Registration: Day 2 in St. Petersburg.

The cathedral / church in front of my faculty at СПБГУ (Saint Petersburg State University).

Post nomer dva (номер 2). I’m actually writing this in hindsight because I was so tired yesterday evening that I didn’t get round to writing. I was also talking to my mum (whatsapp is a lifesaver) and some friends and just chilling out after my first day at the Saint Petersburg State Uni. Ok, so it wasn’t actually a full day of classes. We had to arrive at 10am and register. You have to register everywhere you go in Russia. They like to keep their eye on you the whole time I guess. If you so much as stay the night in a hotel, you have to re-register. If you want to travel or leave the country, I have to tell the uni in advance. Our Uni Representatives told us this in the meeting we had once we’d handed in our passports and migration cards to get registered during the “briefing chat”.

Apparently registering is part of general life in Russia, at least, it is for foreigners. Also, you have to carry your documents around with you everywhere you go because we’ve been told that the police are allowed to stop you at any moment and ask to see them. It’s all part of the bureaucracy (took me ages to try and spell that word!!).  So that includes your passport, your migration card, your insurance policy (travel and health – especially health), your student card… everything. Although we were told before we came in our pre-departure talks in Exeter to take a load of photocopies so that we can leave the original documents at home so they won’t get lost or stolen.

Oh yeah, that’s another thing we’ve been briefed on. Pickpockets are a thing, so we have to watch our bags and be careful in crowds. Apparently the police and thieves have an understand here; this works out practically where if there’s no violence, a certain amount of crime is tolerated. So you won’t get mugged, but you could still get your purse stolen. Silver linings and all.

In the talk they also explained some of the process of getting our visas converted to multi-entry. You arrive in Russia on a single entry visa. You can’t leave basically, unless you don’t want to come back. I was sorely tempted on Sunday… but don’t worry I’m sticking it out!! I’m still here! 😉

In 2 weeks (from the 18th) we have to bring our passports and migration cards, 1600₽ (roubles), 3 black and white photos and printed proof of insurance with us to the office at the uni and they will then begin the application process to get the visa extension (So that we can stay for longer than 90 days – forgot to mention that you enter with a single entry 90-day visa) and to convert it to multi entry so you can hop over the border etc.

A photo booth that takes black and white passport sized photos is not easy to find – but the uni pointed us to a certain shop just off of Suvorovsky Prospect (Суворовский проспект) which is attached to Nevsky Prospect (Невский проспект), the main kind of ‘high street’ in St P. I went with some friends to get mine done and my word was it an experience. We had the photos taken, then the lady in the shop plugged the camera into her computer and began to photo-shop my face right in front of me!! She literally removed every blemish and even squashed my hair in and removed any flyaway strands. She made my neck longer and moved my shoulders around to fit the frame properly, and when she was happy she pressed print and charged me more roubles than the poster on her wall claimed I’d have to pay for the 3 photos I’d asked for. I was so stunned at what was happening that I didn’t say anything… but the same happened to my friend as well straight after mine were done. The photos don’t even look quite like me anymore!! I guess this is how celebrities must feel.

My extremely edited photos!


The last thing that was touched on in our talk on Monday was advice specifically for women. They let the men leave and then told us that we had to always try and go out in groups, and if a man approached us that the best thing to do was run away. Also to not get into just any taxi or even into an Uber/Yandex taxi alone if possible. They told us to be careful when drinking in clubs and bars because spiking drinks is quite common, but apparently more so they can steal your wallet than sexually assault you. Again with the silver linings…. I guess getting robbed is better right? Maybe I’m making this sound worse than it really is; this advice probably goes for most big cities. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve only ever lived in smaller cities my whole life.

Before the talk from our reps, we were all given a little interview with a teacher from the uni. I felt like mine went really well, it was only about 10 minutes and I was asked questions about my name (always the conversation starter, especially when I was able to tell her that it’s Greek but no, I’m not Greek…). Also questions about my family, and you can kind of steer it a bit so I was able to talk bout how I’ve lived in Spain.

I’m generally just so surprised and relieved at how much Russian I seem to know and understand. I still have some holes in my vocab and I could do with going over some of the grammar again but I think I’m on the right road to getting pretty good at Russian. But hey, it’s early days yet, and the thing they did warn us about with RLUS courses is that there will be a lot of other English speaking students taking the course with you. 4 other people from Exeter that I know from my class there are here too… and so far I have spoken quite a bit more English than I’d have liked. But I’m hoping that it’s just for the first week or so while we all find our feet and settle in. Something to bear in mind when choosing between St P/Moscow and Kazan or anywhere in Siberia. More on this to come!

Вскоро друзья!

Advertisements

Arrival

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… 

до свидания! 

