked in. We said our goodbyes, and moved through security with no problems. Fortunately, 3 other people from our course at Exeter were also going to St Petersburg for their first term if not for the whole year, so we all banded together next to our gate to wait to board the plane. Again, no problems, and soon enough we’d boarded and were taxiing down the runway to take off.
I don’t remember much about the flight… I kept dozing because I was so tired. It only took about 2hrs and 50minutes or so… which wasn’t so bad! I don’t like sitting still for hours on end so this was a good amount of time! On the other side, however, we had to queue for an hour and a half to get our migration card. You walk into this enclosed gateway and have to wait while a serious-looking lady checks your visa and passport and stamps and prints a load of things to give you your card. We all stuck together in a group, but we were worried our suitcases wouldnt be on the conveyor belts still after such a long wait! We were also worried our reps from the Uni would have left already! Fortunately neither thing happened, and we found our luggage and our reps pretty easily.
We were divided up between two buses and driven for about 45 minutes around St Petersburg with no idea where we were going. Looking back on it I think they divided us into groups living close together in each side of the city.
It was all I could do to hold myself together in the bus and focus on everything passing by the window. I saw some really beautiful buildings – the library and one of the famous theatres. The people sat behind me were very vocally expressing everything that came into their heads, they were probably nervous too, but I wasn’t appreciating it all that much and hoped maybe they would get off the bus first. Fortunately, I was the first to get dropped off…. In front of a very soviet-looking enclosed block of flats, painted a dull yellow colour, reminding me of my trips to Bulgaria with the River School in my mid teens with cracks in the walls and rust coloured stains around the pipes and bars across the windows.
A few flights of stairs later (me struggling ungracefully with my 20kg suitcase while my rep effortlessly carries my tiny hand luggage case), my rep showed me into my new home for the foreseeable future. My hostess is wheelchair bound, which confuses me because there is no lift, so I have no idea how she gets outside, if in fact she does. Her husband was equally friendly, and spoke less English than his wife did.
They happened to have a friend round who was German and only spoke English, although by that point I was quite firmly doing my best to speak in Russian to them all. There’s another, older student here called Louise who seems really nice. She’s offered to help me find Hope Church today and a phone shop to get my Russian SIM card and also a shop to buy some food. My home stay includes a free breakfast and room etc but I have to sort my own lunch and tea and pay for my washing.
My first night was good – I slept well and once I’d unpacked I finally started to feel a bit more like I can make it through the first week. We’ll see about the first month… 😉 I wasn’t very hungry (I think the nerves took my appetite away) but I managed to have some fruit and things which they kindly offered me. Lots of tea 🙂
I also gave them the presents I’d brought – teabags and chocolates amongst other things, which they really appreciated!
Today, my first full day, is my 21st, although it doesn’t really feel much like it. We celebrated before I came and I’ve brought some of my presents with me which I could pack safely so it’s not so bad I guess. And with wifi I can see any birthday messages I get too, so being connected helps!
That’s pretty much everything I can think of to put into my first blog entry from St Petersburg! It’s as honest as I can make it! I’ll try and take more pictures to make these posts more interesting… for now all I have are some pictures of a very sleepy Charis and her parents at Heathrow airport! Until next time…