Update: 4 weeks til the Christmas holidays

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, despite all that.

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.

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 every day, so it’s taking me even longer basically. 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 a little frustrating, 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.

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 newly formed solely Russian student house group with one of my English friends who is a bit more advanced with the language than me. 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. 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 finally seeing some improvements. 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 nowhere near good enough 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. 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.

The sermon at Hope Church was really good today too, and afterwards I managed to chat to a friend (in Russian) who I hadn’t seen for a few weeks because she’d been in Moscow. We then went out to lunch with some people working with a really great charity called Love Russia.

Now I’m currently lying on my bed writing this and unwinding from such a busy week of socialising! Hopefully the next week will be a good one too. Anyway, that’s it for now!

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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 🙂 

Week 4


I can’t quite believe I’ve almost been here a whole month. The days go so quickly. It feels like I wake up, go to uni, come back and then it’s bed time again in no time at all!! It could have something to do with how much time you spend travelling to get to places. I use the bus or metro most days, and it’s usually a good 20-40 min walk to get anywhere. I don’t mind this though. Previously I’d only ever lived in small cities, so this is a nice change, and I am growing to like the bustle of the streets here.

I’m doing much better emotionally this week, even though I ended up missing my aunt’s wedding last Saturday gone. My whole family was there, and I was meant to be a bridesmaid. It sucks knowing I’ll never be in any of the photos and won’t have those memories, but I made some memories of my own instead when I went to the student night and to the church picnic. The African night was honestly so much fun, and I’ve made some new friends from it. My VK account is getting more and more active – VK, for those that don’t know, is the Russian equivalent of Facebook. It wasn’t as good as Facebook before but recently it’s been updated and now they are pretty similar. You can join groups and meet people with similar interests through the site, and there’s lots of free movies, audio books and songs posted (probably illegally) on there. But hey, this is Russia. As everyone always says.

At the picnic, I was talking to a lady helping organise the church weekend away in October (I’m planning on going to this!) as I and my English friends were worried we wouldn’t be able to go with just a photocopy of our passports. Our passports have been handed in so that our visas can be converted to multi entry and we won’t get them back until the end of October at the earliest. Apparently there’s a rule that if you want to stay in a hotel you have to show your passport, and re-register after you get back. The lady explained that ‘this is Russia’ (of course) and that here, rules are kind of made to be broken. If you know someone who can get you a deal or who is in a management team somewhere or something, they will do you a favour, and you do one in return. It’s a little like this in Spain too, but here it’s on a whole new level. Officials make rules that suit them, and then revoke them when it no longer suits them. So take the rule where you have to re-register every time you stay somewhere new, even if it’s only for one night. Apparently this was only brought in for over the summer with all the tourists etc and the football events going on in Russia, but now you don’t have to re-register unless you stay somewhere else longer than a week. Someone revoked the law, because it’s no longer necessary. The lady explained that just because one rule or law blocks you from going one way, in the Russian mentality, that doesn’t stop you from going around, under, or over it and getting to the same result/destination a different way. It just means you can’t go that particular way, if that makes sense. So people bend the rules all the time here.

What else? Oh yes, I’m possibly going to look for a job teaching English but I’ll let you know later when that happens. A teacher of mine said that the Benedict School here sometimes looks for native English speakers. Russians will pay double the normal price if you are a native English speaker. My friend found a job teaching a family English and asked for a reduced price because she felt bad asking for more, when she felt it wasn’t necessary. Your money goes quite far here, so there isn’t a lot of need to charge tons for lessons. And obviously not to undercharge, as you do plan and put effort in.

I’ve seen some strange things this week on my travels around St P. The weirdest thing I saw was this man with his pet raccoon on his shoulders on Nevsky Prospect getting people to pay him money to pet it or get it to do tricks.

