Reverse Culture Shock.

I said I’d write a post about it as and when I experienced it. Well, here it is. Reverse culture shock. Culture shock – but in reverse – in your own country. What is this madness?!

I don’t really know where to begin with this, but all I can say is, it’s hard.

You move out to another country, you adapt to all of the differences there and establish a routine, begin to behave, speak and live differently, and it becomes the new ‘normal’, and familiar, and you begin to see it as ‘home’. Then you move back to your home country, and everything’s different, new shops have opened up where there used to be something else that you remember always being there since you were young, family have changed (new arrivals, etc), the city seems more crowded than before, you can actually read and understand signs and things but you miss the challenge of reading them in another language and the little victories with the new language you were having before you returned home. Add to this the fact that your view and perception of the world and issues in your own country have changed from having experienced life abroad. In short: you expect that coming home will be easy, but in reality, it isn’t necessarily so.

There are a lot of factors that can build up and contribute to someone suffering from reverse culture shock. Those^ are some of mine. Personally, I also struggle with feeling like I’m floating between countries – and neither one is really ‘home’ anymore. It’s very disorienting. My self esteem suffers too, and I find being-home-life feels so boring and slow because you don’t have to travel everywhere, I don’t have as many places to be because my social agenda is so much smaller, the city is smaller, I don’t have any exams to revise for… and because of this I feel like a horrible person because I feel so down, and it’s Christmas Eve, I mean who feels sad on Christmas Eve, right? (I wrote this on Christmas Eve, but posted it today!) But the truth is I’ve only been back a week, and the ‘honeymoon’ phase is over.

Yeah, just like with culture shock, you have a honeymoon phase, where everything is new and exciting, and then comes the low point. It just sucks that for me it’s the day before Christmas. But in my head, I am thinking about how little time I have at home before I’m back in Russia again at the end of January. I don’t have time to truly sit back and relax. It is probably not helped by the fact that I have lived in Spain for two months this year as well. Although Spain is like a second home, I lived in Catalonia when I was younger, so living in Madrid was a bit different. It just feels like every time I settle down somewhere, I’m only there for a handful of months before I move on again. And personally, I’m not enjoying it.

So those are the main psychological factors of reverse C-S that I’ve been dealing with this week. I’ve also had to pay a rather large deposit for my house for my 4th year (I know, I’m already on it and I won’t even be living there until next September, but such is the problem with student housing these days), so I am currently extremely short on money – as in, I am grateful I bought my presents already because I have nothing. Which is also pretty normal as a student. (Don’t worry though because my next loan instalment comes in early January so it’s just for a few weeks). #studentlife. This limits the activities I can do for a bit, and means I’m solely dependent on my parents once again, which can be really annoying when you’ve got used to having complete independence and coping with so much on your own.

The main physical symptoms I struggle with is my skin breaks out really bad – probably due to the change in water and environment, but it can really hit your self esteem. I have curly hair, and in England the air is really humid, which makes it so unmanageable, when in Russia the air is dryer, so my hair doesn’t turn into a massive frizz-ball whenever I step out the front door. Also, the cold in Russia is dryer, so I coped with it way better, even when it was -6 degrees C. Whereas here, +6 degrees feels like -10!!! So I feel so so cold! (OK, i might be exaggerating there, but you get what I mean – it feels so much colder here). I also get more tummy aches, but this could be due to eating at different times (Russia is 3 hours ahead) and still adjusting to the time differences (I’m not getting a lot of sleep yet).

I guess my best tips (so far) are:

  • roll with the punches – acknowledge that it’s just going to take some time to get back into the swing of things again, even if other people don’t seem to get it.
  • talk about it. Talk to someone who knows you well and who you trust. Let them know what’s going on and why, and just talk it over. It helps to get it out.
  • journal it. I’m a big journal-er, so writing stuff down really helps get everything out of my head and process it better.
  • get out and do something – new or old, just don’t stay inside doing nothing, even though you really really want to. You don’t have to be out all the time, but establishing some kind of new routine or finding a place to be gives you something to do. I joined the gym – I have some fitness goals and I’m starting well ahead of 2018! It gives me something to work on and a place to go a few times a week. I also try and go to church and to the 18-30s group there whenever they have an event on. I’m not always good at making myself go out places though, so my family has to persuade me a lot!
  • do some familiar things you couldn’t do when you were abroad – for me this is playing the cello.
  • pyjama days are allowed. Just don’t make every day a pyjama day.
  • Christmas!! I know that seeing friends and family on Christmas day (tomorrow) will be fun and keep me from thinking about the things I’m trying to adapt to.

