ЗБК – Winter Bible Conference

Wow! I can’t believe it’s already over – it feels like it went too fast!

St Petersburg team

So the adventure started on Thursday evening last week. Me and my flatmate and a group of other students and people from St Petersburg going to the conference caught a sleeper train at about 23.05 and arrived in Moscow the next morning at 9:40am. The carriages are arranged into lots of little pods of 4 beds – kind of like bunk beds. You have to roll out your mattress and put a sheet on it, and pillowcase on the pillow, and there are extra blankets if you need them, but with so many people in the carriage it was really warm! It was really strange to sleep and be moving at the same time, but because it’s quite rhythmical you usually can get to sleep just fine.

It’s quite tightly packed. A real adventure!

Me on my bed – the light was bad inside the carriage. This was the next morning before we arrived in Moscow.

At the conference we heard from a guy called John McNeal (I think that’s how you spell his name). He’s an Irish missionary who used to go to a church in Birmingham, so that’s how my flat mate knew him beforehand. He was really funny and the whole conference and his talks were based around Matthew 28:19-20. (From the Bible).

We all wrote him Russia-themed postcards and gave them to him at the end to say thank you. There was probably something else in the bag too.

We learned lots of tools for how to talk to people about Jesus, and on the last day we had a few hours out in Moscow to try out these skills. I talked for a long time with a History masters student and she had an interesting perspective on religion here in Russia, which is useful to know as a foreigner studying here. It was amazing and fun and we met so many people from all around Russia. There were students there from Vladivostok and Irkutsk (Siberia/Far eastern Russia).

We all stayed in a hostel together in rooms with bunk beds for 6 people, all of us from the conference of course.

Then last night I travelled back with a few students on the overnight train again. This time I knew what I was doing, although I had a run-in with the carriage lady – I wanted to brush my teeth and couldn’t make the taps work in the bathroom on the carriage, so I went into this little kitchen next door to it and did it there. She came in and saw me and told me that it was her private kitchen. She looked so severe that I almost cried, but I managed to apologise politely and explain that I didn’t know. I tried to avoid her after that! But on the way out of the train this morning she did a double take when I passed her at the door and stared at me as I walked away…

I was home before 8:30 am, and now I’m tired but I have lessons today from 2pm and I have a lot of homework to catch up on so I’m going to get on with that. I’ve spoken a lot of Russian this weekend, and I’m encouraged by how much I know and how much I understood!

It is amazing to see what God is doing here in Russia 🙂

St Petersburg Team at dinner time. 

Advertisements

Week 2(?) Update.

Всем привет!

Hello again – here’s my update for what I think is week #2 back in Russia.

On Friday (16th) we watched Flushed Away at English Movie Night, and I wrote the questions for the discussion afterwards. Lots of interesting conversations came up about the importance of family and material things etc. It’s run by a Christian organisation called New Life, and we try and talk to the students about God a bit in the discussions. It’s one of the highlights of my week and has been since my first term here.

I went to my Russian student house group the next day (Saturday 17th) and took some chocolate bourbons, Rowntree’s fruit pastels and some jelly babies. The fruit pastels were the most popular, but they were all appreciated. They were super friendly too, which is so encouraging when previously I had worried that they would have forgotten me!! Sadly I won’t be able to go to the Victory Day celebration thingy at the main community group’s house tonight because I’m travelling to Moscow for my first ever Bible conference. (More on that to come). Today is a national holiday of some kind where they give men gifts all over Russia – it’s like a men’s day. I was added to a group chat with all of the women in from our community group and the one that it originally branched out of, and they’ve bought all of the guys some cool bow ties and chocolate or something to give them tonight. I kind of wish I could go, but I’d already signed up for the conference before I knew about it.

Church on Sunday was good too, and afterwards I met up with my friend and we read a kind of devotional book together and discussed the verses that came up. By the end of the week I was so tired and I had all of these random Russian words floating round in my head… it’s kind of the running theme when I’m here. New words left right and centre. It’s almost easier to write in Russian than in English sometimes because I’m so used to having to concentrate on doing it. Today is the same – I’m saturated with Russian and have all of these random phrases and verbs and things in my head. This week has been pretty intense – I have a literature lesson and a history lesson and after those I came out and it was like my brain was unable to think anymore it was so tired!! I’m glad I asked to move up a group though, because I understand everything and I am being pushed. I think I’m going to stay with group two now, it just means pushing myself to speak a bit more in lessons where I need to answer questions. I just get really nervous because pretty much everyone else in my class has been to Russia before and speaks the language a bit better. I also need to learn a load of words!!! If only my brain were actually a sponge sometimes…..

