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!

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Reverse Culture Shock.

I said I’d write a post about it as and when I experienced it. Well, here it is. Reverse culture shock. Culture shock – but in reverse – in your own country. What is this madness?!

I don’t really know where to begin with this, but all I can say is, it’s hard.

You move out to another country, you adapt to all of the differences there and establish a routine, begin to behave, speak and live differently, and it becomes the new ‘normal’, and familiar, and you begin to see it as ‘home’. Then you move back to your home country, and everything’s different, new shops have opened up where there used to be something else that you remember always being there since you were young, family have changed (new arrivals, etc), the city seems more crowded than before, you can actually read and understand signs and things but you miss the challenge of reading them in another language and the little victories with the new language you were having before you returned home. Add to this the fact that your view and perception of the world and issues in your own country have changed from having experienced life abroad. In short: you expect that coming home will be easy, but in reality, it isn’t necessarily so.

There are a lot of factors that can build up and contribute to someone suffering from reverse culture shock. Those^ are some of mine. Personally, I also struggle with feeling like I’m floating between countries – and neither one is really ‘home’ anymore. It’s very disorienting. My self esteem suffers too, and I find being-home-life feels so boring and slow because you don’t have to travel everywhere, I don’t have as many places to be because my social agenda is so much smaller, the city is smaller, I don’t have any exams to revise for… and because of this I feel like a horrible person because I feel so down, and it’s Christmas Eve, I mean who feels sad on Christmas Eve, right? (I wrote this on Christmas Eve, but posted it today!) But the truth is I’ve only been back a week, and the ‘honeymoon’ phase is over.

Yeah, just like with culture shock, you have a honeymoon phase, where everything is new and exciting, and then comes the low point. It just sucks that for me it’s the day before Christmas. But in my head, I am thinking about how little time I have at home before I’m back in Russia again at the end of January. I don’t have time to truly sit back and relax. It is probably not helped by the fact that I have lived in Spain for two months this year as well. Although Spain is like a second home, I lived in Catalonia when I was younger, so living in Madrid was a bit different. It just feels like every time I settle down somewhere, I’m only there for a handful of months before I move on again. And personally, I’m not enjoying it.

So those are the main psychological factors of reverse C-S that I’ve been dealing with this week. I’ve also had to pay a rather large deposit for my house for my 4th year (I know, I’m already on it and I won’t even be living there until next September, but such is the problem with student housing these days), so I am currently extremely short on money – as in, I am grateful I bought my presents already because I have nothing. Which is also pretty normal as a student. (Don’t worry though because my next loan instalment comes in early January so it’s just for a few weeks). #studentlife. This limits the activities I can do for a bit, and means I’m solely dependent on my parents once again, which can be really annoying when you’ve got used to having complete independence and coping with so much on your own.

The main physical symptoms I struggle with is my skin breaks out really bad – probably due to the change in water and environment, but it can really hit your self esteem. I have curly hair, and in England the air is really humid, which makes it so unmanageable, when in Russia the air is dryer, so my hair doesn’t turn into a massive frizz-ball whenever I step out the front door. Also, the cold in Russia is dryer, so I coped with it way better, even when it was -6 degrees C. Whereas here, +6 degrees feels like -10!!! So I feel so so cold! (OK, i might be exaggerating there, but you get what I mean – it feels so much colder here). I also get more tummy aches, but this could be due to eating at different times (Russia is 3 hours ahead) and still adjusting to the time differences (I’m not getting a lot of sleep yet).

I guess my best tips (so far) are:

  • roll with the punches – acknowledge that it’s just going to take some time to get back into the swing of things again, even if other people don’t seem to get it.
  • talk about it. Talk to someone who knows you well and who you trust. Let them know what’s going on and why, and just talk it over. It helps to get it out.
  • journal it. I’m a big journal-er, so writing stuff down really helps get everything out of my head and process it better.
  • get out and do something – new or old, just don’t stay inside doing nothing, even though you really really want to. You don’t have to be out all the time, but establishing some kind of new routine or finding a place to be gives you something to do. I joined the gym – I have some fitness goals and I’m starting well ahead of 2018! It gives me something to work on and a place to go a few times a week. I also try and go to church and to the 18-30s group there whenever they have an event on. I’m not always good at making myself go out places though, so my family has to persuade me a lot!
  • do some familiar things you couldn’t do when you were abroad – for me this is playing the cello.
  • pyjama days are allowed. Just don’t make every day a pyjama day.
  • Christmas!! I know that seeing friends and family on Christmas day (tomorrow) will be fun and keep me from thinking about the things I’m trying to adapt to.

Here are a few more articles that are helpful to shed some light on reverse culture shock and what to do about it:

Expatria – Students Abroad

I hope all of this helps. Merry Christmas everyone 🙂

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!

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: Week 2/3

I really need to work on my post titles! It’s hard to come up with quirky names… but hey here’s my ‘weekly’ update. I say weekly in inverted commas because technically this is about a week and a half since my last update post… I’m getting worse and worse at sitting down to write these.

I wish I could say that I’m getting more settled in and life is all hunky dory, but to be 100% honest I am still having some down days. It is getting easier, but the tiredness is real. Some days it’s a struggle to get out of bed, and in lessons I just want them to be over before they’ve begun. I’m also hungry all the time. It’s probably all the walking… I do so much walking! It adds up and you don’t even realise… especially when you’re carrying a heavy rucksack around. I’m not the only one, my classmates have complained about it too. I might have already said that in my last post… I can’t remember 2 days ago let alone a whole week ago. D’oh.

