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Still around, still in SPB

Nov. 7th, 2010 | 01:03 pm
mood: excitedexcited

For whatever reason I took a long vacation from my blog.  I’m back for now, writing an update for America friends and family who probably think I’ve died, and for the Russian friends and students, who have asked me why I haven’t updated my blog in such a long time.


I went to Antalya, Turkey in May.  It was amazing.  Turkey is such a beautiful country, the people are all so friendly, the food is delicious.  I can’t think of one thing I don’t like about Turkey (granted I’ve only been there twice).  I can’t wait to go again.  I had actually planned on moving to Istanbul at the end of September to teach English and study Turkish at the Istanbul University (surprise!) but for a reason or two I decided to stay in Russia and try to continue studying Russian.  So here I am in St. Pete.


I worked through my whole summer and, unfortunately, missed the majority of White Nights.  Teaching at night is a raw deal.  We had an unusually hot summer to follow our unusually cold winter.  The temperature stayed at 35 (95) for weeks at a time.  Even with windows open, fan blowing on high, completely naked, sleeping was almost impossible.  When we could, we retreated to the big shopping complexes just outside of the city, but the kick was that none of the stores had AC, so imagine trying on clothes in 35 (95) degrees with no breeze.  Gross.


In mid August my family visited and got to see how I’ve been living for the past 2 years.  I think I scared them by showing them where I live.  My dad even offered to buy me a one-way plane ticket home whenever I wanted!  I just hope he remembers that offer in a few years!  We saw almost everything there is to see in St. Petersburg.  The likes were: the beautiful architecture, the wonderful sights.  The dislikes were: the bland food and the poor service/rude people.  Basically, it didn’t take them long to realize that capitalism is still not really understood in this country.  Don’t get me wrong - there were a few people on our visit that seem to understand capitalism: the tall, dark, handsome waiter at the Georgian restaurant on the Second Soviet Line in St. Petersburg and the entire staff at the Hilton in Moscow, where we spent a few days.  Thanks to my father’s frequent travel for work, his Hilton points earned us a stay on the executive floor.  Christie and I shared a room approximately 4-5 times the size of the room that I live in.  It was nice to have space, it was nice to be pampered by the polite, smiley staff, and it was nice to be in a place where I actually felt like I could relax.  We spent a lot of time in the lounge on our floor where we ate, drank, and played lots of cards.  The card games must have done the trick, because while I was waiting in the lounge for my train after putting my family in a cab to the airport, two very attractive men came up to me and started asking about our game.  Note to self: play more cards on the executive floor lounge in the Hilton.


In September I began taking language classes for foreigners at one of our pedagogical universities.  I was placed in the top group on the first day and it was too easy.  I complained and was moved into another program with ‘more advanced’ students.  Again, too easy.  I talked to the dean, and she told me that I should not be wasting my time in such courses, and that I should enroll directly to the university master’s program and study alongside the Russian students.  While that was a compliment I hadn’t expected, I have neither the time nor the money for a master’s program, so I just quit my official studies altogether.  I really miss studying Russian in a formal setting, as opposed to sitting on my couch and flipping through flash cards and grammar books.


I don’t actually know where September of October went, they flew by quite quickly, but I’m actually quite okay with that.


Life in the communalka is exactly what everyone told me it would be – absolute Hell.  This is where the bottomfeeders of society live.  The alcoholics, the drug addicts, the lazy, the unemployed, the just plain uneducated.  I imagine that living in a trailer park in America would be kind of like my living situation.  We had relatively normal roommates when I moved in.  The only real problem, if you could even call it that, was that the father/dad of the family who owns 2 of the rooms is an alcoholic.  But he’s a friendly alcoholic, so it wasn’t really so bad.  The two boys who were living in the other rooms both moved out over the summer.  A Chinese girl from Beijing moved into the room next to me.  She’s been studying Russian language at Smolnyi (where I studied) for 3 years now.  I wish we didn’t all stay in our rooms all the time, because I would love to pick her brain about Beijing, China, and the Chinese language, but everyone pretty much keeps to themselves (minus the cheerful alcoholic).  Other than me, she’s the only normal one in the apartment.  Newlyweds moved into the other room, and that is when things in the communalka began to crumble.  They shouted at each other in the middle of the night, they threw pots and pans in the kitchen, it was really quite ridiculous.  They didn’t pay their rent, so they got kicked out.  Thank God.  Another husband and wife couple moved in.  The husband is a deadbeat alcoholic who always comes to me looking for money or booze.  I’m moving into an apartment at the end of December, so I won’t have to deal with… this… for much longer.  By the way family/friends I have never felt like I have been in any kind of danger, so please do not worry about me.  I am okay and I will be okay.  Do not worry.