Another thing that I’ve noticed whilst being here is that there are men in uniforms everywhere. Apparently all young men get conscripted between the ages of 18 and 27 for mandatory service in the army, although many of these manage to get around it by claiming to be short sighted, mad, or by enrolling in university courses until they phase out of the age group that it applies to. I’ve seen all different kinds of uniforms, some green/khaki, some blue and white and navy-looking. Some camouflage. It’s just kind of strange seeing them everywhere like that. You don’t see that kind of thing in England. In England I see a fair amount of policemen but even then its only a couple maybe every fortnight. Here it’s something I see daily. Maybe it’s because this is a bigger city… I don’t know.

Another thing about the culture here that I find weird every time I go into a shop or supermarket is the person at the till doesn’t wait for you to finish packing your bags after paying… they immediately serve the next customer. At first I thought they were just being rude but then I realised it must be a culture thing because it happens in pretty much every shop I go to. So now I just try and pack up my things as quickly as I can while they scan it through and then pay and get out of there. They clearly trust you not to run off with a bag full of stuff you haven’t paid for here in Russia. In England, the cashier waits politely for you to finish and go before serving the next customer in the queue. Is this just an English thing?

There are a few little things like that… maybe I’ll include some of those in my next ‘weird things about Russia’ post. The days are getting colder – the mornings start at around 5 degrees C and then by the afternoon it only gets to about 15 max. This morning I opened my curtains and it was still quite dim outside, so the days are getting shorter already. It’s only the end of September!! I’m going to need to buy some vitamin D supplement soon… a friend from church who’s lived here for a few years recommended these drops she got from an apteka (аптека) – these are little chemist shops dotted all over St Petersburg (and Russian cities generally)**. I asked if I would need ID before buying anything and she just chuckled and said that no they wouldn’t bother checking that here. My goodness. I bet their health and safety standards are much more relaxed here too. In England it feels as though you can’t even breathe and not be violating some kind of health and safety law. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but my English readers will know what I’m talking about 😉

Last night, I went to watch Swan Lake at the Hermitage Theatre. I had no idea there was a theatre in the Hermitage, but it was amazing and I felt so grateful for the opportunity! A guy at my new church works for a tourist agency, and a different friend of mine talked to him about getting me and my friend from Exeter some tickets for free. Apparently tourists cancel all the time, so we were told to just turn up and get free tickets. We didn’t know which ballet it would be or anything, but I’m so glad it was Swan Lake. I haven’t seen it since I was about 7, or any other ballet to be honest. The dancing was amazing and the music was pretty good too – there was a live orchestra. I love Tchaikovsky (Чайковский)  Me and my friend were the youngest in the room!


Tonight I’m going to listen to an orchestra concert. I was invited by a friend that I was put in touch with through an old family friend. (Sorry, I tend to not mention names because of privacy and stuff). They will be playing Rachmaninoff (of course), and fortunately I like Rachmaninoff (Рахманинов) so I’m expecting to enjoy it. This means I can’t go to the English movie night tonight, but in some ways it’s a good thing as this friend doesn’t speak much English, so it’s better for my language learning. Besides, I can go to the EMN next week!

Other than this, I don’t have much planned for this weekend beyond doing work, shopping (for food), going to church and possibly meeting up with a friend from my group at uni to go to Pushkin if the weather is good. If not, we agreed to go to Ukrop (Укроп) Cafe for a meal together.

So that’s my fourth week in a nutshell. Here’s to the next, what, 11 weeks? Something like that!

Still smiling 🙂

**For those interested: I’m going to be doing a post about being vegan in the winter/extreme cold here in Russia, my tips and what I’ve found useful etc. so stay tuned if that’s something of interest. It might actually be good for anyone interested in making it through the winter when fruit and other commodities are scarce and you just want to stay sane/healthy.

 

 

Stranded in Russia.

Literally. Stranded.

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral/Church with a sunset 🙂 It’s not far from where I live.

