Weird things you might not know about Russia.

Привет друзья!

This post has been a long time coming, and to be honest I’m tempted to make this the first edition as the list just keeps on growing… but I figured that this is probably the best way to start getting across. So here we go… some of the weird things I’ve found about Russia.

  1. Slippers in the house. You are not allowed to wear outdoor shoes inside, it’s considered really rude! This includes the gym I’m told. I didn’t remember for the first few days when I first arrived and was absolutely mortified when I realised that I’d been breaking this most sacred of rules… but I forgot to bring slippers so I’ve made do wearing socks instead!! My host family wear crocks indoors but my family forbid me from wearing them because apparently I would be committing a fashion crime.
  2. Tap water. You can’t drink tap water in Russia. You can use tap water to brush your teeth and shower in and wash food in and to cook with. But to drink you have to get bottled; in my flat we have a massive galling tank with a pump out of the top which my host “dad” changes every time it runs out. The water tastes different here too – bottled water often does but this stuffs got a hard taste. You get used to it though! I don’t actually know why you can’t drink from the taps… I think it’s something to do with the pipes!
  3. No smiling in the streets. Unless you know the person, you don’t tend to smile or wave at people in the streets especially if you don’t know them. Some people look really grumpy as they walk down the street totally focused on where they are going. I find this weird as it doesn’t take a lot to get me to smile!
  4. Unfriendly metro ladies. I’ve already mentioned in a previous post about how traumatic it was trying to get my подарожник (Oyster card) but trying to top it up again… my goodness. Customer service in England is definitely friendlier!
  5. Unfriendly staff generally. Customer service in shops and restaurants isn’t at all like in England, where the moment you walk into a shop someone will come up to you and ask if you need any help etc. But no. Here in Russia they leave you to get on with things on your own and any small inconvenience that you ask them to perform for you receives another grumpy look! (Note: only strangers are like this!! If you know the person, they are so warm and friendly and offer to meet up with you and have you round at their house etc). I’ve only met about 2 friendly customer service staff since being here!
  6. Women dress differently. This one isn’t really “weird” exactly but just “different” and I think it’s a culture thing. Women here really pride themselves on their public appearance. This is the same in most European countries though – I know it’s definitely true in Spain at least! But there are girls wearing heels on Nevsky and most wear skirts and tights and tight fitting fashionable jackets and a handbag and a full face of natural looking make up… although there are some people who dress more casually. There are lots of tourists too wearing whatever they normally wear… But I’m told that in the winter when it starts snowing (in mid October) women still wear heels!!
  7. Chinese tourists. There are so many!! They come in hordes, trail off their buses and link arms in files and then it’s like a stampede… heaven forbid you happen to be in the way and end up getting swept along with them into their museum or park that they are visiting! This happened to me a few times and it’s slightly terrifying! Maybe it’s part of their culture? I don’t know… if any of you readers out there know then please educate me 🙂
  8. Superstitions – flowers. In Russia, you don’t give yellow flowers to anyone, and you definitely do not give them an even number of flowers or anything lower than 3 flowers. Apparently it brings bad luck. Red flowers are given to men on Victory day and on their birthdays and are a sign of ‘victory’ (I think). There are a lot of superstitions here so maybe in a future post I’ll write more about these 🙂

That’s round one – hope you all find this interesting! I’ve almost finished my 3rd week here… 33 to go! I’m gradually starting to get into the swing and starting to forget what it’s like to live in England… I think that the counter-culture shock will be intense at Christmas, especially after the snow and the cold. Don’t worry, I’ll try and document that too!

 

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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! 

 

 

 

 

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!! 

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 not even half way through term yet!

Fellow students – I know you’ve been there!

That weekend when you’re so tired you can’t bring yourself to work, and you kind of feel like you should but at the same time know you need a break. Yes, that’s where I am right now! Yesterday was the worst – by the end of the day I was half asleep in my final lecture (which started at 4:30!) and it’s like I didn’t sleep deep enough or something because I’m still tired!

Assessments are stacking up… not that they haven’t been doing that since week 2 but now it’s even more full on – if that’s possible.

I have some Formatives due by the end of February, and a lot of reading to do (as always). Formatives are basically mid term tests, which don’t count towards your grade, but they are your only point of feedback before you do the Summative, which does count. So basically, if you want to do well, you do the formative. Simples. But stressful. As if doing just the normal grammar/exercises from lessons wasn’t enough. (To be honest, as if turning up to said lectures wasn’t enough! Where’s my medal? 😉  ).

Fortunately I haven’t needed to do Deliveroo this week because I’ve had a lot more work at the Ram. I’m constantly balancing the two, which works out well most of the time because I can adapt to the weather. But also if there isn’t work in one then I just do the other one. Sadly, the Deliveroo app has kept on crashing since before Christmas so I’m glad I’m not part of that drama. Also, it seems as though every day my Team Leader is recruiting new Roos (yes that’s our nickname as riders) and now there are SO MANY of us it’s almost no wonder the app keeps crashing when so many people log in at one time!

Plus, it’s been so cold recently that I probably would have lost my hands to frostbite… it’s actually currently snowing a bit as I write this… not the kind that settles, but it’s pretty 🙂

I’m not the best at selfies but I thought this one summed up my mood that morning 😉


Year abroad plans – a couple of things have changed. Us modern languages students have lectures every week scheduled on Wednesdays to talk us through the key components – so last week it was about our assessment. We have to write reports and compile a portfolio, etc. I can’t remember what the coming lecture is about but they follow the same theme really. Just stuff we need to know.