Here are a few more articles that are helpful to shed some light on reverse culture shock and what to do about it:

Expatria – Students Abroad

I hope all of this helps. Merry Christmas everyone 🙂

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Week 4


I can’t quite believe I’ve almost been here a whole month. The days go so quickly. It feels like I wake up, go to uni, come back and then it’s bed time again in no time at all!! It could have something to do with how much time you spend travelling to get to places. I use the bus or metro most days, and it’s usually a good 20-40 min walk to get anywhere. I don’t mind this though. Previously I’d only ever lived in small cities, so this is a nice change, and I am growing to like the bustle of the streets here.

I’m doing much better emotionally this week, even though I ended up missing my aunt’s wedding last Saturday gone. My whole family was there, and I was meant to be a bridesmaid. It sucks knowing I’ll never be in any of the photos and won’t have those memories, but I made some memories of my own instead when I went to the student night and to the church picnic. The African night was honestly so much fun, and I’ve made some new friends from it. My VK account is getting more and more active – VK, for those that don’t know, is the Russian equivalent of Facebook. It wasn’t as good as Facebook before but recently it’s been updated and now they are pretty similar. You can join groups and meet people with similar interests through the site, and there’s lots of free movies, audio books and songs posted (probably illegally) on there. But hey, this is Russia. As everyone always says.

At the picnic, I was talking to a lady helping organise the church weekend away in October (I’m planning on going to this!) as I and my English friends were worried we wouldn’t be able to go with just a photocopy of our passports. Our passports have been handed in so that our visas can be converted to multi entry and we won’t get them back until the end of October at the earliest. Apparently there’s a rule that if you want to stay in a hotel you have to show your passport, and re-register after you get back. The lady explained that ‘this is Russia’ (of course) and that here, rules are kind of made to be broken. If you know someone who can get you a deal or who is in a management team somewhere or something, they will do you a favour, and you do one in return. It’s a little like this in Spain too, but here it’s on a whole new level. Officials make rules that suit them, and then revoke them when it no longer suits them. So take the rule where you have to re-register every time you stay somewhere new, even if it’s only for one night. Apparently this was only brought in for over the summer with all the tourists etc and the football events going on in Russia, but now you don’t have to re-register unless you stay somewhere else longer than a week. Someone revoked the law, because it’s no longer necessary. The lady explained that just because one rule or law blocks you from going one way, in the Russian mentality, that doesn’t stop you from going around, under, or over it and getting to the same result/destination a different way. It just means you can’t go that particular way, if that makes sense. So people bend the rules all the time here.

What else? Oh yes, I’m possibly going to look for a job teaching English but I’ll let you know later when that happens. A teacher of mine said that the Benedict School here sometimes looks for native English speakers. Russians will pay double the normal price if you are a native English speaker. My friend found a job teaching a family English and asked for a reduced price because she felt bad asking for more, when she felt it wasn’t necessary. Your money goes quite far here, so there isn’t a lot of need to charge tons for lessons. And obviously not to undercharge, as you do plan and put effort in.

I’ve seen some strange things this week on my travels around St P. The weirdest thing I saw was this man with his pet raccoon on his shoulders on Nevsky Prospect getting people to pay him money to pet it or get it to do tricks.

Another thing that I’ve noticed whilst being here is that there are men in uniforms everywhere. Apparently all young men get conscripted between the ages of 18 and 27 for mandatory service in the army, although many of these manage to get around it by claiming to be short sighted, mad, or by enrolling in university courses until they phase out of the age group that it applies to. I’ve seen all different kinds of uniforms, some green/khaki, some blue and white and navy-looking. Some camouflage. It’s just kind of strange seeing them everywhere like that. You don’t see that kind of thing in England. In England I see a fair amount of policemen but even then its only a couple maybe every fortnight. Here it’s something I see daily. Maybe it’s because this is a bigger city… I don’t know.

Another thing about the culture here that I find weird every time I go into a shop or supermarket is the person at the till doesn’t wait for you to finish packing your bags after paying… they immediately serve the next customer. At first I thought they were just being rude but then I realised it must be a culture thing because it happens in pretty much every shop I go to. So now I just try and pack up my things as quickly as I can while they scan it through and then pay and get out of there. They clearly trust you not to run off with a bag full of stuff you haven’t paid for here in Russia. In England, the cashier waits politely for you to finish and go before serving the next customer in the queue. Is this just an English thing?

