Week 1: Lots of change.

Hello again!

Here’s my summary of my first week back. It’s been kind of up and down, but I guess that keeps life interesting, right?

I went to the gym for the first time on Saturday (10th) and learned a few things about gym etiquette here in Russia. People take towels around with them to put on the seats so they don’t leave sweat on them and they are clean for the next person. Seems pretty obvious, but i didn’t notice anyone do this in England over Christmas, which I don’t understand really because it is more polite and considerate to clean up after yourself… maybe I’ll adopt this when I go home in the summer! Be the change and all 😉 Oh and also, it’s perfectly acceptable (apparently) to go up to someone between sets and ask to use the machine while they rest before the next set… in England this just doesn’t happen! It’s kinda rude! That happened to me and I just had to go with it because I assumed it must be a culture thing. The lady only did one set anyway, so it’s not like it took her ages, but it was a bit strange for me. Also, the showers and changing rooms are communal – no shower curtains, so no privacy. Plus, all of the babushkas go and use the sauna, which is accessed via the showers and has a see through door so they can watch people having a shower. They all huddle in there looking very severe. This could take some getting used to…

It’s still really cold here – the lowest it’s got so far was -14 degrees C but felt like -19 (yesterday, on Thursday 15th). Sections of pavement keep getting cordoned off because of the massive sharp icicles hanging off the edges of buildings and balconies… people actually get impaled – I think one person per year or something. We were warned about this last term by our student reps. Most days there are whole teams of people up on the roofs bashing the icicles off the edges of buildings and clearing the hard packed ice off the sidewalks so you won’t trip over while walking places. It’s actually snowing again outside as I write this; according to my phone the temperature outside is -7, which isn’t that bad. I’m just glad I bought my new coat the day before it was -14. It’s royal blue. I was nice and snug. And proud of myself. #adulting

But yeah – over all the week has been a good one. I was worried before I came that my Russian friends at church would have forgotten me because I was away for so long, but on Sunday 11th most of them came up and gave me hugs after the service and said hi. I brought back some English biscuits and sweets for them to try so I’ll be taking those to my next community group session tomorrow if it’s on.

On Monday (12th) we had an induction day and a really long aptitude test and then an interview at the same time. They called us out of the test one by one to do it. It’s so they know which group to put us in based on our ability.

I was originally put in group 3 (again). But then one of my teachers, (she did my interview) said that I could try the group above me (group 2) for a day and see how I find it and potentially move up. It was a tough decision to make. Group 3 wasn’t that hard, although I tend to slip up when responding to questions. I didn’t feel particularly challenged in the same way I was last year, not even that much in grammar and that is normally the hardest lesson. I went and talked to a lady in the office where they assign us to our groups and she looked very doubtful that I would be able to handle group 2’s material. Groups 1 and 2 often have post a-level people in them, so I guess it’s a big deal that they would let me try it out. I really wanted to be in Group 2 so I would be challenged a lot. I ended up trying it for 2 days, and although they are gonna push us hard this term and get us to do presentations and essays and analyse 20th century Russian literature (Ivan Bunin anyone?). I’m going to have to work hard but it will help my Russian so much.

We get Fridays off, thank goodness. Probably because we have so many hours of lessons Monday-Thursday. Friday is ‘library day’, where you do your work etc. I tend to be quite relaxed about getting work done on Thursday evening/Friday because my brain needs a little break from all of the Russian, but now I’m in group 2 I’m going to have to pull my socks up and fit in some extra hours.

My new flatmates are lovely, we are already planning to go out for lunch tomorrow and make a flat meal together. We went out for a meal last Sunday after church too – I’ve converted them to Ukrop!! (my favourite restaurant here, for those that don’t know what it is).

It’s good to be back I guess, although I do miss my family. And considering how nervous I was about coming back, as usual, I’m now wondering what I was so worried about. I’m feeling much more at home here, everything’s familiar.

