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!

 

Advertisements

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! 😉

January blues – the highs and lows of uni life.

Exam week. I don’t know about you but – I don’t like exams. And after having what was probably my best Christmas ever… getting dumped back in Exeter is a bit of a downer!

….Buuut it’s finally over!! I had 5 exams, unlike most people, and 3 out of 5 of those went really badly. We’ll see when results come out, eh? I honestly don’t get how chilled out they are about preparing for exams at uni. During my A-Levels, we did two to three essays a week. At uni, we do formatives… which might just be an essay plan or just the introduction. Or maybe a short commentary. Either way… that’s all the prep you get. Unless you’re super keen or an absolute BEAST and can somehow find the time to do test essays in your own steam.

This is probably really boring but I’m gonna explain what I did to revise, because this blog is kinda for the students out there.

1/ Basically I do ‘smart’ revision. In other words, I pick the stuff I know I will need to know, or that I know are my weak areas, and start there. If I plan it right, I usually cover everything, but if I don’t get that far, then I’ve at least covered the key areas.

Also… I never consider an exam ‘lost’ and stop revising even if it’s the hour right before the exam. NO exam is lost. Any revision you can do before or in advance COUNTS. Especially if you target key areas. Say you have tonnes of books to just read. Don’t try and read them from cover to cover. Just look at the contents page and pick the chapters that are relevant and read those. Or parts of them. This tip is kind of a 2 in 1.

2/ I look at past exam papers. I don’t necessarily do them, but looking at them and even at the mark scheme really helps. If there are some titles I don’t think I could write an essay on under pressure then I might have a go at mind-mapping everything I know related to that title and then try and read up on those areas.

3/ This one mainly applies to history modules etc. I make a time line. My A level history teacher frowned upon it saying it would make me narrate events in chronological order. Obviously DON’T do that… but it helps me (personally) to get the key dates in my head and memorise them in relation to one another, i.e. one thing led into another thing… and so on. Because you associate one event with another event, it helps you memorise it.

4/ Figure out your learning style. I’ve probably mentioned this in a previous post but take a free online test and find out if you are a visual, kinesthetic, aural or traditional learner. Do you need colours, do you need to hear it over and over again, do you need to write it out… etc.

5/ TAKE BREAKS. Even if it means watching a silly YouTube video for 10 mins.

6/ Exercise. This could literally be just going for a walk. This week I went most evenings for a little walk near where I live. When I’m at home, I go and bounce on the trampoline for an hour or so before bed.

7/ Eat well. I know most students live on pot noodles and pasta… but add some veggies and your body will thank you. It’s easy to get run down, so make sure you’re getting lots of nutrients in and not just coffee!! And revising uses a lot of mental energy… so you will probably feel quite hungry!

That’s all I can think of for now. Hope this helps someone!!

Anyway… back to general life stuff… I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of things. My room is my little house (obviously). It has everything I need and use in it… All my books and some of my food things that won’t fit into my kitchen space. But everything has it’s little place and what with all of my colourful revision posters and mind-maps it just looks really cool. Yeah just complimenting myself I guess 😉 All about that positive outlook!

Term starts on Monday, so I’ll probably begin reading and doing (more) Russian grammar. Oh and my application for St Petersburg is in and I’ve paid the deposit… I’m officially GOING. AHHH 🙂 I still need to figure out flights and a visa and insurance, but it’s actually happening and you have no idea how excited I am! I’m gonna post my first Russian recipe shortly so watch this space!! I made голубци (golubtsii) – they are like stuffed fig leaves but made with cabbage. Please don’t let that put you off though they honestly taste really good!!

Oh yeah and over Christmas I passed my driving test! I look pretty gormless in this picture but I was so happy I didn’t care 🙂 

Anyway, until next time!! до скорого!

Go for it.

I flipping love Aldi. Seriously, shop there. You will save so much money! 

 

All of this grub for £18.66!

  

My shopping list for this week 🙂

 

I always write a shopping list – it means I get what I actually need and don’t over-spend. I was able to get so much more out of my shop this week because I didn’t opt for tuna and I still don’t need to buy any meat (that box deal has lasted me two months!) Beans, though strictly not paleo, and definitely not Whole30, are much cheaper. So this week I wanted to give them a go 🙂 Aldi stocks kidney and butter beans and chickpeas…. And as my family well knows, I love (understatement of th century) chickpeas. 

