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! 

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

Year two: reflections 

 

Yay! Second year completed – no more exams, revision… just relaxing and enjoying the sunshine! Not for long though..

I fly out to Spain next weekend for 2 months to work as an au pair, and then come back for august before flying out to Russia for 9 months. Is this real life? I cannot believe that it’s happening already! My year abroad is finally upon me, and I have to admit I’m excited but also a little nervous.

Last summer I had a not so optimal au pair experience, so I’m really hoping and praying that this year won’t be like that. I’ll be living in Madrid until the end of July, and I’ve never been there before so it will all be new to me! I’m hoping to make some friends at the church I’ve found and intend to go to while I’m there, but I also hope to gel well with the family.

I will take as many pictures as possible so hopefully a few will end up on here, and also I’m going to do some year abroad posts – things like what to do/what not to do and how to go about studying your language while abroad and making the most of your time out here. I hope it will be useful!

The weather in Exeter is beautiful right now, I’m loving the sunshine and clear blue skies. I’m missing my church camp back home (this weekend) which is sad, but I rang my family yesterday to top up on some lurve before I go home on Tuesday. Yeah, I know, I’m already about to go home and leave for the summer!!

I will admit, this year hasn’t been easy. It’s been somewhat easier than last year in the sense that I knew what to expect a little more. You can usually tell the difference between and fresher and a second/third year because of their confidence levels and how they behave. I definitely feel more confident and well on my way to being a True Adult. Although I’m not sure I’ll ever fully grow up! But I can at least feed myself decently well and put a wash on once a week so we’re doing good so far!

I was so glad to walk out of my last exam yesterday knowing that that was it. The thing is, I’d been struggling with the more complicated grammar stuff we learned this year in Russian, and even Spanish was giving me a run for my money! The step up was bigger than I expected… so I had to amp up my game and work harder than last year. I pretty much coasted last year – which is not the best approach, but then it doesn’t count towards your degree so most people do even less work than I did!

So yeah that’s the first thing – this year was harder work-wise. Because it counted. So everything had to be good. I had to read tonnes of books and things while doing all of my grammar/homework for my lectures and preparing before the lecture in order to write my coursework in my second term. And I had to revise hard over Christmas for my January exams, which is never fun at that time of year.

Secondly, I learned to trust God a lot. I couldn’t work a lot this year because I was so busy with my studies, so there were some hairy moments where I had barely enough money for food and things. Don’t worry – I made it through, but it was a little rough in places and this is also partly because I didn’t really earn a lot of money last summer. It’s hard to get a job as a student because bosses look at your CV, realise they’ll train you up to only lose you again in 3 months and say nah not having you. #studentlife.

But this summer that won’t happen as I’m working as an au pair through a company and the family has to pay you. But anyway, back to my point. I had to learn to trust God with my finances… to trust it would all be OK and try and still meet up with friends even if I couldn’t buy food or a coffee, but to just be there to enjoy being with them because that’s the important bit.

Lastly, I learned to forgive myself and love myself for who I am. It’s something I’ve found hard my whole life, and I’m sure I’m not alone with this. But this year has really been a turn around in many ways… and that has definitely been helped by reading the Bible and discovering what God thinks about me and not worrying about what other people think.

Bring on summer… I hope you’re all well and enjoying the weather as much as I am!

It doesn’t last forever.

This is not a downer post. At least, that’s not my intention.

I want to talk a bit about friendships at uni. Might add in a bit of comparison between first year and second year, giving some experiences. Sorry – I’m a humanities student… essays are my life and always have been. Analysing is what I do…

Friends. They are so important to our development and well being, and especially to our confidence. I know, I know, you shouldn’t care about what people think, you should just be you. But to a certain extent in this world you are going to care, no matter how hard you try. And if you really genuinely don’t – please share your secret with me!

A bit of history is due here: I’ve always been a people-pleaser. I don’t really know why; I guess it’s because I’m a perfectionist (aren’t we all) and I set really high standards for myself. I’ve been bullied before (who hasn’t?) and I can remember all too well the times when I would speak my mind and say what I was really thinking only to meet crushing rejection and have my ‘friends’ gang up on me and make my life miserable for a few days, until we were ‘friends’ again. (Kids can be cruel right?) I would lose myself in my story writing – or journal the experience, you know, to try and get it all out. Now when I look back, I’ve realised it said more about them than it did about me. I always blamed myself, thought that I was the problem. But really they were just jealous, insecure, and wanted to be in control of their friendship group. Now, I’m not saying I never did anything wrong. But I don’t remember doing much to provoke this treatment.

So it sounds sad, but I never really had many friends most of my life until I got to uni. And even now, I only really have a handful of true friends. Ones I would feel comfortable being 100% myself around. Maybe I just go for quality over quantity…

I also have 2 best friends… Elisha (Ellie) who I’ve known since birth (literally) and Ruth, who I’ve known for probably 5 years now. Ruth goes to uni in Glasgow, and Ellie lives and works in Manchester at the moment, so geographically, we are really far apart. But the amazing thing is our relationships pick up from where they left off when we meet. I have made more friends at uni and it’s really amazing – it’s getting to the point where this whole concept of having only one best friend has become ridiculous, because I have many close friends now.

