2 weeks to go

Yes I am counting down maybe a little bit!!

I am super excited to be going home soon and seeing my family again. It’s been a challenging but highly rewarding year, and I feel like I fully deserve my summer holiday now!

It’s got to the point where I’m so tired and I’ve been in Russia for so long that I’m mixing my English and Cyrillic alphabets and writing nonsense words, I can’t speak properly in English, and when I’m really tired my Russian suffers too. Which, at the moment is quite frequently! Currently I’m experiencing the White Nights (Белые Ночи). Yes they are amazing and strange, but it means I’m not really getting a lot of sleep, even with an eye mask!

This picture was taken just before 12 am. The sun was only just ‘going down’. But it’s fully light like the middle of the day from about 2:30-3am.

So now we’re at the other extreme! When before in the winter it was dark all the time and you just wanted to sleep, now it’s light all the time, and you wish you could sleep but you can’t (if you’re sensitive to light like I am anyway).

But hey, I’ve almost made it through and completed my year, and that’s the main thing!

I’ve started translating a bit at church! Only for a short bit at the beginning, but it’s fun and scary and a great experience. Everyone’s really encouraging so that helps a lot 🙂

I also got sent a picture from right at the start of my time here in St Petersburg when I went to an Africa themed student party run by the church! It’s fun to look back – that was a really great evening, it made up for the fact that I wasn’t able to go home and be at my aunts wedding as a bridesmaid that day.

Time has gone by – I wouldn’t have said it’s flown exactly but it definitely has passed.

This coming week will be my last week of lessons. I have a couple of tests, but at the end of it I’ll get my certificate and that will be it! The week after that is completely free so I’ll probably be doing some more sight seeing with friends and meeting up with people before heading home to the UK.

It’s so warm and sunny here at the moment – I’ve not needed a coat in weeks! It’s such a good way to end the year.

That’s my update for now!

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Week 3

Привет ребята,

Sorry for the late update – I’ve been rather ill these last 3 days and not been up to doing anything more than some homework / revision and watching films or reading a book. Oh, and walking on a river…. more of that later!

I got hit with this cold/flu-ey thing on Wednesday and then it just got worse through Thursday (I think I had a high temperature) until by Friday and Saturday I stayed home all day and didn’t go out. Today feels like I might finally be getting rid of it, thank goodness, so I should still make it to church!

I think partly due to being ill and partly because I had little time to get work done last weekend in Moscow, my lessons this week weren’t so great. I kept getting basic stuff wrong and struggled to answer questions or follow the lesson at all. But I’m hoping that this coming week I’ll be a little more prepared now that I’ve had time at home to get some work done.

On Thursday, despite my high temperature, I went to see Black Panther in Russian (Чёрная Пантера) with some of my Russian house group friends, and I am proud to say I understood 85-90% of it and could even laugh at most of the jokes. (And make a few of my own afterwards). It’s definitely a positive!

Last night there was another student party but I started to feel worse again halfway through so I got a taxi home. Taxis here are so much cheaper than in England. A trip across the city which took about 30 mins probably only cost 235₽… (wait for it I’ll calculate what that is in GBP) £3! That was using Uber. The driver was very chatty, but unfortunately I wasn’t, however he seemed to make sense of what I was saying (my voice sounds a little bunged up with cold at the moment).

The weather seems to be getting warmer here now, and the days are so much longer! The sun comes up at 8am and stays up until at least 6:30-7pm, so we’re all not feeling quite so tired as last term. It was so hard not to just go to bed at 8pm every night because it got dark so early! We’ve actually had a fair bit of sun over the last few days despite the temperature reaching an all time low of -24 (Celsius) last week. This week is a lot warmer, the days start off at about -15 and get up to -7. You have to understand that for us this is like spring weather. After -24 you would think so too, trust me! Today for example, it is currently -16, but will get up to -9 by the afternoon. And the sun will be out so it’ll be pretty and crisp and fresh.