I handed over my passport on Monday (18th) along with the black and white passport photos and 1600 roubles and my migration ticket. It could take at least 5 weeks if not longer to get the visa and passport back. I need it back by the end of October, or I can’t fly home in my reading week (from the 27th). Prayers would be appreciated! I went into the international office to get my forms filled in, and they said that they hadn’t had a signature back from RLUS to say that we were students here in St P yet so they can’t send our passports off until they have it. They sent that out over a week ago, so they said they’d be sending an email again to remind them to sign it on Monday. I can’t believe it’s not the Russian bureaucracy getting in the way… it’s actually the course I’m on’s administration! But hey, I’m sure that whatever happens it’ll be fine. In some ways, I worry that going home might make me realise what I’m missing even more and make it harder to come back after and finish my first term!

It’s getting easier here, in some ways. I’m getting more used to the way of life and the feel of the city. It’s way bigger than any other city I’ve lived in. I got used to the metro in Madrid, so that’s fine, but taking the bus every day is a new experience for me.

The lessons seem to get harder each week. I understand well enough what’s going on, but sometimes I feel like I’m the worst at Russian in my class. I always seem to get things wrong, not understand or need the question to be repeated. My translation teacher embarrassed me in front of the class a bit on Monday when she got a bit frustrated that I hadn’t managed to translate this sentence properly and she said ‘It’s easy’. And I sat there thinking, you can talk, Russian’s your native language, so translating a sentence into Russian is easy for you. For me it’s difficult. Their word order is different and much more flexible than the English word order. Plus, she explains all of this in Russian, and it involves a lot of technical terms which I just didn’t know before.

So I’m coping and trying to just get my homeworks done and not let it get to me too much. Having spoken to a fair few people returning from their year abroad, they say that the first 3 months are the hardest, then you go home for Christmas and somehow when you come back in the New Year everything’s easier. Probably from the break. It all just sinks in while you’re relaxing at home and it’s not so intense and in-your-face.

I don’t want my posts to come across as being too negative. There are positives to your year abroad and to being in Russia, etc. It’s just hard initially. I’m sure that in a few months, or after Christmas, I’ll be singing Russia’s praises on a whole new level. It’s just the adjusting phase, when it’s still a (really) steep learning curve, that it’s all a bit difficult and you miss home. Or maybe it’s just me. Either way, I’m finding it challenging being here right now.

The best advice I can give to future year-abroaders from my experience right now is, find a balance between going out lots with friends / sightseeing etc and staying home and watching Netflix / a film / etc and just chilling out. It depends on your personality and whether you’re an introvert/extrovert or both. I’m a bit of both, so I like to try and see friends but also have time to myself to recharge. Ringing home helps me personally because I have a great relationship with my family and parents, and lots of friends too. They are all cheering me on, and it honestly means so much and carries me through the hard times when I wish I could just up and get on a plane and go home.

Last night, (Saturday 23rd) I went to a student night hosted by my new church here – Hope Church. It was Africa-themed, and we all had to dress up as colourfully as possible. There were prizes for the winners. We all had to learn some African dance moves and try them out to some music. Then we all got into groups and had to do all of the most ‘African-like’ dance tracks group by group on Just Dance, but everyone else joined in anyway. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. Things like that really help you feel more settled. I also met with one of my new friends from church (who helped run the event) to help chop up bananas and melon beforehand, and I helped set up. Doing stuff like this makes you feel part of something and like you have a life here if that makes sense.

Today I’ll be going to the church service as always, and there’s a picnic afterwards so we all have to bring our own food and something to sit on, as this will probably be the last time you can have a picnic here before it gets too cold! It’s currently starting at around 7 degrees (Celsius) here and then it gets up to around 15-17 degrees C during the day. I’ve got my winter scarf already… just need some good gloves and eventually, when they come out in the stores, a good coat!!

But more on that later in October! For now, I hope you all have a good Sunday and a good week to come.

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! 

 

 

 

 

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!!