Next week I’m going to be going to Moscow on the overnight train with my friends from English movie night and Church to a Winter Bible conference. It’s from next Thursday til next Sunday, and I’ll be coming back Sunday night on another overnight train. I’ve never been to a Bible conference before I don’t think, and this one will be mostly in Russian, although the preacher is from a church in Birmingham which one of my flatmates, who is also coming, goes to. Some of my friends are going to stay on a couple of days and come back on the following Tuesday evening, but I don’t want to miss lessons and I’m planning on visiting a pen friend later in May/early June so I’m banking on being able to sight see when I’m there with her.

I think that’s pretty much everything I can think of to talk about from this week. It’s gone by at a good pace, not too fast and not too slow.

Here’s a picture of Smol’ny cathedral to end my post with. My uni meets in the building directly behind this cathedral; the buildings are part of the cathedral. I’m lucky to be studying on such a beautiful historical site.

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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!

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!

How to cope with Culture Shock

Hello guys!

Small update before I get into my best tips for dealing with culture shock. So it’s midway through my penultimate week and I’ve been Christmas shopping and hanging out with friends as much as possible before I come home. I’ve made some really amazing friends through the student house group I go to on Saturdays and through the English movie night I go to on Fridays. Oh and through church itself on Sundays. All of these things keep me busy and I’m starting to have more up weeks than down ones now, which is so encouraging! My Russian has improved a lot and I’m sure it will improve even more after Christmas when I’m back for 5 months!!

I’m so excited about Christmas, and to make things even better and cheer us up in our final couple of weeks before we fly home, it finally snowed here in St P!

It really helped to pick our moral up off the floor (we all know that end-of-term feeling) and got our excitement up for Christmas. I don’t know where this year has gone to be honest; probably because I’ve been here there and everywhere with uni and travelling abroad etc, and I’ve just not had time to sit down and relax in one place so Christmas is going to be a great time to do that with family.

This and next week I’m taking a load of exams, which don’t count towards my degree but I want to do well in to prove that I’ve improved, so I’ve been revising and working for them. This Thursday I’m meeting up with some other girls from church to prepare for the Student Christmas party on Saturday evening, which is going to be really fun. I’m going to cut out all of the paper snow flake decorations and help make mice pies etc and on the actual day I’m going to wear my Santa hat and Christmas leggings. Just getting into the spirit and all 😉

Christmas definitely couldn’t come any sooner, and although I know I’ll probably miss my friends from Russia while I’m home I also know that I need the break. I’m still not really all that sure when I’ll be flying back out here yet but probably sometime around the end of January or the first week of February.

Christmas, Christmas, Christmas… it’s all that’s on my mind!

Anyway, here are my best tips for how to deal with culture shock. They might not all work, and you don’t have to do all of them, but they are here as suggestions to try and help you settle in a new culture:

  1. Don’t isolate yourself. Join some kind of group with a similar interest – if you like dancing, join a zumba class; if you’re a believer, join a church; if you’re into sports, join a sports club, and so on.
  2. Isolate yourself. Let me explain – sometimes, everything will just get a bit much and it is quite easy to end up being out every single day trying to make the most of your experience here and saying yes to everyone and everything. While this is good, sometimes it can’t hurt to have some time to yourself to recharge. Especially if you’re an introvert. My first 3 weeks were so ram-packed that eventually I had to be like, no, we’re staying in and having a pyjama day this Saturday and we’re not going to see anyone or do anything. If it will keep you sane, make sure you schedule these times in where you just relax.
  3. Try something new – something that scares you! I was terrified – literally, shaking with terror – at the thought of joining the student home group, mainly comprised of Russian students. I genuinely thought they would realise that I don’t always understand or know what to say properly and kick me out and be like ‘you can’t come back here’. As if they would be so mean! Turns out they are such a lovely group of people and they love hearing what I have to say and are always happy to help me out if I can’t remember words. Now I wonder what I was so worried about!
  4. Keep in contact (friends and family at home). Some people drop off the face of the planet when they go on their year abroad and resurface when they get back in the summer. I had a friend that did this – he was studying Arabic, and I messaged him when he’d just got out there and then 10 months later finally got a reply (he was apologetic!). While this might work for some, you’ll find re-entry into your old life so much easier if you stay connected.
  5. Don’t complain too much. It’s ok to process what’s happening to you with your family and friends, but try and look for the positives about your new home and not always compare it to home. Remember, this new place isn’t wrong, it’s just different. The people that live here don’t know any other way of living – to them this is normal. And what is normal anyway? Everyone think’s they are ‘right’ in their own head. You need to challenge this view and widen your perspective, so try and take the challenge.
  6. Think about the positives. I’m so grateful to be here and making the most of all of the new and wonderful opportunities that are available here… I’m definitely growing as a person (confidence especially!) and learning to trust God more with every area of my life, and personally that’s really important to me. Also, not many people have the guts to go on a year abroad – it definitely makes you stand out from the crowd.
  7. Accept that you will possibly never be fully converted to the new culture and that that’s ok. Not everyone worries about this necessarily, but you can kind of feel like you have to be a native by the time your year is up… and you just won’t adjust that much or be able to speak the language that well unless you’re an absolute genius or were already studying the language before uni. And it’s ok. Your language will still have really improved!