Yesterday I went to get a few bits and bobs from the shops (I was fed up of being inside all day) and I went and had a little walk on the river near where we live. Obviously I wouldn’t have done it if there hadn’t have been other people on it too… and I didn’t stay for long once I noticed the massive cracks in the ice down the middle…. but it was a cool experience nonetheless! Later when I passed over the bridge of that same river with my flat mate to try and go to the student party, the ice had melted and pools of water had gathered on top, so I guess I picked my moment well!!

The cold might be partly to do with why I got ill, as you can end up standing around outside waiting for buses a lot – my bus to uni is often late so I have waited for up to 20 minutes sometimes. And that’s in the morning when it’s coldest.

Overall though if you have a good enough coat you don’t feel it so badly and cope with it pretty well. And a scarf and hat too.

The snow on the streets has melted and all we have is black ice everywhere, most of it covered with sand so you don’t slip. It can be annoying when you get stuck behind a babushka walking really slowly…. or worse, behind two of them walking really slowly and nattering away about their health or the weather (two popular topics Russians like to complain about) – swaddled up in their massive fur coats. You just can’t get round them!

It does make me laugh though to see all of the emails about how my uni in England has closed due to “extreme weather conditions”… but I do understand that England isn’t equipped or used to dealing with so much snow and severely low temperatures of -4 😉

Anyway, here I think I’ll sign off – I still have an literature essay to write (in Russian – *gulps*) and a few other things to do before church today. I hope these posts are still interesting to you all 🙂 I’m going to do some other posts soon about what I recommend students bring with them to Russia etc – a kit checklist.

I hope you all have a good week!

Увидимся!

Week 1: Lots of change.

Hello again!

Here’s my summary of my first week back. It’s been kind of up and down, but I guess that keeps life interesting, right?

I went to the gym for the first time on Saturday (10th) and learned a few things about gym etiquette here in Russia. People take towels around with them to put on the seats so they don’t leave sweat on them and they are clean for the next person. Seems pretty obvious, but i didn’t notice anyone do this in England over Christmas, which I don’t understand really because it is more polite and considerate to clean up after yourself… maybe I’ll adopt this when I go home in the summer! Be the change and all 😉 Oh and also, it’s perfectly acceptable (apparently) to go up to someone between sets and ask to use the machine while they rest before the next set… in England this just doesn’t happen! It’s kinda rude! That happened to me and I just had to go with it because I assumed it must be a culture thing. The lady only did one set anyway, so it’s not like it took her ages, but it was a bit strange for me. Also, the showers and changing rooms are communal – no shower curtains, so no privacy. Plus, all of the babushkas go and use the sauna, which is accessed via the showers and has a see through door so they can watch people having a shower. They all huddle in there looking very severe. This could take some getting used to…

It’s still really cold here – the lowest it’s got so far was -14 degrees C but felt like -19 (yesterday, on Thursday 15th). Sections of pavement keep getting cordoned off because of the massive sharp icicles hanging off the edges of buildings and balconies… people actually get impaled – I think one person per year or something. We were warned about this last term by our student reps. Most days there are whole teams of people up on the roofs bashing the icicles off the edges of buildings and clearing the hard packed ice off the sidewalks so you won’t trip over while walking places. It’s actually snowing again outside as I write this; according to my phone the temperature outside is -7, which isn’t that bad. I’m just glad I bought my new coat the day before it was -14. It’s royal blue. I was nice and snug. And proud of myself. #adulting

But yeah – over all the week has been a good one. I was worried before I came that my Russian friends at church would have forgotten me because I was away for so long, but on Sunday 11th most of them came up and gave me hugs after the service and said hi. I brought back some English biscuits and sweets for them to try so I’ll be taking those to my next community group session tomorrow if it’s on.

On Monday (12th) we had an induction day and a really long aptitude test and then an interview at the same time. They called us out of the test one by one to do it. It’s so they know which group to put us in based on our ability.

