Halfway!

Hello once again,

It’s April already and my parents have come and gone for their little trip out here to visit me. I miss them already, but it’s hard to be down for long when the sun is shining and the temperature in St Petersburg is so warm!!

5 days ago when my parents first arrived we were able to stand on the edge of the Neva, which was still covered in ice.

Me standing on the edge of the River Neva. It wasn’t safe enough to really walk out further onto the ice, but it was thick enough at the edge – at least 1.5-2 feet thick!

We went to Peterhoff again and the sea was frozen along the Gulf of Finland – people were walking on the sea, guys.

The Gulf of Finland from the Summer Palace in Peterhoff.

But now it’s all melted and the sun is out and the brown muddy grass patches are turning green. The city looks so different already – and all in the space of 5 days!

The River Neva 4 days later, pretty much completely free of ice.

That was the River Neva yesterday afternoon after we’d walked around the Church of the Savior on Blood and the Fields of Mars (a memorial garden for fallen heroes in the wars).

The Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood – named this way because of the attempted (and ultimately successful) assassination of Alexander II just outside when it was being built, I believe.

Inside, all of the walls are completely covered with mosaic representations of all of the key Biblical figures and of scenes of the main stories from the life of Jesus. It was truly amazing – and my favourite tourist attraction so far.

After that we walked along Nevsky Prospekt and got presents for people. Nevsky is the Main Street in the middle St P. It’s like Oxford Street in London.

Back on Friday we climbed the Colonnade to the top of St Isaac’s Cathedral, which was so cool because you could see for miles, even though it wasn’t sunny that day.

St Isaac’s Cathedral.

At the top of the colonnade.

The Bronze Horseman – featuring Peter the Great (1st).

We also walked around the Bronze Horseman (above), featured in a famous poem by Pushkin, who, for those that don’t know, is a very very famous Russian poet.

After that we finished the day spending 5 hours walking around the Hermitage.

The State Hermitage / Winter Palace

The main square – Place Square

The peacock clock – believed to have been made by James Cox. It’s an automation and still in working order, although we weren’t able to go hear it as they only let it play every Wednesday at 7pm.

On Saturday we spent the entire day at Peterhoff Palace – the summer palace by the Gulf of Finland. It was sunny but really bitterly cold that day because of the wind. One of my friends from church came with us. None of the flowers were out yet and the fountains were still switched off so they wouldn’t freeze up over the winter, but lots of renovation work was going on so it should be really beautiful in a few weeks when everything’s in full bloom.

The Samson fountain – removed by the Germans when they took over Peterhoff during the Second World War and probably melted down. This is the newer copy made after the war. The other statues were buried in the grounds and never found by the Germans, so they are still the originals, or so I’ve been told.

Then on Sunday, we went to Hope Church and my parents got to meet all of my friends from church!!

After church we ate at my favourite restaurant, Ukrop (it means Dill in Russian – dill is the herb Russians put on everything they eat!). Then I showed them my uni and Smol’ny Cathedral.

Later that evening, we went and listened to a Russian Composers concert at the Music Hall – it was my parents’ wedding anniversary and I only managed to find the tickets last week. I was worried I wouldn’t find anything as events get booked up very quickly, so it was a real answer to prayer!

This concert was the last of 5 from a series called Musical Journey – the first 4 included music from France, Spain and Italy. This concert featured exclusively Russian music – by Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff.

This morning we walked down the road to Kazanskii Cathedral and heard a sung mass (I think!) and it was so interesting and the singing was so beautiful. These last few days have definitely been an unforgettable experience overall.

Now I’m sat on my bed catching up with year abroad work and uni work and missing my parents (they’re the best!), but feeling positive because the sun is shining and winter is over. I only have 2 months left here and I want to make them count!

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to study in such a beautiful city full of such interesting culture. Though this year has had its challenges, it’s definitely widened my view of the world and taught me a lot!

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Long time no speak!

Hey everyone,

I can’t believe March is almost over already! Where is the time going?

