This semester has been the best of my college career, but I feel suspended. I feel like I’m floating, wholly unable to grab onto anything concrete like degree-furthering classes and the general “real life” of a university senior, full of cliched anxieties and problems. I don’t want to leave Russia, but I should leave. To continue to live this wonderful life would be too good to be true, and I don't want to give it the chance to get sour (not that it ever would).
But here I am, acting like this is the finale. It's not over, just a pause. I’ve convinced myself that I just have temporary matters to attend to, and I’ll be back in the Motherland before I know it. ...continue reading "Dasvidanya, My Dear (До свидания Моя Дорогая)"
Time has this strange way of moving forward. This is a truth we’ve known for most of our lives, and yet we’re often surprised by the sheer speed of days and the fleeting quality of moment
Ever since I stepped on Russian soil, I appreciated every single moment. I appreciated the air. Every walk home. Every person who made me laugh. Every snowflake and cup of tea. Every scoop of sour cream and every ray of sunshine (they were so infrequent, you know). I had (and still have) gratitude for everything, Russian and otherwise, and this makes living great.s, as if these concepts are brand-new or unexpected.
Which makes going home not so bad. It’s not as if I have wasted my time here and took everything, every opportunity and experience, for granted. I knew from the beginning I would blink, and my time in Russia would be gone. So I was very present-oriented, and I did what I could and nothing more. ...continue reading "On Goodbyes and Going Home"
Thanksgiving was an unconventional affair, but it was close enough to tradition that I consider it one of the best Turkey Days of my lifetime. Although I was in a foreign place, that fact didn’t really make itself known at any point during the festivities.
It’s all in the company.
My program organized an extravagant feast for us. They ordered twelve turkeys, thirty pounds of mashed potatoes, and enough green beans to match. They also ordered enough meat and fruit pies to feed half of Petersburg. ...continue reading "A Russian Thanksgiving"
It was emphasized from the beginning that the Russian approach to academia is startlingly different from the American approach. If we decided to study in Russia, they preached, it’d be the source of a great and thorough culture shock.
I’ve found that yes, it’s different, but the Russian way is nothing a student can’t get used to.
I’ll frame the idea like this: the American and Russian styles mimic the respective societal traditions of individualism and collectivism. An individualist society (America, Western Europe) operates in a way that propels the individual to behave and think independently, like a mini autonomy. Contrarily, the fabric of collectivist society is in the group, in co-dependence of individual members who work towards one common goal (pretty much everywhere else in the world, Russia included). ...continue reading "The American Individual vs. The Russian Collective"
My program managers made it clear from the beginning: "We're here for you, but you're on your own." I think that this a truth that some students may have trouble coming to terms with, that they're expected to suddenly rise to the occasion and keep themselves alive and well as a direct result of their own efforts and abilities (in a place with language barriers and strange customs, no less). In most cases, luckily enough, I think the experience of being a college student does most of the work for us, so it's a matter of tweaking the model and applying that to someplace foreign and undiscovered. ...continue reading "How to Adapt in St. Petersburg (and Otherwise)"
My program is one of only a couple study abroad programs that allow its student a week of independent travel. Students can do anything in this time, so long as they’re back in class the following Monday morning, ready for the daily grind and such. After a program-mandated excursion to Kiev and then Moscow, a group of friends and I took a train to Murmansk, the Arctic Circle’s largest city.
Go to Russia, and you’ll immediately see that the thrills and freedoms of consumerism have hit hard. Go to Moscow, see the supercars zooming past, and it’ll be easy to forget that only twenty years ago, this was the center of a deadly chaos as the government was enduring a castling of hands and minds. Petersburg has a touch bit more Soviet-ness to it than Moscow, but not much more. So when I arrived to Murmansk, I was surprised. ...continue reading "A Trip to Murmansk"
For Russian women, there is no such thing as bare legs in public. They simply don't do it. Given that gender roles in Russian society are still traditional and still relatively conservative, it is unusual and wholly frowned-upon for a woman to walk the streets with bare legs without stockings. “Exposed” women will be mistaken for prostitutes. ...continue reading "Russian Faux Pas"
I am not loyal to the United States. This makes me a super adaptable sports fan. So when I got the opportunity to partake in Russia’s hockey season, to become one with the crowd as a SKA (St. Petersburg’s hockey team) fan, I couldn’t pass it up.
The SKA arena is situated in the southeast area of the city. It is appropriately named “The Ice Palace”. The stadium is in decent shape; it’s the typical donut layout you’d find in arenas all over the United States. In fact, the place felt so similar I occasionally forgot that I was in Russia. And then the cheer section shouting Russian slangs, cheers, rants, and curses would warp me back to the USSR.
It was SKA versus Kazan, a supposedly formidable opponent. But maybe they weren’t so formidable. We won five to two. ...continue reading "Russian Hockey for an American"
I never thought I’d be in Russia teaching English. Not that I was ever opposed to the idea; it just never even occurred to me. But I’m grateful that it eventually did.
I work with two separate, unrelated groups every week. On Wednesdays I travel to Vasilievsky Island to meet with a lawyer and her daughter, a pair I met via my program. The woman, Veronika, is very kind and loves to travel. She wants to learn English to aid her travels and she wants her 12-year old, Ksenia, to speak it simply for the opportunity and general usefulness. I’m less of a teacher with them and more of a conversation partner. We drink tea, eat, and talk at the dinner table. We watch How I Met Your Mother. They ask me about the States, I ask them about Russia. I hope I needn’t point out that the whole thing is mutually beneficial.
...continue reading "The English Teacher is Learning English from Russians"
Russia isn’t like China where every street corner has some rickety food stand with mind-bogglingly cheap prices for utterly delicious goodies and mystery meats. Well, the mystery meats remain. Russian food is much simpler, much less flavorful, and flat-out different in every way possible. To provide some contrast, its main ingredients are potatoes, sour cream, and dill. Vodka might as well be water; it also serves to distract you from the meat jello you’re eating. As an intense food-lover on a budget, I set out to prove that Petersburg isn’t gastronomically hopeless, that there have to be good, cheap eats as rewards for those who search relentlessly for them. ...continue reading "St. Pete Eats"