The good thing is that these are OK as long as I know that my body can handle them. Which it can. All the better for me! And my purse – beans are a cheaper source of protein. 

I know that I’ve talked a lot about paleo and how great it is – and it IS great – but I did always intend to have to continue slightly due to price. Hence the tradition of beans. I’m not going to be able to do that box deal again any time soon – although I might get some individual things for a treat – so I’m going to stick to fish (Cod and tuna are slightly cheaper (in Aldi) than chicken and mince) and beans. I’ve even found a place that sells black eyed peas! Recipes and experiments will follow no worries 😉 

But yeah generally feeling good. Sleeping a little better now which helps! I managed to get the guts up yesterday and go and practice my break dance moves (a.k.a train) in the Lemmy (sorry – Exeter lingo. It’s short for the Lemon Grove, the student club on site and virtually right outside my accommodation (Lafrowda)). 

I’m working on my back spins, handstands and cartwheels and round offs and headstands, and other things like the six step and three step and the coffee grinder. (It’s ok you don’t need to know what they all are! Although if you’re interested you can type each one into YouTube along with VincaniTV and some sweet tutorials should ensue 😉 ).

My Russian is really coming on! I can say more than I think!!! I’m having a conversation with two girls in my Russian class on Facebook (it’s homework for next week – we had to come up with a basic dialogue).

But yeah – getting to the point of the title of this post…. 

I was invited out to dinner tonight by a couple in the church. At first I thought they had just invited me, but it turned out the we’re having a load of other students over – warning bells went off in my head straight away. I don’t know abou you but meeting new people is exhausting and scary! I texted my mum about what I should do, and she nudged me to go. Of course I was hoping she’d encourage me to stay home and relax or something. Nope. And of course she was right – I did go and I did enjoy it. The couple even made me a gluten and dairy free cake – they have friends with intolerances so they already had all of the ingredients and it was divine! 

Stepping out of your comfort zone is something you have to do a lot at uni. There were a few time I debated not going to gymnastics or breakdance and tried to talk myself out, but then I went and really enjoyed it. Sometimes you have to just go for it. 
 

Weekend paarrtaaying again.

So today began bright and early with lots of veg cooked in coconut oil and an omelette with some steamed broccoli. Saturday. My day of actually getting up to date with my work again.Ellen and I cycled to Aldi again. This time I have pictures to prove how ridiculous I look doing this 🙂
  

 I know – not the most attractive angle! 

 

She makes me laugh that girl. Good times 🙂

Today was a little slower – I managed to catch up with a lot of work which was great and I’m super prepared for doing the rest tomorrow! Lots of lists!!!

I think I’m gonna head to grace church again and see if it might be my church where I settle eventually 🙂 I met my friend Josie after a Russian lecture once this week which was ace so I’m hoping to see her again. Plus…. Free lunch! Total student!

Lunch today was so great Ive actually forgotten what I made 😉 but tea was a poached cod fillet with white rice and lime juice and some rind (actually tasted amazing!) I added some chopped cherry tomatoes too 🙂 mmmmm

Then later on in the evening when everyone went out to watch the rugby I prepped some beg for later in the week. I have a couple of lectures that start around lunch time so I tend to make stuff in advance. I roasted the parsnips I bought for parsnip chips again as I’m planning on having a steak on Monday (after gymnastics I’m going to need that protein!) I also roasted some butternut squash and some carrots so I could make a soup from the Performance Paleo Cookbook by Steph Gaudreau so I can just save it in portions for when I news items. This week it turns out I have quite a few ingredients for the recipes in the Whole30 book I got before I came so I’m going to be trying out some of those 🙂 Watch this space – I’ll try and snap some pics when I can – even if they are from my phone!!

By the way – thanks for all the like people I really appreciate it 🙂 makes me feel like more people are interested and not just those I’ve purposefully sent a link to! 😉 the more support the better – the transition to uni is a lot bigger than I thought it would be. In good ways and bad. But on the positive I think I’m doing ok 🙂 I mean, if you think about it, thousands of other people go through this every year so I’m not the only one.

I’ve been wearing the earplugs my granny sent me for 15 mins now. I’m trying to get used to them. How on earth do people sleep with these in?!?! They seem to block the sounds from the flat party in our kitchen quite nicely but it just feels really wierd. Might have to take them out!

Just had someone pound on my door calling my name. It’s probably Rob wanting me to down another pint of water.