Most of this week the temperature has been -19. Especially in the mornings. It’s been pretty sunny though, which is unusual for St Petersburg, so in the day it gets up to around -13/-14. It’s not that bad really. I mean you don’t stay out in it that long, and every building/bus/the metro is really well heated. But because it’s not damp here or humid, the cold is actually kinda bearable. And when the sun’s out it’s really beautiful too. Instead of snow or rain, we get these tiny bits of ice floating around in the air, and they rest on everything and form these kind of crystal-like coverings, so all of the trees and bushes and things look like they are out of fairy tales. I’m so grateful for the experience! This is something that not many people will see.

I am currently typing amid a mess of things as I try and pack for the Winter Bible Conference in Moscow. Зимная Библия Конференция (ЗБК). It is 3 days worth of talks and things with people from all over Russia – some flying in from Vladivostock in the far East! I can’t wait to meet all the people – it’s all going to be in Russian pretty much so it’s going to stretch me a lot and I’ve already been asked to help with translation a bit so we’ll see how that goes. I’ll probably do a post about it next week when I can look back on it. But yeah me and my flat mate (who is also coming) are going to catch a sleeper train with the others from our church. This is our first time sleeping on a train!! We have to catch it at around 11pm and it gets in at like 9:40 tomorrow. It’s all weird and new but I’m sure it will be fun 🙂

Overall, life here is going well, and the downs are not as long as last term! Although, I wish I could be home to see my cat and her new litter of kittens!!

That’s my little update for this week – I’ll try and post about ZBK next week and do another update!

До скоро 🙂

Week 1: Lots of change.

Hello again!

Here’s my summary of my first week back. It’s been kind of up and down, but I guess that keeps life interesting, right?

I went to the gym for the first time on Saturday (10th) and learned a few things about gym etiquette here in Russia. People take towels around with them to put on the seats so they don’t leave sweat on them and they are clean for the next person. Seems pretty obvious, but i didn’t notice anyone do this in England over Christmas, which I don’t understand really because it is more polite and considerate to clean up after yourself… maybe I’ll adopt this when I go home in the summer! Be the change and all 😉 Oh and also, it’s perfectly acceptable (apparently) to go up to someone between sets and ask to use the machine while they rest before the next set… in England this just doesn’t happen! It’s kinda rude! That happened to me and I just had to go with it because I assumed it must be a culture thing. The lady only did one set anyway, so it’s not like it took her ages, but it was a bit strange for me. Also, the showers and changing rooms are communal – no shower curtains, so no privacy. Plus, all of the babushkas go and use the sauna, which is accessed via the showers and has a see through door so they can watch people having a shower. They all huddle in there looking very severe. This could take some getting used to…

It’s still really cold here – the lowest it’s got so far was -14 degrees C but felt like -19 (yesterday, on Thursday 15th). Sections of pavement keep getting cordoned off because of the massive sharp icicles hanging off the edges of buildings and balconies… people actually get impaled – I think one person per year or something. We were warned about this last term by our student reps. Most days there are whole teams of people up on the roofs bashing the icicles off the edges of buildings and clearing the hard packed ice off the sidewalks so you won’t trip over while walking places. It’s actually snowing again outside as I write this; according to my phone the temperature outside is -7, which isn’t that bad. I’m just glad I bought my new coat the day before it was -14. It’s royal blue. I was nice and snug. And proud of myself. #adulting

But yeah – over all the week has been a good one. I was worried before I came that my Russian friends at church would have forgotten me because I was away for so long, but on Sunday 11th most of them came up and gave me hugs after the service and said hi. I brought back some English biscuits and sweets for them to try so I’ll be taking those to my next community group session tomorrow if it’s on.

On Monday (12th) we had an induction day and a really long aptitude test and then an interview at the same time. They called us out of the test one by one to do it. It’s so they know which group to put us in based on our ability.