There are a few little things like that… maybe I’ll include some of those in my next ‘weird things about Russia’ post. The days are getting colder – the mornings start at around 5 degrees C and then by the afternoon it only gets to about 15 max. This morning I opened my curtains and it was still quite dim outside, so the days are getting shorter already. It’s only the end of September!! I’m going to need to buy some vitamin D supplement soon… a friend from church who’s lived here for a few years recommended these drops she got from an apteka (аптека) – these are little chemist shops dotted all over St Petersburg (and Russian cities generally)**. I asked if I would need ID before buying anything and she just chuckled and said that no they wouldn’t bother checking that here. My goodness. I bet their health and safety standards are much more relaxed here too. In England it feels as though you can’t even breathe and not be violating some kind of health and safety law. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but my English readers will know what I’m talking about 😉

Last night, I went to watch Swan Lake at the Hermitage Theatre. I had no idea there was a theatre in the Hermitage, but it was amazing and I felt so grateful for the opportunity! A guy at my new church works for a tourist agency, and a different friend of mine talked to him about getting me and my friend from Exeter some tickets for free. Apparently tourists cancel all the time, so we were told to just turn up and get free tickets. We didn’t know which ballet it would be or anything, but I’m so glad it was Swan Lake. I haven’t seen it since I was about 7, or any other ballet to be honest. The dancing was amazing and the music was pretty good too – there was a live orchestra. I love Tchaikovsky (Чайковский)  Me and my friend were the youngest in the room!


Tonight I’m going to listen to an orchestra concert. I was invited by a friend that I was put in touch with through an old family friend. (Sorry, I tend to not mention names because of privacy and stuff). They will be playing Rachmaninoff (of course), and fortunately I like Rachmaninoff (Рахманинов) so I’m expecting to enjoy it. This means I can’t go to the English movie night tonight, but in some ways it’s a good thing as this friend doesn’t speak much English, so it’s better for my language learning. Besides, I can go to the EMN next week!

Other than this, I don’t have much planned for this weekend beyond doing work, shopping (for food), going to church and possibly meeting up with a friend from my group at uni to go to Pushkin if the weather is good. If not, we agreed to go to Ukrop (Укроп) Cafe for a meal together.

So that’s my fourth week in a nutshell. Here’s to the next, what, 11 weeks? Something like that!

Still smiling 🙂

**For those interested: I’m going to be doing a post about being vegan in the winter/extreme cold here in Russia, my tips and what I’ve found useful etc. so stay tuned if that’s something of interest. It might actually be good for anyone interested in making it through the winter when fruit and other commodities are scarce and you just want to stay sane/healthy.

 

 

Vegan in the winter… in Russia. 

This post is an update on how I’m managing life as a plant based vegan in Russia and how I’m planning on coping in the winter. I just want to make a mini disclaimer here and say that I’m not an expert in nutrition, and I’m relying on recommendations from sources that I trust (NHS UK, How Not To Die by Doctor Gregor, for example). I’m just giving ideas and suggestions here, I’m not suggesting that this is the only way to live / that this works for everyone.

But first a little history on Russian cuisine: for centuries, Russians have eaten meat and fatty/carb-y foods throughout the winter to keep them going because it gets so so cold (as much as -20 degrees Celsius!). Through all of the famines and civil wars and sieges that the people have had to deal with, it makes sense that their diet always includes a high calorie source of protein and fat (aka meat and dairy) with some kind of carb.

In previous decades, the thought of being vegan in Russia would have been laughable… so very difficult. But fortunately the word is spreading and veganism is on the rise even here in Russia. I’ve actually read accounts of people being raw vegan in Siberia, so if they can do that there, then you can definitely be vegan anywhere. Just sayin’. However, there are definitely less vegan ‘junk food’ products – as in, the more processed stuff. Vegan burgers, sausages, fake cheeses, etc. In my first post about my initial discoveries about being vegan in Russia, I talked about soy milk and yogurt – check that post out by clicking on this link here. There aren’t as many plant milk options either so far as I know… I’ve only managed to find a few in Stockman (the Finnish shop) and Kompas Zdorov’ya and they tend to be more pricey. [edit: after further exploring, I found the aptly named shop Veganika (Веганика) – it’s near Cadovaya metro station and sells cheaper plant milks, massive blocks of tofu, and pretty much anything else you might want as a vegan (ice cream, yogurt, etc. And it’s not too expensive!) check it out when you come to St P.]

This is what I’ve discovered from researching online – and some of it applies to meat eaters too.

Things to focus on:

Vitamin D. This is crucial for everyone. The days get so dark that you literally don’t really see the sun. It is easy to get deficient in vitamin D and that can lead to a calcium deficiency which is damaging to your bones. It can also lead to other problems like depression etc – Seasonal depression especially. I was recommended this brand of vitamin d drops which I bought in an аптека (apteka – like a chemists. They can be found everywhere). They were just over 200 roubles, so about £1.50ish.

Vitamin B12. You should probably already be taking this, vegan or not, because there are few reliable natural sources of b12 anymore. B12 is a bacteria that grows in the soil, and when we wash our vegetables/use insecticides etc. this washes it off. B12 is crucial for your nervous system, and becoming deficient can cause serious health consequences. You don’t need to be taking it every day, but once a week is recommended. You can get tablets or a spray fairly cheaply in a health food shop or online. Here in Russia the aptekas would sell it.