I was originally put in group 3 (again). But then one of my teachers, (she did my interview) said that I could try the group above me (group 2) for a day and see how I find it and potentially move up. It was a tough decision to make. Group 3 wasn’t that hard, although I tend to slip up when responding to questions. I didn’t feel particularly challenged in the same way I was last year, not even that much in grammar and that is normally the hardest lesson. I went and talked to a lady in the office where they assign us to our groups and she looked very doubtful that I would be able to handle group 2’s material. Groups 1 and 2 often have post a-level people in them, so I guess it’s a big deal that they would let me try it out. I really wanted to be in Group 2 so I would be challenged a lot. I ended up trying it for 2 days, and although they are gonna push us hard this term and get us to do presentations and essays and analyse 20th century Russian literature (Ivan Bunin anyone?). I’m going to have to work hard but it will help my Russian so much.

We get Fridays off, thank goodness. Probably because we have so many hours of lessons Monday-Thursday. Friday is ‘library day’, where you do your work etc. I tend to be quite relaxed about getting work done on Thursday evening/Friday because my brain needs a little break from all of the Russian, but now I’m in group 2 I’m going to have to pull my socks up and fit in some extra hours.

My new flatmates are lovely, we are already planning to go out for lunch tomorrow and make a flat meal together. We went out for a meal last Sunday after church too – I’ve converted them to Ukrop!! (my favourite restaurant here, for those that don’t know what it is).

It’s good to be back I guess, although I do miss my family. And considering how nervous I was about coming back, as usual, I’m now wondering what I was so worried about. I’m feeling much more at home here, everything’s familiar.

Next week I’m going to be going to Moscow on the overnight train with my friends from English movie night and Church to a Winter Bible conference. It’s from next Thursday til next Sunday, and I’ll be coming back Sunday night on another overnight train. I’ve never been to a Bible conference before I don’t think, and this one will be mostly in Russian, although the preacher is from a church in Birmingham which one of my flatmates, who is also coming, goes to. Some of my friends are going to stay on a couple of days and come back on the following Tuesday evening, but I don’t want to miss lessons and I’m planning on visiting a pen friend later in May/early June so I’m banking on being able to sight see when I’m there with her.

I think that’s pretty much everything I can think of to talk about from this week. It’s gone by at a good pace, not too fast and not too slow.

Here’s a picture of Smol’ny cathedral to end my post with. My uni meets in the building directly behind this cathedral; the buildings are part of the cathedral. I’m lucky to be studying on such a beautiful historical site.

She’s back!

Guys! I’m back in St Petersburg!

And this time everything is different. What I mean is, I feel different. In my head I thought it would be like last term – the cold quiet panic and thoughts running through my mind along the lines of “what the heck am I doing here I want to go home”. But I feel so much more confident. I haven’t forgotten any of my Russian. Buying things in the shops is so much easier.

I’ve already bought my gym membership too – which I did entirely in Russian. This was a new experience because last term I made do with the weights I found at my home stay. I walked out after registering on a high – I feel like it was some kind of right of passage. Maybe I’m just overreacting but I was proud of myself. Little things like that mean a lot and show your progress!

This term I’m living with two lovely student friends of mine in a flat. The rent is much cheaper and I don’t have to pay for my washing this time which is a plus! The tap water is still undrinkable though so we have to buy our water or boil it. I got that free in my homestay because the couple I was living with let me have water from their tank. But it’s a small inconvenience really and I’m so grateful to be here this term instead.

Our kitchen wallpaper is rather dazzling…

It is currently the only green thing you will see in St Petersburg because everything else is covered in about 24cm snow!

Apparently we won’t have warmer weather until mid May to early June – spring doesn’t really happen… it’s either really hot or really cold!

But yeah, everything feels familiar and I feel so much more confident on the streets and everything. I’m still adjusting to the 3hr time difference – at 11pm I’m still not tired so I end up staying up til 1-2am before I can sleep! I also have to keep telling myself to stop smiling at strangers… in England it’s ok but I’m Russia they think you’re crazy! Oops! But in a week I should have settled into it again.

