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.

 

 

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Year two: reflections 

 

Yay! Second year completed – no more exams, revision… just relaxing and enjoying the sunshine! Not for long though..

I fly out to Spain next weekend for 2 months to work as an au pair, and then come back for august before flying out to Russia for 9 months. Is this real life? I cannot believe that it’s happening already! My year abroad is finally upon me, and I have to admit I’m excited but also a little nervous.

Last summer I had a not so optimal au pair experience, so I’m really hoping and praying that this year won’t be like that. I’ll be living in Madrid until the end of July, and I’ve never been there before so it will all be new to me! I’m hoping to make some friends at the church I’ve found and intend to go to while I’m there, but I also hope to gel well with the family.

I will take as many pictures as possible so hopefully a few will end up on here, and also I’m going to do some year abroad posts – things like what to do/what not to do and how to go about studying your language while abroad and making the most of your time out here. I hope it will be useful!

The weather in Exeter is beautiful right now, I’m loving the sunshine and clear blue skies. I’m missing my church camp back home (this weekend) which is sad, but I rang my family yesterday to top up on some lurve before I go home on Tuesday. Yeah, I know, I’m already about to go home and leave for the summer!!

I will admit, this year hasn’t been easy. It’s been somewhat easier than last year in the sense that I knew what to expect a little more. You can usually tell the difference between and fresher and a second/third year because of their confidence levels and how they behave. I definitely feel more confident and well on my way to being a True Adult. Although I’m not sure I’ll ever fully grow up! But I can at least feed myself decently well and put a wash on once a week so we’re doing good so far!

I was so glad to walk out of my last exam yesterday knowing that that was it. The thing is, I’d been struggling with the more complicated grammar stuff we learned this year in Russian, and even Spanish was giving me a run for my money! The step up was bigger than I expected… so I had to amp up my game and work harder than last year. I pretty much coasted last year – which is not the best approach, but then it doesn’t count towards your degree so most people do even less work than I did!

So yeah that’s the first thing – this year was harder work-wise. Because it counted. So everything had to be good. I had to read tonnes of books and things while doing all of my grammar/homework for my lectures and preparing before the lecture in order to write my coursework in my second term. And I had to revise hard over Christmas for my January exams, which is never fun at that time of year.

Secondly, I learned to trust God a lot. I couldn’t work a lot this year because I was so busy with my studies, so there were some hairy moments where I had barely enough money for food and things. Don’t worry – I made it through, but it was a little rough in places and this is also partly because I didn’t really earn a lot of money last summer. It’s hard to get a job as a student because bosses look at your CV, realise they’ll train you up to only lose you again in 3 months and say nah not having you. #studentlife.

But this summer that won’t happen as I’m working as an au pair through a company and the family has to pay you. But anyway, back to my point. I had to learn to trust God with my finances… to trust it would all be OK and try and still meet up with friends even if I couldn’t buy food or a coffee, but to just be there to enjoy being with them because that’s the important bit.

Lastly, I learned to forgive myself and love myself for who I am. It’s something I’ve found hard my whole life, and I’m sure I’m not alone with this. But this year has really been a turn around in many ways… and that has definitely been helped by reading the Bible and discovering what God thinks about me and not worrying about what other people think.

Bring on summer… I hope you’re all well and enjoying the weather as much as I am!

It’s almost Christmas!!!!

I honestly can’t believe today is the first of December. Where did all of that time go? My flat is planning on doing a flat Christmas dinner this Sunday to celebrate 🙂 We haven’t managed to get decorations up yet but we’ve seen how festive F1 (two flats below us) has already got tinsel and fairy lights in the kitchen so the competition is officially ON.

Speaking of celebrations – I am now finally free of the Magdalen Chapter Hotel, although I will miss some of my colleagues. I will begin at the Ram Bar (student bar on site) next week which I am so looking forward to! I also have been paid finally by the hotel, which means I can get Christmas presents, hopefully get a new laptop (my current one is old, slow and dying!), and possibly go on a weekend away with Grace church. Who knows??

I went to Zizzis last night with the girls from my flat (minus Ellen, who had a Christmas party to go to) and it was so special. 

  
We also got a whopping 40% off all of our meals with my NUS card which was AMAZING. Mine only cost £8.60 in the end and the others’ were around £11-15 each! I totally recommend them. 

  

  
We then went around town snapping some funny pictures with all of the Christmas lights and Christmas trees on display 🙂 It also turns out that I’m not the only one having difficulties with some of the guys in our flat – most of the girls admitted that they didn’t like them either and that they were sad to hear about all of the pointed questions and jokes they make to me about my faith etc.

