I flew to the wrong city.

Hey guys! Happy New Year! Just checking in again – I’m currently still in England but I fly back on the 8th February so I’ve got 8 days left of my holiday! Lucky me 🙂 The reason the holiday is so long is because of the visas. They take a while to process and obtain, and students (for Russia, anyway) can choose to spend one term in one city and the next term in a different one, which often means applying for a second visa for their next location. That’s why we get such a long Christmas break. Because I’m staying in St P all year, I just get a really long holiday!

Christmas was great – I’ve really enjoyed seeing family and friends again and just RELAXING. For the first time in years I have no exams to revise for!! There is an assessment for this year though which is fairly straightforward… I have to write two reports in Russian, 750 words each (1500 in total). Both are on topics to do with language learning and cultural competence or employability skills learned/experienced while on your year abroad. I also have to put together a language learning log that tracks my progress and allows me to set realistic learning goals and markers for my year abroad. Then, this September I have to go back a bit earlier than most students to take my oral exam, which will also be about my year abroad.

So – to get to the reason for my blog title: Part of my Christmas present included a return flight ticket to Girona (Catalonia, Spain) to visit my best friend Ellie. The ticket said it was flying to Barcelona (Reus). Turns out Reus is 4.5 hours away from where I was meant to be!! For some reason Ryanair lists the airports in Girona, Barcelona and Reus after ‘Barcelona’, but two of them aren’t actually in the city of Barcelona itself. So I was meant to arrive in Barcelona and catch the train to Girona, about 40-60 mins at most. Instead I had an epic journey up from Tarragona!

My Instagram caption: Enjoying the sights on my unexpected trip to {*drumroll*]… Reus??! #wrongairport #oops #somewherespanishwilldo #suchfun #stillsmiling #fourhoursfrommydestination #adventuresinspain

I was pretty tired by the time I arrived but I made it eventually! I actually wasn’t too bothered by the whole experience – I found it funny! Maybe it’s because it wasn’t half as bad as it would have been if it had happened in Russia! Although I probably would have managed to solve it there too… being too hard on myself with my language learning. But because I was in Spain, I was able to ask people where to go and what to do and figure things out for myself. I’ve never previously had to navigate the train system in Spain, so that was a new experience under my belt.

I went to stay with my best friend Ellie – who I’ve know literally since birth. Our parents were always and still are best friends, and not many people can say they’ve had a friend for almost 22 years. We had a very relaxed week, in the middle of which we travelled to a seaside port town called Llança and stayed with a lovely couple who were very generous and fed us well. We saw some old friends and helped out at a charity shop run by someone we know, and I went for a little wander around the coast all the way to Port de La Selva where my family and I actually spent a couple of weeks several years ago now for our summer holiday.

On my last weekend in Girona, I went to Ellie’s Spanish family’s birthday celebration – we were there til at least 1.30am! It was a joint birthday for several people in the family, and the family is almost as big as my own. It was lots of fun but we were exhausted the next day.

I’m back home in England again now trying to gather the things I’m going to take with me next week to Russia. Current mood: mixed feelings. I’m going to be honest, Russia has been one of the most crazy, wonderful, but difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve had to be brave so many times and stand on my own two feet and problem solve and cope and it can get very tiring. Last term, as those of you will know who’ve been following my blog for long enough, was really tough in many ways, and I got really homesick. Its fair to say I’m a little nervous, though perhaps slightly unnecessarily so, because there’s no way this coming term will be like last year.

For one thing, I’m much more fluent in Russian than before, and can understand more and know how to deal with situations better and in a more culturally appropriate way. I already have friends out there this time, so I’m not travelling there blind with no friendly faces to welcome me. Some of them are already messaging me because they can’t wait to see me again, which is really encouraging. I also know what to pack and what I’ll need, so I won’t go packing a load of stuff that I won’t be using while I’m there. And I’ve got a lot of big events and things planned for this term – I’m going to a discipleship course in Moscow in February, and then my parents are coming to visit me in April, so we’ll be doing lots of sight seeing. Then my grandparents might come visit me in May at some point, and I’m planning on going to Moscow again to visit a pen friend who I’ve been messaging for years and we still haven’t met! By then it’ll be early June already, and I’ll be getting ready to say goodbye to people – another thing I’m trying not to focus on too much!

It’s kind of crazy how, having been home almost two months, last year feels like it never happened. And I know that this summer when I get back home in June, this coming term will feel like a distant memory once I get stuck back into life in England and preparations for my final year in Exeter.

I guess I just need to keep a positive perspective in mind and, of course, remember that I’m not doing this alone. God’s going with me, and before me. Knowing that is really reassuring!

Any-how…. I never know how to end these posts, so I’m gonna end it with a little Dr Seuss quote I found which I really love at the moment:

You’re off to great places

today is your day.

Your mountain is waiting

so get on your way!

Me sitting in the train station in Reus waiting 2hrs for the next train to Barcelona. That little handluggage case has been well used this year!

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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!

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.

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.

 

 

Vegan in the winter… in Russia. 