Uni doesn’t start until Monday 12th – I have an aptitude test which I’m about to start revising for and a small induction with our student reps for the new arrivals. I’m the only one who’s stayed in St P from the group I was in last term so I’ll be with completely new people.

English movie night is on tonight so I’ll be going to that! I’m bringing the DVD this time – it’s Belle. Really good movie.

That’s my little update – looking forward to making the most of this term 🙂

Until next time – до свиданья!

Update – last week of term.

Wow! Only 5 days left until I go home for Christmas! How the time has flown… ok so there were a few moments in the term where I felt like it was dragging out, but now that the end is here it feels like it went in the blink of an eye! And so much has happened in these last three months.

Going home is going to be good, but I’m not going to lie, I’ve been enjoying myself so much here recently that in a way I want to stay here a bit longer! So I may come back earlier than I originally intended in January, but it’s all up in the air and will be decided later.

I’ve bought most of my Christmas presents for people here, and I’m going to probably start packing on my last day here, Friday, because I won’t have any lessons. Then I’m going to go to English movie night one last time and say goodbye to people. I said goodbye to people at church too yesterday, mainly those from my house group.

I will miss them all!

But I need a break. I’ve worn myself out this week helping prepare for the party on Saturday, which, by the way, went so well!

I don’t have any really good pictures but here are the ones I do have. I and a friend had to roast some potatoes for the party, and we cut out so many snowflakes to hang up everywhere! Another friend baked millions of gingerbread cookies, and we played silly games like reenacting the Christmas story scene by scene in groups – we were all very creative; for the scene where An angel visits Mary, a guy stood on a chair and two guys stood behind him with a silvery white scarf and fluttered it like wings, and he then proceeded to get his phone out of his pocket and ring Mary to tell her about what was about to happen. You might have had to have been there to appreciate it, but I can assure you everyone was laughing at that point! We also sang the 12 days of Christmas song, which everyone found hilarious. We made a roast dinner for everyone to try (hence the roasted potatoes) and we even made sprouts for everyone and told them that they are traditionally eaten but also hated in England, but they all went so I think Russians like sprouts!

But hey, after all of that excitement, I had to sleep with a hoodie and a hat on last night to try and get my cold to go away – my window in my room lets in draughts so I end up getting quite cold in the night, and that combined with poor sleep and lots of extra activity just really tired me out. I need to make it through this week though because I have more tests! None of them actually count towards my degree but I want to do well to show that I’ve learned stuff and also so they’ll put me into a more advanced group next term. We don’t know if they’ll base that off our test results yet or if they’ll send us another aptitude test by email so it can’t hurt to get good marks.

I’m hoping to go to Ukrop (the chain of vegetarian restaurants) soon with a friend from my group to celebrate he end of term. She won’t be coming back to St P next year, she’s going to Germany for the other half of her year abroad, so sadly we’re going to be saying goodbye for good this Thursday. In fact, I’m the only one from my group returning to St P next year, so that’s going to be weird!

I’ve found housing for next term in a great location near all the shops I normally go to for food etc so I’m really happy about that, and the rent is cheaper so I’ll be saving some of my loan, which can be used for other things!

So yeah that’s me this week. I can’t wait to go home and have lots of hugs and catch up on the advent calendar and play my cello again! I just hope I can defeat this cold!!

In case I don’t post until the new year, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year everyone!

С рождество и с новом годом!

How to cope with Culture Shock

Hello guys!

Small update before I get into my best tips for dealing with culture shock. So it’s midway through my penultimate week and I’ve been Christmas shopping and hanging out with friends as much as possible before I come home. I’ve made some really amazing friends through the student house group I go to on Saturdays and through the English movie night I go to on Fridays. Oh and through church itself on Sundays. All of these things keep me busy and I’m starting to have more up weeks than down ones now, which is so encouraging! My Russian has improved a lot and I’m sure it will improve even more after Christmas when I’m back for 5 months!!