It’s been sooo windy down here in Exeter recently – almost as bad as those funny strong wind videos in Norway I’ve seen on Facebook recently. It’s not been too cold, but we’ve had some bitter northerly winds. Amazingly, my Raynaud’s seems to have cleared up. (For those who don’t know, it’s a circulatory condition where if you don’t regulate your body temperature then the blood flow gets restricted to fingers/toes/extremities and then once it goes back they swell up/go white/red and it can get itchy and horrid. Or they go purple. It can go away naturally or it can lead to further problems such as gangrene if it worsens. Lovely.)

But I don’t seem to have it anymore. Which is amazing. Literally, at this time of year I live, breath and sleep in finger-less gloves and ski mittens to try and keep my fingers warm, and double or even triple pairs of socks.

But this year that hasn’t happened, and even if it’s not that cold down here, often when its cold, then warmer, then cold again that can be the worst time. I’ve been walking around without gloves on over the last week – ok maybe putting them in my pockets occasionally – but they are fine!

We’ve been praying for this to go away for a while in my church back home and my family. So it’s a bit of a miracle – and it means going to Russia in the winter months is a bit more inviting! I also think my diet has helped. I eat very plant based at the moment, especially as I can’t really afford meat, and this has been known to help clear up heart disease and other circulatory conditions etc. So wow. Wowee. 🙂

I’m being a bit cheeky writing this now as I have a lecture in approximately 13 minutes…. but fortunately it’s in the forum on the ground floor which is only 8 minutes quick walk away. I do love to push things!

Until later!

 

Saturday!

Hello again – yes I’m still alive! 

Busy busy week – lots going on! So I’ve got the new job at the MC Hotel but they’ve asked me to do 15 hours this weekend and 27 (?!?!?) next week. Which I can’t do. No student could. No student should have to. Ok, yes I could do it…. But I would probably self combust in the process.

I learned the hard way during my a-level years what happens when you take on too much. 

Stress. 

Meltdowns. 

Panic attacks.

…..So I’m reluctant to do it again.

 I’ve emailed the manager and the agent who helped me find the job is going to speak with him on Monday when he gets back from holiday. It should be fine. 

I’ve actually applied elsewhere on campus, hoping to get a better paid job which is more convenient. None of them got back to me so still praying. On site, shifts are usually only 4 hours-8hours long, but they’re more flexible and understanding because they know they are hiring students. It’s what I need really. Plus, at the MC Hotel they pay minimum wage, whereas on campus it’s almost £8 an hour. It just makes more sense. 

Last night was wonderful. I was invited by some of the older students at Grace to a Grace Girls evening 🙂 

  
We had lasagne/shepherds pie and we ended up playing Bananagrams, which, for my family, is basically Take Two but with slightly different rules. We also prayed together 🙂 my friend Esther from F1 came (block F flat 1 – I’m block F flat 3 (Lafrowda – one of the halls)), and also my friend Siân from Moreton, where apparently J.K. Rowling lived in her first year studying witchcraft 😛

Siân, funnily enough, is also doing Spanish and Beginners Russian – so we’re in a lot of the same lectures.

I shared a bit about my job situation and one of the girls suddenly was like, hey, I work at the Ram bar on site, I can put in a good word for you to the manager, he’s hiring right now! I’d already handed my CV in so she texted him right then and there. Praying even harder now 🙂 

Housing. Some are panicking now. Too early I’d say to panic. Sure, think about it, and if you want to be super organised then book somewhere. But, *mythbuster alert*: the housing will not run out. There will still be some even up to exams in the late spring! 

Some of my break dance crew asked if I might want to join them in a house next year, but I’m not confirming anything yet. It’s important to pick the people you’re going to live with carefully. You have to live with them for a year. I actually asked Esther what her plans were last night. She was like, my flat is splitting up, but you could join me! So I was like, yeah! I’d rather do that – I know her a lot better than the break dancers. I’ve had to skip a couple of sessions recently due to being ill and my workload in preparation for the limited hours I’ll have this weekend now that 15 of them will be spent waitressing. Im going shopping in a few and it’s not raining anymore but the wind is very strong and gusty. Could be a scary ride but it’s the only time I can go. 

Had some interesting debates with Ted and Rob (flat mates) over the last couple of days. Ted wanted me to agree with him that we should legalise drugs, and then yesterday Rob wanted to know my opinion on homosexuality. Sensitive subjects huh? It was hard, because I don’t think they really wanted my opinion, it was more that they wanted me to agree with theirs. I tried to be honest and had to say I don’t know a few times. It feels like they are testing me. A lot. 

I won’t have a lot of time to make this into a longer post today as I start work at three, but I have to get there so that’s the 30 minutes before that, and I have to pack my stuff because I still don’t have a uniform yet. It just takes too much time out of my day to be worth it. I also need to pack snacks because I don’t know if they’ll let me have a break! 

Wish me luck/pray for me!