I hope these tips help.

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.

Home again, home again … 

I’m currently writing this from Pulkovo Airport St Petersburg while waiting 3 hours to get to my flight to Frankfurt. I then have another 1.5 hours or so until my next flight to London Heathrow, and then a further 2 hours drive home in the car. Today will be spent mostly in airports. I guess this is the life you choose when you decide to study languages at uni. 

I’m popping home for the week; it’s my half term holiday, and it’s to make up for missing my aunts wedding and spending possibly the worst birthday of my life in Russia last month…. Don’t get me wrong, living here is growing on me, but everyone’s first month on their year abroad is often the worst. It’s just unfortunate that my 21st happened to be my first full day here and that the wedding was in that month. 

Basically, for those that don’t know, my aunts wedding was in September, and I’d already booked flights to go home as I was meant to be a bridesmaid. Sadly, it wasn’t advertised loudly enough that we wouldn’t have our passports on us or our multi entry visas by that date,  (we have to send them off a couple of weeks after arrival) so I had to pay more money to move the flights to this week hoping that my visa would be back by then. If not, I would have lost £300. Fortunately it came back in time!! Just! 

We were so happy to get our passports back!


To celebrate, one of my friends and I went to Ukrop and had a yummy meal 🙂 had to be done!

I thought it would take ages to get through security and arrived here 3 hours early because that’s what you’re told to do for international flights. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so keen… all the security only took about 10-20 minutes…. and the journey to the airport wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, though it was quite an experience, as things often are here. I went via metro and then via mini bus (I can now say I’ve ridden in a marshootka…. see this post for a description of what it’s like). To go into the metro, you always walk through one of those big body scanner things, and then because I had a suitcase and rucksack the security guard standing nearby pulled me over to put them in a massive metal scanner box which looked rather like a safe. The image on the screen came out completely black… which worried me a bit at first because I thought they’d make me open everything up to check. The larger of the two guards operating the scanner asked me to open my bag and asked what was inside and I just opened it and showed all of my folders and said “мое домашнее задание” (my homework). I think after that he realised I wasn’t going to be a terrorist threat and waved me on. 

When boarding the marshootka, all the seats were taken, so I asked the guy at the door if there was enough room for me too, and he just said rather sarcastically that he didn’t know but to get on. This kind of treatment is totally normal here, it’s not considered rude, though it made me hesitate slightly. Apparently you kind of just stand up in the small aisle way and try not to fall over as the driver turns a corner. I arrived safe and sound at the departures entrance and then had to put my things through a scanner, then have my passport, visa and boarding pass checked 3 times, once at the migration control where you have to leave your migration card behind (I’ll get another one on re-entry next week). Then you go through real security where you have to get everything out into the trays. This time I had to go through this full body scanner thing on a conveyer belt, which was a new experience for me. All of this only took about 20 mins max I reckon, so here I am, sat next to me gate waiting for my flight in 3 hours time. No, now it’s 2.5. 

So I thought I’d finally get down to writing something… this last week hasn’t been particularly eventful so I didn’t really do a weekly post as I normally do. The only thing I will mention is that on Wednesday night I went to the hermitage/winter palace with some friends to see what we were told would be photos projected onto the outside of the hermitage building, but turned out to be just red lights fixed on the hermitage and then massive speakers booming out Russian music and some history about the 1917 revolution. It was meant to be a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the October uprising (I think), and interestingly there were few people there. There will be reenactments of the revolution next weekend and fortunately I should be back by then to see some of them, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of that. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity! 