Getting a visa for Russia

You might have already heard a lot about the visa process. Personally, I’d only heard bad things! Especially about long queues in the office in London to try and get the application sent off. Let me tell you, getting your visa is a complete faff, but I guess you have to look towards the long term objective – getting into Russia – to keep your spirits up!

Now that you’re all feeling suitably discouraged…  😉

No joke, it did take me 2 hours to fill out my visa application form online. Apparently we only have to fill these out because we imposed them on Russian citizens coming to England, so it kind of makes sense that we would have to fill them out too. 
Before even filling out the online application, you have to have a visa invitation from your chosen uni. This for me was the Saint Petersburg State University. I’ll add a picture of my invitation in after my year abroad, but for now I think it’s better if I don’t share those kinds of details online while they are still valid! 

Once I’d got this (it came mid-July while I was working as an au pair in Spain) I used the VFS Global website to fill in and print off an online application. There are a lot of questions you have to answer, and fortunately the course I’m applying to do through RLUS (Russian Language Undergraduate Studies) offered a load of advice about what to answer for some of the questions on their website. When I actually got to the office, they said some of my answers were wrong because the criteria got updated very recently. You can’t really plan for this… it just means they will log into your application on the VFS website and change the details and reprint it for you then and there.

Oh, and DON’T forget to bring a passport-sized photo. They attach it to your application for you. You also need to bring your HIV test results printed out, and a letter from your university and proof of insurance. And your visa invitation, of course. DO NOT forget that please

Fortunately for me, a new office opened up to process your visa application in Manchester, and we happened to be on holiday up in Yorkshire, so Mum and I drove over to get it all done one of the days we were on holiday. The office was small and there wasn’t a big queue. We got there at around 10am so that might have been why it was quieter. The lady that processed my application was really friendly and nice. It didn’t take that long either – she just checked over my papers and clipped them all together. Then she scanned my fingerprints. You have to do each hand one by one with your last four fingers together palms facing down on the scanner. Then you do your thumbs together. 

She asked me to write the address I wanted my visa and passport sent back to on an envelope and that was it pretty much. 

A few important things to remember would be to make sure the photo was taken in the last 3-6 months before applying for the visa. The HIV test needs to still be in date for another 15-30 days after the visa application. Other than that, just make sure you brings absolutely everything with you, including your password for the online visa application.

This all happened yesterday so this is as fresh as I can make it! Hope that helps 🙂 

Ask any questions you might have in the comments and I will get back to you as soon as possible! 

Tips for Language Learning while Abroad

Here it is, as promised 🙂 My best tips for making sure you make the most of you year abroad and get as fluent as possible. I’ve also checked some of the things my own uni recommended to add further suggestions, but mostly these are my personal recommendations and things I’ve found have helped me! You can totally reject this if it doesn’t work for you, everyone works differently. I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner before an aural learner – which means that I need lots of visual information and I also need to do or practice the language / grammar for it to actually go into my brain. Just listening isn’t enough. So here’s tip number one:

  1. Find out what kind of learner you are. This is really important because it will change the way you revise and it will help you memorise vocab and grammar easier. You can take free tests online, just Google it 😉 There are about 4 types, Kinesthetic, Aural, Visual and then Traditional (I think).
  2. Say ‘yes’ a lot! People will offer you things, to go shopping, to go see a movie, etc. Just say yes. It’s all good experience and you’ll learn something about the culture from these.
  3. Stay with a family/Spanish friends who speak only/mostly Spanish/whatever your target language is. This way you wake up speaking the language, and go to bed speaking the language. You’ll get so much more out of it, trust me. And if the family has kids, this is a good way of getting practice using different registers – speaking more politely to grandparents whereas with kids you can usually be more informal.
  4. Go over difficult areas of grammar that you notice yourself struggling with. Don’t just leave them and hope they go away! I still go over the past tenses in Spanish and the subjunctive… and ser and estar still catch me out occasionally!! Just because you’re in the country doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll immediately become bad-ass at grammar, so make sure you try and do some exercises / revision a few times a week. Nothing intensive. If you can, take a course at a local uni.
  5. Write down new vocabulary – no excuses! I keep lists of new vocab, and as I mentioned in my last post, we’ve actually stuck up some pieces of blank paper in the kitchen with all of our names on so we can write down new words in English/Spanish and then go over them together at meal times. This is great for kids, but to be honest it works for adults too.
  6. You’re gonna love this one! Watch TV! and films… but in the target language obviously. If possible, use subtitles in that language too instead of in your native language, if you need it that is! But often programs have actors speaking clearly and with good grammar. I watched an episode of El Ministerio del Tiempo last night and it was great! I recommend the site rtve.es for series and news etc. for Spanish.
  7. Read. If you can, get your hands on a novel, maybe one you’ve read before so you know what happens, but trust me, this really helped not only to widen my vocabulary but also to get used to ways of saying things, set phrases/idioms, and the grammar structures. I read the Fault in Our Stars (Bajo la misma estrella) only in Spanish, I’ve also read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter y la cámara secreta), The Last Song (La última canción) and the Hunger Games (book one – Los juegos del hambre) in Spanish, and am currently reading Gone Girl (Perdida). I haven’t managed to get my hands on a Russian novel yet but I’m probably going to try and get the first Harry Potter on my kindle! [*Fun fact, in Russian they sometimes pronounce the ‘H’ sound (х) as a hard G sound like in gutter (г), so Harry Potter is Gary Potter to Russians (Гарpи Поттер), but for us English lot at least this makes it take on a whole different meaning! 😉 ]
  8. Do things that scare you – go for a train journey somewhere so that you have to buy tickets, go to the cinema or theatre, etc. These experiences will bring you into contact with people who don’t speak English/ your native language and will help you use what you have on the spot. 