Now some exciting news!  Over the summer I began going to the office of two individual students, who were preparing to take the TOEFL test.  We took a break while my family was here, and we finished our last few lessons in October.  Our first day back together in October I asked them if they knew if there were any vacant positions in their company, because I had gotten quite tired of the teaching schedule of working nights and being on call 24/7.  They told me that they were both leaving their jobs at the end of October (the girl who is an accountant in the firm just left for Barcelona to study Spanish for 6 months and the girl who works in sales just left to study English in America).  The girl who works in sales said, “You could just take my job!”  When she put in her two week notice, she told her boss about me.  I had 2 interviews with him and a phone interview with the director of sales in Minsk (Belarus), and there you have it – after 2 years of the English teaching circuit, I have finally landed myself a big girl job!  I am working in the sales department for a Swiss transport company, selling our transport services. (www.asstra.com)  I started on Monday, and have spent all of my time so far familiarizing myself with our computer system and reading, reading, reading about our company, our policy, etc.  Next week I will begin more formal training.  Since I’ll be done with teaching for the school completely in December that is when I will move out of my room and move into an apartment close to my work.  The new job doesn’t pay nearly as well as teaching (I’ll be taking a pay cut of about 33%), so I will still be teaching some private students in order to cover my rent.


After my first month of work, I am going on vacation to India!  I will be in Goa (on the Arabian sea) for a week and a half, and in Mumbai (Bombay) for a few days. In Goa I will practice yoga, go snorkeling, go to a culinary course and visit museums in the mornings, relax on the beach in the afternoon, and go out to restaurants, bars and on cruises in the evenings.  Not half bad, right?  In Mumbai I’d like to do some sightseeing, I found a spice market tour/cooking with an Indian family tour, and a tour of the Dharavi slums (the slums from “Slumdog Millionaire”).  I. Am. Stoked.  Too bad I don’t have a high-quality camera.


Once I return from India, I have to leave the country AGAIN right before the new year in order to change my visa (I am currently on a teaching visa and I need to get on a business visa and the visa invitation from Asstra will not be ready before I leave for India).  The plan was to go to Istanbul, but it was going to be a hassle to get my visa done there, so I have to find somewhere else to go.  My end-of-the-year trip is still up in the air, and I’m really bummed I can’t go to Istanbul. :-(


So I think I have brought you up to date on where I am in my life.

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Apr. 4th, 2010 | 03:53 pm
mood: chipperchipper

A few weeks ago at the discussion club I’d been running we talked about honesty.  By choosing this topic I really was asking for it, but in my naïve American way, I figured educated Russian students would prove the “general Russian opinion” wrong.  There were 10 females present, ages 19-25 and there were no males at the club that day.  We discussed being honest in the system of education (students here often give bribes to professors for passing grades), and not one of the girls thought that being honest was important.  I then brought up the scenario “What if your doctor bribed his way through medical school…”, and none of them thought anything of it.  They said, “He’ll get caught and go to jail”.  We all know, however, that bribes work in all sectors of employment here and that doctors rarely go to prison for malpractice.  Then we discussed fidelity and a few of the girls said that if their husbands cheated on them, they wouldn’t want anyone to tell them.  No one found anything wrong with downloading music or movies, because buying them the legal way costs money (surprise!).  When I asked them if they thought that not paying someone for his or her work was okay, they didn’t really respond.  With another group of students at work, we discussed blatantly lying on a resume, and about half of the students said they would do it and found nothing wrong with it.  The fact that honesty is not an important moral to have in this country is really mind-blowing.  How can a society properly function if you can’t trust anyone? 


On the same topic, a month or so ago I was asked to do a translation and editing for some company.  I told the man who hired me that I wasn’t confident enough myself to do the translation, but that I had a Russian friend who would do it.  He said they were looking for a native speaker do to the translation, but after I told him I didn’t know any native English speakers who worked as translators, he said that my Russian friend could do it.  He had had the translation project for at least a few months and had put off hiring someone to do it, so he was quite desperate.  Then last week, I found out that the company that ordered the translation from him specifically ordered that a native speaker do the translation and the editing.  Since the translation my friend and I came up with didn’t sound enough like a native speaker, they sent it to another translator/editor who they hired, and he produced a much different document.  Then the man who hired me wanted me to defend “my” translation and lie and say that I had translated it.  What a crazy person!  So this Russian businessman lied to the company about the translation, and when he got caught in his lie, he asked me to lie!  The most ironic part of the whole situation is that when he hired me to do the editing, he was talking to me about how difficult it is to find people to invest in Russian businesses… REALLY?!  I wonder why!


