Back in Ruland… 6 weeks til Christmas!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

До скоро!

 

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Home again, home again … 

I’m currently writing this from Pulkovo Airport St Petersburg while waiting 3 hours to get to my flight to Frankfurt. I then have another 1.5 hours or so until my next flight to London Heathrow, and then a further 2 hours drive home in the car. Today will be spent mostly in airports. I guess this is the life you choose when you decide to study languages at uni. 

I’m popping home for the week; it’s my half term holiday, and it’s to make up for missing my aunts wedding and spending possibly the worst birthday of my life in Russia last month…. Don’t get me wrong, living here is growing on me, but everyone’s first month on their year abroad is often the worst. It’s just unfortunate that my 21st happened to be my first full day here and that the wedding was in that month. 

Basically, for those that don’t know, my aunts wedding was in September, and I’d already booked flights to go home as I was meant to be a bridesmaid. Sadly, it wasn’t advertised loudly enough that we wouldn’t have our passports on us or our multi entry visas by that date,  (we have to send them off a couple of weeks after arrival) so I had to pay more money to move the flights to this week hoping that my visa would be back by then. If not, I would have lost £300. Fortunately it came back in time!! Just! 

We were so happy to get our passports back!


To celebrate, one of my friends and I went to Ukrop and had a yummy meal 🙂 had to be done!

I thought it would take ages to get through security and arrived here 3 hours early because that’s what you’re told to do for international flights. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so keen… all the security only took about 10-20 minutes…. and the journey to the airport wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, though it was quite an experience, as things often are here. I went via metro and then via mini bus (I can now say I’ve ridden in a marshootka…. see this post for a description of what it’s like). To go into the metro, you always walk through one of those big body scanner things, and then because I had a suitcase and rucksack the security guard standing nearby pulled me over to put them in a massive metal scanner box which looked rather like a safe. The image on the screen came out completely black… which worried me a bit at first because I thought they’d make me open everything up to check. The larger of the two guards operating the scanner asked me to open my bag and asked what was inside and I just opened it and showed all of my folders and said “мое домашнее задание” (my homework). I think after that he realised I wasn’t going to be a terrorist threat and waved me on. 

When boarding the marshootka, all the seats were taken, so I asked the guy at the door if there was enough room for me too, and he just said rather sarcastically that he didn’t know but to get on. This kind of treatment is totally normal here, it’s not considered rude, though it made me hesitate slightly. Apparently you kind of just stand up in the small aisle way and try not to fall over as the driver turns a corner. I arrived safe and sound at the departures entrance and then had to put my things through a scanner, then have my passport, visa and boarding pass checked 3 times, once at the migration control where you have to leave your migration card behind (I’ll get another one on re-entry next week). Then you go through real security where you have to get everything out into the trays. This time I had to go through this full body scanner thing on a conveyer belt, which was a new experience for me. All of this only took about 20 mins max I reckon, so here I am, sat next to me gate waiting for my flight in 3 hours time. No, now it’s 2.5. 

So I thought I’d finally get down to writing something… this last week hasn’t been particularly eventful so I didn’t really do a weekly post as I normally do. The only thing I will mention is that on Wednesday night I went to the hermitage/winter palace with some friends to see what we were told would be photos projected onto the outside of the hermitage building, but turned out to be just red lights fixed on the hermitage and then massive speakers booming out Russian music and some history about the 1917 revolution. It was meant to be a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the October uprising (I think), and interestingly there were few people there. There will be reenactments of the revolution next weekend and fortunately I should be back by then to see some of them, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of that. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity! 

My family and I have a few things planned for the week ahead. Obviously I’ll be seeing a lot of  close and extended family. Tomorrow we’re planning to walk the length of the Malvern hills to raise money for Cancer Reasearch. It will take us basically the whole day. We’ve done it before for fun, (I dragged them up there basically) but this time we thought we’d do it for a cause. Everyone knows someone with cancer, and sadly we know and have known several. So it’s a cause close to our hearts. 

Other than that I know I’ll be going to church and seeing friends there, and then hopefully just having a relaxed week at home. We don’t really celebrate Halloween – but I still like to bake a pumpkin and make pumpkin-coconut curry (might post the recipe on here, it’s really easy). 

The weather here is getting a lot colder. It was meant to snow yesterday and today but hasn’t yet. Most mornings and evenings it’s -1/-2 degrees C, and then about 0/+1 degrees C during the day. So it’s quite chilly, but every building and bus is heated really well, and the metro is boiling… so you’re only ever out in the cold for a little bit while getting places. Generally it’s overcast and cloudy… and because the sun is rising later and setting earlier we’re seeing a lot less sun so I’ve started supplementing vitamin D so I don’t get deficient. Seasonal depression must be avoided! 

So yeah, that’s me right now. Might read a book or listen to some music to pass the rest of the time. See you on the other side! 

October

5 weeks down. 31 to go.

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

Komarova is right by the Finnish border and the sea!


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

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

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


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

Until next time 🙂 

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! 

 

 

 

 

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!! 

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!

Getting a visa for Russia

You might have already heard a lot about the visa process. Personally, I’d only heard bad things! Especially about long queues in the office in London to try and get the application sent off. Let me tell you, getting your visa is a complete faff, but I guess you have to look towards the long term objective – getting into Russia – to keep your spirits up!

Now that you’re all feeling suitably discouraged…  😉

No joke, it did take me 2 hours to fill out my visa application form online. Apparently we only have to fill these out because we imposed them on Russian citizens coming to England, so it kind of makes sense that we would have to fill them out too. 
Before even filling out the online application, you have to have a visa invitation from your chosen uni. This for me was the Saint Petersburg State University. I’ll add a picture of my invitation in after my year abroad, but for now I think it’s better if I don’t share those kinds of details online while they are still valid! 

Once I’d got this (it came mid-July while I was working as an au pair in Spain) I used the VFS Global website to fill in and print off an online application. There are a lot of questions you have to answer, and fortunately the course I’m applying to do through RLUS (Russian Language Undergraduate Studies) offered a load of advice about what to answer for some of the questions on their website. When I actually got to the office, they said some of my answers were wrong because the criteria got updated very recently. You can’t really plan for this… it just means they will log into your application on the VFS website and change the details and reprint it for you then and there.

Oh, and DON’T forget to bring a passport-sized photo. They attach it to your application for you. You also need to bring your HIV test results printed out, and a letter from your university and proof of insurance. And your visa invitation, of course. DO NOT forget that please

Fortunately for me, a new office opened up to process your visa application in Manchester, and we happened to be on holiday up in Yorkshire, so Mum and I drove over to get it all done one of the days we were on holiday. The office was small and there wasn’t a big queue. We got there at around 10am so that might have been why it was quieter. The lady that processed my application was really friendly and nice. It didn’t take that long either – she just checked over my papers and clipped them all together. Then she scanned my fingerprints. You have to do each hand one by one with your last four fingers together palms facing down on the scanner. Then you do your thumbs together. 

She asked me to write the address I wanted my visa and passport sent back to on an envelope and that was it pretty much. 

A few important things to remember would be to make sure the photo was taken in the last 3-6 months before applying for the visa. The HIV test needs to still be in date for another 15-30 days after the visa application. Other than that, just make sure you brings absolutely everything with you, including your password for the online visa application.

This all happened yesterday so this is as fresh as I can make it! Hope that helps 🙂 

Ask any questions you might have in the comments and I will get back to you as soon as possible!