So there you go – my 8 pieces of advice for helping you use and develop your language on your year abroad. Hope this helps! 

1st few days in Madrid (ever!)

I’m here!

It’s really cool here actually – well, not cool, it’s hot! Like 33 or so degrees C every day hot. But I’ll take that! I’m already getting a bit of a tan on, and my hair is starting to turn ginger in the sun as it tends to do…

DSC06171

Just chillin’ with Velazquez outside one of the entrances to El Prado – the famous museum/gallery. 

So for those who are new to my blog, HELLO! I’m a student at Exeter University in the UK, studying Spanish and Russian, and I am currently on my year abroad! I found out about Family and Aupair through my university and applied through them to work as an Au Pair this summer, and so for the next 2 months I am living in Madrid, practising my Spanish and trying desperately to tan in the mean time. And of course, revising some Russian before I fly out to St Petersburg in September.

The family I’m staying with are all lovely. They have a little girl who I will be looking after before and after school in June, and then all day every day in July when her school breaks up for the summer. There’s a communal pool here where they live, and also a communal gym. It’s really sunny and beautiful, and although Catalunya (Figueres) will always have a piece of my heart, Madrid is also now one of my favourite places. On Sunday, my family kindly showed me around the city centre, avoiding the parades for the Real Madrid victory against Italy (Juventus) on Saturday night before, which we went to watch at a friends’ house a few blocks away. It was really fun and we ate hot dogs / I had a soy burger and ALL the olives oh my days!! I’m so glad that I discovered that I like olives last summer because I’m definitely eating my fill of the good stuff here.

I’m hoping to meet up with some other au pairs while I’m here in the next week or so to make some new friends and see a bit more of my new home, and of course, to take more pictures!! I’ll insert a few from last Sunday here.

DSC06151

No idea whether this is an important work of art or not but I thought I’d take a picture anyway 🙂

I think that because the family has been so kind and welcoming, I don’t feel homesick at all, so I’ve actually not messaged home all that much. In fact, my mum has had to message me a couple of times! So this is a good sign, especially as last summer I had a not-so-amazing au pair experience in August.

I have a little bedroom with a desk and wardrobe all to myself. It’s honestly so nice here I feel like my descriptions are not doing it justice. For now, because the little girl I’m looking after is so young, I’m mostly just teaching her some vocab here and there, things like ‘scooter’ and ‘pool noodle’ etc. and in the kitchen we’ve stuck some blank pieces of paper up so we can write down new words and then go over them at meal times. The parents have one too and are constantly asking me what something means in English or how to say things. And obviously I do the same but in Spanish. I’ve caught myself thinking in Spanish a lot more, and I know that by the time I go home in July it’s going to be hard to switch back! That’s definitely a big positive thing about living with a family in Spain. You have to speak Spanish from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed. All day. It’s the best way to improve, and you learn a lot of functional and conversational stuff. I think I’ll have to write a post with tips about how to make sure you make the most of your year abroad and learn as much as you can vocab/grammar/language wise.

But anyway, my year abroad has officially begun and all is going well, so I’m happy 🙂 This week, I’m free to do what I want during the day, so I tend to do some Russian revision and more of my TEFL course, go to the little gym and speak as much Spanish as possible! Oh, and sun bathe 😉

That’s it for now… but I’m going to aim to at least post once a week if not more! I’ll try and post some pictures of the family once I know that it’s ok to do so… but I want to respect their privacy if that’s what they want. ‘Til next time!

Year two: reflections 

 

Yay! Second year completed – no more exams, revision… just relaxing and enjoying the sunshine! Not for long though..

I fly out to Spain next weekend for 2 months to work as an au pair, and then come back for august before flying out to Russia for 9 months. Is this real life? I cannot believe that it’s happening already! My year abroad is finally upon me, and I have to admit I’m excited but also a little nervous.