Anyway… on to the comparison. So before starting uni, I was told I’d make tons of friends. Especially in Freshers week. If you’ve been following my blog long enough, you’ll know that Freshers Week wasn’t all it was cracked up to be for me. Everyone was out partying and getting horrifically drunk, and I personally don’t find the idea of that fun. Especially seeing the aftermath every weekend of such antics. You might call me boring, but actually I just think I stayed true to myself and did what felt right for me. I saved a ton of money which would have been spent on club tickets and alcohol… And I did meet tons of people – but half of them I never spoke to again. Because they only really talked to me when they were drunk… because it made them more confident. Again, it says more about them than it does about me. And it’s OK. You wouldn’t be able to keep track of everyone anyway!

The people I found I really clicked with were those on my course – studying the same things as me and as passionate about them as I was. Also at Church, where there will always be a ready-made community ready to accept you with open arms. I made friends with people in the societies I joined… although I haven’t seen them so much this year because I chose to have more time to focus on what I’m really here for: my degree.

And that’s the thing: you’re here to study. That’s why you’re thousands of pounds in debt. You’re here to get a degree. Sure, friends are great. Societies are great. But things like that, they come and go. Friendships are sometimes only for a season or phase.

It’s hard to grasp, but I’ve come to realise this for myself in the last year or so. I moved around a lot when I was younger – my family moved to Watford (London) for a few years, then back to Worcester, then to Spain, then to Worcester. I changed schools a lot, and got used to making new friends, but also to expecting to probably move again. So as I progressed through school and found that some relationships weren’t the best for my growth, I knew that it wouldn’t last forever. And that’s completely normal. In fact, I think that this was what made my life at uni easier in my first year, socially.

Don’t take all this the wrong way – I’m not saying that you shouldn’t invest in your relationships and keep in touch with people. But if you do happen to lose touch with someone, or you find that they are toxic for you and you grow apart, that’s totally fine. And I hope you know by now that who you hang out with has a profound influence on who we grow into. We do become like our friends, to a certain extent.

Oh, and also, people aren’t perfect. Sometimes, you’re going to get annoyed and want to go home and change the scenery for a couple of days – or even a week. I’m currently at home doing just that. Ok, so it’s not all because of friends and stuff – I was stressed from work and, fortunately, I know the warning signs for when I’m getting burned out. Listen to yourself! If you need a break, take it. Whatever gives you that rest… it’s so important. And if you’re finding your friends get on your nerves… that’s fine. It’s not forever (hopefully) but people will annoy you sometimes. You probably annoy someone else too occasionally. (I know, it’s not often something you would think about yourself.) but yeah.

I used to think that going home was a sign of failure. But then my mum pointed out that this was the first time in a year and a half that I’ve come home when things got rough. It’s not failure, or weakness. Other people just don’t talk about it, but really they are having a similar experience most of the time. Everyone’s trying to be brave… and sometimes it’s best to retreat for a bit and recover. It’ll make you stronger, trust me.

I’m just giving my observations here – feel free to agree or disagree. Comment if you’ve had a similar experience/different experience – I would be really interested to know what you think!

Hello world!

The story begins!

2015-08-02 09.59.52-2

Isn’t it a good thing I don’t look like a real babelfish :’)

babelfish3

Anyway – allow me to introduce myself. My name is Charis. Pronounced Ka-ris, not Cha-ris…. and not Claris or Kerris either. Just Charis. It’s a Greek name. No I’m not actually Greek, it was my parent’s choice. They liked it.

My life is about to change. No seriously. I’M GOING TO UNI. Exeter in fact. To study Spanish with beginner’s Russian. Yes, you heard me, with Russian. Why, you might ask? The challenge, new alphabet, I get to go abroad in my 3rd year and not my second (this made me choose against doing Arabic)… so yeah. Russian it is.

Anyway. The Blog. Yes, I guess I’d better explain the point behind all of this. I love to write. Hopefully, I write well, and you’ll carry on reading my nonsense and deriving a certain degree of amusement from it. Furthermore (boring-but-cool A-level English Lit word), I guess that after having tried to find a useful student site run by a student for other students and only coming up with, what, maybe two? I decided I would be the one dive in head first and make my own. So, here it is, 4th September, the day after my 19th birthday, and a week before the day I’m due to arrive at my new home; I’m not packing, sorting student finance or even watching a movie. I’m writing.

This blog is for students. No, scratch that, it’s for anyone that stumbles across it. I will be posting anything, from freshers to cooking to sport, music and who knows what else. I’ll post photos too (I have a great camera!). In essence, I just want to be me on here.

Hope that’s cool with everyone? 😉