My family and I have a few things planned for the week ahead. Obviously I’ll be seeing a lot of  close and extended family. Tomorrow we’re planning to walk the length of the Malvern hills to raise money for Cancer Reasearch. It will take us basically the whole day. We’ve done it before for fun, (I dragged them up there basically) but this time we thought we’d do it for a cause. Everyone knows someone with cancer, and sadly we know and have known several. So it’s a cause close to our hearts. 

Other than that I know I’ll be going to church and seeing friends there, and then hopefully just having a relaxed week at home. We don’t really celebrate Halloween – but I still like to bake a pumpkin and make pumpkin-coconut curry (might post the recipe on here, it’s really easy). 

The weather here is getting a lot colder. It was meant to snow yesterday and today but hasn’t yet. Most mornings and evenings it’s -1/-2 degrees C, and then about 0/+1 degrees C during the day. So it’s quite chilly, but every building and bus is heated really well, and the metro is boiling… so you’re only ever out in the cold for a little bit while getting places. Generally it’s overcast and cloudy… and because the sun is rising later and setting earlier we’re seeing a lot less sun so I’ve started supplementing vitamin D so I don’t get deficient. Seasonal depression must be avoided! 

So yeah, that’s me right now. Might read a book or listen to some music to pass the rest of the time. See you on the other side! 

October: Week 2/3

I really need to work on my post titles! It’s hard to come up with quirky names… but hey here’s my ‘weekly’ update. I say weekly in inverted commas because technically this is about a week and a half since my last update post… I’m getting worse and worse at sitting down to write these.

I wish I could say that I’m getting more settled in and life is all hunky dory, but to be 100% honest I am still having some down days. It is getting easier, but the tiredness is real. Some days it’s a struggle to get out of bed, and in lessons I just want them to be over before they’ve begun. I’m also hungry all the time. It’s probably all the walking… I do so much walking! It adds up and you don’t even realise… especially when you’re carrying a heavy rucksack around. I’m not the only one, my classmates have complained about it too. I might have already said that in my last post… I can’t remember 2 days ago let alone a whole week ago. D’oh.

My friend from my class has this theory that it’s all of the pollution… apparently the lack of good oxygen makes your heart and lungs work harder. Sounds feasible! St P is really polluted. Around the rivers the air is a little fresher, but some of us girls have noticed that our hair gets greasy so much quicker here and our skin is so much oilier than normal… and apparently this could be due to the pollution and all of the smoking too. The streets are full of cars and smoke. I’ve noticed that some of the statues on the buildings have this black oily substance on them…. the kind that only comes from a build up of car fumes. Yuck. It makes you appreciate what you had in your home country a lot more, that I can tell you! Can’t wait to come back to England and breathe some fresh air soon. Fingers crossed my passport comes back in time for my October half term.

Another thing we talked about is the phenomenon which is the маршутка [marshootka, or minibus] that you can catch around St P. I haven’t been on one, mainly because of stories people have told me. Apparently they don’t always stop for you so you have to literally jump onto a moving minibus. They are crammed full of people, and you have to yell when you want it to stop because there aren’t any bus stops for them. And the drivers are known to be talking on the phone, driving, smoking and taking the money from their passengers, possibly all at once, though I suspect they do two of these things at a time at most. They are questionable modes of transport. I think I’ll stick to the trolleybus and metro thank you very much!

But yeah, overall it is getting a little easier. I’ll allow that. My pronunciation is improving too… so much so that I get into trouble sometimes. If you can pronounce things decently well and speak fast enough then people think you’re fluent and start speaking really quickly, but then they realise that you don’t understand and you have to say the whole ‘I’m-English-please-slow-down’ spiel.

This year has been so full on!! I’ve not really stopped since Easter, so I’m really looking forward to going home at Christmas and not doing anything for a few weeks. My course starts up in February so as to avoid the worst of the weather in the winter (I think) so I will be home for about 2 months. Sounds like a lot but I know it’ll go quickly!!

