Weird things you might not know about Russia.

Привет друзья!

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

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

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

 

Advertisements

Week 2 – settling in.

I wasn’t sure what to write about this time, so this post will probably just string together a load of random experiences which I’ve noticed through the week into a general update/week in my life.

Starting with Monday morning… I freaked out on the way to my bus stop because I walked past a whole queue of trolley-buses (all number 5, the one I always get because it takes me closest to the uni and returns me to the stop outside my front door). They weren’t moving, and I thought maybe something was wrong. I waited at the bus stop anyway, anxiously observing this random stack of buses that weren’t moving… and then the first one in line came to life and stopped at the stop and we all got on and everything was fine. Weird.

I’ve also been kicked off the number 5 bus twice on two different occasions and in two different locations. I’m still not really sure why (it wasn’t just me, everyone had to get off), but I think it had something to do with the bus not going to the end of it’s route for some reason. There was no explanation offered to the bewildered passengers. I guess this situation calls for the common phrase used whenever something weird or unconventional happens here; ‘This is Russia’. Apparently anything goes!

On Monday, I found my lessons really challenging and I felt really overwhelmed. I think the material used at uni is harder on purpose so we are stretched and learn more. By the time the day had finished (at 5) and I got home (two hours later at 7… I kept missing the bus at every bus stop on the way home and it’s at least 89 mins walk but when you’re tired it’s even longer) I was feeling pretty miserable. Fortunately my babushka is really kind and she reassured me that my Russian is really good. I find I get home and the simple every day conversations are so much easier. I had a lot of homework to do for Tuesday but by the time I’d finished tea and had a chat with my flatmate who was interested in what the uni was teaching me etc, I got rung by a friend of a friend who visits the ladies prisons here in St Petersburg, and I had a lovely conversation in Russian with her on the phone. I’m terrified of ringing people up in England because I’m always worried they’ll have an accent I won’t understand or something (those call centres though!), so the fact that I was able to talk to an almost stranger for the best part of an hour on the phone in Russian and understand almost everything really boosted my confidence in myself. And this is only week 2! 34 to go…. but let’s not think about that too much yet! Then I ended up messaging my parents for the rest of the evening before going to bed… I needed an early night so I gave up on work and decided to do it in the morning.

On Tuesday, I had a better day at uni. I slept better during the night, my lessons were interesting and I just felt like I did a lot better and was more switched on. I really like my grammar teacher – she’s a no-nonsense kind of person but she has a sense of humour. I get the sense we’ll learn a lot from her, and she seems to believe in us which is nice. After uni I came home and got on with some work and began reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (in Russian)… I’m hoping to read a little bit every day, and because it’s my book I’ll write translations for words I don’t know in in pencil. In the evening I went out with some new friends from church and some of their friends to Укроп (Ukrop) again, so I had a really lovely evening. They have really nice food there! We talked and laughed a lot, and we talked about how in the first few months it’s all about settling in and taking care of yourself rather than worrying about your reports/assessment for your year abroad. It’s useful to be able to have these conversations with people who’ve lived here for a year already and know and remember what their first few months were like. They’ve been really kind giving me points cards and old coats and umbrellas to prepare me for my year in Russia and just having some friendly faces (even though most are leaving over the next few weeks) is really helpful.

A picture I took when crossing the River Neva on my way to Ukrop on Tuesday evening 🙂


Wednesday was okay … My lessons weren’t as good as yesterdays but they weren’t as bad as Mondays and I got through them in the end. I had to buy some more vegetables on the way home and an umbrella (the one my friend from church gave me was a bit broken and useless this morning when it was pouring). I FaceTimed my Mum and chatted for a bit and caught up on some work before watching a film and some videos on YouTube to end the evening before bed. This was another thing I talked about with one of the girls last night… she said people don’t tell you that they have low points/average nights in on their year abroad. They just show the highlights on their Instagram feed and talk about their travels… but actually for the most part it’s just a normal year of studying. It’s helpful to know that now rather than realise it later. Also, at Christmas most people go home for the whole two months between the end of term one and the start of term 2 in February because apparently winters here are so bad it literally makes you hate rain and snow. Apparently the snow looks great at first, but then cars drive over it and they don’t grit the roads properly so there’s loads of black ice everywhere and all anyone can complain about is the grit and compare which parts of the city grit the roads right and which parts don’t. Fascinating, I know. 😉

