Back in Ruland… 6 weeks til Christmas!

I’m back, and this time it’s not so bad! What I mean is that, on arriving in St Petersburg for the second time in my life, I felt so much more confident, probably because I knew what to expect. I knew that I would have to queue for ages to get my migration card, I knew that I would have to get a marshootka (mini bus) to the metro and then finish off the journey from my metro stop walking. Oh, and on the way I casually topped up my phone. I talked to people in Russian like it was no big deal. I guess this is coping. And being an adult. Just in Russia, that’s all.

It’s things like that that indicate that I’m doing a lot better than I give myself credit for. It’s also the only way that I know that I’m actually not hating living here as much as I thought I was (the first month or so is rough for everyone, ok?). But I probably did wind myself up a bit, over-analysing everything in anticipation. It’s easily done. I really think that we in the west have some funny ideas about Russia – probably from the portrayal given to us by the media. But Russia isn’t actually so bad at all. The people are so kind and generous.

My journey back was pretty epic and exhausting. Mum and I got up at 4am English time to drive to Heathrow for my flight which would have taken off at 9:30, except that it left an hour late, which meant that I ended up having about 45 minutes to get off the plane, get across Frankfurt airport to the right terminal and through security and then straight onto the next plane to St P. I almost had a meltdown in the airport just trying to figure out which metro bus thingy would take me to the right gates. Then, in security (once I’d reached the right building with a scant 30 minutes until my next plane took off), they decided to open up both of my bags to check for explosives. I was frantically trying to get my stuff back into each bag while some Russian security guard people started hitting on me asking if I spoke Russian and where I was from (they thought I was Ukrainian, which I guess says my accent isn’t so bad!). They didn’t really help me pack and kept distracting me, but I managed to get to my gate just as they were boarding economy passengers and finally got on the plane. I was so relieved – I have no idea what happens to people that miss their flights.

Leaving the sun behind me in England. It’s getting darker a lot quicker here in St P already! No snow yet though…


St Petersburg was heaving with people once I got to my last metro stop and had to finish the rest of the way home on foot. It’s the 100th anniversary of the revolution of 1917, which is naturally a big deal here. On Sunday evening (5th November) I went out with some friends to go and watch a short film in honour of the 100th anniversary which was being projected onto the hermitage and the buildings surrounding the main square here in St Petersburg (I think it’s called Palace Square). It was a great atmosphere. There were hundreds of people all stood together in the dark watching the film and listening to the voice-over. Someone even brought their drone to fly around and take a video of what was going on below.

Monday was a national holiday, so no uni. I ended up being persuaded to go and watch Thor Ragnarok for the second time with a friend and enjoyed it. Film tickets are cheaper here in Russia – only about £5.

Today was my first full day back. We had 3 hours of grammar today. Each lesson is 1.5 hours long, and they added another grammar lesson because apparently our term finishes a week earlier or started a week later than it has in the past, so they’ve added extra lessons here and there so we don’t complain about not getting our moneys worth. I doubt any of us would have complained exactly! But our grammar teacher is lovely, and we didn’t feel like the day dragged on too much. The lessons and the amount of hours we do here is tiring. And then you get home and you have homework in Russian, and if you’re keen like me you will have listened to Russian music most of the way home and will even try and watch a film in Russian/read a novel in Russian in your spare time.

When people tell me they can’t learn a language, I can’t understand it. Anyone can learn a language, you don’t have to be really smart to do it. You need a decent memory, and enough determination and exposure to the language. That’s it. A bit of grammar and polishing later on, but mostly it’s about making the language ‘normal’ for you.

Seriously, ask yourself; what do you do every day in your native language? Well, do that – but in your target language. Whatever it is; reading the newspaper, a book, listening to music, watching a film… you will pick up words and set phrases this way.

