Week 2 – settling in.

I wasn’t sure what to write about this time, so this post will probably just string together a load of random experiences which I’ve noticed through the week into a general update/week in my life.

Starting with Monday morning… I freaked out on the way to my bus stop because I walked past a whole queue of trolley-buses (all number 5, the one I always get because it takes me closest to the uni and returns me to the stop outside my front door). They weren’t moving, and I thought maybe something was wrong. I waited at the bus stop anyway, anxiously observing this random stack of buses that weren’t moving… and then the first one in line came to life and stopped at the stop and we all got on and everything was fine. Weird.

I’ve also been kicked off the number 5 bus twice on two different occasions and in two different locations. I’m still not really sure why (it wasn’t just me, everyone had to get off), but I think it had something to do with the bus not going to the end of it’s route for some reason. There was no explanation offered to the bewildered passengers. I guess this situation calls for the common phrase used whenever something weird or unconventional happens here; ‘This is Russia’. Apparently anything goes!

On Monday, I found my lessons really challenging and I felt really overwhelmed. I think the material used at uni is harder on purpose so we are stretched and learn more. By the time the day had finished (at 5) and I got home (two hours later at 7… I kept missing the bus at every bus stop on the way home and it’s at least 89 mins walk but when you’re tired it’s even longer) I was feeling pretty miserable. Fortunately my babushka is really kind and she reassured me that my Russian is really good. I find I get home and the simple every day conversations are so much easier. I had a lot of homework to do for Tuesday but by the time I’d finished tea and had a chat with my flatmate who was interested in what the uni was teaching me etc, I got rung by a friend of a friend who visits the ladies prisons here in St Petersburg, and I had a lovely conversation in Russian with her on the phone. I’m terrified of ringing people up in England because I’m always worried they’ll have an accent I won’t understand or something (those call centres though!), so the fact that I was able to talk to an almost stranger for the best part of an hour on the phone in Russian and understand almost everything really boosted my confidence in myself. And this is only week 2! 34 to go…. but let’s not think about that too much yet! Then I ended up messaging my parents for the rest of the evening before going to bed… I needed an early night so I gave up on work and decided to do it in the morning.

On Tuesday, I had a better day at uni. I slept better during the night, my lessons were interesting and I just felt like I did a lot better and was more switched on. I really like my grammar teacher – she’s a no-nonsense kind of person but she has a sense of humour. I get the sense we’ll learn a lot from her, and she seems to believe in us which is nice. After uni I came home and got on with some work and began reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (in Russian)… I’m hoping to read a little bit every day, and because it’s my book I’ll write translations for words I don’t know in in pencil. In the evening I went out with some new friends from church and some of their friends to Укроп (Ukrop) again, so I had a really lovely evening. They have really nice food there! We talked and laughed a lot, and we talked about how in the first few months it’s all about settling in and taking care of yourself rather than worrying about your reports/assessment for your year abroad. It’s useful to be able to have these conversations with people who’ve lived here for a year already and know and remember what their first few months were like. They’ve been really kind giving me points cards and old coats and umbrellas to prepare me for my year in Russia and just having some friendly faces (even though most are leaving over the next few weeks) is really helpful.

A picture I took when crossing the River Neva on my way to Ukrop on Tuesday evening 🙂


Wednesday was okay … My lessons weren’t as good as yesterdays but they weren’t as bad as Mondays and I got through them in the end. I had to buy some more vegetables on the way home and an umbrella (the one my friend from church gave me was a bit broken and useless this morning when it was pouring). I FaceTimed my Mum and chatted for a bit and caught up on some work before watching a film and some videos on YouTube to end the evening before bed. This was another thing I talked about with one of the girls last night… she said people don’t tell you that they have low points/average nights in on their year abroad. They just show the highlights on their Instagram feed and talk about their travels… but actually for the most part it’s just a normal year of studying. It’s helpful to know that now rather than realise it later. Also, at Christmas most people go home for the whole two months between the end of term one and the start of term 2 in February because apparently winters here are so bad it literally makes you hate rain and snow. Apparently the snow looks great at first, but then cars drive over it and they don’t grit the roads properly so there’s loads of black ice everywhere and all anyone can complain about is the grit and compare which parts of the city grit the roads right and which parts don’t. Fascinating, I know. 😉