I was originally put in group 3 (again). But then one of my teachers, (she did my interview) said that I could try the group above me (group 2) for a day and see how I find it and potentially move up. It was a tough decision to make. Group 3 wasn’t that hard, although I tend to slip up when responding to questions. I didn’t feel particularly challenged in the same way I was last year, not even that much in grammar and that is normally the hardest lesson. I went and talked to a lady in the office where they assign us to our groups and she looked very doubtful that I would be able to handle group 2’s material. Groups 1 and 2 often have post a-level people in them, so I guess it’s a big deal that they would let me try it out. I really wanted to be in Group 2 so I would be challenged a lot. I ended up trying it for 2 days, and although they are gonna push us hard this term and get us to do presentations and essays and analyse 20th century Russian literature (Ivan Bunin anyone?). I’m going to have to work hard but it will help my Russian so much.

We get Fridays off, thank goodness. Probably because we have so many hours of lessons Monday-Thursday. Friday is ‘library day’, where you do your work etc. I tend to be quite relaxed about getting work done on Thursday evening/Friday because my brain needs a little break from all of the Russian, but now I’m in group 2 I’m going to have to pull my socks up and fit in some extra hours.

My new flatmates are lovely, we are already planning to go out for lunch tomorrow and make a flat meal together. We went out for a meal last Sunday after church too – I’ve converted them to Ukrop!! (my favourite restaurant here, for those that don’t know what it is).

It’s good to be back I guess, although I do miss my family. And considering how nervous I was about coming back, as usual, I’m now wondering what I was so worried about. I’m feeling much more at home here, everything’s familiar.

Next week I’m going to be going to Moscow on the overnight train with my friends from English movie night and Church to a Winter Bible conference. It’s from next Thursday til next Sunday, and I’ll be coming back Sunday night on another overnight train. I’ve never been to a Bible conference before I don’t think, and this one will be mostly in Russian, although the preacher is from a church in Birmingham which one of my flatmates, who is also coming, goes to. Some of my friends are going to stay on a couple of days and come back on the following Tuesday evening, but I don’t want to miss lessons and I’m planning on visiting a pen friend later in May/early June so I’m banking on being able to sight see when I’m there with her.

I think that’s pretty much everything I can think of to talk about from this week. It’s gone by at a good pace, not too fast and not too slow.

Here’s a picture of Smol’ny cathedral to end my post with. My uni meets in the building directly behind this cathedral; the buildings are part of the cathedral. I’m lucky to be studying on such a beautiful historical site.

She’s back!

Guys! I’m back in St Petersburg!

And this time everything is different. What I mean is, I feel different. In my head I thought it would be like last term – the cold quiet panic and thoughts running through my mind along the lines of “what the heck am I doing here I want to go home”. But I feel so much more confident. I haven’t forgotten any of my Russian. Buying things in the shops is so much easier.

I’ve already bought my gym membership too – which I did entirely in Russian. This was a new experience because last term I made do with the weights I found at my home stay. I walked out after registering on a high – I feel like it was some kind of right of passage. Maybe I’m just overreacting but I was proud of myself. Little things like that mean a lot and show your progress!

This term I’m living with two lovely student friends of mine in a flat. The rent is much cheaper and I don’t have to pay for my washing this time which is a plus! The tap water is still undrinkable though so we have to buy our water or boil it. I got that free in my homestay because the couple I was living with let me have water from their tank. But it’s a small inconvenience really and I’m so grateful to be here this term instead.

Our kitchen wallpaper is rather dazzling…

It is currently the only green thing you will see in St Petersburg because everything else is covered in about 24cm snow!

Apparently we won’t have warmer weather until mid May to early June – spring doesn’t really happen… it’s either really hot or really cold!

But yeah, everything feels familiar and I feel so much more confident on the streets and everything. I’m still adjusting to the 3hr time difference – at 11pm I’m still not tired so I end up staying up til 1-2am before I can sleep! I also have to keep telling myself to stop smiling at strangers… in England it’s ok but I’m Russia they think you’re crazy! Oops! But in a week I should have settled into it again.

Uni doesn’t start until Monday 12th – I have an aptitude test which I’m about to start revising for and a small induction with our student reps for the new arrivals. I’m the only one who’s stayed in St P from the group I was in last term so I’ll be with completely new people.

