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! 

 

 

 

 

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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!! 

Getting a visa for Russia

You might have already heard a lot about the visa process. Personally, I’d only heard bad things! Especially about long queues in the office in London to try and get the application sent off. Let me tell you, getting your visa is a complete faff, but I guess you have to look towards the long term objective – getting into Russia – to keep your spirits up!

Now that you’re all feeling suitably discouraged…  😉

No joke, it did take me 2 hours to fill out my visa application form online. Apparently we only have to fill these out because we imposed them on Russian citizens coming to England, so it kind of makes sense that we would have to fill them out too. 
Before even filling out the online application, you have to have a visa invitation from your chosen uni. This for me was the Saint Petersburg State University. I’ll add a picture of my invitation in after my year abroad, but for now I think it’s better if I don’t share those kinds of details online while they are still valid! 

Once I’d got this (it came mid-July while I was working as an au pair in Spain) I used the VFS Global website to fill in and print off an online application. There are a lot of questions you have to answer, and fortunately the course I’m applying to do through RLUS (Russian Language Undergraduate Studies) offered a load of advice about what to answer for some of the questions on their website. When I actually got to the office, they said some of my answers were wrong because the criteria got updated very recently. You can’t really plan for this… it just means they will log into your application on the VFS website and change the details and reprint it for you then and there.

Oh, and DON’T forget to bring a passport-sized photo. They attach it to your application for you. You also need to bring your HIV test results printed out, and a letter from your university and proof of insurance. And your visa invitation, of course. DO NOT forget that please

Fortunately for me, a new office opened up to process your visa application in Manchester, and we happened to be on holiday up in Yorkshire, so Mum and I drove over to get it all done one of the days we were on holiday. The office was small and there wasn’t a big queue. We got there at around 10am so that might have been why it was quieter. The lady that processed my application was really friendly and nice. It didn’t take that long either – she just checked over my papers and clipped them all together. Then she scanned my fingerprints. You have to do each hand one by one with your last four fingers together palms facing down on the scanner. Then you do your thumbs together. 

She asked me to write the address I wanted my visa and passport sent back to on an envelope and that was it pretty much. 

A few important things to remember would be to make sure the photo was taken in the last 3-6 months before applying for the visa. The HIV test needs to still be in date for another 15-30 days after the visa application. Other than that, just make sure you brings absolutely everything with you, including your password for the online visa application.

This all happened yesterday so this is as fresh as I can make it! Hope that helps 🙂 

Ask any questions you might have in the comments and I will get back to you as soon as possible! 

Tips for Language Learning while Abroad

Here it is, as promised 🙂 My best tips for making sure you make the most of you year abroad and get as fluent as possible. I’ve also checked some of the things my own uni recommended to add further suggestions, but mostly these are my personal recommendations and things I’ve found have helped me! You can totally reject this if it doesn’t work for you, everyone works differently. I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner before an aural learner – which means that I need lots of visual information and I also need to do or practice the language / grammar for it to actually go into my brain. Just listening isn’t enough. So here’s tip number one:

  1. Find out what kind of learner you are. This is really important because it will change the way you revise and it will help you memorise vocab and grammar easier. You can take free tests online, just Google it 😉 There are about 4 types, Kinesthetic, Aural, Visual and then Traditional (I think).
  2. Say ‘yes’ a lot! People will offer you things, to go shopping, to go see a movie, etc. Just say yes. It’s all good experience and you’ll learn something about the culture from these.
  3. Stay with a family/Spanish friends who speak only/mostly Spanish/whatever your target language is. This way you wake up speaking the language, and go to bed speaking the language. You’ll get so much more out of it, trust me. And if the family has kids, this is a good way of getting practice using different registers – speaking more politely to grandparents whereas with kids you can usually be more informal.
  4. Go over difficult areas of grammar that you notice yourself struggling with. Don’t just leave them and hope they go away! I still go over the past tenses in Spanish and the subjunctive… and ser and estar still catch me out occasionally!! Just because you’re in the country doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll immediately become bad-ass at grammar, so make sure you try and do some exercises / revision a few times a week. Nothing intensive. If you can, take a course at a local uni.
  5. Write down new vocabulary – no excuses! I keep lists of new vocab, and as I mentioned in my last post, we’ve actually stuck up some pieces of blank paper in the kitchen with all of our names on so we can write down new words in English/Spanish and then go over them together at meal times. This is great for kids, but to be honest it works for adults too.
  6. You’re gonna love this one! Watch TV! and films… but in the target language obviously. If possible, use subtitles in that language too instead of in your native language, if you need it that is! But often programs have actors speaking clearly and with good grammar. I watched an episode of El Ministerio del Tiempo last night and it was great! I recommend the site rtve.es for series and news etc. for Spanish.
  7. Read. If you can, get your hands on a novel, maybe one you’ve read before so you know what happens, but trust me, this really helped not only to widen my vocabulary but also to get used to ways of saying things, set phrases/idioms, and the grammar structures. I read the Fault in Our Stars (Bajo la misma estrella) only in Spanish, I’ve also read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter y la cámara secreta), The Last Song (La última canción) and the Hunger Games (book one – Los juegos del hambre) in Spanish, and am currently reading Gone Girl (Perdida). I haven’t managed to get my hands on a Russian novel yet but I’m probably going to try and get the first Harry Potter on my kindle! [*Fun fact, in Russian they sometimes pronounce the ‘H’ sound (х) as a hard G sound like in gutter (г), so Harry Potter is Gary Potter to Russians (Гарpи Поттер), but for us English lot at least this makes it take on a whole different meaning! 😉 ]
  8. Do things that scare you – go for a train journey somewhere so that you have to buy tickets, go to the cinema or theatre, etc. These experiences will bring you into contact with people who don’t speak English/ your native language and will help you use what you have on the spot. 