Thursday was also not so bad – I enjoyed my phonetics lesson – we all practice getting the stresses on different words aloud and it sounds like we’re all chanting so it’s kinda funny. It rained again so I was really glad I bought my sturdy new umbrella on Wednesday. I was so proud of myself when I bought it because I was able to talk to the guy at the till when my loyalty card for the shop didn’t seem to work and to say that I was going to pay by card. Little things like that make me happy 🙂 My grammar lesson was hard though – we were revising active participles, and I struggled to learn those in English so you can only imagine how hard it was learning it in Russian! My teacher noticed I was struggling and asked at the end if I’d ever learned them before… and I said yes but how I’d found it hard in English. I had to keep looking out of the window in the lesson to give my brain a little break – and I explained that too, which made her chuckle, but she said I’d understand it soon enough. I hope so! I went for my first run in the evening – my flat mate and babuska all told me to be really careful because men target women running alone. It was rush hour though and I ran along the river, which is surrounded by really busy roads and there were lots of people about so I figured it would be fairly safe. My legs were sore and tired after though – I haven’t run in a while and it was all hard concrete – not good for my knees at all! Fortunately there are some weights in the flat that I’m going to borrow so I’ll do circuits or something in my room and then just lots of walking so it should have less impact on my knees and save me buying gym membership.

Today it’s Friday, And I’m going to go food shopping and later meet up with a friend of a friend and we’ll probably chat in Russian all afternoon. Then later this evening I’m going to go help a friend from church at her charity which helps teach English to Russians -they are having a movie night and watching LaLaLand. 

I’ve now been in Russia for two weeks. Might not sound like a lot but so much has happened to me in those two weeks. It’s hard to get it all in here – you can’t really describe the change in sights, smells, tastes unless you’ve been here yourself and tried it. 

On Monday next week I’ll be handing my passport over to get my visa changed to multi entry. Hopefully it’ll go through in time for me to still be able to go home at the end of October in my reading week. The visa process can take a minimum of 5 weeks, sometimes longer. I’ve managed to ask to have my passport sent off with the first batch of passports so hopefully there won’t be a problem! It’ll be nice to pop home again briefly before the weather gets really bad! 

I don’t have a lot of plans for this weekend which may be a bad idea because I need to keep busy to stop myself from thinking about home too much, but at the same time I have a lot of homework so my brain will be busy even if I don’t manage to go out anywhere! Of course I’ll still be going to Hope Church though! At the moment it’s the highlight of my week because it’s a little piece of home – I know all the songs even though we’re singing them in Russian half the time. 

That’s my update for this week! 

 

 

 

 

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Day 5: Feeling at home away from home.

Yup, still here. I don’t even know where the airport is so I don’t know how I’d get to the plane anyway. Today I felt really homesick for various reasons. I’m just going to put that out there and be completely honest. People say your year abroad is the best year of your life. But few of them actually admit just how hard it is the first few weeks and months as you try and adjust to your new ‘home from home’ and get into a routine. So I’m going to be straight up honest about it, ok? It’s hard. It’s so different. It’s not bad different. It’s just not what I’m used to and it’s hard to just adapt straight away.

I guess in this situation you have to focus on the positive things. I love being able to try out my Russian and speak it all the time with my hosts and at uni. All of my lessons are 100% in Russian. And I understand A LOT more than I thought. So that’s a pleasant surprise. The weather hasn’t been too cold so far – it rained today for a few hours, so I got wet on the way to uni (I need an umbrella!!) but I’m home now and dry with my warm furry blanket wrapped around me as I write this.

I probably should talk about my home stay and what it’s like. It’s a flat, and my bedroom is huge! I don’t have a lot of stuff to fill it with though, so it looks a bit empty but it does the job I guess. I have a wardrobe and some shelves, a desk, a desk chair, a small sofa, a mirror and a bed. I thought there wasn’t a radiator but there is, it’s hidden under the window sill. The curtains don’t really open so my room is kinda dim but I don’t mind that during the day as it gives me more privacy and I’m also usually at uni anyway.