Languages are like ciphers. If you memorise enough of the verbs and nouns, and know something about how to put them together correctly, the meaning is unlocked. The more you practice using the cipher, the more fluidity you have. That’s how I see it anyway. Russian is slightly more complex than Spanish, but hey I’m in the right place to keep using this particular ‘cipher’. And the great thing is, when you can really speak a language fluidly, you get to unlock a whole new meaning and reach native speakers on a deeper level than you would if they were trying to speak your own language to you. Not everyone speaks English, you know. And I believe that not everyone should have to. Languages are important and can tell you a lot about each races’ culture and history. For instance, in Russian, when you ask someone what their name is, you say как тебя зовут? [kak tibya zavoot?], which literally means ‘how do they call you?’. In Russia, the serfs and peasants were part of collective communities, and the mindset was about others and not about self. So it’s not what you call yourself, but what they call you, if that makes sense. It’s kind of a selfless mindset. The answer to the question is меня зовут “х” [minya zavoot ‘x’] – or they call me “(insert name here)”.

Rant over. You don’t have to love languages to be my friend, I promise! 🙂

I can’t believe how I’m half way through my first term already and Christmas is on the way! I can’t wait… 

До скоро!

 

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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!

Weird things about Russia Part 2

Here it is guys. Weird things about Russia, 2.0. If you didn’t catch my first Weird things about Russia post, you can catch up on it using this link here.

Давай! (“Davayi” Let’s go!)

  1. Men spit on the floor a lot. I mean, guys seem to do this anywhere, but in England I’ve not noticed them doing it half as much as they do it here. I’ve even seen a girl do it once, though this is definitely rarer. It’s a bit grim, but you walk down the street and at the side there are often little blobs of spit on the floor. Gross.
  2. Smoking. I swear I have inhaled more second-hand smoke in my first 6 weeks here than I have in all of the years I’ve lived in England. Everyone seems to smoke here, especially the guys. I’m praying for my lungs right now. I see people walking around with those surgeon mask things on… not only is there a ton of cigarette smoke but there’s a lot of pollution too, the air here isn’t the best quality sadly. Hopefully my weekend in Komarova by the sea did some good for my poor lungs!
  3. Cloakrooms. Whenever you enter a building, be it uni, church, school, the theatre, a museum – anywhere! You have to hang your coat up in a cloakroom like everyone else and get a little token for the peg they put your coat on. It’s like the slippers indoors instead of your out door shoes thing. Twice I’ve been made to go back to hang my coat up in the cloakroom when I’ve forgotten this and tried to take my coat with me to my seat at a theatre/in a dining hall. It’s akin to a crime here. I’m almost not joking, that’s how seriously it’s taken in Russia!
  4. Bed sheets. Let me explain; In England, the sheet you put around the mattress has an elastic rim which holds the sheet in place and stops it coming off when you toss and turn in your sleep. Here, they just have big square thin pieces of material which you tuck under the mattress and they don’t stay in place. (I’m a wriggler, what can I say?). This adds to how uncomfortable beds are generally here. My mattresses at my home stay and in the hotel on the weekend away were so thin and the bed frames are so hard… I miss my bed back home and normal sheets that don’t come off at night!
  5. People selling things on trains. Literally, people come into the carriage and work their way down the train selling anything from scissors to passport holders to textbooks to soviet coins. They talk so loudly it’s almost impossible to keep having a conversation with your friends, and they talk about their products in such a monotonous way that everyone complains about it. Most people just ignore them. This doesn’t happen in England at all. In Madrid people used to come and busk on the train and play songs for the passengers. That was nicer because they would actually play songs so it was easier to listen to!!
  6. Galaxy chocolate here has a different name!! It’s called Dove, for some reason. I have no idea why. It’s a bit like how Walkers crisps are called Lays in Spain.

There we go! That’s weird things about Russia Part 2!! I’m sure there are more things to come!

October

5 weeks down. 31 to go.

Hello again! Here is my weekly post, although nothing much of interest has happened this week so far other than my church’s weekend away to Komarova (near the Finnish border, it’s about an hour north of St P on the train). And yes, I am ridiculously proud of myself for buying my train tickets all by myself AND managing to get a student discount on them!! 

