October: Week 2/3

I really need to work on my post titles! It’s hard to come up with quirky names… but hey here’s my ‘weekly’ update. I say weekly in inverted commas because technically this is about a week and a half since my last update post… I’m getting worse and worse at sitting down to write these.

I wish I could say that I’m getting more settled in and life is all hunky dory, but to be 100% honest I am still having some down days. It is getting easier, but the tiredness is real. Some days it’s a struggle to get out of bed, and in lessons I just want them to be over before they’ve begun. I’m also hungry all the time. It’s probably all the walking… I do so much walking! It adds up and you don’t even realise… especially when you’re carrying a heavy rucksack around. I’m not the only one, my classmates have complained about it too. I might have already said that in my last post… I can’t remember 2 days ago let alone a whole week ago. D’oh.

My friend from my class has this theory that it’s all of the pollution… apparently the lack of good oxygen makes your heart and lungs work harder. Sounds feasible! St P is really polluted. Around the rivers the air is a little fresher, but some of us girls have noticed that our hair gets greasy so much quicker here and our skin is so much oilier than normal… and apparently this could be due to the pollution and all of the smoking too. The streets are full of cars and smoke. I’ve noticed that some of the statues on the buildings have this black oily substance on them…. the kind that only comes from a build up of car fumes. Yuck. It makes you appreciate what you had in your home country a lot more, that I can tell you! Can’t wait to come back to England and breathe some fresh air soon. Fingers crossed my passport comes back in time for my October half term.

Another thing we talked about is the phenomenon which is the маршутка [marshootka, or minibus] that you can catch around St P. I haven’t been on one, mainly because of stories people have told me. Apparently they don’t always stop for you so you have to literally jump onto a moving minibus. They are crammed full of people, and you have to yell when you want it to stop because there aren’t any bus stops for them. And the drivers are known to be talking on the phone, driving, smoking and taking the money from their passengers, possibly all at once, though I suspect they do two of these things at a time at most. They are questionable modes of transport. I think I’ll stick to the trolleybus and metro thank you very much!

But yeah, overall it is getting a little easier. I’ll allow that. My pronunciation is improving too… so much so that I get into trouble sometimes. If you can pronounce things decently well and speak fast enough then people think you’re fluent and start speaking really quickly, but then they realise that you don’t understand and you have to say the whole ‘I’m-English-please-slow-down’ spiel.

This year has been so full on!! I’ve not really stopped since Easter, so I’m really looking forward to going home at Christmas and not doing anything for a few weeks. My course starts up in February so as to avoid the worst of the weather in the winter (I think) so I will be home for about 2 months. Sounds like a lot but I know it’ll go quickly!!

I miss home a bit right now as I sit here writing this, because, although my hosts are so kind and lovely to me, my host mum is sitting in the kitchen smoking with her friend, and it’s tea time and I want to make my food, but I don’t want to go in there and inhale second hand smoke and have them staring at me while I make whatever it is I’m going to scrounge together.

They are really kind though. One thing about Russia is that they are great at hospitality. They will literally serve you only the best food as their guests. They’ll buy the best bread, the best cuts of meat, prepare salads with dill on top (dill goes on everything here), make you borsht (beetroot soup), provide the best fruits. My hosts buy boxes of Ferrero Rocher and exotic looking cakes. They always offer me the leftovers and things and they sometimes even let me sit with them and their guests. They never did this when my other flat mate was here so I think maybe they have a soft spot for me. Possibly because I’m vegan and they think I literally only eat cucumber and buckwheat. (Trust me I don’t!) But also possibly because I had a bit of a cry in front of them the other day when I was trying to sort out my new job with their neighbours and feeling down because I wasn’t sure if I would get my passport back in time for my reading week. I was also extremely tired and discouraged after a long hard day of lessons which hadn’t gone as well as I’d have liked. These are the realities of your year abroad and I don’t feel like it would be honest to hold them back. People considering doing a year abroad need to know that the first few months, (if not the whole year)  are tough. You have to be prepared for that.  Fortunately when I had my little cry, my host babushka was very kind about it. She has two daughters so I’m sure she’s seen her fair share of drama. Ever since then she’s told me that if I ever need anything I just have to say, and she’s always willing to help me with any homework I don’t understand, which is so helpful.