Here in Russia, it’s not really spring yet. We still have snow and ice everywhere, and the temperature is anywhere between -12 to 0 degrees most days. To us, this feels like spring, because after -24 degrees Celsius I think anything would! I’ve talked to some of my Russian friends about the weather and they reckon it should start to get a bit warmer soon over the next few weeks. But you never really know here.

Last night, I stepped out of my comfort zone again and went to a different house group from my church – basically, the one I normally go to on Saturdays branched off from the main one, which meets on Thursday evenings. I was messaged earlier yesterday, never having been before, and told simply to ‘come’, with no information as to where it would be or when it would start. Fortunately, he got one of the other girls from my usual house group to meet me at the metro station at 18:30. We got there, and started the group off like a regular house group, with some worship songs and prayer time, and then suddenly all the guys got together and surprised us with a late International Woman’s Day party. International Woman’s Day (8th March) is a massive deal here in Russia – we had the day off uni and everything. This celebration was a little late, but it was really sweet. They made eloquent Russian speeches (these are long and very heartfelt!) and they had made us a meal and pudding and wouldn’t let us do anything to help etc. Even getting ourselves a drink wasn’t allowed – they insisted on doing everything! Then after that they gave us a little present in a bag. A mini-cactus and some chocolate. It’s one of the most bizarre but amazing experiences I’ve had so far since coming to Russia. I loved it – though I felt a little awkward and unsure of what to do at some points during the evening! After that on our way home to the metro we all had a little snowball fight and chatted. It was a good evening and I’m so glad I didn’t talk myself out of it and make my excuses!

I’m also glad they got me a cactus. It’s not the most usual flower to get someone on women’s day I don’t think, but they are really hard to kill and need little to no water… and judging by my success (or rather, lack of) with other plants in my room, this one might actually live. It’s not that I neglected them. I honestly don’t know what I did wrong. I watered them once a week like my mum told me, I kept them near the window so they had enough light. I made sure the room wasn’t too cold. Both of them ended up dying. What can I say? I tried!!

Uni this and last week has been a little easier. I feel like I’ve had a small break-through in my russian language acquisition… I understand so much more now, and I can say so much more. My russian is much more accurate generally in terms of declensions (don’t worry if you don’t know what those are – but if you do you’ll understand the struggle that is the case system).

EMN is good too – tonight we’ll be watching and discussing an English classic – the Princess Bride.

All in all, these last few weeks have been challenging but rewarding – I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere with russian this term. I even got round to picking my modules for this coming year in Exeter – I’m so excited to be doing modules on spanish in business and advanced spanish translation. I do miss Exeter a little bit, so I can’t wait for September, though I definitely don’t want to wish away my time here.

There you go, a short and (hopefully) sweet update on my life here in St Petersburg since the last time I posted; (I can’t remember when that was, I’ve fallen off the bandwagon a bit what with all of my work and things!).

More to come I’m sure! Until next time,

до скоро!

Week 3

Привет ребята,

Sorry for the late update – I’ve been rather ill these last 3 days and not been up to doing anything more than some homework / revision and watching films or reading a book. Oh, and walking on a river…. more of that later!

I got hit with this cold/flu-ey thing on Wednesday and then it just got worse through Thursday (I think I had a high temperature) until by Friday and Saturday I stayed home all day and didn’t go out. Today feels like I might finally be getting rid of it, thank goodness, so I should still make it to church!

I think partly due to being ill and partly because I had little time to get work done last weekend in Moscow, my lessons this week weren’t so great. I kept getting basic stuff wrong and struggled to answer questions or follow the lesson at all. But I’m hoping that this coming week I’ll be a little more prepared now that I’ve had time at home to get some work done.

On Thursday, despite my high temperature, I went to see Black Panther in Russian (Чёрная Пантера) with some of my Russian house group friends, and I am proud to say I understood 85-90% of it and could even laugh at most of the jokes. (And make a few of my own afterwards). It’s definitely a positive!

Last night there was another student party but I started to feel worse again halfway through so I got a taxi home. Taxis here are so much cheaper than in England. A trip across the city which took about 30 mins probably only cost 235₽… (wait for it I’ll calculate what that is in GBP) £3! That was using Uber. The driver was very chatty, but unfortunately I wasn’t, however he seemed to make sense of what I was saying (my voice sounds a little bunged up with cold at the moment).