English movie night is on tonight so I’ll be going to that! I’m bringing the DVD this time – it’s Belle. Really good movie.

That’s my little update – looking forward to making the most of this term 🙂

Until next time – до свиданья!

I flew to the wrong city.

Hey guys! Happy New Year! Just checking in again – I’m currently still in England but I fly back on the 8th February so I’ve got 8 days left of my holiday! Lucky me 🙂 The reason the holiday is so long is because of the visas. They take a while to process and obtain, and students (for Russia, anyway) can choose to spend one term in one city and the next term in a different one, which often means applying for a second visa for their next location. That’s why we get such a long Christmas break. Because I’m staying in St P all year, I just get a really long holiday!

Christmas was great – I’ve really enjoyed seeing family and friends again and just RELAXING. For the first time in years I have no exams to revise for!! There is an assessment for this year though which is fairly straightforward… I have to write two reports in Russian, 750 words each (1500 in total). Both are on topics to do with language learning and cultural competence or employability skills learned/experienced while on your year abroad. I also have to put together a language learning log that tracks my progress and allows me to set realistic learning goals and markers for my year abroad. Then, this September I have to go back a bit earlier than most students to take my oral exam, which will also be about my year abroad.

So – to get to the reason for my blog title: Part of my Christmas present included a return flight ticket to Girona (Catalonia, Spain) to visit my best friend Ellie. The ticket said it was flying to Barcelona (Reus). Turns out Reus is 4.5 hours away from where I was meant to be!! For some reason Ryanair lists the airports in Girona, Barcelona and Reus after ‘Barcelona’, but two of them aren’t actually in the city of Barcelona itself. So I was meant to arrive in Barcelona and catch the train to Girona, about 40-60 mins at most. Instead I had an epic journey up from Tarragona!

My Instagram caption: Enjoying the sights on my unexpected trip to {*drumroll*]… Reus??! #wrongairport #oops #somewherespanishwilldo #suchfun #stillsmiling #fourhoursfrommydestination #adventuresinspain

I was pretty tired by the time I arrived but I made it eventually! I actually wasn’t too bothered by the whole experience – I found it funny! Maybe it’s because it wasn’t half as bad as it would have been if it had happened in Russia! Although I probably would have managed to solve it there too… being too hard on myself with my language learning. But because I was in Spain, I was able to ask people where to go and what to do and figure things out for myself. I’ve never previously had to navigate the train system in Spain, so that was a new experience under my belt.

I went to stay with my best friend Ellie – who I’ve know literally since birth. Our parents were always and still are best friends, and not many people can say they’ve had a friend for almost 22 years. We had a very relaxed week, in the middle of which we travelled to a seaside port town called Llança and stayed with a lovely couple who were very generous and fed us well. We saw some old friends and helped out at a charity shop run by someone we know, and I went for a little wander around the coast all the way to Port de La Selva where my family and I actually spent a couple of weeks several years ago now for our summer holiday.

On my last weekend in Girona, I went to Ellie’s Spanish family’s birthday celebration – we were there til at least 1.30am! It was a joint birthday for several people in the family, and the family is almost as big as my own. It was lots of fun but we were exhausted the next day.

I’m back home in England again now trying to gather the things I’m going to take with me next week to Russia. Current mood: mixed feelings. I’m going to be honest, Russia has been one of the most crazy, wonderful, but difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve had to be brave so many times and stand on my own two feet and problem solve and cope and it can get very tiring. Last term, as those of you will know who’ve been following my blog for long enough, was really tough in many ways, and I got really homesick. Its fair to say I’m a little nervous, though perhaps slightly unnecessarily so, because there’s no way this coming term will be like last year.

For one thing, I’m much more fluent in Russian than before, and can understand more and know how to deal with situations better and in a more culturally appropriate way. I already have friends out there this time, so I’m not travelling there blind with no friendly faces to welcome me. Some of them are already messaging me because they can’t wait to see me again, which is really encouraging. I also know what to pack and what I’ll need, so I won’t go packing a load of stuff that I won’t be using while I’m there. And I’ve got a lot of big events and things planned for this term – I’m going to a discipleship course in Moscow in February, and then my parents are coming to visit me in April, so we’ll be doing lots of sight seeing. Then my grandparents might come visit me in May at some point, and I’m planning on going to Moscow again to visit a pen friend who I’ve been messaging for years and we still haven’t met! By then it’ll be early June already, and I’ll be getting ready to say goodbye to people – another thing I’m trying not to focus on too much!