How can anyone trust someone who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong?  The most depressing part is that there are honest business people in this country, whose mothers told them that it’s wrong to lie, who believe in doing things the legal way, who can’t get contracts with international businesses because these businesses know about the corruption and flagrant dishonesty within several Russian businesses.  If the Russian IRS equivalent actually did its job properly, the government would have more money than it would know what to do with.  It could afford to pay its workers more so that they wouldn’t need to accept bribes to make ends meet.


Okay, enough about the Russian mentality/morals for one day.


A friend of mine and I are going on vacation in May to Turkey!!!  We’ll be spending 3 days in Antalya, which is on the south side of the country, right on the Sea!  I think this will be my first time on the sea.  A few miles outside of the city there are some Roman ruins, which we plan on exploring.  I’m going to bring a big empty suitcase for lots of scarves and other Turkish souvenirs.  I’ve began to study some Turkish, so hopefully I can use more Turkish than I did last time.  I am so thrilled to be returning to Turkey!


Last week I moved into a communal flat.  It is a 4 bedroom flat; in the first bedroom lives a family of 4 (two teenage or older daughters), in the next room lives one boy in his 20s, in the next room lives another boy in his 20s, and I’m in the fourth room!  7 people share a kitchen, a toilet, and a washroom.  THIS is the real world, sorry MTV!  I’m not sure if I mentioned this or not before, but when the Soviet Union collapsed, no one owned anything, so the government began to give away flats, shops, etc.  So in some flats which were communal in the Soviet Union, each family was able to keep their own room.  Sometimes one family purchased all the other rooms from the other families, so that they could have their own flat, but some families just kept their individual rooms.  Such is the situation in this flat.  The family of 4 in this flat owns their own room.  The other three owners of the rooms in this flat rent out the rooms to people like me.  I’ve been here 4 days now, and I don’t think I could have asked for a better living situation, just wish I had decided to live in a communal since last summer!  The flat is always quite silent and everybody keeps their parts of the kitchen clean.  The wash room and toilet room are clean too, yay!  In the kitchen we each have our own refrigerators, counter space and shelves.  The oven doesn’t work, which is a pity, but I can live off of soups for a bit.  I live on the same street as my work, which means my commute is now approximately 3 minutes door to door.  I’ve got a corner shop right outside, I’m a 3 minute walk to the metro and I’m right in the city center.  My bed isn’t the most comfortable thing to sleep on, but that is the only minus!


The weather got a lot warmer this week (60 degrees F), so I’ve been walking around a lot, exploring my new neighborhood.  The street sellers are out again and there is fresh fruit everywhere.  The 4-5 months of good weather in this city really, really do make up for the remaining months of gloomy and cold weather.


I think that’s about all the news here.

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Mar. 14th, 2010 | 08:07 pm
mood: optimisticoptimistic

I don’t think I’ll ever get on a regular blogging schedule, so I’m done making empty promises!


I’ve had a few of my readers ask me who I am, what I’m doing in Russia, etc., so I’ll do a one sentence summary: I’m an American living in St. Petersburg, Russia, teaching English at a private company, doing my best to teach myself Russian, and trying to figure out what it is I’m supposed to be doing with myself in this life.  The end!


It’s really flattering to see that I have 28 people (only 3-5 of which I know) who have subscribed to read my journal.  At school I was never once told I was a good writer (quite the opposite), nor was I ever encouraged to write, so when people send me messages saying that they found my blog and have been reading it for the past X number of hours, it really gives me confidence about my writing and/or confidence that my life actually is interesting.  So thank you, everyone for the comments!