Yesterday I had an uncomfortable experience trying to buy a kind of oyster card in the metro. The lady in the ticket booth spoke so fast and she seemed so cross with me. A man in the queue behind me tried to help in Russian but I couldn’t understand him that well either. I think the lady was trying to ask how much money I wanted on the card (I’d given her a 500 rubble note because I’d been told it cost that much, but the card itself only cost 60rubles apparently!) an English speaking guy came and helped at the end but by then I’d got fed up and just told the lady to put all of the money on the card. At least I won’t have to top it up for a while! And it saves me always needing change! I love going to uni on the bus – especially today because it rained for a few hours and I got a bit soaked walking between the last bus stop and the faculty I’m enrolled in for this year. 

This is a подорожник – a kind of Oyster card like they have in London.


I walked for hours yesterday – I wanted to go to some of the book shops on Nevsky to look at prices before buying something and I also took a slight detour to get a picture of the Church of the Saviour on Blood (that’s its actual name).


I got massive holes in my socks though and a blister too. Turns out the socks weren’t actually mine but my sisters so I’ll probably have to buy her some more when I go home! Oops! 

So yeah, St Petersburg is pretty and exciting and new. Hopefully in time I’ll get used to it and feel a bit more like I fit in! I’m now going to get on with my homework and get organised for the weekend ahead – we have “library days” on Fridays so our weekends are 3 days long!! But tomorrow I’m probably going to go with a friend to a place called Petergoff near the Finnish border for the day and on Saturday I might go with another friend to the Hermitage museum so I’ll be really busy!! I think that’s another way of trying to not get too homesick… keeping occupied. 

Obviously I’ll keep you all posted if that does happen!! 

I hope you enjoy me posts and find them interesting! I love hearing from my readers so feel free to comment below!! 

It doesn’t last forever.

This is not a downer post. At least, that’s not my intention.

I want to talk a bit about friendships at uni. Might add in a bit of comparison between first year and second year, giving some experiences. Sorry – I’m a humanities student… essays are my life and always have been. Analysing is what I do…

Friends. They are so important to our development and well being, and especially to our confidence. I know, I know, you shouldn’t care about what people think, you should just be you. But to a certain extent in this world you are going to care, no matter how hard you try. And if you really genuinely don’t – please share your secret with me!

A bit of history is due here: I’ve always been a people-pleaser. I don’t really know why; I guess it’s because I’m a perfectionist (aren’t we all) and I set really high standards for myself. I’ve been bullied before (who hasn’t?) and I can remember all too well the times when I would speak my mind and say what I was really thinking only to meet crushing rejection and have my ‘friends’ gang up on me and make my life miserable for a few days, until we were ‘friends’ again. (Kids can be cruel right?) I would lose myself in my story writing – or journal the experience, you know, to try and get it all out. Now when I look back, I’ve realised it said more about them than it did about me. I always blamed myself, thought that I was the problem. But really they were just jealous, insecure, and wanted to be in control of their friendship group. Now, I’m not saying I never did anything wrong. But I don’t remember doing much to provoke this treatment.

So it sounds sad, but I never really had many friends most of my life until I got to uni. And even now, I only really have a handful of true friends. Ones I would feel comfortable being 100% myself around. Maybe I just go for quality over quantity…

I also have 2 best friends… Elisha (Ellie) who I’ve known since birth (literally) and Ruth, who I’ve known for probably 5 years now. Ruth goes to uni in Glasgow, and Ellie lives and works in Manchester at the moment, so geographically, we are really far apart. But the amazing thing is our relationships pick up from where they left off when we meet. I have made more friends at uni and it’s really amazing – it’s getting to the point where this whole concept of having only one best friend has become ridiculous, because I have many close friends now.