It’s kind of crazy how, having been home almost two months, last year feels like it never happened. And I know that this summer when I get back home in June, this coming term will feel like a distant memory once I get stuck back into life in England and preparations for my final year in Exeter.

I guess I just need to keep a positive perspective in mind and, of course, remember that I’m not doing this alone. God’s going with me, and before me. Knowing that is really reassuring!

Any-how…. I never know how to end these posts, so I’m gonna end it with a little Dr Seuss quote I found which I really love at the moment:

You’re off to great places

today is your day.

Your mountain is waiting

so get on your way!

Me sitting in the train station in Reus waiting 2hrs for the next train to Barcelona. That little handluggage case has been well used this year!

Reverse Culture Shock.

I said I’d write a post about it as and when I experienced it. Well, here it is. Reverse culture shock. Culture shock – but in reverse – in your own country. What is this madness?!

I don’t really know where to begin with this, but all I can say is, it’s hard.

You move out to another country, you adapt to all of the differences there and establish a routine, begin to behave, speak and live differently, and it becomes the new ‘normal’, and familiar, and you begin to see it as ‘home’. Then you move back to your home country, and everything’s different, new shops have opened up where there used to be something else that you remember always being there since you were young, family have changed (new arrivals, etc), the city seems more crowded than before, you can actually read and understand signs and things but you miss the challenge of reading them in another language and the little victories with the new language you were having before you returned home. Add to this the fact that your view and perception of the world and issues in your own country have changed from having experienced life abroad. In short: you expect that coming home will be easy, but in reality, it isn’t necessarily so.

There are a lot of factors that can build up and contribute to someone suffering from reverse culture shock. Those^ are some of mine. Personally, I also struggle with feeling like I’m floating between countries – and neither one is really ‘home’ anymore. It’s very disorienting. My self esteem suffers too, and I find being-home-life feels so boring and slow because you don’t have to travel everywhere, I don’t have as many places to be because my social agenda is so much smaller, the city is smaller, I don’t have any exams to revise for… and because of this I feel like a horrible person because I feel so down, and it’s Christmas Eve, I mean who feels sad on Christmas Eve, right? (I wrote this on Christmas Eve, but posted it today!) But the truth is I’ve only been back a week, and the ‘honeymoon’ phase is over.

Yeah, just like with culture shock, you have a honeymoon phase, where everything is new and exciting, and then comes the low point. It just sucks that for me it’s the day before Christmas. But in my head, I am thinking about how little time I have at home before I’m back in Russia again at the end of January. I don’t have time to truly sit back and relax. It is probably not helped by the fact that I have lived in Spain for two months this year as well. Although Spain is like a second home, I lived in Catalonia when I was younger, so living in Madrid was a bit different. It just feels like every time I settle down somewhere, I’m only there for a handful of months before I move on again. And personally, I’m not enjoying it.

So those are the main psychological factors of reverse C-S that I’ve been dealing with this week. I’ve also had to pay a rather large deposit for my house for my 4th year (I know, I’m already on it and I won’t even be living there until next September, but such is the problem with student housing these days), so I am currently extremely short on money – as in, I am grateful I bought my presents already because I have nothing. Which is also pretty normal as a student. (Don’t worry though because my next loan instalment comes in early January so it’s just for a few weeks). #studentlife. This limits the activities I can do for a bit, and means I’m solely dependent on my parents once again, which can be really annoying when you’ve got used to having complete independence and coping with so much on your own.

The main physical symptoms I struggle with is my skin breaks out really bad – probably due to the change in water and environment, but it can really hit your self esteem. I have curly hair, and in England the air is really humid, which makes it so unmanageable, when in Russia the air is dryer, so my hair doesn’t turn into a massive frizz-ball whenever I step out the front door. Also, the cold in Russia is dryer, so I coped with it way better, even when it was -6 degrees C. Whereas here, +6 degrees feels like -10!!! So I feel so so cold! (OK, i might be exaggerating there, but you get what I mean – it feels so much colder here). I also get more tummy aches, but this could be due to eating at different times (Russia is 3 hours ahead) and still adjusting to the time differences (I’m not getting a lot of sleep yet).