Thursday was also not so bad – I enjoyed my phonetics lesson – we all practice getting the stresses on different words aloud and it sounds like we’re all chanting so it’s kinda funny. It rained again so I was really glad I bought my sturdy new umbrella on Wednesday. I was so proud of myself when I bought it because I was able to talk to the guy at the till when my loyalty card for the shop didn’t seem to work and to say that I was going to pay by card. Little things like that make me happy 🙂 My grammar lesson was hard though – we were revising active participles, and I struggled to learn those in English so you can only imagine how hard it was learning it in Russian! My teacher noticed I was struggling and asked at the end if I’d ever learned them before… and I said yes but how I’d found it hard in English. I had to keep looking out of the window in the lesson to give my brain a little break – and I explained that too, which made her chuckle, but she said I’d understand it soon enough. I hope so! I went for my first run in the evening – my flat mate and babuska all told me to be really careful because men target women running alone. It was rush hour though and I ran along the river, which is surrounded by really busy roads and there were lots of people about so I figured it would be fairly safe. My legs were sore and tired after though – I haven’t run in a while and it was all hard concrete – not good for my knees at all! Fortunately there are some weights in the flat that I’m going to borrow so I’ll do circuits or something in my room and then just lots of walking so it should have less impact on my knees and save me buying gym membership.

Today it’s Friday, And I’m going to go food shopping and later meet up with a friend of a friend and we’ll probably chat in Russian all afternoon. Then later this evening I’m going to go help a friend from church at her charity which helps teach English to Russians -they are having a movie night and watching LaLaLand. 

I’ve now been in Russia for two weeks. Might not sound like a lot but so much has happened to me in those two weeks. It’s hard to get it all in here – you can’t really describe the change in sights, smells, tastes unless you’ve been here yourself and tried it. 

On Monday next week I’ll be handing my passport over to get my visa changed to multi entry. Hopefully it’ll go through in time for me to still be able to go home at the end of October in my reading week. The visa process can take a minimum of 5 weeks, sometimes longer. I’ve managed to ask to have my passport sent off with the first batch of passports so hopefully there won’t be a problem! It’ll be nice to pop home again briefly before the weather gets really bad! 

I don’t have a lot of plans for this weekend which may be a bad idea because I need to keep busy to stop myself from thinking about home too much, but at the same time I have a lot of homework so my brain will be busy even if I don’t manage to go out anywhere! Of course I’ll still be going to Hope Church though! At the moment it’s the highlight of my week because it’s a little piece of home – I know all the songs even though we’re singing them in Russian half the time. 

That’s my update for this week! 

 

 

 

 

First Week.

So, it’s been basically a full week since I first set foot in Russia for the first time. I’ve posted a lot this week; I wanted to make sure that all of my first impressions and experiences were out there for those thinking about studying Russian or visiting Russia, so I’m doing it for you guys!

My first week has had ups and downs. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t felt homesick. I have. I still do. I miss my family and friends, and I’m still not sure how I’m going to make it through 9 months of life here… but it has to be done and I know that I’ll get used to it here eventually.

Today, for example, instead of staying cooped up in my room studying, I took up an offer from a friend through my new church here (Hope Church) and went to a place called Petergof in the suburbs of St Petersburg. It’s kind of a little town on the outskirts, but we went to this massive palace with huge gardens – might be called a Dacha, but I’m not sure about that yet! I spoke Russian all day long! It was intense but worth it for my speaking skills, because when I got home, a simple conversation with my host about how my day had gone was so much easier!

To meet the people I was going with, I had to take the metro for the first time since getting here. Fortunately my practice on the metro in Madrid this summer came in handy and it was all fine and I got to where I needed to be half an hour early!! It was funny because you have to go right down underground for a really long time here, it’s a good 5 minutes on the escalators to reach the station at the bottom! People are reading books and listening to music on their phones and reading the newspaper on the escalator like it’s completely normal. Which I guess it is, for them. For me it was a new experience!

I was told before I came to just say yes to everything. Every opportunity to speak Russian and experience the culture or way of life. I mentioned this tip in my post about how to make the most out of learning a language abroad… So I guess that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking my own advice, and by keeping busy, it helps me not think too much about everything I feel I’m missing out on at home and how homesick I’m feeling! I might go on about this a bit for the first few weeks while I’m here, but I’m just being real so that others getting ready for their year abroad are aware that it’s normal to feel this way. I’m missing my aunts wedding to be here, and I was meant to be a bridesmaid. I won’t be in any of the photos… and I’m from a really big, close family, so you can imagine how that feels. I also spent my 21st running around trying to buy food and a sim card in a strange, new and HUGE city, in Russian. I’m not complaining, it’s just that it’s not ideal exactly!