Oh yeah, so my new job. A neighbour of ours happened to be visiting my host babushka a few weeks ago when I got home and she said would I like a job teaching her daughter Spanish. I thought that this would be a great idea as I’m more confident teaching Spanish grammar than English grammar and it would help me keep my Spanish going a bit. Not that I’m particularly worried about losing it – it is my second language and I’ve been speaking it for nearly 11 years now. Fun fact: In England we don’t really learn grammar. I know, shocking right? Anyway, I was having some trouble getting her to agree to pay me enough and not make me work too many hours a week, and I think that’s all been sorted out now, thank goodness.

I am so aware of all of the things I’m having to overcome whilst living here. I’ve learned so much and I’ve only been here for 2 months. Having to negotiate my wages with this neighbour was hard – I hate talking about money. I kind of just hope that my employer will pay me a decent amount and that I’ll never have to talk about it. Maybe this is my Englishness coming through. We like to be very subtle instead of just getting to the point because for us it’s considered more polite. I’ve had to step out of my comfort-zone and embrace my inner Russian persona several times, especially with rather overly-keen young Russian men (I’ll possibly do a post on this in the future – total cliff hanger there!). I’ve had to pay my rent, I’ve had to figure out transport systems, I’ve had to buy a sim card and an oyster card and figure out how to top them up. And later this term I might actually have to try and find a flat to rent for next term. Hopefully I can do this with the help of a Russian friend because I think it would be a bit risky to do totally alone.

I also feel so much closer to God out here. I talk about God a fair amount because as far as I’m concerned he is a huge part of my life. I wouldn’t be here doing this without him. I really believe that. He’s constantly reassuring me that I can do this, that I just need to trust him, that it’s all going to make sense in the end because this is part of his plan for my life. It’s preparing me for something bigger later on. My first few months have felt a bit like a wilderness. Everything has been so confusing and challenging, I feel stripped of most things I get my comfort from (family, home, friends, my uni etc) and I’ve been questioning everything. Why am I here? What am I doing? What am I doing this for? What’s the point? Why is this happening, why is that happening…? and so on.  I can’t say I have all of the answers yet but I do know that God is in charge and I know he’ll get me through. I guess sometimes not being able to see clearly is part of the process. Even if it feels like you’re walking in the dark, God is teaching you something, growing you somehow, and later on the experience will be useful.

One verse that has stuck with me through some really tough times in my past is from Philippeans 4:6-7: ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.’

I kind of mostly have this verse memorised now. And it’s still relevant to me. As someone who worries a lot, and struggles to not over-analyse everything all the time, this verse is a good reminder because whenever I start freaking out it kind of floats back into my mind. I’m lucky because I’ve grown up in a Christian home, so I’ve known God my whole life, and whenever things got really hard and overwhelming I just naturally end up talking to God about it. I guess it’s because I know he’s always there and he sees my thoughts and knows me better than everyone else. And that is what keeps me going. That’s my ‘secret’ if you like. Not that it’s really secret anymore!

But anyway… hey, this wouldn’t be a true post if I didn’t end it with another one of the weird things I’ve seen around St P this week…. I saw a guard at the entrance to a hotel’s car park come out with what I can only describe as a giant mirror on a stick like the one the dentist uses and check underneath this guys car as he was about to enter the hotel. I have no idea what he could possibly be looking for. A bomb I suppose. The car looked expensive and the guy looked like a businessman of some kind. I guess these things are normal here in Russia? ‘Til next time guys!

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October

5 weeks down. 31 to go.

Hello again! Here is my weekly post, although nothing much of interest has happened this week so far other than my church’s weekend away to Komarova (near the Finnish border, it’s about an hour north of St P on the train). And yes, I am ridiculously proud of myself for buying my train tickets all by myself AND managing to get a student discount on them!! 

Komarova is right by the Finnish border and the sea!