Komarova is right by the Finnish border and the sea!


This week has actually been quite tough for various reasons. I think it didn’t help that I wasn’t as busy, so I missed home more. When I get tired and frustrated I end up thinking about the past and the future/what I’m going home to and wondering about things, but this tends to not help me. Also, my lessons were so hard. I’m not the only one who feels like their Russian has actually got worse recently. Most of my classmates have complained about it, so in a way it’s reassuring that I’m not the only one feeling the strain. I was talking to my flatmate about it and she said she spoke to this lady that teaches the highest level of Japanese but isn’t a native herself, and she said that when learning a language you go through small phases along the way where your brain just can’t take any more in, but then you get through it and advance again. So apparently it’s normal. It’s just frustrating when your in one of those phases.

My flatmate left on Friday morning; her course finished. She was on a different one to me because she’s from America. It was 3 months long, and at a different school to the one I go to (I go to the state uni). I miss her a little bit. She really helped me out during my first couple of weeks when I didn’t know where anything was. She’s given me a load of stuff she couldn’t take with her – a pillow, an extra towel and blanket, some jumpers and clothes and leftover food items (some were from one of her course mates too). She’s been so kind. Apparently my host ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ won’t take anyone new on for a while – they want a break, especially after the last students that were here before us. Apparently there was this guy who wasn’t very easy to live with/get on with. So it’ll just be me and my hosts. To be honest, I think it’ll work out better for me because I’ll speak more Russian. And I think they have quite a soft spot for me. I’m quiet and polite and don’t intrude when they have guests. I’m also quirky and interesting because I’m a christian that meets in a hotel not a church/cathedral (trust me, this is a mind-blowing concept in Russia) and I’m vegan… so I guess my perspective on life is always, shall we say, interesting(?!). My host ‘mum’ invited me for a cup of tea this evening after I’d got back and their friend had left (they came for tea) and asked about my weekend in Komarova, which was nice. We talked about family (her grandson is staying in the spare room for a few days) and I showed her some pictures of mine. Unfortunately I think the caffeine in the tea was the reason I ended up unable to sleep and feeling wired at 1.30am! But I appreciated that she wanted to hear about my church weekend away and spend some time talking to me.

So yeah, the weekend away turned out to be fun and a nice break. I’m so tired, but I got to really solidify friendships and make some new ones, take some silly photos, sing silly songs around a bonfire…. these things make precious memories which last a lifetime. I feel really challenged this year to really discover what it means to give my life and everything I have over to God, to lay it all down to follow him. This might be a bit deep to read on a Monday morning but it’s something I’ve been learning about since getting here, and especially this weekend during the meetings. I had to give up on time with my family, my 21st… and is it worth giving up these things which mean a lot to me? Honestly, from what I’ve learned about God so far, yes it is. It’s not an easy decision to make but I know that his plans for my life and the person he is helping be to become will definitely be so worth it. Every challenge I face will just help me grow and become a stronger and better person. And I love the fact that I don’t have to do it alone, because I believe he is always there, protecting me. 


Urrgghh I don’t feel like uni today…. I feel so tired and Mondays are my longest and hardest days… but I managed to get a lot of my homeworks done for the first part of the week so it means I can take my time this morning and relax a bit. I think my mum might FaceTime later so that will help keep my spirits up for the rest of the week! The days are getting shorter and colder here, we’re definitely feeling the autum-winter weather! 

Until next time 🙂 

Stranded in Russia.

Literally. Stranded.

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral/Church with a sunset 🙂 It’s not far from where I live.