Anyway… on to the comparison. So before starting uni, I was told I’d make tons of friends. Especially in Freshers week. If you’ve been following my blog long enough, you’ll know that Freshers Week wasn’t all it was cracked up to be for me. Everyone was out partying and getting horrifically drunk, and I personally don’t find the idea of that fun. Especially seeing the aftermath every weekend of such antics. You might call me boring, but actually I just think I stayed true to myself and did what felt right for me. I saved a ton of money which would have been spent on club tickets and alcohol… And I did meet tons of people – but half of them I never spoke to again. Because they only really talked to me when they were drunk… because it made them more confident. Again, it says more about them than it does about me. And it’s OK. You wouldn’t be able to keep track of everyone anyway!

The people I found I really clicked with were those on my course – studying the same things as me and as passionate about them as I was. Also at Church, where there will always be a ready-made community ready to accept you with open arms. I made friends with people in the societies I joined… although I haven’t seen them so much this year because I chose to have more time to focus on what I’m really here for: my degree.

And that’s the thing: you’re here to study. That’s why you’re thousands of pounds in debt. You’re here to get a degree. Sure, friends are great. Societies are great. But things like that, they come and go. Friendships are sometimes only for a season or phase.

It’s hard to grasp, but I’ve come to realise this for myself in the last year or so. I moved around a lot when I was younger – my family moved to Watford (London) for a few years, then back to Worcester, then to Spain, then to Worcester. I changed schools a lot, and got used to making new friends, but also to expecting to probably move again. So as I progressed through school and found that some relationships weren’t the best for my growth, I knew that it wouldn’t last forever. And that’s completely normal. In fact, I think that this was what made my life at uni easier in my first year, socially.

Don’t take all this the wrong way – I’m not saying that you shouldn’t invest in your relationships and keep in touch with people. But if you do happen to lose touch with someone, or you find that they are toxic for you and you grow apart, that’s totally fine. And I hope you know by now that who you hang out with has a profound influence on who we grow into. We do become like our friends, to a certain extent.

Oh, and also, people aren’t perfect. Sometimes, you’re going to get annoyed and want to go home and change the scenery for a couple of days – or even a week. I’m currently at home doing just that. Ok, so it’s not all because of friends and stuff – I was stressed from work and, fortunately, I know the warning signs for when I’m getting burned out. Listen to yourself! If you need a break, take it. Whatever gives you that rest… it’s so important. And if you’re finding your friends get on your nerves… that’s fine. It’s not forever (hopefully) but people will annoy you sometimes. You probably annoy someone else too occasionally. (I know, it’s not often something you would think about yourself.) but yeah.

I used to think that going home was a sign of failure. But then my mum pointed out that this was the first time in a year and a half that I’ve come home when things got rough. It’s not failure, or weakness. Other people just don’t talk about it, but really they are having a similar experience most of the time. Everyone’s trying to be brave… and sometimes it’s best to retreat for a bit and recover. It’ll make you stronger, trust me.

I’m just giving my observations here – feel free to agree or disagree. Comment if you’ve had a similar experience/different experience – I would be really interested to know what you think!

It’s not even half way through term yet!

Fellow students – I know you’ve been there!

That weekend when you’re so tired you can’t bring yourself to work, and you kind of feel like you should but at the same time know you need a break. Yes, that’s where I am right now! Yesterday was the worst – by the end of the day I was half asleep in my final lecture (which started at 4:30!) and it’s like I didn’t sleep deep enough or something because I’m still tired!

Assessments are stacking up… not that they haven’t been doing that since week 2 but now it’s even more full on – if that’s possible.

I have some Formatives due by the end of February, and a lot of reading to do (as always). Formatives are basically mid term tests, which don’t count towards your grade, but they are your only point of feedback before you do the Summative, which does count. So basically, if you want to do well, you do the formative. Simples. But stressful. As if doing just the normal grammar/exercises from lessons wasn’t enough. (To be honest, as if turning up to said lectures wasn’t enough! Where’s my medal? 😉  ).

Fortunately I haven’t needed to do Deliveroo this week because I’ve had a lot more work at the Ram. I’m constantly balancing the two, which works out well most of the time because I can adapt to the weather. But also if there isn’t work in one then I just do the other one. Sadly, the Deliveroo app has kept on crashing since before Christmas so I’m glad I’m not part of that drama. Also, it seems as though every day my Team Leader is recruiting new Roos (yes that’s our nickname as riders) and now there are SO MANY of us it’s almost no wonder the app keeps crashing when so many people log in at one time!

