I always seem to end up writing a post right when I should be doing something else. Procrastination much?
I’ve been delaying writing a post all summer since I got home (in June), mainly because i wasn’t sure what to write, or how to write it, or even if anyone is actually going to read this at all!
So, here it is, after some prompting from my Dad: my post about counter-culture shock and dealing with the aftermath of a year abroad. I want it to be balanced – so not too negative, but not unrealistically positive either. No extremes. Got it.
I remember this time last year when I was about to head off to Russia, (can’t believe it was a year ago now!), all I knew was the mixture of stories that the 4th years had told my set back when I was in my second year. It was mostly a mix of random advice and a load of scare stories.
“The people are so nice”.
“Visas are a pain”.
“Don’t mention politics!”.
“Babushkas will abuse you in the street”.
Oh, and photocopy everything. Literally – every form of ID, insurance receipt, visa, migration card, etc. All of it. Because you might get stopped by the police and asked to show them. I didn’t, fortunately. I was told (by Russians and English people alike) that I looked Russian enough, so maybe that’s why I got away with it. (NB: I always carried the photocopies anyway just in case.)
But anyway – is it any wonder that when I first landed in St Petersburg Pulkovo airport, my first thoughts looking at the soviet-looking building opposite the exit was “What have I done?!”
I think I’d blown things a little out of proportion, expecting St Petersburg to be some kind of Soviet, Red Terror, Hunger-Games like winter wonderland. I was pleasantly surprised in some ways. I actually told some Russian friends that this was what I used to think about Russia and they laughed so hard…
No, Russia is not a big bad place that’s unlivable. Life is hard there, yes. There’s a lot of poverty. You can’t get far (career-wise) unless you’re living in the bigger cities. Even then most jobs don’t earn a lot. There’s not a lot of choice food wise (veggies and fruit especially) because of the sanctions, so that makes some types that we take for granted in the UK a lot more expensive. The winter is tough. Not just the temperature and the snow… they were easy to tolerate, believe it or not. But the ice. Man, I hope I never see so much black ice again for the rest of my life!
I feel like people that have lived in / generally experienced Russia come back with a kind of wry sense of humour towards it. Yes, there was hard stuff, things you found difficult to get used to and accept, but at the same time, you just had to get on with it. It built character. You experienced this Russian phenomenon of just putting up with life, not asking questions, and sharing what you have (even if it’s not a lot) generously with others.
Как нибудь, проживём. Somehow, we’ll live on (or live through it). [Bulgakov’s “Psalom” or “Psalm” – Псалом]
It’s kind of hard to put into words what Russia is like. To truly live there I mean, and not just visit as a tourist for a couple of weeks. You start to come into contact with the different and deeper layers of society, the mentality of the people, and if you’ve studied Russian history (like I have) then you start to see how a lot of it came from the past. Russia has a tragic history. And that feeds into the Russia we have today. So I guess, another tip I have to really understand Russia as best as you can is to study their history – look at where they as a nation have come from.
One thing I’ve noticed since coming back is our negative view of Russia (esp in the UK). The problem is, our media thrashes Russians. And, to be quite honest, it’s really unfair. OK, so the government doesn’t always do the best of things – it’s well-known for it’s corruption throughout history. But the ordinary people there, people like you and me, they are just trying to get on with their lives as best as they can. They don’t have much say at all in what their country does in terms of wars and economy. They often suffer as a consequence of all of the things that the people in charge decide to do. Not everyone supports Putin, guys. In fact, a lot of people don’t. It’s just hidden, and people can’t be bothered to vote because what’s the point if it doesn’t make a difference anyway?
There was a protest in my last few months there after the 2018 election, and none of the onlookers were worried. They knew that nothing would come of it. Some of the lads in my Russian community group even laughed a bit sarcastically about the whole thing, and then moved on to another topic. Can you imagine living in a country where your leaders won’t listen to you and do what’s in YOUR best interests, rather than their own?
I challenge you to think about that next time you want to mouth-off about “those Russians”. Whenever I hear someone doing it I think of my teachers at the university, and my friends from church and from English Movie Night. It bothers me. Enough said.
Since coming back, I think I had a couple of weeks of ‘honeymoon period’ before it all kind of hit me. I just started to feel low, to be honest. My confidence crashed. I doubted myself, felt like I somehow didn’t try hard enough on my year abroad, make the most of it, that maybe I hadn’t grown and matured as much as I’d hoped, become a better person. I don’t know. This could have a lot to do with my personality and the fact that I’m very hard on myself. It’s also hard just coming back from all of that independence and solo survival to being “just one of the kids again”. I’m the oldest of 4 – so my home is quite a busy one.
I’d be lying if I said it was completely over, though hopefully it’s on the turn now. I’m picking myself up. God is great like that. And I HAVE learned a lot. From a Christian’s perspective, I learned a lot about what it really means to trust God in every way. To just get through the 9 months, financially, in the place of my family, etc. There were a couple of really awful things that happened on my year abroad which I don’t think I’d have had the patience to cope with if I felt that I’d been truly alone out there, and didn’t know I had God with me the whole time. (The fire in the kitchen, I had money stolen off my card, I lost my coat, my friends left Russia earlier than me so I had to search frantically for somewhere to live for my last month, to name a few).
I learned that in the UK we have so much that we take for granted. Little things, like everything always working properly. The quality of our buildings and roads… and we should be grateful for that.
So here it is, my processing post. I may write another one when I get back to Exeter on the 19th September to start my 4th year. Going back will be so strange. Especially how few hours of actual teaching we’ll have in comparison to in Russia. I’m looking forward to it, I’ll be living with 3 other girls in a house this time, not a flat. It’s in a really good location, and yes, the regular weekly bike rides to Aldi will continue. I’m hoping to get my job back at the Ram Kitchen, and I’m really looking forward to doing my modules on Spanish for Business and Advanced Translation (in Spanish) this year. I’ve missed Spanish! It will always have a piece of my heart. (For those that don’t know, I used to live in Spain when I was younger).
Until the next post…