The weather seems to be getting warmer here now, and the days are so much longer! The sun comes up at 8am and stays up until at least 6:30-7pm, so we’re all not feeling quite so tired as last term. It was so hard not to just go to bed at 8pm every night because it got dark so early! We’ve actually had a fair bit of sun over the last few days despite the temperature reaching an all time low of -24 (Celsius) last week. This week is a lot warmer, the days start off at about -15 and get up to -7. You have to understand that for us this is like spring weather. After -24 you would think so too, trust me! Today for example, it is currently -16, but will get up to -9 by the afternoon. And the sun will be out so it’ll be pretty and crisp and fresh.

Yesterday I went to get a few bits and bobs from the shops (I was fed up of being inside all day) and I went and had a little walk on the river near where we live. Obviously I wouldn’t have done it if there hadn’t have been other people on it too… and I didn’t stay for long once I noticed the massive cracks in the ice down the middle…. but it was a cool experience nonetheless! Later when I passed over the bridge of that same river with my flat mate to try and go to the student party, the ice had melted and pools of water had gathered on top, so I guess I picked my moment well!!

The cold might be partly to do with why I got ill, as you can end up standing around outside waiting for buses a lot – my bus to uni is often late so I have waited for up to 20 minutes sometimes. And that’s in the morning when it’s coldest.

Overall though if you have a good enough coat you don’t feel it so badly and cope with it pretty well. And a scarf and hat too.

The snow on the streets has melted and all we have is black ice everywhere, most of it covered with sand so you don’t slip. It can be annoying when you get stuck behind a babushka walking really slowly…. or worse, behind two of them walking really slowly and nattering away about their health or the weather (two popular topics Russians like to complain about) – swaddled up in their massive fur coats. You just can’t get round them!

It does make me laugh though to see all of the emails about how my uni in England has closed due to “extreme weather conditions”… but I do understand that England isn’t equipped or used to dealing with so much snow and severely low temperatures of -4 😉

Anyway, here I think I’ll sign off – I still have an literature essay to write (in Russian – *gulps*) and a few other things to do before church today. I hope these posts are still interesting to you all 🙂 I’m going to do some other posts soon about what I recommend students bring with them to Russia etc – a kit checklist.

I hope you all have a good week!

Увидимся!

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!

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!

How to cope with Culture Shock

Hello guys!

Small update before I get into my best tips for dealing with culture shock. So it’s midway through my penultimate week and I’ve been Christmas shopping and hanging out with friends as much as possible before I come home. I’ve made some really amazing friends through the student house group I go to on Saturdays and through the English movie night I go to on Fridays. Oh and through church itself on Sundays. All of these things keep me busy and I’m starting to have more up weeks than down ones now, which is so encouraging! My Russian has improved a lot and I’m sure it will improve even more after Christmas when I’m back for 5 months!!

I’m so excited about Christmas, and to make things even better and cheer us up in our final couple of weeks before we fly home, it finally snowed here in St P!

It really helped to pick our moral up off the floor (we all know that end-of-term feeling) and got our excitement up for Christmas. I don’t know where this year has gone to be honest; probably because I’ve been here there and everywhere with uni and travelling abroad etc, and I’ve just not had time to sit down and relax in one place so Christmas is going to be a great time to do that with family.

This and next week I’m taking a load of exams, which don’t count towards my degree but I want to do well in to prove that I’ve improved, so I’ve been revising and working for them. This Thursday I’m meeting up with some other girls from church to prepare for the Student Christmas party on Saturday evening, which is going to be really fun. I’m going to cut out all of the paper snow flake decorations and help make mice pies etc and on the actual day I’m going to wear my Santa hat and Christmas leggings. Just getting into the spirit and all 😉

Christmas definitely couldn’t come any sooner, and although I know I’ll probably miss my friends from Russia while I’m home I also know that I need the break. I’m still not really all that sure when I’ll be flying back out here yet but probably sometime around the end of January or the first week of February.