This week has actually been quite tough for various reasons. I think it didn’t help that I wasn’t as busy, so I missed home more. When I get tired and frustrated I end up thinking about the past and the future/what I’m going home to and wondering about things, but this tends to not help me. Also, my lessons were so hard. I’m not the only one who feels like their Russian has actually got worse recently. Most of my classmates have complained about it, so in a way it’s reassuring that I’m not the only one feeling the strain. I was talking to my flatmate about it and she said she spoke to this lady that teaches the highest level of Japanese but isn’t a native herself, and she said that when learning a language you go through small phases along the way where your brain just can’t take any more in, but then you get through it and advance again. So apparently it’s normal. It’s just frustrating when your in one of those phases.

My flatmate left on Friday morning; her course finished. She was on a different one to me because she’s from America. It was 3 months long, and at a different school to the one I go to (I go to the state uni). I miss her a little bit. She really helped me out during my first couple of weeks when I didn’t know where anything was. She’s given me a load of stuff she couldn’t take with her – a pillow, an extra towel and blanket, some jumpers and clothes and leftover food items (some were from one of her course mates too). She’s been so kind. Apparently my host ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ won’t take anyone new on for a while – they want a break, especially after the last students that were here before us. Apparently there was this guy who wasn’t very easy to live with/get on with. So it’ll just be me and my hosts. To be honest, I think it’ll work out better for me because I’ll speak more Russian. And I think they have quite a soft spot for me. I’m quiet and polite and don’t intrude when they have guests. I’m also quirky and interesting because I’m a christian that meets in a hotel not a church/cathedral (trust me, this is a mind-blowing concept in Russia) and I’m vegan… so I guess my perspective on life is always, shall we say, interesting(?!). My host ‘mum’ invited me for a cup of tea this evening after I’d got back and their friend had left (they came for tea) and asked about my weekend in Komarova, which was nice. We talked about family (her grandson is staying in the spare room for a few days) and I showed her some pictures of mine. Unfortunately I think the caffeine in the tea was the reason I ended up unable to sleep and feeling wired at 1.30am! But I appreciated that she wanted to hear about my church weekend away and spend some time talking to me.

So yeah, the weekend away turned out to be fun and a nice break. I’m so tired, but I got to really solidify friendships and make some new ones, take some silly photos, sing silly songs around a bonfire…. these things make precious memories which last a lifetime. I feel really challenged this year to really discover what it means to give my life and everything I have over to God, to lay it all down to follow him. This might be a bit deep to read on a Monday morning but it’s something I’ve been learning about since getting here, and especially this weekend during the meetings. I had to give up on time with my family, my 21st… and is it worth giving up these things which mean a lot to me? Honestly, from what I’ve learned about God so far, yes it is. It’s not an easy decision to make but I know that his plans for my life and the person he is helping be to become will definitely be so worth it. Every challenge I face will just help me grow and become a stronger and better person. And I love the fact that I don’t have to do it alone, because I believe he is always there, protecting me. 


Urrgghh I don’t feel like uni today…. I feel so tired and Mondays are my longest and hardest days… but I managed to get a lot of my homeworks done for the first part of the week so it means I can take my time this morning and relax a bit. I think my mum might FaceTime later so that will help keep my spirits up for the rest of the week! The days are getting shorter and colder here, we’re definitely feeling the autum-winter weather! 

Until next time 🙂 

First Week.

So, it’s been basically a full week since I first set foot in Russia for the first time. I’ve posted a lot this week; I wanted to make sure that all of my first impressions and experiences were out there for those thinking about studying Russian or visiting Russia, so I’m doing it for you guys!

My first week has had ups and downs. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t felt homesick. I have. I still do. I miss my family and friends, and I’m still not sure how I’m going to make it through 9 months of life here… but it has to be done and I know that I’ll get used to it here eventually.

Today, for example, instead of staying cooped up in my room studying, I took up an offer from a friend through my new church here (Hope Church) and went to a place called Petergof in the suburbs of St Petersburg. It’s kind of a little town on the outskirts, but we went to this massive palace with huge gardens – might be called a Dacha, but I’m not sure about that yet! I spoke Russian all day long! It was intense but worth it for my speaking skills, because when I got home, a simple conversation with my host about how my day had gone was so much easier!