I handed over my passport on Monday (18th) along with the black and white passport photos and 1600 roubles and my migration ticket. It could take at least 5 weeks if not longer to get the visa and passport back. I need it back by the end of October, or I can’t fly home in my reading week (from the 27th). Prayers would be appreciated! I went into the international office to get my forms filled in, and they said that they hadn’t had a signature back from RLUS to say that we were students here in St P yet so they can’t send our passports off until they have it. They sent that out over a week ago, so they said they’d be sending an email again to remind them to sign it on Monday. I can’t believe it’s not the Russian bureaucracy getting in the way… it’s actually the course I’m on’s administration! But hey, I’m sure that whatever happens it’ll be fine. In some ways, I worry that going home might make me realise what I’m missing even more and make it harder to come back after and finish my first term!

It’s getting easier here, in some ways. I’m getting more used to the way of life and the feel of the city. It’s way bigger than any other city I’ve lived in. I got used to the metro in Madrid, so that’s fine, but taking the bus every day is a new experience for me.

The lessons seem to get harder each week. I understand well enough what’s going on, but sometimes I feel like I’m the worst at Russian in my class. I always seem to get things wrong, not understand or need the question to be repeated. My translation teacher embarrassed me in front of the class a bit on Monday when she got a bit frustrated that I hadn’t managed to translate this sentence properly and she said ‘It’s easy’. And I sat there thinking, you can talk, Russian’s your native language, so translating a sentence into Russian is easy for you. For me it’s difficult. Their word order is different and much more flexible than the English word order. Plus, she explains all of this in Russian, and it involves a lot of technical terms which I just didn’t know before.

So I’m coping and trying to just get my homeworks done and not let it get to me too much. Having spoken to a fair few people returning from their year abroad, they say that the first 3 months are the hardest, then you go home for Christmas and somehow when you come back in the New Year everything’s easier. Probably from the break. It all just sinks in while you’re relaxing at home and it’s not so intense and in-your-face.

I don’t want my posts to come across as being too negative. There are positives to your year abroad and to being in Russia, etc. It’s just hard initially. I’m sure that in a few months, or after Christmas, I’ll be singing Russia’s praises on a whole new level. It’s just the adjusting phase, when it’s still a (really) steep learning curve, that it’s all a bit difficult and you miss home. Or maybe it’s just me. Either way, I’m finding it challenging being here right now.

The best advice I can give to future year-abroaders from my experience right now is, find a balance between going out lots with friends / sightseeing etc and staying home and watching Netflix / a film / etc and just chilling out. It depends on your personality and whether you’re an introvert/extrovert or both. I’m a bit of both, so I like to try and see friends but also have time to myself to recharge. Ringing home helps me personally because I have a great relationship with my family and parents, and lots of friends too. They are all cheering me on, and it honestly means so much and carries me through the hard times when I wish I could just up and get on a plane and go home.

Last night, (Saturday 23rd) I went to a student night hosted by my new church here – Hope Church. It was Africa-themed, and we all had to dress up as colourfully as possible. There were prizes for the winners. We all had to learn some African dance moves and try them out to some music. Then we all got into groups and had to do all of the most ‘African-like’ dance tracks group by group on Just Dance, but everyone else joined in anyway. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. Things like that really help you feel more settled. I also met with one of my new friends from church (who helped run the event) to help chop up bananas and melon beforehand, and I helped set up. Doing stuff like this makes you feel part of something and like you have a life here if that makes sense.

Today I’ll be going to the church service as always, and there’s a picnic afterwards so we all have to bring our own food and something to sit on, as this will probably be the last time you can have a picnic here before it gets too cold! It’s currently starting at around 7 degrees (Celsius) here and then it gets up to around 15-17 degrees C during the day. I’ve got my winter scarf already… just need some good gloves and eventually, when they come out in the stores, a good coat!!

But more on that later in October! For now, I hope you all have a good Sunday and a good week to come.

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! I dread having to go to the little ticket booth just inside the metro and ask for them to top up my card now.
  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! One lady got cross at me because I gave her a couple of hundred roubles too many for what I was paying for. Seriously….
  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!! I guess in England women don’t tend to take quite so much pride in their appearance to the same extent – but maybe that’s just my observation. This is coming from the girl that is more comfortable in sports gear or pyjamas though 😉
  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!