Christmas, Christmas, Christmas… it’s all that’s on my mind!

Anyway, here are my best tips for how to deal with culture shock. They might not all work, and you don’t have to do all of them, but they are here as suggestions to try and help you settle in a new culture:

  1. Don’t isolate yourself. Join some kind of group with a similar interest – if you like dancing, join a zumba class; if you’re a believer, join a church; if you’re into sports, join a sports club, and so on.
  2. Isolate yourself. Let me explain – sometimes, everything will just get a bit much and it is quite easy to end up being out every single day trying to make the most of your experience here and saying yes to everyone and everything. While this is good, sometimes it can’t hurt to have some time to yourself to recharge. Especially if you’re an introvert. My first 3 weeks were so ram-packed that eventually I had to be like, no, we’re staying in and having a pyjama day this Saturday and we’re not going to see anyone or do anything. If it will keep you sane, make sure you schedule these times in where you just relax.
  3. Try something new – something that scares you! I was terrified – literally, shaking with terror – at the thought of joining the student home group, mainly comprised of Russian students. I genuinely thought they would realise that I don’t always understand or know what to say properly and kick me out and be like ‘you can’t come back here’. As if they would be so mean! Turns out they are such a lovely group of people and they love hearing what I have to say and are always happy to help me out if I can’t remember words. Now I wonder what I was so worried about!
  4. Keep in contact (friends and family at home). Some people drop off the face of the planet when they go on their year abroad and resurface when they get back in the summer. I had a friend that did this – he was studying Arabic, and I messaged him when he’d just got out there and then 10 months later finally got a reply (he was apologetic!). While this might work for some, you’ll find re-entry into your old life so much easier if you stay connected.
  5. Don’t complain too much. It’s ok to process what’s happening to you with your family and friends, but try and look for the positives about your new home and not always compare it to home. Remember, this new place isn’t wrong, it’s just different. The people that live here don’t know any other way of living – to them this is normal. And what is normal anyway? Everyone think’s they are ‘right’ in their own head. You need to challenge this view and widen your perspective, so try and take the challenge.
  6. Think about the positives. I’m so grateful to be here and making the most of all of the new and wonderful opportunities that are available here… I’m definitely growing as a person (confidence especially!) and learning to trust God more with every area of my life, and personally that’s really important to me. Also, not many people have the guts to go on a year abroad – it definitely makes you stand out from the crowd.
  7. Accept that you will possibly never be fully converted to the new culture and that that’s ok. Not everyone worries about this necessarily, but you can kind of feel like you have to be a native by the time your year is up… and you just won’t adjust that much or be able to speak the language that well unless you’re an absolute genius or were already studying the language before uni. And it’s ok. Your language will still have really improved!

I hope these tips help.

The tiredness is real…

[Edit: I thought I’d already posted this but I must have forgotten! Here it is, one week late!]

Hello all,

Here is my not-so-weekly update post! This and last week have been so tiring. Last week, it was like I wasn’t getting enough sleep and in lessons I couldn’t get anything right. The tiredness just made it worse, and made my mood worse. By the weekend, I was really having a low moment! This week, by contrast, has been better in the sense that I was able to focus better in lessons and I wasn’t as tired from not sleeping well, so I felt like my Russian improved slightly. But I’m still tired because for some reason my normal bus, the number 5 trolley bus, keeps not appearing at the uni end of my route, so I’m having to walk 30 minutes to the end of Nevsky prospect to get a number 5 or 22 to get home, so it’s taking me even longer basically. And travelling takes up so much of your day, and it really tires you out. So basically at the moment I’m this massive ball of exhaustion, and I don’t want to do my work when I get home, and because the daylight hours are getting shorter and shorter, I’m wanting to curl up and sleep as early as 7:30 in the evening! The sun doesn’t rise until 9am, and starts going down anytime from 4pm. So we’re not seeing a lot of sun here in St P!