To meet the people I was going with, I had to take the metro for the first time since getting here. Fortunately my practice on the metro in Madrid this summer came in handy and it was all fine and I got to where I needed to be half an hour early!! It was funny because you have to go right down underground for a really long time here, it’s a good 5 minutes on the escalators to reach the station at the bottom! People are reading books and listening to music on their phones and reading the newspaper on the escalator like it’s completely normal. Which I guess it is, for them. For me it was a new experience!

I was told before I came to just say yes to everything. Every opportunity to speak Russian and experience the culture or way of life. I mentioned this tip in my post about how to make the most out of learning a language abroad… So I guess that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking my own advice, and by keeping busy, it helps me not think too much about everything I feel I’m missing out on at home and how homesick I’m feeling! I might go on about this a bit for the first few weeks while I’m here, but I’m just being real so that others getting ready for their year abroad are aware that it’s normal to feel this way. I’m missing my aunts wedding to be here, and I was meant to be a bridesmaid. I won’t be in any of the photos… and I’m from a really big, close family, so you can imagine how that feels. I also spent my 21st running around trying to buy food and a sim card in a strange, new and HUGE city, in Russian. I’m not complaining, it’s just that it’s not ideal exactly!

What also really helps me is knowing that I’m never alone, because God is here with me. I can talk to him at any time and he is always listening, no matter what! I’m so glad I made it to Hope Church on Sunday last week because I’ve already got friends helping me out and trying to connect me up to other people who can help me and look after me a bit in these first few months. It’s good to feel like you have people who are rooting for you when you feel cut off from what is familiar to you.

Anyway, I’m super tired – mentally and physically – from all the walking and Russian speaking I’ve done this week, so I think I’m going to keep this post shorter than the others this time. This weekend I don’t have many plans other than going to church and going shopping again for some more food and things. I may go to the Hermitage (art museum) tomorrow with a friend but that’s not been decided yet.

Time to get some sleep and recuperate! See you soon! 😉

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!! 

Christmas! 

I’m finally getting to the end of the first part of my second year. My year abroad decisions deadline is this coming Friday, and exam week is straight after Christmas in January so we all know what I’ll be doing during my holiday! Yup – working! The good thing is that this Christmas I can still earn money doing deliveroo (they are going to transfer me back home) and babysitting/childminding… so I’ll be able to afford better presents for people hopefully 🙂 I love shopping for the best deals and bargains and getting things I know people will like. Some are more easy than others… for example, I know that my dad shares my love of dates so I usually get him the best dates I can find in Worcester (ASDA – in the Polish/international foods section, you can thank me later!). 

Going home as a student can bring up mixed feelings. I am so lucky to have come from a happy home and amazing family, who I love very much. But when you’re at uni, you kind of get into your own independent routine. The key word here being independent – although it’s great to go home to a clean kitchen, a dishwasher, sofas and plenty of free hugs, you know you’ll miss the independence of your uni home, being able do do whatever you want when you want and not having to wait for others.

It struck me that essentially, you can become a bit selfish at uni. I want to do this at such and such a time…. it’s easy to not have to consider other people and even just not see them for weeks! 

I think the key is to remember that in life you can’t always have what you want, and sometimes that means sacrificing your desires to put someone else first. It’s not easy, but without it your relationships can’t develop. It’s about loving people! 

And what better time of year to do just that? Christmas, for me anyway, is about love – God sending his only son into the world so that we can know Him and have a relationship with him, our Dad in heaven. So much love! 

I don’t really have a picture for this post – it was kind of strung together on the spur of the moment (like most of my posts in all honesty!). But I hope it helps someone out there 🙂 

Merry Christmas (or happy advent!) I may post again once I’m home – who knows? But ’til then, have a good holiday guys 🙂

Why Exeter? Why Russian? 

Hello again guys 🙂 

Hope you’re all loving life right now – I definitely am! Even though work is an ongoing uphill struggle, I’m just happy knowing that I’m where I’m meant to be right now. I.e. At Exeter, studying languages… and yes, yes I’m going to mention my faith in this post. God is a huge part of my life – I can’t just leave that out!  So, as I lie here on my bed enjoying my heater (rent with bills included for the win!) and feeling cozy even though outside it’s raining and like 5 degrees C… I’m going to write a post. 