My friend from my class has this theory that it’s all of the pollution… apparently the lack of good oxygen makes your heart and lungs work harder. Sounds feasible! St P is really polluted. Around the rivers the air is a little fresher, but some of us girls have noticed that our hair gets greasy so much quicker here and our skin is so much oilier than normal… and apparently this could be due to the pollution and all of the smoking too. The streets are full of cars and smoke. I’ve noticed that some of the statues on the buildings have this black oily substance on them…. the kind that only comes from a build up of car fumes. Yuck. It makes you appreciate what you had in your home country a lot more, that I can tell you! Can’t wait to come back to England and breathe some fresh air soon. Fingers crossed my passport comes back in time for my October half term.

Another thing we talked about is the phenomenon which is the маршутка [marshootka, or minibus] that you can catch around St P. I haven’t been on one, mainly because of stories people have told me. Apparently they don’t always stop for you so you have to literally jump onto a moving minibus. They are crammed full of people, and you have to yell when you want it to stop because there aren’t any bus stops for them. And the drivers are known to be talking on the phone, driving, smoking and taking the money from their passengers, possibly all at once, though I suspect they do two of these things at a time at most. They are questionable modes of transport. I think I’ll stick to the trolleybus and metro thank you very much!

But yeah, overall it is getting a little easier. I’ll allow that. My pronunciation is improving too… so much so that I get into trouble sometimes. If you can pronounce things decently well and speak fast enough then people think you’re fluent and start speaking really quickly, but then they realise that you don’t understand and you have to say the whole ‘I’m-English-please-slow-down’ spiel.

This year has been so full on!! I’ve not really stopped since Easter, so I’m really looking forward to going home at Christmas and not doing anything for a few weeks. My course starts up in February so as to avoid the worst of the weather in the winter (I think) so I will be home for about 2 months. Sounds like a lot but I know it’ll go quickly!!

I miss home a bit right now as I sit here writing this, because, although my hosts are so kind and lovely to me, my host mum is sitting in the kitchen smoking with her friend, and it’s tea time and I want to make my food, but I don’t want to go in there and inhale second hand smoke and have them staring at me while I make whatever it is I’m going to scrounge together.

They are really kind though. One thing about Russia is that they are great at hospitality. They will literally serve you only the best food as their guests. They’ll buy the best bread, the best cuts of meat, prepare salads with dill on top (dill goes on everything here), make you borsht (beetroot soup), provide the best fruits. My hosts buy boxes of Ferrero Rocher and exotic looking cakes. They always offer me the leftovers and things and they sometimes even let me sit with them and their guests. They never did this when my other flat mate was here so I think maybe they have a soft spot for me. Possibly because I’m vegan and they think I literally only eat cucumber and buckwheat. (Trust me I don’t!) But also possibly because I had a bit of a cry in front of them the other day when I was feeling down because I wasn’t sure if I would get my passport back in time for my reading week. I was also extremely tired and discouraged after a long hard day of lessons which hadn’t gone as well as I’d have liked. These are the realities of your year abroad and I don’t feel like it would be honest to hold them back. People considering doing a year abroad need to know that the first few months, (if not the whole year)  are tough. You have to be prepared for that.  Fortunately when I had my little cry, my host babushka was very kind about it. She has two daughters so I’m sure she’s seen her fair share of drama. Ever since then she’s told me that if I ever need anything I just have to say, and she’s always willing to help me with any homework I don’t understand, which is so helpful.

I am so aware of all of the things I’m having to overcome whilst living here. I’ve learned so much and I’ve only been here for 2 months. I’ve had to step out of my comfort-zone and embrace my inner Russian persona several times, especially with rather overly-keen young Russian men (I’ll possibly do a post on this in the future – total cliff hanger there!). I’ve had to pay my rent, I’ve had to figure out transport systems, I’ve had to buy a sim card and an oyster card and figure out how to top them up. And later this term I might actually have to try and find a flat to rent for next term. Hopefully I can do this with the help of a Russian friend because I think it would be a bit risky to do totally alone.

I also feel so much closer to God out here. I talk about God a fair amount because as far as I’m concerned he is a huge part of my life. I wouldn’t be here doing this without him. I really believe that. He’s constantly reassuring me that I can do this, that I just need to trust him, that it’s all going to make sense in the end because this is part of his plan for my life. It’s preparing me for something bigger later on. My first few months have felt a bit like a wilderness. Everything has been so confusing and challenging, I feel stripped of most things I get my comfort from (family, home, friends, my uni etc) and I’ve been questioning everything. Why am I here? What am I doing? What am I doing this for? What’s the point? Why is this happening, why is that happening…? and so on.  I can’t say I have all of the answers yet but I do know that God is in charge and I know he’ll get me through. I guess sometimes not being able to see clearly is part of the process. Even if it feels like you’re walking in the dark, God is teaching you something, growing you somehow, and later on the experience will be useful.

One verse that has stuck with me through some really tough times in my past is from Philippeans 4:6-7: ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.’

I kind of mostly have this verse memorised now. And it’s still relevant to me. As someone who worries a lot, and struggles to not over-analyse everything all the time, this verse is a good reminder because whenever I start freaking out it kind of floats back into my mind. I’m lucky because I’ve grown up in a Christian home, so I’ve known God my whole life, and whenever things got really hard and overwhelming I just naturally end up talking to God about it. I guess it’s because I know he’s always there and he sees my thoughts and knows me better than everyone else. And that is what keeps me going. That’s my ‘secret’ if you like. Not that it’s really secret anymore!

But anyway… hey, this wouldn’t be a true post if I didn’t end it with another one of the weird things I’ve seen around St P this week…. I saw a guard at the entrance to a hotel’s car park come out with what I can only describe as a giant mirror on a stick like the one the dentist uses and check underneath this guys car as he was about to enter the hotel. I have no idea what he could possibly be looking for. A bomb I suppose. The car looked expensive and the guy looked like a businessman of some kind. I guess these things are normal here in Russia? ‘Til next time guys!