So yeah it’s set in stone now – I’m going to St Petersburg. I have managed to contact some people from a charity called Love Russia and I’m looking forward to maybe helping out if I can while I’m there. The situation in Russia surrounding Churches etc is a little tricky at the moment; there is a law about sharing your faith with other people and being a ‘foreign agent’… so that is going to be interesting to experience. The church I’m planning to go to is on a ‘watch list’, which sounds quite ominous, but apparently I have nothing to worry about according to my contacts/the people I have met through my friends/family.

I’m taking a module called Understanding Russia, and it’s really interesting learning about the current situation there (and in the world generally – it’s all kind of interlinked). I’m not going to post to much on here about it because at the moment I don’t know if that’s a good idea (as in, if it could affect my getting a visa or something), but if I find out it’s OK then I will. I might have to leave it ’til I get back in 2018! Seems so far away but time literally flies here at uni… no day is the same and I think it makes time seem to speed up. Sometimes it feels like the week only lasts 3 days. Anyone else get this?

On another note: I miss the kitten so much. My family posts pictures of her on Facebook and I wish I could play with her and cuddle her again!! She’s still absolutely bonkers but she’s the cutest.

Absolute tinker 😉


I also miss hugs – feels like at uni you can’t get enough of them! My family knows I love getting hugged a lot… I read a study the other day about how hugs can improve your mood and immune system etc. I can believe it! 😉

Sorry I’ve not posted in a while, I’ve literally had nothing to post about or no time to post in. I have some recipes to post, and some to try, so hopefully that’ll make stuff more interesting on here! I am going to get some flour today hopefully to make some pelmeni (пельмени) or vareniki (Вареники) – they are like dumplings #russianfood – so I’ll try and take some good quality pics this time with my camera and not with my phone. Naturally I’m going to be experimenting making Russian food so I hope you’re all down for that.

Oooh, funny story before I go… I joined the Russian equivalent of Facebook a few weeks ago and a load of strangers tried to add me. I got a couple of Egyptian guys trying to message me and one of them pretty much proposed after a short polite convo, saying he’d fallen in love with my picture etc. I checked all his followers and they are all women -_-. Don’t worry – I don’t add them, I block them or delete the friend requests unless I know them. But they can still message me if I haven’t blocked them. Still, it was a very bizarre experience!!

Anyway, until next time guys – have a good weekend 🙂

I’m learning

Hey guys I’m back! (Finally!)

Sorry I haven’t posted in ages I’ve been busy juggling work / sleep / friends / jobs / life generally so I’ve not been able to really sit down and write in ages.

Honestly, my weeks have been quite long and tiring as I’m cycling absolutely everywhere and while it’s great for fitness it does tire you out. On average I cycle between 4.5 – 8 miles+ a day depending on if I’m going to Aldi or town / to meet friends or if I have to make a couple of trips to campus! And then on Thursday I spend 3 hours with other girls in my group for a project we’re doing together trying to joint-write a commentary on a video which was absolutely exhausting – not made any easier by the fact that we’re all feeling a bit upset with one member as she’s not really doing any work but relying on us to do it all!

This term Russian is really biting me in the bum. I mean I understand a lot more than before but it’s still complicated. Still, every little sentence I get right, every word I remember when asked… all of these are little wins in my opinion. It shows progress – and that counts.

Little things are keeping me going – people from back home are sending me lovely little presents which make me smile when I get them out of the postbox – today I got a Nakd fruit and nut bar and I just love them – they have so many flavours but I love the gingerbread one the best ❤ especially at this time of year…. anyone remember my pumpkin sesh last year? Well trust me it’s happening again… the moment Aldi starts selling them I buying one (or more!) and making as much pumpkin soup and pancakes as I can!!!!

Autumn is the best season!

Recently I’ve been really challenged to read my Bible more. We had a preach the Sunday before last about Recycling Prayers… as in, the more you read the Bible, the more that it becomes ingrained in you and then in situations when you don’t know what to pray, you can rely on the things you’ve read in the Bible to guide you.

I thought that was a great idea… so I’m trying to make time to do that in the morning before my day kicks off. I’m also listening to some interesting podcasts from Bethel about laughing at lies and this has been really helpful too. Things like, I can never do that, I’m not good/smart/pretty enough… all of these little things we tell ourselves which so aren’t true!!

I still have 2 jobs – The Ram and Deliveroo, so that adds more cycle time to my already very physically active lifestyle which I kind love if I’m completely honest – it means I don’t have to worry so much about doing a workout – I’m being paid to cycle!! And if I want to get to lectures on time cycling is the quickest way. So it means I do it without thinking, and it just takes the pressure off. And that’s the best kind of exercise because you enjoy it more!! Although not gonna lie the elevation here in Exeter is big!! My thighs were so sore a few weeks ago when I was getting used to it. But at least I’m getting plenty of sleep having worn myself out through the day!!!

So yeah no worries guys I’m still here, alive and well… just being a student I guess!! Hope you like my new recipe which I posted earlier – it was so good and makes a massive batch so you can save it to have through the week if you’re cooking for one or just have it as a family 🙂 It’s amazing what good food can do for the soul!

Here’s the link: https://adventuresofababelfish.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/autumn-chilli/

Hope you all enjoy the beautiful colour and atmosphere that Autumn brings 🙂