Plus, it’s been so cold recently that I probably would have lost my hands to frostbite… it’s actually currently snowing a bit as I write this… not the kind that settles, but it’s pretty 🙂

I’m not the best at selfies but I thought this one summed up my mood that morning 😉


Year abroad plans – a couple of things have changed. Us modern languages students have lectures every week scheduled on Wednesdays to talk us through the key components – so last week it was about our assessment. We have to write reports and compile a portfolio, etc. I can’t remember what the coming lecture is about but they follow the same theme really. Just stuff we need to know.

So yeah it’s set in stone now – I’m going to St Petersburg. I have managed to contact some people from a charity called Love Russia and I’m looking forward to maybe helping out if I can while I’m there. The situation in Russia surrounding Churches etc is a little tricky at the moment; there is a law about sharing your faith with other people and being a ‘foreign agent’… so that is going to be interesting to experience. The church I’m planning to go to is on a ‘watch list’, which sounds quite ominous, but apparently I have nothing to worry about according to my contacts/the people I have met through my friends/family.

I’m taking a module called Understanding Russia, and it’s really interesting learning about the current situation there (and in the world generally – it’s all kind of interlinked). I’m not going to post to much on here about it because at the moment I don’t know if that’s a good idea (as in, if it could affect my getting a visa or something), but if I find out it’s OK then I will. I might have to leave it ’til I get back in 2018! Seems so far away but time literally flies here at uni… no day is the same and I think it makes time seem to speed up. Sometimes it feels like the week only lasts 3 days. Anyone else get this?

On another note: I miss the kitten so much. My family posts pictures of her on Facebook and I wish I could play with her and cuddle her again!! She’s still absolutely bonkers but she’s the cutest.

Absolute tinker 😉


I also miss hugs – feels like at uni you can’t get enough of them! My family knows I love getting hugged a lot… I read a study the other day about how hugs can improve your mood and immune system etc. I can believe it! 😉

Sorry I’ve not posted in a while, I’ve literally had nothing to post about or no time to post in. I have some recipes to post, and some to try, so hopefully that’ll make stuff more interesting on here! I am going to get some flour today hopefully to make some pelmeni (пельмени) or vareniki (Вареники) – they are like dumplings #russianfood – so I’ll try and take some good quality pics this time with my camera and not with my phone. Naturally I’m going to be experimenting making Russian food so I hope you’re all down for that.

Oooh, funny story before I go… I joined the Russian equivalent of Facebook a few weeks ago and a load of strangers tried to add me. I got a couple of Egyptian guys trying to message me and one of them pretty much proposed after a short polite convo, saying he’d fallen in love with my picture etc. I checked all his followers and they are all women -_-. Don’t worry – I don’t add them, I block them or delete the friend requests unless I know them. But they can still message me if I haven’t blocked them. Still, it was a very bizarre experience!!

Anyway, until next time guys – have a good weekend 🙂

Brownies

You guys…. LOOK at these!!!

 

 

Want the recipe? Of course you do! The great thing about these (and most recipes I make) is that you usually have all of the ingredients already and they are super simple. The secret ingredient to these is *drumroll* ….. chickpeas! Yup! Chickpeas – they are amazing and give it a chewy texture 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1.5 cups oats
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup or agave/ liquid-y sweetener of choice (I would add another tbsp. if you’re using maple syrup and it’s not sweet enough for you – test the batter before you put it in the oven)
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder/raw cacao powder
  • 4 tbsp. soy/almond/plant milk (and an extra one-two if the mixture is too dry!)

Chocolate glaze

  • Handful of dates
  • 1/2 cup soy/almond/plant milk
  • 1 heaped tbsp. cocoa powder/raw cacao powder

Method:

1/ Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (Fan 180C/400F/Gas 6) and line / grease a small baking disk 8×8 with baking paper/coconut oil.