I actually managed to do well enough on the Flagship program exam that I got to the next step.  I had a phone interview a few weeks ago.  I chatted to a Russian woman on the phone about politics, Russian mentality and cooking.  I even made her laugh a few times, so at least I was in her favor.  As far as talking was concerned, I think I was the most relaxed I had ever been for a Russian phone interview, which is ironic, seeing as how the other Russian phone interviews didn’t count for anything and this one was a pretty big deal!  My friends who were on Flagship the previous academic year told me that they found out the results near the end of April, so I’ve still got about 6 weeks to keep my mind off of it.  I think I did well, but that doesn’t mean that other students couldn’t have done better.  Regardless of whether or not I am accepted into this program, I will once again begin formal Russian language study this year.  I ran across a cheap year-long program which is my back-up if I don’t get into Flagship.


The past few weeks I’ve been given more shifts at work, so I’ve been just as busy as I’d like to be.  I work 5 evenings a week, but all of my days are free.  It’s not too bad.


In my ample amount of spare time, I’ve been keeping busy in the kitchen.  I taught a few friends how to makes peanut butter chocolate no bakes, and another friend how to make gingerbread cookies.  And no, I haven’t put on any weight, surprisingly!


I made this potato soup, which was sinfully delicious (especially after adding a whole package of bacon to it!):



The last time I made the recipe I substituted milk for the cream and I liked it much better.


I try and learn to cook Russian food, but there isn’t a whole lot I like other than their soups.  The meat (at least that I’ve eaten in homestays) is usually just boiled plain or breaded and fried.  I think I will have to travel to Central Asia or the Caucasus in order to properly learn to prepare meat.  I have mastered sirniki (a fried, sweet, cheesy biscuit) and cheese soup, and I will be satisfied once I’ve mastered solyanka (a soup with several kinds of sausages and meats, onions, carrots, pickles, olives, tomato paste), blini (crepes), and golubtsi (cabbage rolls).  If anyone out there has a good solyanka recipe, I would love to have it!


It’s finally getting warmer, which means all the snow is melting.  The streets and sidewalks are filled with huge puddles, and everything is incredibly slippery.  I need to go buy goulashes.  My wipe out count stands at 2.  About 2 weeks ago, my roommate and I noticed some water damage above the entrance to the bedroom.  As the temperature reached 0 degrees that week, there was some serious melting.  Thanks to a ton of shoddy work, the roof of the building has holes in it, and we had terrible leaking.  One night my roommate and I had to take turns waking up every two hours to throw out buckets full of rain/snow water.  Oh and then the plaster got so wet that part of our ceiling fell, and we have a hole that is about one meter in diameter.  No, we can’t see the sky, just some wood boards, but the plaster that we cleaned up filled 3+ grocery bags that we could barely lift.  I got in contact with the landlady, who said that they had a similar problem (just with the leaking, no holes) a few months ago.  Someone was paid to come out and fix the problem, but to save themselves time they did a horrible job and now we have a large hole in our ceiling.  No one will come to repair it until all the snow has melted (probably in late April), and then someone will come (government workers), do another horrible fix-it job, and the cycle will repeat next winter.  I’m just happy that none of the plaster or cement fell on us.  The leaking isn’t uncommon, everyone has stories about it, but our hole has really surprised everyone who has seen it.  I have learned a very important lesson: NEVER invest in Russian real estate.


As I am slowly, slowly climbing out of the money problems that EducaCentre left me with, I am planning to do some traveling!  Other than my trip to the US for Christmas, I haven’t been anywhere outside of this city.  It’s quite depressing!  In April one of my friends and I are going to go on a bus tour to a few different cities in Finland, and then we’ll take the ferry overnight to Stockholm and spend a day there.  I’ve also found a relatively inexpensive weekend trip to Antalya, Turkey.  I just hope I can find someone to explore the ancient ruins with! :-)  The big summer trip is either going to be across Russia on the railroad or to the countries of the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  It depends on who I can find to go with me.


That’s all.

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Jan. 23rd, 2010 | 06:02 pm
mood: sleepysleepy

January 23, 2010

Not wanting to bear the cold outside, I’ve decided to stay in and make this a lazy Saturday afternoon.


First, about my adventures back in America… I spent about a week traveling through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa and was fortunate enough to see almost all of my relatives, so that was a definite plus.  I went over to uni for one day to see friends, and I spent plenty of time in Grand Rapids, watching my fair share of the Food Network, Animal Planet, and Law & Order.  I did a lot of shopping and cooking.  Overall the trip was a good one, minus the journey back (I was delayed in Poland for a day and continuously bothered by a Russian man, who looked quite similar to a scruffy Lionel Richie).