I guess my best tips (so far) are:

  • roll with the punches – acknowledge that it’s just going to take some time to get back into the swing of things again, even if other people don’t seem to get it.
  • talk about it. Talk to someone who knows you well and who you trust. Let them know what’s going on and why, and just talk it over. It helps to get it out.
  • journal it. I’m a big journal-er, so writing stuff down really helps get everything out of my head and process it better.
  • get out and do something – new or old, just don’t stay inside doing nothing, even though you really really want to. You don’t have to be out all the time, but establishing some kind of new routine or finding a place to be gives you something to do. I joined the gym – I have some fitness goals and I’m starting well ahead of 2018! It gives me something to work on and a place to go a few times a week. I also try and go to church and to the 18-30s group there whenever they have an event on. I’m not always good at making myself go out places though, so my family has to persuade me a lot!
  • do some familiar things you couldn’t do when you were abroad – for me this is playing the cello.
  • pyjama days are allowed. Just don’t make every day a pyjama day.
  • Christmas!! I know that seeing friends and family on Christmas day (tomorrow) will be fun and keep me from thinking about the things I’m trying to adapt to.

Here are a few more articles that are helpful to shed some light on reverse culture shock and what to do about it:

Expatria – Students Abroad

I hope all of this helps. Merry Christmas everyone 🙂

Update – last week of term.

Wow! Only 5 days left until I go home for Christmas! How the time has flown… ok so there were a few moments in the term where I felt like it was dragging out, but now that the end is here it feels like it went in the blink of an eye! And so much has happened in these last three months.

Going home is going to be good, but I’m not going to lie, I’ve been enjoying myself so much here recently that in a way I want to stay here a bit longer! So I may come back earlier than I originally intended in January, but it’s all up in the air and will be decided later.

I’ve bought most of my Christmas presents for people here, and I’m going to probably start packing on my last day here, Friday, because I won’t have any lessons. Then I’m going to go to English movie night one last time and say goodbye to people. I said goodbye to people at church too yesterday, mainly those from my house group.

I will miss them all!

But I need a break. I’ve worn myself out this week helping prepare for the party on Saturday, which, by the way, went so well!

I don’t have any really good pictures but here are the ones I do have. I and a friend had to roast some potatoes for the party, and we cut out so many snowflakes to hang up everywhere! Another friend baked millions of gingerbread cookies, and we played silly games like reenacting the Christmas story scene by scene in groups – we were all very creative; for the scene where An angel visits Mary, a guy stood on a chair and two guys stood behind him with a silvery white scarf and fluttered it like wings, and he then proceeded to get his phone out of his pocket and ring Mary to tell her about what was about to happen. You might have had to have been there to appreciate it, but I can assure you everyone was laughing at that point! We also sang the 12 days of Christmas song, which everyone found hilarious. We made a roast dinner for everyone to try (hence the roasted potatoes) and we even made sprouts for everyone and told them that they are traditionally eaten but also hated in England, but they all went so I think Russians like sprouts!

But hey, after all of that excitement, I had to sleep with a hoodie and a hat on last night to try and get my cold to go away – my window in my room lets in draughts so I end up getting quite cold in the night, and that combined with poor sleep and lots of extra activity just really tired me out. I need to make it through this week though because I have more tests! None of them actually count towards my degree but I want to do well to show that I’ve learned stuff and also so they’ll put me into a more advanced group next term. We don’t know if they’ll base that off our test results yet or if they’ll send us another aptitude test by email so it can’t hurt to get good marks.

I’m hoping to go to Ukrop (the chain of vegetarian restaurants) soon with a friend from my group to celebrate he end of term. She won’t be coming back to St P next year, she’s going to Germany for the other half of her year abroad, so sadly we’re going to be saying goodbye for good this Thursday. In fact, I’m the only one from my group returning to St P next year, so that’s going to be weird!

I’ve found housing for next term in a great location near all the shops I normally go to for food etc so I’m really happy about that, and the rent is cheaper so I’ll be saving some of my loan, which can be used for other things!

So yeah that’s me this week. I can’t wait to go home and have lots of hugs and catch up on the advent calendar and play my cello again! I just hope I can defeat this cold!!

In case I don’t post until the new year, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year everyone!

С рождество и с новом годом!