Last summer I had a not so optimal au pair experience, so I’m really hoping and praying that this year won’t be like that. I’ll be living in Madrid until the end of July, and I’ve never been there before so it will all be new to me! I’m hoping to make some friends at the church I’ve found and intend to go to while I’m there, but I also hope to gel well with the family.

I will take as many pictures as possible so hopefully a few will end up on here, and also I’m going to do some year abroad posts – things like what to do/what not to do and how to go about studying your language while abroad and making the most of your time out here. I hope it will be useful!

The weather in Exeter is beautiful right now, I’m loving the sunshine and clear blue skies. I’m missing my church camp back home (this weekend) which is sad, but I rang my family yesterday to top up on some lurve before I go home on Tuesday. Yeah, I know, I’m already about to go home and leave for the summer!!

I will admit, this year hasn’t been easy. It’s been somewhat easier than last year in the sense that I knew what to expect a little more. You can usually tell the difference between and fresher and a second/third year because of their confidence levels and how they behave. I definitely feel more confident and well on my way to being a True Adult. Although I’m not sure I’ll ever fully grow up! But I can at least feed myself decently well and put a wash on once a week so we’re doing good so far!

I was so glad to walk out of my last exam yesterday knowing that that was it. The thing is, I’d been struggling with the more complicated grammar stuff we learned this year in Russian, and even Spanish was giving me a run for my money! The step up was bigger than I expected… so I had to amp up my game and work harder than last year. I pretty much coasted last year – which is not the best approach, but then it doesn’t count towards your degree so most people do even less work than I did!

So yeah that’s the first thing – this year was harder work-wise. Because it counted. So everything had to be good. I had to read tonnes of books and things while doing all of my grammar/homework for my lectures and preparing before the lecture in order to write my coursework in my second term. And I had to revise hard over Christmas for my January exams, which is never fun at that time of year.

Secondly, I learned to trust God a lot. I couldn’t work a lot this year because I was so busy with my studies, so there were some hairy moments where I had barely enough money for food and things. Don’t worry – I made it through, but it was a little rough in places and this is also partly because I didn’t really earn a lot of money last summer. It’s hard to get a job as a student because bosses look at your CV, realise they’ll train you up to only lose you again in 3 months and say nah not having you. #studentlife.

But this summer that won’t happen as I’m working as an au pair through a company and the family has to pay you. But anyway, back to my point. I had to learn to trust God with my finances… to trust it would all be OK and try and still meet up with friends even if I couldn’t buy food or a coffee, but to just be there to enjoy being with them because that’s the important bit.

Lastly, I learned to forgive myself and love myself for who I am. It’s something I’ve found hard my whole life, and I’m sure I’m not alone with this. But this year has really been a turn around in many ways… and that has definitely been helped by reading the Bible and discovering what God thinks about me and not worrying about what other people think.

Bring on summer… I hope you’re all well and enjoying the weather as much as I am!

Exams and year abroad plans

Why hello there….

You guys… I’m sorry I’ve not posted in forever, life has been so hectic and over Easter I just needed the break to clear my head and get ready for my final exams (eek!).

Yup, I have 5 exams… most people only have 2 or 3. But no, language students get more. I’ve now taken 4 of those 5 exams, the last one is on the 25th, so think of me if you can between about 9.30am-11.30am!!

Aside from the fact that I’m busy cramming and revising my socks off, I’m also madly applying to work as an au pair in Spain this summer before Russia in September. I think I possibly mentioned plans to go to Mexico in a previous post, if not, then briefly; I was considering going to Mexico this summer but the plans never got off the ground, mainly due to the cost of flights etc. and how it was kinda unwise to spend so much money on that when I needed to pay for my visa and insurance etc for Russia.

Basically, I have Russia on the brain right now so be warned, I will be talking about it A LOT as of now. Hopefully you’re all interested anyway!

OK so I’ve bought my insurance, paid my deposit and admin fees…. so I am officially GOING. Which is kind of scary when you think about how a year ago it felt so far away and downright impossible.

I’m working my socks off in the Ram trying to pay for various flights and such, so that means balancing work with revision. So yeah, that’s why I’ve not been writing in a long time. I’ve been so busy! Yesterday the fire alarm went off while I was in the Ram kitchen and we all had to evacuate… something about oil leaking into the cellar and setting the alarm off. I don’t know exactly. But it was pretty exciting!

I’ve had some pretty good times meeting up with friends – went round to one friend’s house for tea and a movie the other night which was lush… she always cooks amazing food and it’s so much fun to hang out and chill. We watched The Pacifier with Vin Diesel – funny film which I used to watch a lot as a kid….

So yeah sorry this is a brief update I’m sending out there into the world… not sure if any of you remember me I haven’t posted in SO LONG. I’ll try and post more often and the plan is to post a lot while I’m on my year abroad to help future language students out.

So ’til my next post – have a great rest-of-the-week!!