What also really helps me is knowing that I’m never alone, because God is here with me. I can talk to him at any time and he is always listening, no matter what! I’m so glad I made it to Hope Church on Sunday last week because I’ve already got friends helping me out and trying to connect me up to other people who can help me and look after me a bit in these first few months. It’s good to feel like you have people who are rooting for you when you feel cut off from what is familiar to you.

Anyway, I’m super tired – mentally and physically – from all the walking and Russian speaking I’ve done this week, so I think I’m going to keep this post shorter than the others this time. This weekend I don’t have many plans other than going to church and going shopping again for some more food and things. I may go to the Hermitage (art museum) tomorrow with a friend but that’s not been decided yet.

Time to get some sleep and recuperate! See you soon! 😉

Day 5: Feeling at home away from home.

Yup, still here. I don’t even know where the airport is so I don’t know how I’d get to the plane anyway. Today I felt really homesick for various reasons. I’m just going to put that out there and be completely honest. People say your year abroad is the best year of your life. But few of them actually admit just how hard it is the first few weeks and months as you try and adjust to your new ‘home from home’ and get into a routine. So I’m going to be straight up honest about it, ok? It’s hard. It’s so different. It’s not bad different. It’s just not what I’m used to and it’s hard to just adapt straight away.

I guess in this situation you have to focus on the positive things. I love being able to try out my Russian and speak it all the time with my hosts and at uni. All of my lessons are 100% in Russian. And I understand A LOT more than I thought. So that’s a pleasant surprise. The weather hasn’t been too cold so far – it rained today for a few hours, so I got wet on the way to uni (I need an umbrella!!) but I’m home now and dry with my warm furry blanket wrapped around me as I write this.

I probably should talk about my home stay and what it’s like. It’s a flat, and my bedroom is huge! I don’t have a lot of stuff to fill it with though, so it looks a bit empty but it does the job I guess. I have a wardrobe and some shelves, a desk, a desk chair, a small sofa, a mirror and a bed. I thought there wasn’t a radiator but there is, it’s hidden under the window sill. The curtains don’t really open so my room is kinda dim but I don’t mind that during the day as it gives me more privacy and I’m also usually at uni anyway.


Yesterday I had an uncomfortable experience trying to buy a kind of oyster card in the metro. The lady in the ticket booth spoke so fast and she seemed so cross with me. A man in the queue behind me tried to help in Russian but I couldn’t understand him that well either. I think the lady was trying to ask how much money I wanted on the card (I’d given her a 500 rubble note because I’d been told it cost that much, but the card itself only cost 60rubles apparently!) an English speaking guy came and helped at the end but by then I’d got fed up and just told the lady to put all of the money on the card. At least I won’t have to top it up for a while! And it saves me always needing change! I love going to uni on the bus – especially today because it rained for a few hours and I got a bit soaked walking between the last bus stop and the faculty I’m enrolled in for this year. 

This is a подорожник – a kind of Oyster card like they have in London.


I walked for hours yesterday – I wanted to go to some of the book shops on Nevsky to look at prices before buying something and I also took a slight detour to get a picture of the Church of the Saviour on Blood (that’s its actual name).


I got massive holes in my socks though and a blister too. Turns out the socks weren’t actually mine but my sisters so I’ll probably have to buy her some more when I go home! Oops! 

So yeah, St Petersburg is pretty and exciting and new. Hopefully in time I’ll get used to it and feel a bit more like I fit in! I’m now going to get on with my homework and get organised for the weekend ahead – we have “library days” on Fridays so our weekends are 3 days long!! But tomorrow I’m probably going to go with a friend to a place called Petergoff near the Finnish border for the day and on Saturday I might go with another friend to the Hermitage museum so I’ll be really busy!! I think that’s another way of trying to not get too homesick… keeping occupied. 

Obviously I’ll keep you all posted if that does happen!! 

I hope you enjoy me posts and find them interesting! I love hearing from my readers so feel free to comment below!! 

Day 3: First day of School

Здравствуйте, друзья! (Hello friends!)