The temperatures aren’t too bad, although they hang around 0-1 degree (Celsius). The inside of every building is really well heated, so you don’t need your coat when your indoors. Everyone on the street is wearing these massive insulated coats which go down to the top of their knees. They look like they are wearing sleeping bags, basically. And everyone is wearing a scarf or hat – some children are wearing full on snow suits. Still no actual snow yet though. We were told it would definitely snow before the end of October, but so far we’ve only had this kind of half-rain-half-snow slush occasionally. Mostly just rain and wind. And every day is cloudy.

Apart from the tiredness life here is kind of the same as normal. Most of my classmates are also feeling really tired – more than normal – so it’s not just me. We’re all struggling with culture shock still in some ways. I don’t intend to speak badly of Russia – people do that way too much already, especially in the media – this is more outwardly processing some of the things I’m experiencing and that challenge my Englishness if that makes sense. It’s little things, that just nag at you. For example, in Russia, people don’t like to plan ahead. Last minute plans are totally normal, and last minute plan changes don’t even cause people to blink. I, however, like to have some kind of loose plan ahead of time, depending on what it is… so you can see how this would challenge my ability to just be flexible and go with the flow and try and live like a Russian person would.

Recently, I struggled because my host ‘mum’ arranged something for me which I didn’t want to do. She came and asked me ‘what time can you do tomorrow’, and I didn’t know how to say that I didn’t want to do it so I ended up naming a time, and then the bus made me get home really late from uni which meant I had less time to do work that day, which made me stay up later to get work done and added to how tired I’ve been feeling already.

It’s funny because you never think that you’re going to have a problem. You think you’re so open minded. But when you have to live somewhere else full time for a longer period of time, you realise just how different it is and how all the little things really get to you. It definitely teaches you to be more patient and flexible. But sometimes it does get to you a bit, and that’s why my friend from Church kindly let me stay in her flat for the weekend to give me a small break from everything.

Blog post-

Hello once again, and sorry for my delay in updating you all on my life here in St Petersburg! It’s been a very busy week and I am officially exhausted. But it’s been a great one, for all the business.

Last week was really hard – I was very tired and adjusting to the time difference again after being home for a week at the end of October, which meant that I ended up making simple and silly mistakes in all of my lessons and in any conversations I then had with people outside of class. This week, however, I had some small breakthroughs – so I want to take a minute to feel a **tiny** bit proud of myself for that! I used some new words for the first time, and realised I understood so much more than at the start of September.

At the English movie night on Friday, I was put in the beginners group, which meant that I had to translate a lot of what I was saying into Russian afterwards, which was challenging but I managed to do it and people complimented my Russian, which is so great to hear!

Then, yesterday, I did something really scary, and went along to the new Russian student community group with one of my English friends who had been studying Russian for longer and had been going to the group before. Sadly, my friend is leaving next Saturday and won’t be coming back to Russia because the second part of her year abroad will be spent in Germany, so she kindly offered to introduce me to everyone and offer moral support. I was so scared on the way there in the metro because I was worried they’d do something crazy like kick me out because my Russian isn’t always brilliant and I can’t always understand everything, although as I said earlier I’m seeing improvements finally. But they were all really nice and there was no pressure to talk if you didn’t want to, which was good. I understood parts of it, and I joined in with the icebreaker game and singing at the beginning with no problems, although I did make a few grammatical mistakes. I didn’t want to join the group to practice my Russian though, I know that my Russian is no where near good enough really yet. It was a huge leap, and to be honest I’m wondering if I’m trying to run before I can walk by going now instead of after Christmas (which would be a very Charis thing to do). But I really wanted to join to make some Russian friends, people my age, and also people who believe the same things that I do. They are all really lovely, and although Russians can seem really unfriendly at first, once they know you a bit better they are really kind and want to know everything about you.

It was hard though, because there’s kind of a “western version” of Russian, where they’ve modified their word order etc to be able to make more sense to foreigners, but I f they come from further east they tend to use what is known as “proper Russian” which is a bit different! So it’s a really steep learning curve, but hopefully with time I’ll get better at it.

Anyway, today I’m off to church and then back to my homestay. I stayed a couple of nights at a friends house to have a small break from everything.