2/ Put all ingredients for the brownie into your food processor/blender and mix well.

3/ If the mixture seems too dry add the extra tbsps. of milk

4/ Spread the mixture evenly into the baking dish. It will be quite sticky.

5/ Put in the oven for ~30 mins… I needed less time because I had a fan oven so make sure you check it.

It will have a hard crust when it’s done and will feel like it’s not done in the middle (this makes it chewy!!)

6/ Leave it to cool.

7/ In the meantime make the chocolate glaze by blending the dates and milk in your blender, then transferring them to a small sauce pan and simmering on a lower heat for 5 mins, or until warm and smooth.

8/ Stir in the tbsp. cocoa powder and stir until glossy and smooth. Don’t worry if there are some date chunks left, sometimes they don’t all blend up!

9/ Let the sauce cool down and thicken up before smoothing it on top of your brownies. Cut the brownies into squares/shapes…

10/ Serve!!

 

You can thank me later 😉

 

Sweet Potato Pizza (Crust)

I want to just call it Sweet Potato Pizza but my ingrained pedantic tendency to nit-pick screams at me that this is slightly misleading, as the sweet potato is only in the crust and not the entire pizza itself.

Point made (humour me!) – here’s the recipe. It’s cheap, it’s easy to make, it doesn’t even take that long (I whipped it up in about 1 hour – from scratch that’s not that long!) Plus with practice it takes less time. Baring in mind I had already made a batch of baked potatoes days ago so all I had to do was get them out and use them. So you might want to bake them first – but I’ll include that don’t worry!

img_3738

 

So this is what you’re aiming for. Feel free to add different toppings. I just wanted mushrooms and tomatoes and avocado and spinach. You can use sweetcorn (now that I’ve thought of it I’m kicking myself for not adding it!!)

Ingredients:

[for the base – makes 1 large or 2 small]

2 large sweet potatoes or 3 medium sweet potatoes – yields about 2 cups when baked and soft.

1 and 1/4 cup oat flour (I made mine at home – just get 1 & 1/4 cup porridge oats and mill in your nutri-bullet/blender/food processor).

1/4 cup chickpea flour (or just use another 1/4 cup oat flour – this is more for flavour and to give it that doughy consistency when cooked).

1 flax egg (1 tbsp. freshly ground flaxseed with 3 tbsp. water, left to thicken for ~15 mins in the fridge).

2 tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional but I definitely recommend adding this)

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

 

[toppings]

tomato puree – make sure it’s not too high in salt! I got mine from Aldi and it was double concentrate.

Whatever you fancy – slices of tomato, sweet corn, mushroom, pineapple, spinach, more nutritional yeast (for extra cheesyness)…avocado (though I recommend adding this at the end before serving!). Go WILD 🙂

 

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6
  2. Peel your baked potatoes** and place them along with the oat flour, chickpea flour, apple cider vinegar, and all other base ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix together, adding the flax ‘egg’ at the end.
  3. Line a baking tray with parchment paper/greaseproof paper, or grease some tin foil if you don’t have these! (I had to do this, I used 1 tbsp coconut oil and coated the tinfoil with it with some tissue and then sprinkled more oat flour on top.)
  4. Spread the dough out into a circle shape (or square if that takes your fancy!) It should be a more beige colour than the bright orange that the sweet potatoes were before.

6. Place in the oven for 25 minutes.

7. Prepare your toppings.

8. Get the pizza base out and spread with a good layer of tomato puree for the tomato sauce. Then arrange your toppings on top. (Leave the avocado for when you serve it!).

9. Put back in the oven for another 5-8 minutes until the toppings are cooked. Alternatively you could put it under a grill.

10. EAT. You won’t be able to stop so don’t try!

**To bake the sweet potatoes:
-Preheat oven to 200*C/400*F/Gas mark 6.

-Wash sweet potatoes and prick all over with a knife.

-Wrap each one in tinfoil, or place them on a baking tray lined with grease proof paper/tinfoil.

-Bake for 70 minutes, until a sweet golden/maple-y syrup starts to ooze out.

-Let them cool, then save them in the fridge.