I miss home a bit right now as I sit here writing this, because, although my hosts are so kind and lovely to me, my host mum is sitting in the kitchen smoking with her friend, and it’s tea time and I want to make my food, but I don’t want to go in there and inhale second hand smoke and have them staring at me while I make whatever it is I’m going to scrounge together.

They are really kind though. One thing about Russia is that they are great at hospitality. They will literally serve you only the best food as their guests. They’ll buy the best bread, the best cuts of meat, prepare salads with dill on top (dill goes on everything here), make you borsht (beetroot soup), provide the best fruits. My hosts buy boxes of Ferrero Rocher and exotic looking cakes. They always offer me the leftovers and things and they sometimes even let me sit with them and their guests. They never did this when my other flat mate was here so I think maybe they have a soft spot for me. Possibly because I’m vegan and they think I literally only eat cucumber and buckwheat. (Trust me I don’t!) But also possibly because I had a bit of a cry in front of them the other day when I was feeling down because I wasn’t sure if I would get my passport back in time for my reading week. I was also extremely tired and discouraged after a long hard day of lessons which hadn’t gone as well as I’d have liked. These are the realities of your year abroad and I don’t feel like it would be honest to hold them back. People considering doing a year abroad need to know that the first few months, (if not the whole year)  are tough. You have to be prepared for that.  Fortunately when I had my little cry, my host babushka was very kind about it. She has two daughters so I’m sure she’s seen her fair share of drama. Ever since then she’s told me that if I ever need anything I just have to say, and she’s always willing to help me with any homework I don’t understand, which is so helpful.

I am so aware of all of the things I’m having to overcome whilst living here. I’ve learned so much and I’ve only been here for 2 months. I’ve had to step out of my comfort-zone and embrace my inner Russian persona several times, especially with rather overly-keen young Russian men (I’ll possibly do a post on this in the future – total cliff hanger there!). I’ve had to pay my rent, I’ve had to figure out transport systems, I’ve had to buy a sim card and an oyster card and figure out how to top them up. And later this term I might actually have to try and find a flat to rent for next term. Hopefully I can do this with the help of a Russian friend because I think it would be a bit risky to do totally alone.

I also feel so much closer to God out here. I talk about God a fair amount because as far as I’m concerned he is a huge part of my life. I wouldn’t be here doing this without him. I really believe that. He’s constantly reassuring me that I can do this, that I just need to trust him, that it’s all going to make sense in the end because this is part of his plan for my life. It’s preparing me for something bigger later on. My first few months have felt a bit like a wilderness. Everything has been so confusing and challenging, I feel stripped of most things I get my comfort from (family, home, friends, my uni etc) and I’ve been questioning everything. Why am I here? What am I doing? What am I doing this for? What’s the point? Why is this happening, why is that happening…? and so on.  I can’t say I have all of the answers yet but I do know that God is in charge and I know he’ll get me through. I guess sometimes not being able to see clearly is part of the process. Even if it feels like you’re walking in the dark, God is teaching you something, growing you somehow, and later on the experience will be useful.

One verse that has stuck with me through some really tough times in my past is from Philippeans 4:6-7: ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.’

I kind of mostly have this verse memorised now. And it’s still relevant to me. As someone who worries a lot, and struggles to not over-analyse everything all the time, this verse is a good reminder because whenever I start freaking out it kind of floats back into my mind. I’m lucky because I’ve grown up in a Christian home, so I’ve known God my whole life, and whenever things got really hard and overwhelming I just naturally end up talking to God about it. I guess it’s because I know he’s always there and he sees my thoughts and knows me better than everyone else. And that is what keeps me going. That’s my ‘secret’ if you like. Not that it’s really secret anymore!

But anyway… hey, this wouldn’t be a true post if I didn’t end it with another one of the weird things I’ve seen around St P this week…. I saw a guard at the entrance to a hotel’s car park come out with what I can only describe as a giant mirror on a stick like the one the dentist uses and check underneath this guys car as he was about to enter the hotel. I have no idea what he could possibly be looking for. A bomb I suppose. The car looked expensive and the guy looked like a businessman of some kind. I guess these things are normal here in Russia? ‘Til next time guys!