Iron. Spinach, potatoes, beans and lentils are my friends here. Oh, and chocolate of course.

Vitamin C and A – winter squash and any fruits (especially citrus) that you can get your hands on. The great thing is that winter squash has both of these nutrients and it’s in season in the winter (hence the name). I’ve managed to find little pots and bags of it frozen, but buying fresh usually gets you more bang for your buck (as they say). Fortunately oranges are cheaper than apples at the moment so I’m getting a lot of those in but the prices do change.

Healthy fats – dark chocolate, tofu, avocado (if you can get it and it’s not too expensive), nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, etc), and seeds (flaxseed, chia, tahini / sesame, etc). Avocado is pretty expensive here, so only rely on this if your budget allows. You can buy tinned olives here fairly cheaply and olive oil is also available. I go to Kompas Zdorov’ya/Veganika for flaxseed butter (yes it’s a thing) and peanut butter / tahini. I also buy olives fairly cheaply from supermarkets. Your body will turn to fat to burn for fuel to keep warm so make sure you stay stocked up on these!

Carbs – where possible go for whole grain – so oats, rice, pasta, buckwheat (it’s really cheap here), potatoes (if you can get sweet ones every once in a while for the extra beta carotene and vitamins, but ty are pretty expensive, sadly). Rye bread is cheap too and nutritious, Russians eat this at breakfast lunch and tea most days! It’s a staple here and definitely worth a try to make the most of being in Russia. Likewise with the buckwheat. You can also get some vareniki (dumplings) which are stuffed with potato, beans, spinach or pumpkin which are vegan friendly, just make sure you check the ingredients/apply the benefit of the doubt rule (read my last post to find out more about that).

Colourful and green veggies – peppers, beetroots, spinach, kale (if you like it – I personally don’t!), cabbage (especially red cabbage which has a great nutritional profile). Winter squash again fits in this category. I find that frozen spinach from Stockman is cheaper. Also frozen broccoli. And look for sales (скидка / скидки). Vegetables tend to go up in price or disappear from the shops at this time of year so you might have to budget to pay a bit more for them if you can’t find anything cheap.

Fruit – yes, even in winter you can get some fruits! Bananas are usually available year round, and although they will be imported and aren’t local, they are better than nothing and are great for stuff like potassium etc. In Russia cranberries are pretty cheap because they can grow in colder climates, and they pack a serious nutritional punch. I get them frozen to add to my porridge (oatmeal) in the mornings but also because they are cheaper this way.

Dried fruit. Dates, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, etc. are widely available here too.

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!

Update Halfway through Term 2

There’s so much going on on campus at the moment I don’t think I’d be able to mention it all!!

Currently there are people campaigning to be the next student president, vice president, sports union president, treasurer… you name it. You get stopped by people in colourful t-shirts wielding brownies and cakes to try and persuade you humbly to vote, even if not for them, just to vote. It’s a nice atmosphere though. One of my friends has nominated himself too and he’s in a good place to get in, that’s for sure. There are also some funny campaign videos going viral. I think I’m just gonna read their manifestos and vote that way. Brownies do not move me. Even if they’re vegan!

I’ve begun renewing my love of break dance – we went out as a crew on Monday to this event called PHAT at a club called Cavern and it went really well. I managed to get the guts up to go into the cypher on the tiny stage myself and do a round.


 It made my voice a lot worse though – I lost it Monday morning and then on Tuesday I was all croaky 🙂 Wednesday it wasn’t good in the morning but got better through the day. So now all I have is a bit of a cough 🙂

Most people seem to be run down now, and I guess it’s mainly cos it’s the middle of term – week 5 – and it’s just when everyone gets ill.

My friend Jamie had to pull out of BUCS (gymnastics) this weekend – most of my Russian set has a cold.

I’ve really got into this series on Netflix called Heartland. It’s American and its about this family that lives on a horse ranch. It’s rekindled my inner dream to live on one when I’m older…. horses have been my favourite animal since I could say the word, even though I haven’t always been able to afford lessons. I’m thinking maybe in my year abroad I could spend some of it on a ranch in South America somewhere…. that would be a dream come true! But I’d have to brush up on my riding. So I’ve been looking around and at prices. We’ll see…..

I also need to keep my gymnastics up over the summer so I’m going to try and save a bit to help pay for membership for a few months.

Money, money, money….. God’s definitely teaching me a lot about it. About not worrying about it and where it comes from.

The ECU activities week was amazing too. So many students came to the lunch bars and evening talks and many gave their lives to Jesus which is just ACE 🙂 I got to host one of the team that came from Oxford to do the talks etc. and I and my friend Esther made her this Moroccan dish with chickpeas and she loved it 🙂 (Might post it later sometime!)

Anyway… must carry on working as I have lots of formatives and deadlines to meet next week!