Not tonight 🙂 gosh I’ve just realized that if I hadn’t locked my door they’d have come in and seen me wearing these ear plugs. *Awkward*

Slightly worried that with all of these people drinking we’re going to run out of toilet paper again. It happens! Be warned future students – if you share your toilet with others it’s highly unlikely that they will have the same hygiene standards as you – girls are usually fine, but guys?? Nuff’ said 😉 they seem to have no concept of how to use a toilet brush – or one of them doesn’t at least. Gross right?

Anyway… If I’m going to have a hope of not yawning through the service tomorrow is better try and sleep. Night all!

End of Week Two

It’s time to test those ear plugs. Friday means partying, going out, drinking, pre-drinking…. the whole shebang.

Not me though. I have a ton of work I never managed to get round to mid week due to my phone arriving (and taking 4 hours to back up – not kidding). Also my printer took another two hours to figure out on Wednesday. I’m the kind of person where, once I start something, I won’t stop until it’s done, i.e. working. I ended up having to download every single app onto my phone separately and then remember all of my passwords! I almost lost my twitter account – which isn’t particularly important to me, or rather, it wasn’t until I had my wrists slapped on Monday about how I have to know all the current news around the world and twitter is the best way to keep up to date with that. Fortunately, I figured out today that I was still logged in on my laptop so I was able to reset the password.

To be honest, I think everyone in my flat (OK, all the girls at least) are feeling like staying in and working or putting on a movie. Maybe the party bug has died out slightly.

Ellen was a star today and helped me drop off the two bike baskets I’ve had knocking around my room for the past week. Basically, to help with my bigger, heavier Saturday shops, I tried to buy a cheap bike basked on Amazon so I could put stuff in there. The first one turned up without it’s rack to actually fit it onto the bike. I rang customer services and they arranged for a replacement. The replacement came…. with no bike rack. So I had to send both back and ask for a refund. But because of the awkward shape of the boxes, Ellen helped me carry them there. The post office happened to be inside a co-op on the high street anyway and she wanted some apples so it kind of worked out.

Won’t be doing that again.

Feeling a little bogged down by work but I’m breaking it down into lists and prioritizing so so far no panicking. I almost laughed when my lecturer for my Spanish History module said we had to work our way through the module’s selected bibliography and read one book a week. She’s joking. Ok, not really. But still…..

My main technique is to write down Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for the next whole week and then write in each space what home works are due in those days. Then I just start from Monday. The good thing is I get a week between pretty much every lecture to do stuff, but with all of this reading to be done I’m reluctant to leave it to the last minute.

I also can’t figure out where my tutor’s office is and I have to have a one-on-one meeting with him next week. His name is Gert Vonhoff and he isn’t even doing my languages (as you can probably tell from his amusing name, he does German). Nobody can really see the point in a tutor, apart from the fact that he’s our first port of call when we need a reference should we eventually figure out what in the world we want to do after uni as a career.

Having more interesting conversations with my flatmates about faith/God/Christianity etc.

Last night I got back on a high from Break Dance and there were a few in the kitchen. One guy said something about me having good karma or something, and I said, ‘but I don’t believe in karma.’ So then he said, ‘why not?’ So I said, ‘because I love Jesus instead’. And then he was like, yeah, I watched this thing by Stephen Fry where he questions all the pain and suffering in the world, and how can there be a higher power when all of that bad stuff happens. To which all I managed to say was ‘God doesn’t choose or make that stuff happen.’ It didn’t get much further. He wants me to watch the interview now. All I could think was, I said all the wrong stuff.

I dunno… these conversations are real brain workouts I’m telling you! But then he likes to ask my perspective on things for some reason.

So yeah, anticipating a more relaxing weekend, hopefully ploughing through some work and learning some more Russian (so I can show some of the know-it-alls in my Russian class I’m on the same level. I’m doing an Elle Woods (those that have watched Legally Blonde will know what I’m on about)). That’s another story though – I can’t believe how much butt-kissing people can do :O  Seriously guys, don’t be arrogant. It’s so unattractive!