So there you go – my 8 pieces of advice for helping you use and develop your language on your year abroad. Hope this helps! 

Housing, God and more amazing things

God is AMAZING.

Seriously, we have a house. Well, a flat. It’s amazing. Everything’s amazing right now 🙂 It’s more expensive than we’d hoped, (£123 per week, per person), but most houses are about that price anyway once bills are added, and our price includes bills. We are going to have a lovely flat with ensuites in every bedroom and a spacious kitchen which is close to campus. Although it’s not so close to town, or to Aldi, I do have a bike, and there are buses, and these things can be worked out next year. So we’re happy, we’re a lovely bunch with top quality banter in our Facebook chat already – and I can’t help but sit back and smile at how God has brought all of this about.

I feel like right now, through every big or little challenge, God is showing me how much he can provide and how much he has a plan, and is very much in the drivers seat. Obviously I am not always 100% confident and trusting – finances are a weak area with me in particular, just being honest! But I’m reminded again and again when I look back at just how good he is.

We have a house. For 5 people, that’s a miracle. Most fives have had to split up and find single places elsewhere, it’s that bad. But God provided us with a house, and has helped us pay the huge deposit, and will continue to help us next year paying the rent.

I’ve just got back from a really wonderful church weekend away with Grace Church. I feel so blessed to have joined it. I feel so much closer to not only the students but some of the adults (particularly in my community group/huddle), and the talks we had were really inspiring and encouraging for me. They talked a lot about forming communities where you are, finding people with similar passions as you and joining together to make that grow, God’s plan in your life, and so much more.

I’ve felt for a long time now that my family and I didn’t move to Spain for no reason all those years ago when I turned 9. I feel like we went so I could learn Spanish. So dad could too… but personally I feel like God has given me this love of languages through that experience. Somehow, without much practice, I was able to remember a lot of it – enough to get A* at GCSE (with some work, obviously, but not half as much as my other subjects). I taught myself GCSE French with ~1 & 1/2 hours of ‘lesson time’ a week a year early and got an A. I discovered that I love grammar, the way a language works, and the culture behind it. And I feel now more strongly than ever that my calling involves this passion, which is stronger than pretty much all of my other (many passions/hobbies/abilities) and that God is going to use it. I don’t know how yet. But that, I’m sure, will come.

Cornwall was great – we stayed in the Esplanade hotel at Newquay and it was practically on the beach. The dinner hall looked out onto the sea, which was stormy and grey and preeeettyy 🙂 

  
  
I walked to the end of the coast with Bethany (a friend from Community Group and church who’s a first year medic student at St Luke’s campus) and we (plus Esther, my future house mate next year) went into Newquay together with a bunch of adults to find food on Saturday at lunchtime, and then had a massive laugh over my hilarious Facebook feed for a few hours afterward (I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in ages!).

I’m back and unpacked now, ready for week 4 (hopefully). Time to learn Future Aspect and other interesting things. Text-a-toastie is tomorrow night; its a CU (Christian Union) thing. Basically the hall group for Lafrowda makes chocolate or cheese toasties, and people from Lafrowda can text any question about Christianity to the number we put on the poster and then the flavour they want and we bring them a toastie and answer their question. So its an evangelical thing which is super fun 🙂

My little bro Daniel (Dan-the-Man) got baptised on Sunday back home in Worcester, which unfortunately I missed, although I got to watch a recording. I’m so proud. He’s growed up good. 🙂 He’s got a deep faith and he’s sturdy in what he believes – it’s hard to sway him. (Bit like me – the word I’m looking for is stubborn haha – but I think your faith is something it’s ok to be stubborn about!) Just so proud, and I’m sure my other siblings are too 🙂 I love my family ❤

News, news, do I have any more? Hmmm… Not sure but I’m super stoked for this week ahead 🙂 I think I’ll leave it there for now… this is quite a lengthy update, and I’m trying to cut down how much screen time I get before bed as I think it stops me switching off as easily. (Missing the hotel beds though… they were so good!)

Anyway, have a good week everyone! Happy Sunday (and first of February tomorrow).