I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about why I came to Exeter. It’s a funny story. My A-level years were pretty stressful – I was living life like a robot… every five minutes was planned and timed – each activity had a certain duration. I had no social life really. It sucked. And then I was trying to apply to unis… actually, I was applying to Oxford. And Oxford applications have to be in super early so they can do interviews etc. I actually applied there to do Spanish and beginners modern Greek. I got to interview and by the time I was there I realised I didn’t want to go. Why swap one stressful situation for another? I knew Oxford would be a pressure cooker and I would not do well in that kind of environment. (Sorry to those that go/have been – personally I knew it wasn’t for me!)

So then what? Well… I had Bristol, Exeter and Durham on my list. Oh and Warwick. I had offers from all four of them – which I’m told isn’t normal?! Warwick was too close. Durham was too far. So that left Exeter or Bristol. Bristol offered Catalan as a module alongside my Spanish course and was closer to home but not too close. I don’t want to go to Exeter because it didn’t offer Catalan and it seemed a long way away. 

Moral of the story is – never say never to God. I’m not going to go to Exeter, she said. It doesn’t tick all of my boxes, she said. Guess where she ended up? 

Yeah that’s right! I visited Bristol on an open day, and it was fine, but that was it. “Fine”, But not quite right somehow. It was a ‘I could survive 4 years here’ kind of grim feeling. I visited Exeter a week or two later…. and just knew. Even my mum said she felt peace knowing I would be here. That night I put it as my first choice. 

On results day, I got a text from Exeter to say congratulations my offer was now unconditional before even knowing what my result was (which it turned out, was exactly what I needed to get in). 

It’s not been easy all the time here – my first year, as you know, was tough. But I knew from the beginning I was here for a reason. 

So yeah. That’s why I am where I am today 🙂 

Oh and to answer the “why Russian” part – I have no idea! A combination of wanting to do something extraordinary and challenging. Something not many other people were doing. And I have to say I couldn’t have made a better choice ❤ I am loving learning about Russian history and culture and can’t imagine doing anything else!

Now I just need to decide where I want to go next year… St Petersburg, or Siberia (Novosibirsk). Let me know in the comments which one you think I should go to and where I absolutely HAVE to visit while I’m in Russia 🙂 

I just love the autumn colours ❤

It’s just been one of those weeks

Sometimes life doesn’t go so well. You get low marks in your test. You hand in an essay you don’t feel proud of but you worked hard for. You lose confidence in an area where before you had no problems. Your friend is feeling low and dealing with a ton of problems and wants to chat to you for hours when all you want is to make a dent in your never ending pile of work.

And then: You get a punctured bike tire which takes 2 hours to fix.

Yes, this was my week this week. No worries, I’m not going to rant. (I’ll try!).

Sometimes you have a frustrating week where nothing seems to go well. You know? So what do you do about it? Rant? Scream? Cry? (Crying’s not such a bad outlet actually…). Usually, when I’m feeling like dirt, I try and pray. I tell God what’s going on. It helps to know He’s there and that he cares. Because when everything else lets me down, He is constant and unchanging. Ready to pick me up. Do I always believe this? No. it’s hard sometimes to trust Him with everything. But He’s the only one that can give me peace in the end.

Philippians 4:6-7 is my faveourite verse for this kind of situation… I have kind of memorised it so I can bring it to mind when I need it most.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

It’s hard right now, sitting here with all of this noise in the back ground to believe it, but from past experience, God has never not shown up when I’ve prayed that verse^.

Short and sweet I know… but please forgive me – I have had a bad week after all! Maybe next week I’ll post something a bit longer 🙂 I just want to be real on here and SAY when I’m having a bad week because it’s not always rainbows and lepricorns! (I wish!)

And as I like to attach a picture to my updates… here are some snaps of my pumpkin and my flatmates pumpkins from Halloween…. mine was Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc.


I hope you all had a good week this week 🙂