I love my lecturer for my Russia: Empire and Identity module. She’s very quirky is Katherine Hodgson 😉 Today she was telling us about how she actually met the author of one of our books (Geoffrey Hosking author of Russia: People and Empire 1552-1917) in an interview to work for or with him for something, and she didn’t do well because she was distracted by his mono-brow. Then one of the girls in my class (Nicola) said she had always been told you couldn’t trust someone with a mono-brow, so now she could use that as evidence as to why Geoffrey’s theory about Russia not forming properly as a nation because it was too obsessed with being an Empire wasn’t true – because he’s now untrustworthy (due to the state of his eyebrows). You wouldn’t expect this kind of thing in classes I’m (or rather, Student Finance is) paying £9000 for, but it made for some light entertainment. Don’t worry, we did actually do some work that lesson 😉

Today I didn’t need to think too much about food – I had the other half of my Shakshuka for lunch with a sweet potato, and then made some tuna pasta for tea (with the gluten/egg/dairy free shell shaped pasta that Angela gave me!) it was yummy and simple. Pasta isn’t strictly Paleo as it contains grains normally but this stuff is made with rice flour, and white rice is considered OK as brown rice still contains toxic and hard-to-digest properties in the husk which is left on. There’s a good article about it which you can read here: http://paleoleap.com/about-rice/   at Paleo Leap. So yeah, sorry there’s no picture, but it was the pasta (cooked for 12 mins in boiling water with some Himalayan salt to bring out the flavor), sweet corn, a generous splash of olive oil, and half a tin of drained tuna (in brine). Lush.

That about does it really – I’ve run out of stuff to say now. I guess I just want to crack on, so that’s it for the time being!

Over and out 😉

Feeling like a proper student now

Freshers fair was amazing. Just UNBELIEVABLE.

Ok, to start it wasn’t so much. You got crushed in the middle of a crowd the moment you entered any of the buildings or halls, and there were stalls crammed tight everywhere. So many freebies…. I have a massive XL shirt which is practically a dress from Deliveroo (something I never intend to actually use, but in the true spirit of being a student grabbed the freebies on offer on the stall because, well, why not?) I got a load of pens too and a highlighter which I’m pretty happy with.

At first I thought actually, maybe I won’t join anything. I couldn’t find the stalls for the stuff I wanted to join anyway, and the atmosphere was fizzling with excitement as people turned up to join… oh I don’t know – knitting club, or the chocolate society. (Yes they exist here at Exeter, along with a few other odd balls like the Hide-and-Seek society).

Then I realized that actually the stalls I needed where elsewhere on campus, and after finally locating them, I managed to join a) the music society, aptly named Exetunes, which gives me access to the music rooms, instrument hire etc and also allows me to go for an orchestra. I booked my audition with the Chamber orchestra, the cheaper of the two, and await that with terror….. (Why do I do this to myself??!)

Then I finally found the Breakdancing society, which was not in the Peter Chalk building as marked on the maps but actually outside the forum. It kinda made sense that they weren’t behind a table, it meant they could rock up with a stereo and literally advertise by jamming right there. I can’t wait for my sessions with the crew, it seems pretty chilled.

Then I joined gymnastics. This one was more expensive than the other things, but it’s only one session a week at the moment and it fits in nicely between some lectures so I’m happy. I can’t wait, in fact.

It feels like finally I can do things I thought I’d never get to try because I had no money or it was too late. Uni’s good for that I guess.

I can’t wait for lectures to start on Monday I’m so stoked.

I practiced the cello in my tiny room again today ready for the audition (still freaking out) and managed to wedge myself between the wardrobe and desk to have enough bowing room. Yup that Exetunes membership is going to come in handy!

I also made my first trip to Aldi with one of my flat mates (Ellen) and didn’t quite anticipate how heavy tins of sweetcorn and veg were going to be in my rucksack and on a bike in a very hilly city…. But I made it home! And I didn’t even smash any of my eggs! (We wrapped them in Ellen’s tea towel just in case!) The look on her face as I loaded everything into my ruck sack was priceless – she couldn’t believe I was actually going to try and cycle with something so heavy! I just laughed it off (until I had to cycle uphill with it)… I reckon in the end the ruck sack was heavier than my cello! My shoulders still ache even now!

Later in the afternoon Me, Bex, Sarah and Ellen went into town to go shopping and get some bits and bobs. We went to the cafe at the top of the massive John Lewis and ended up chatting for ages about things – I’m so lucky to have such lovely flat mates ❤

Tomorrow I’m off to the church search in the morning – hoping to go to Belmont as I’ve heard good things about it and the pastor came to talk at the CU Central meeting thingy on Thursday. Tonight I think I’m just going to chill out with my flat mate Bex and watch something on Netflix.

Can’t believe Freshers week is almost over!!!!!!! Ahh where did that time goooo????