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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6.5 week count down.

Hello everyone,

Sorry I’ve not written in a while, life has been really crazy my end! These last few weeks have had a lot of things going on all at once and I’m definitely glad to be putting some of it in the past. It feels like my parents came to visit me years ago… though in reality it’s only been about 2 weeks. But hey it’s May already – and the weather keeps on improving here. We’ve had so much sunshine – everyone’s doing their best to be out in it and get the fresh air and vitamin D after such a long time of cold and snow. It’s got to the point where inside the buildings it’s too hot because the heating hasn’t turned off across the city yet. So we keep having to open all the windows at home to let some of the heat out.

So the highlights from the last couple of weeks in April – Monday 16th, or two weeks ago yesterday, I was putting out an electrical fire in our kitchen with a fire extinguisher – my first time ever using one or being in a situation like that. It was pretty scary and me and my flat mates were quite shaken up afterwards. Then a week later on Wednesday I came home feeling really green and nauseous, and it turned out I had caught a tummy bug, which led to me being bedridden for the next 4 days pretty much. I am now recovered (finally), but only after a rather traumatic trip to a Russian doctor and getting prescribed antibiotics and a few other things.

On Saturday (21st April) it was one of their 21st birthdays, and she hired out a boat trip on the Neva, which was so awesome at night. Fortunately I recovered enough to be able to go! Sadly, I only have a couple of weeks left before both of my flatmates will have left Russia, and then I’ll be leaving too in June. The time is slipping away fast, so we’re planning on doing some last minute sight seeing and shopping and things and just generally spending more time together. We like to eat out a lot, so we’ve written a list of our favourite restaurants to visit. Eating out in Russia is a lot cheaper than in the UK. A meal that would cost £10-15 in England costs only £5 here.

Oh, and this morning I submitted the last of my year abroad project this morning, so I have nothing to do for my university until I take my oral exam in September. It’s a good feeling to know that it’s all been sent off and I don’t need to worry about it anymore.

Tomorrow, I and some friends are planning on visiting a place called Pushkin, where we hope to visit Catherine the Great’s Palace, so I’ll try and insert some pictures here later once we’ve been. Apparently it’s really beautiful there. Last week I went to the Faberge Egg museum, which was full of these really fancy eggs and trinkets from the Romanov era. I also tried Armenian food for the first time, and it was delicious!

So that’s pretty much all I’m doing for the rest of my half term holiday, now my project’s all done and dusted. Sight-seeing, relaxing, sleeping, seeing friends and making the most of it. It’s going to be really exciting to see the parades and celebrations on the 9th May for Victory Day – it’s the second most celebrated national holiday in Russia after New Year. The weather is honestly so much better. Today it rained, but last week we pretty much had sun every day, with temperatures between 7-16 degrees c. It’s quite humid, so it feels a lot warmer than what the temperature says, and gets super sticky during the middle of the day.

EMN has finished until June, so I’m not sure what I’ll be doing on Friday nights… but I’m sure I’ll think of something to keep myself busy. I just can’t believe how little time I have left. Overall, I’m definitely enjoying my time here in Russia more than last term. Give or take the few incidents like the fire/getting sick a couple of times, my Russian has come on so much and I feel so much more ‘at home’ abroad than I ever did before. That to me is really encouraging, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved to be coming home soon to see my family again and have a break from globe trotting. It’s a strange feeling – I’m enjoying it here, but I also can’t wait to be home to see family and friends and go back to Exeter again in September.

I’ll try and post again soon. I have a few ideas for some future posts that I’ll work on while I have all of this free time 😉

Увидимся!

Halfway!

Hello once again,

It’s April already and my parents have come and gone for their little trip out here to visit me. I miss them already, but it’s hard to be down for long when the sun is shining and the temperature in St Petersburg is so warm!!

5 days ago when my parents first arrived we were able to stand on the edge of the Neva, which was still covered in ice.

Me standing on the edge of the River Neva. It wasn’t safe enough to really walk out further onto the ice, but it was thick enough at the edge – at least 1.5-2 feet thick!

We went to Peterhoff again and the sea was frozen along the Gulf of Finland – people were walking on the sea, guys.

The Gulf of Finland from the Summer Palace in Peterhoff.

But now it’s all melted and the sun is out and the brown muddy grass patches are turning green. The city looks so different already – and all in the space of 5 days!

The River Neva 4 days later, pretty much completely free of ice.

That was the River Neva yesterday afternoon after we’d walked around the Church of the Savior on Blood and the Fields of Mars (a memorial garden for fallen heroes in the wars).

The Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood – named this way because of the attempted (and ultimately successful) assassination of Alexander II just outside when it was being built, I believe.

Inside, all of the walls are completely covered with mosaic representations of all of the key Biblical figures and of scenes of the main stories from the life of Jesus. It was truly amazing – and my favourite tourist attraction so far.

After that we walked along Nevsky Prospekt and got presents for people. Nevsky is the Main Street in the middle St P. It’s like Oxford Street in London.

Back on Friday we climbed the Colonnade to the top of St Isaac’s Cathedral, which was so cool because you could see for miles, even though it wasn’t sunny that day.

St Isaac’s Cathedral.

At the top of the colonnade.

The Bronze Horseman – featuring Peter the Great (1st).

We also walked around the Bronze Horseman (above), featured in a famous poem by Pushkin, who, for those that don’t know, is a very very famous Russian poet.

After that we finished the day spending 5 hours walking around the Hermitage.

The State Hermitage / Winter Palace

The main square – Place Square

The peacock clock – believed to have been made by James Cox. It’s an automation and still in working order, although we weren’t able to go hear it as they only let it play every Wednesday at 7pm.

On Saturday we spent the entire day at Peterhoff Palace – the summer palace by the Gulf of Finland. It was sunny but really bitterly cold that day because of the wind. One of my friends from church came with us. None of the flowers were out yet and the fountains were still switched off so they wouldn’t freeze up over the winter, but lots of renovation work was going on so it should be really beautiful in a few weeks when everything’s in full bloom.

The Samson fountain – removed by the Germans when they took over Peterhoff during the Second World War and probably melted down. This is the newer copy made after the war. The other statues were buried in the grounds and never found by the Germans, so they are still the originals, or so I’ve been told.

Then on Sunday, we went to Hope Church and my parents got to meet all of my friends from church!!

After church we ate at my favourite restaurant, Ukrop (it means Dill in Russian – dill is the herb Russians put on everything they eat!). Then I showed them my uni and Smol’ny Cathedral.

Later that evening, we went and listened to a Russian Composers concert at the Music Hall – it was my parents’ wedding anniversary and I only managed to find the tickets last week. I was worried I wouldn’t find anything as events get booked up very quickly, so it was a real answer to prayer!

This concert was the last of 5 from a series called Musical Journey – the first 4 included music from France, Spain and Italy. This concert featured exclusively Russian music – by Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff.

This morning we walked down the road to Kazanskii Cathedral and heard a sung mass (I think!) and it was so interesting and the singing was so beautiful. These last few days have definitely been an unforgettable experience overall.

Now I’m sat on my bed catching up with year abroad work and uni work and missing my parents (they’re the best!), but feeling positive because the sun is shining and winter is over. I only have 2 months left here and I want to make them count!

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to study in such a beautiful city full of such interesting culture. Though this year has had its challenges, it’s definitely widened my view of the world and taught me a lot!

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!

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!

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!