Day 3! I’m actually doing this. I’m still here. I haven’t caught a plane home and given up yet. (I’m only half joking!)

Today was like my first day of school all over again. You know the deal; you can’t find the toilet, you don’t know where the heck your classroom is, you’re half an hour late for your first class because you were over ambitious in thinking you could walk the whole way to the uni in an hour and still be on time…..

Yes, I’m starting to settle in. And pretty quickly too. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I seem to be a lot better at Russian than I previously thought. As in, I can actually talk to people and understand what they are saying back. It’s not home exactly but it’ll do and I can manage.

I’m also getting a lot better at navigating my way around – both walking and on the Trolleybus. I love the trolleybus. I get bus number 5 to uni and bus 5 or 22 home. I can walk, but as I learned today it’s best to leave an hour and a half in advance if I actually want to arrive at uni on time. You pay about 40 kopeks (53 pence) for a little ticket and away you go. Or you can buy like an oyster card which you top up and it’s only 30 kopeks. I’m going to get one soon. It’s forecast to rain the rest of this week all day every day so I’d rather not try and walk in that!

Once you realise that Nevsky prospect is the centre of the universe you quickly learn to navigate from there and suddenly the city is opened up to you. I love how everyone speaks Russian, how all the signs are in Russian, and I loved having my entire culture and grammar classes in Russian today. My teachers were so nice too… I can tell that we’re going to learn a lot from them.

Thanks to the aptitude test I took online before I left England and the interview, they arranged us into groups. I’m in group 3, not that that will mean a lot to all of you out there reading this. I know this sounds kinda bad but I was worried I’d be put with all the people from my class in Exeter. Fortunately they ended up mostly in group 4. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but I wanted to at least be with people I don’t know so that I have a better chance of speaking Russian (or alternatively, Spanish) and not lapsing into English after class all the time. I only had 2 classes. On most days I start at 10am and on Mondays at 11:30. Some days finish at 5pm. It’s all a bit strange because in England I had lectures dotted throughout the day and only about 15 hours a week, but this isn’t a big deal for me. We get Fridays off, they are ‘library’ days.

After my second class of the day, which ended at 13:10, I went ‘into town’ aka Nevsky Prospect with a new friend from my group and we went shopping and had lunch in a place called Market. We also found a vegetarian cafe called ‘Ukrop’ (Укроп) which we decided we’d try tomorrow. Eating out is soooo cheap here. It’s only about 260-360 roubles, or ~£3.49-4.83 for a meal. Obviously it depends on where you go – if you go to a gourmet restaurant it might be more like 1000+ roubles (~£13.41). More on eating as a vegetarian/vegan in Russia later – I’ve been planning on doing a post about initial experiences and then maybe another one later in the term for those out there that might find it helpful).

Food generally is really cheap out here. Again, it depends on what you buy and where you buy it… but I tend to get a lot of vegetables, fruit, veg and beans/lentils, potatoes, buckwheat and millet (which are more commonly eaten but are like rice). Bread is REALLY cheap too – rye bread is delicious!! I’m still working out my budget so I’ll probably include that in a later post and some tips etc for those that are living off their maintenance loan and not getting and ERASMUS grant (because Russia obviously doesn’t qualify).

I forgot to mention in my previous post that I walked along Nevsky with friends after the briefing talk and we went to a book shop. Books are so cheap too! We found Гарри Поттер (literally pronounced ‘Gary Potter’ but it’s Harry potter – for some reason in Russian they change names beginning with H to G… even Hitler is ‘Gitler’ (Гитлер) to Russians). I also found a six-in-one Хроники Нарнии (Chronicles of Narnia) and some Agatha Christie translated into Russian!! I’m definitely going to have to buy some soon because it’s great for vocabulary and grammar. They are also really cheap; the Agatha Christie books were only ~150 roubles!!


So yeah, now that it’s all becoming a bit more familiar, it’s not so scary and weird and overwhelming like it felt on Sunday (which unfortunately happened to be my 21st birthday). I know, right? Just don’t be born on the 3rd September people!! 😉 The streets here are so wide and so long – I guess it’s a bit like London in size… it takes a good 20-25 minutes to walk the entire length of Nevsky – maybe longer actually.

All this walking around has meant that I can take some pictures of some of the beautiful buildings here. There are so many so expect more to follow!!


Until next time!

 

 

 

Registration: Day 2 in St. Petersburg.