I’m so excited about Christmas, and to make things even better and cheer us up in our final couple of weeks before we fly home, it finally snowed here in St P!

It really helped to pick our moral up off the floor (we all know that end-of-term feeling) and got our excitement up for Christmas. I don’t know where this year has gone to be honest; probably because I’ve been here there and everywhere with uni and travelling abroad etc, and I’ve just not had time to sit down and relax in one place so Christmas is going to be a great time to do that with family.

This and next week I’m taking a load of exams, which don’t count towards my degree but I want to do well in to prove that I’ve improved, so I’ve been revising and working for them. This Thursday I’m meeting up with some other girls from church to prepare for the Student Christmas party on Saturday evening, which is going to be really fun. I’m going to cut out all of the paper snow flake decorations and help make mice pies etc and on the actual day I’m going to wear my Santa hat and Christmas leggings. Just getting into the spirit and all 😉

Christmas definitely couldn’t come any sooner, and although I know I’ll probably miss my friends from Russia while I’m home I also know that I need the break. I’m still not really all that sure when I’ll be flying back out here yet but probably sometime around the end of January or the first week of February.

Christmas, Christmas, Christmas… it’s all that’s on my mind!

Anyway, here are my best tips for how to deal with culture shock. They might not all work, and you don’t have to do all of them, but they are here as suggestions to try and help you settle in a new culture:

  1. Don’t isolate yourself. Join some kind of group with a similar interest – if you like dancing, join a zumba class; if you’re a believer, join a church; if you’re into sports, join a sports club, and so on.
  2. Isolate yourself. Let me explain – sometimes, everything will just get a bit much and it is quite easy to end up being out every single day trying to make the most of your experience here and saying yes to everyone and everything. While this is good, sometimes it can’t hurt to have some time to yourself to recharge. Especially if you’re an introvert. My first 3 weeks were so ram-packed that eventually I had to be like, no, we’re staying in and having a pyjama day this Saturday and we’re not going to see anyone or do anything. If it will keep you sane, make sure you schedule these times in where you just relax.
  3. Try something new – something that scares you! I was terrified – literally, shaking with terror – at the thought of joining the student home group, mainly comprised of Russian students. I genuinely thought they would realise that I don’t always understand or know what to say properly and kick me out and be like ‘you can’t come back here’. As if they would be so mean! Turns out they are such a lovely group of people and they love hearing what I have to say and are always happy to help me out if I can’t remember words. Now I wonder what I was so worried about!
  4. Keep in contact (friends and family at home). Some people drop off the face of the planet when they go on their year abroad and resurface when they get back in the summer. I had a friend that did this – he was studying Arabic, and I messaged him when he’d just got out there and then 10 months later finally got a reply (he was apologetic!). While this might work for some, you’ll find re-entry into your old life so much easier if you stay connected.
  5. Don’t complain too much. It’s ok to process what’s happening to you with your family and friends, but try and look for the positives about your new home and not always compare it to home. Remember, this new place isn’t wrong, it’s just different. The people that live here don’t know any other way of living – to them this is normal. And what is normal anyway? Everyone think’s they are ‘right’ in their own head. You need to challenge this view and widen your perspective, so try and take the challenge.
  6. Think about the positives. I’m so grateful to be here and making the most of all of the new and wonderful opportunities that are available here… I’m definitely growing as a person (confidence especially!) and learning to trust God more with every area of my life, and personally that’s really important to me. Also, not many people have the guts to go on a year abroad – it definitely makes you stand out from the crowd.
  7. Accept that you will possibly never be fully converted to the new culture and that that’s ok. Not everyone worries about this necessarily, but you can kind of feel like you have to be a native by the time your year is up… and you just won’t adjust that much or be able to speak the language that well unless you’re an absolute genius or were already studying the language before uni. And it’s ok. Your language will still have really improved!

I hope these tips help.

Back in Ruland… 6 weeks til Christmas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

До скоро!