This post is an update on how I’m managing life as a plant based vegan in Russia and how I’m planning on coping in the winter. I just want to make a mini disclaimer here and say that I’m not an expert in nutrition, and I’m relying on recommendations from sources that I trust (NHS UK, How Not To Die by Doctor Gregor, for example). I’m just giving ideas and suggestions here, I’m not suggesting that this is the only way to live / that this works for everyone.

But first a little history on Russian cuisine: for centuries, Russians have eaten meat and fatty/carb-y foods throughout the winter to keep them going because it gets so so cold (as much as -20 degrees Celsius!). Through all of the famines and civil wars and sieges that the people have had to deal with, it makes sense that their diet always includes a high calorie source of protein and fat (aka meat and dairy) with some kind of carb.

In previous decades, the thought of being vegan in Russia would have been laughable… so very difficult. But fortunately the word is spreading and veganism is on the rise even here in Russia. I’ve actually read accounts of people being raw vegan in Siberia, so if they can do that there, then you can definitely be vegan anywhere. Just sayin’. However, there are definitely less vegan ‘junk food’ products – as in, the more processed stuff. Vegan burgers, sausages, fake cheeses, etc. In my first post about my initial discoveries about being vegan in Russia, I talked about soy milk and yogurt – check that post out by clicking on this link here. There aren’t as many plant milk options either so far as I know… I’ve only managed to find a few in Stockman (the Finnish shop) and Kompas Zdorov’ya and they tend to be more pricey. [edit: after further exploring, I found the aptly named shop Veganika (Веганика) – it’s near Cadovaya metro station and sells cheaper plant milks, massive blocks of tofu, and pretty much anything else you might want as a vegan (ice cream, yogurt, etc. And it’s not too expensive!) check it out when you come to St P.]

This is what I’ve discovered from researching online – and some of it applies to meat eaters too.

Things to focus on:

Vitamin D. This is crucial for everyone. The days get so dark that you literally don’t really see the sun. It is easy to get deficient in vitamin D and that can lead to a calcium deficiency which is damaging to your bones. It can also lead to other problems like depression etc – Seasonal depression especially. I was recommended this brand of vitamin d drops which I bought in an аптека (apteka – like a chemists. They can be found everywhere). They were just over 200 roubles, so about £1.50ish.

Vitamin B12. You should probably already be taking this, vegan or not, because there are few reliable natural sources of b12 anymore. B12 is a bacteria that grows in the soil, and when we wash our vegetables/use insecticides etc. this washes it off. B12 is crucial for your nervous system, and becoming deficient can cause serious health consequences. You don’t need to be taking it every day, but once a week is recommended. You can get tablets or a spray fairly cheaply in a health food shop or online. Here in Russia the aptekas would sell it.

Iron. Spinach, potatoes, beans and lentils are my friends here. Oh, and chocolate of course.

Vitamin C and A – winter squash and any fruits (especially citrus) that you can get your hands on. The great thing is that winter squash has both of these nutrients and it’s in season in the winter (hence the name). I’ve managed to find little pots and bags of it frozen, but buying fresh usually gets you more bang for your buck (as they say). Fortunately oranges are cheaper than apples at the moment so I’m getting a lot of those in but the prices do change.

Healthy fats – dark chocolate, tofu, avocado (if you can get it and it’s not too expensive), nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, etc), and seeds (flaxseed, chia, tahini / sesame, etc). Avocado is pretty expensive here, so only rely on this if your budget allows. You can buy tinned olives here fairly cheaply and olive oil is also available. I go to Kompas Zdorov’ya/Veganika for flaxseed butter (yes it’s a thing) and peanut butter / tahini. I also buy olives fairly cheaply from supermarkets. Your body will turn to fat to burn for fuel to keep warm so make sure you stay stocked up on these!

Carbs – where possible go for whole grain – so oats, rice, pasta, buckwheat (it’s really cheap here), potatoes (if you can get sweet ones every once in a while for the extra beta carotene and vitamins, but ty are pretty expensive, sadly). Rye bread is cheap too and nutritious, Russians eat this at breakfast lunch and tea most days! It’s a staple here and definitely worth a try to make the most of being in Russia. Likewise with the buckwheat. You can also get some vareniki (dumplings) which are stuffed with potato, beans, spinach or pumpkin which are vegan friendly, just make sure you check the ingredients/apply the benefit of the doubt rule (read my last post to find out more about that).

Colourful and green veggies – peppers, beetroots, spinach, kale (if you like it – I personally don’t!), cabbage (especially red cabbage which has a great nutritional profile). Winter squash again fits in this category. I find that frozen spinach from Stockman is cheaper. Also frozen broccoli. And look for sales (скидка / скидки). Vegetables tend to go up in price or disappear from the shops at this time of year so you might have to budget to pay a bit more for them if you can’t find anything cheap.

Fruit – yes, even in winter you can get some fruits! Bananas are usually available year round, and although they will be imported and aren’t local, they are better than nothing and are great for stuff like potassium etc. In Russia cranberries are pretty cheap because they can grow in colder climates, and they pack a serious nutritional punch. I get them frozen to add to my porridge (oatmeal) in the mornings but also because they are cheaper this way.

Dried fruit. Dates, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, etc. are widely available here too.

It doesn’t last forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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