The cathedral / church in front of my faculty at СПБГУ (Saint Petersburg State University).

Post nomer dva (номер 2). I’m actually writing this in hindsight because I was so tired yesterday evening that I didn’t get round to writing. I was also talking to my mum (whatsapp is a lifesaver) and some friends and just chilling out after my first day at the Saint Petersburg State Uni. Ok, so it wasn’t actually a full day of classes. We had to arrive at 10am and register. You have to register everywhere you go in Russia. They like to keep their eye on you the whole time I guess. If you so much as stay the night in a hotel, you have to re-register. If you want to travel or leave the country, I have to tell the uni in advance. Our Uni Representatives told us this in the meeting we had once we’d handed in our passports and migration cards to get registered during the “briefing chat”.

Apparently registering is part of general life in Russia, at least, it is for foreigners. Also, you have to carry your documents around with you everywhere you go because we’ve been told that the police are allowed to stop you at any moment and ask to see them. It’s all part of the bureaucracy (took me ages to try and spell that word!!).  So that includes your passport, your migration card, your insurance policy (travel and health – especially health), your student card… everything. Although we were told before we came in our pre-departure talks in Exeter to take a load of photocopies so that we can leave the original documents at home so they won’t get lost or stolen.

Oh yeah, that’s another thing we’ve been briefed on. Pickpockets are a thing, so we have to watch our bags and be careful in crowds. Apparently the police and thieves have an understand here; this works out practically where if there’s no violence, a certain amount of crime is tolerated. So you won’t get mugged, but you could still get your purse stolen. Silver linings and all.

In the talk they also explained some of the process of getting our visas converted to multi-entry. You arrive in Russia on a single entry visa. You can’t leave basically, unless you don’t want to come back. I was sorely tempted on Sunday… but don’t worry I’m sticking it out!! I’m still here! 😉

In 2 weeks (from the 18th) we have to bring our passports and migration cards, 1600₽ (roubles), 3 black and white photos and printed proof of insurance with us to the office at the uni and they will then begin the application process to get the visa extension (So that we can stay for longer than 90 days – forgot to mention that you enter with a single entry 90-day visa) and to convert it to multi entry so you can hop over the border etc.

A photo booth that takes black and white passport sized photos is not easy to find – but the uni pointed us to a certain shop just off of Suvorovsky Prospect (Суворовский проспект) which is attached to Nevsky Prospect (Невский проспект), the main kind of ‘high street’ in St P. I went with some friends to get mine done and my word was it an experience. We had the photos taken, then the lady in the shop plugged the camera into her computer and began to photo-shop my face right in front of me!! She literally removed every blemish and even squashed my hair in and removed any flyaway strands. She made my neck longer and moved my shoulders around to fit the frame properly, and when she was happy she pressed print and charged me more roubles than the poster on her wall claimed I’d have to pay for the 3 photos I’d asked for. I was so stunned at what was happening that I didn’t say anything… but the same happened to my friend as well straight after mine were done. The photos don’t even look quite like me anymore!! I guess this is how celebrities must feel.

My extremely edited photos!


The last thing that was touched on in our talk on Monday was advice specifically for women. They let the men leave and then told us that we had to always try and go out in groups, and if a man approached us that the best thing to do was run away. Also to not get into just any taxi or even into an Uber/Yandex taxi alone if possible. They told us to be careful when drinking in clubs and bars because spiking drinks is quite common, but apparently more so they can steal your wallet than sexually assault you. Again with the silver linings…. I guess getting robbed is better right? Maybe I’m making this sound worse than it really is; this advice probably goes for most big cities. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve only ever lived in smaller cities my whole life.

Before the talk from our reps, we were all given a little interview with a teacher from the uni. I felt like mine went really well, it was only about 10 minutes and I was asked questions about my name (always the conversation starter, especially when I was able to tell her that it’s Greek but no, I’m not Greek…). Also questions about my family, and you can kind of steer it a bit so I was able to talk bout how I’ve lived in Spain.

I’m generally just so surprised and relieved at how much Russian I seem to know and understand. I still have some holes in my vocab and I could do with going over some of the grammar again but I think I’m on the right road to getting pretty good at Russian. But hey, it’s early days yet, and the thing they did warn us about with RLUS courses is that there will be a lot of other English speaking students taking the course with you. 4 other people from Exeter that I know from my class there are here too… and so far I have spoken quite a bit more English than I’d have liked. But I’m hoping that it’s just for the first week or so while we all find our feet and settle in. Something to bear in mind when choosing between St P/Moscow and Kazan or anywhere in Siberia. More on this to come!

Вскоро друзья!

Arrival

I’m here. In Russia.

This is the furthest I have ever been from home, the first time I’ve ever left Europe, and (therefore) possibly the scariest thing I’ve done yet.

“Why??!” I hear you ask. Good question. To be honest, the moment I got of the plane at the St Petersburg airport I was thinking the same thing. What. Have. I. Done? No, actually, I lied. I was thinking which plane will take me back home to England?!

Apparently, it’s totally normal to feel this way. Only a few people I’ve talked to who’ve been on their year abroad in Russia have been open about how tough the first day, week, month… really is. And it’s true. It’s different. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s most definitely not like home. At all. 

The day started at 5am at my friend Siân’s house. She kindly let me and my parents drive down to where she lives in London and stay the night so that the mad dash to Heathrow Airport wouldn’t happen even earlier in the morning. (We would have had to have left at 4am at the earliest). 

We ate, got to the airport and checked in. We said our goodbyes, and moved through security with no problems. Fortunately, 3 other people from our course at Exeter were also going to St Petersburg for their first term if not for the whole year, so we all banded together next to our gate to wait to board the plane. Again, no problems, and soon enough we’d boarded and were taxiing down the runway to take off.

I don’t remember much about the flight… I kept dozing because I was so tired. It only took about 2hrs and 50minutes or so… which wasn’t so bad! I don’t like sitting still for hours on end so this was a good amount of time! On the other side, however, we had to queue for an hour and a half to get our migration card. You walk into this enclosed gateway and have to wait while a serious-looking lady checks your visa and passport and stamps and prints a load of things to give you your card. We all stuck together in a group, but we were worried our suitcases wouldnt be on the conveyor belts still after such a long wait! We were also worried our reps from the Uni would have left already! Fortunately neither thing happened, and we found our luggage and our reps pretty easily. 

We were divided up between two buses and driven for about 45 minutes around St Petersburg with no idea where we were going. Looking back on it I think they divided us into groups living close together in each side of the city. 

It was all I could do to hold myself together in the bus and focus on everything passing by the window. I saw some really beautiful buildings – the library and one of the famous theatres. The people sat behind me were very vocally expressing everything that came into their heads, they were probably nervous too, but I wasn’t appreciating it all that much and hoped maybe they would get off the bus first. Fortunately, I was the first to get dropped off…. In front of a very soviet-looking enclosed block of flats, painted a dull yellow colour, reminding me of my trips to Bulgaria with the River School in my mid teens with cracks in the walls and rust coloured stains around the pipes and bars across the windows. 

A few flights of stairs later (me struggling ungracefully with my 20kg suitcase while my rep effortlessly carries my tiny hand luggage case), my rep showed me into my new home for the foreseeable future. My hostess is wheelchair bound, which confuses me because there is no lift, so I have no idea how she gets outside, if in fact she does. Her husband was equally friendly, and spoke less English than his wife did. 

They happened to have a friend round who was German and only spoke English, although by that point I was quite firmly doing my best to speak in Russian to them all. There’s another, older student here called Louise who seems really nice. She’s offered to help me find Hope Church today and a phone shop to get my Russian SIM card and also a shop to buy some food. My home stay includes a free breakfast and room etc but I have to sort my own lunch and tea and pay for my washing.

My first night was good – I slept well and once I’d unpacked I finally started to feel a bit more like I can make it through the first week. We’ll see about the first month… 😉 I wasn’t very hungry (I think the nerves took my appetite away) but I managed to have some fruit and things which they kindly offered me. Lots of tea 🙂 

I also gave them the presents I’d brought – teabags and chocolates amongst other things, which they really appreciated! 

Today, my first full day, is my 21st, although it doesn’t really feel much like it. We celebrated before I came and I’ve brought some of my presents with me which I could pack safely so it’s not so bad I guess. And with wifi I can see any birthday messages I get too, so being connected helps! 

That’s pretty much everything I can think of to put into my first blog entry from St Petersburg! It’s as honest as I can make it! I’ll try and take more pictures to make these posts more interesting… for now all I have are some pictures of a very sleepy Charis and her parents at Heathrow airport! Until next time… 

до свидания!