My boss picked me up at the airport, since I did him a favor by bringing him some things from America.  It was nice not having to haggle with a cabbie or to take my big heavy bags on the minibus to the metro.  I arrived uneventfully to Tim and Rachel’s and unpacked, ate and slept.  The next several days consisted of only eating and sleeping, as I always have an incredibly difficult time adjusting to the time change when flying east.


The weather here has been crazy.  When I arrived to Tim and Rachel’s the sidewalk had not been shoveled, so I walked through about a foot of snow to get my stuff to the apartment.  I’d say the amount of snow is about twice as much as what I saw in Michigan, if not more.  The nice thing about Michigan, though, is that the snow plows are up and running and here they just don’t have enough of them.  When I left the apartment to go to the store the first few days, I had to climb through all the snow and large chucks of ice.  They do have gutters on the building here, but they are somehow designed differently and do not prevent icicles from forming.  Icicles hanging from buildings here are by far the largest I have ever seen, and apparently a fair number of people die each year from being under them when they fall.  I’ve seen a few big ones fall and it’s actually a bit scary.  Luckily on January 13th as I returned home from work I was greeted by a big sign on the door to the apartment: SNOW REMOVAL JAN 15, REMOVE YOUR CARS.  So by January 15 the big piles of snow on the street that the cars had just been parking on top of and the icy/snowy mess on the sidewalk were cleared.  Now all that remains is a sheet of ice about 3-6” thick on the sidewalk.  The temperature this week has hovered around -15F (-25C).  I was outside yesterday for about 15-20 minutes with all of my winter apparel (hat, scarf, gloves, long johns), and my hands became so numb from the cold, that I had trouble opening the doors to my apartment and had to run my hands under warm water for a few minutes before the feeling in them came back.  NOW I understand how the Germans couldn’t handle the Russian winter.


My roommate, Kyra, arrives in less than one week.  For the first time, I’m actually excited to have a roommate.  If you knew about my previous roommates, you would understand. :-)


I took the entrance exam for the study program, and I did horribly.  Fortunately, it’s not the kind of exam where anyone really does well (unless you’re a native speaker), so I’m just hoping that I did better than most and that my letters of recommendation help me out.  I’d like to find out soon, either way.  I’m trying not to be hopeful.

Since I haven't been working much yet (groups are just starting up again), I've been doing a lot of cooking.  I love cooking.  If I marry rich, I'll stay home and cook all day.  Maybe I could create some type of cooking charity?  Last weekend I had a few of my former students over for dinner, and I cooked them Szechwan chicken.  As it is quite uncommon here for Russian women to cook anything but Russian dishes, they were very impressed.  We also had chocolate fondue and it was splendid.  Tomorrow we are going to give cheese fondue a try!  Yesterday I successfully baked some delicious peanut butter cookies:


And I found a quite easy cinnamon sugar biscotti that I'm going to try soon:


I also tried a different carbonara recipe.  I'd been using one for a while, but it didn't have any onion in it (which just makes carbonara SO much tastier) and I never could make it creamy enough.  Adding the onion was definitely a wise move, but for some reason my carbonara is NEVER creamy enough.  Anybody out there have a good carbonara recipe they'd like to share?  I'm desperate.

As I mentioned earlier I’m teaching a discussion group at work on Saturdays and on Sundays I’ve also created a discussion group using our church office.  A few months back at the church, I led a discussion on stereotypes.  We talked about the stereotypes that Americans are very friendly and polite and smile even if they don’t know you and that Russians are quite closed and unfriendly until you get to know them.  In the midst of this conversation, a girl my age said, “Well, why should I be nice?”  I was really taken aback at first.  In America we are raised to respect people just because it’s the right thing to do and because it makes life easier.  Here there is no idea of “treat others how you want to be treated”.  It’s sad, really.  I do see that changing a lot with my generation, but then again, hearing this 20-year-old girl ask why she should be nice just reinforces the fact that maybe things aren’t changing anytime soon.  Christians argue it’s because of “Godless communism”, but I really think it’s always been this way.  Don't get me wrong - There are several nice Russians out there.  I often see people helping old ladies on the metro and every once in awhile I see a Russian person I don't know smile!  Unfortunately, at times I dred going out just because I've been conditioned to think that I'm going to have to deal with some rude person.  So to the girl who asked why she should be nice, I responded, "Why shouldn't you?"

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It's about time...

Dec. 29th, 2009 | 02:15 am
mood: optimisticoptimistic

December 29, 2009


I’ve finally decided to begin writing in my blog again.  I was going to start after my return to Petersburg, but I didn’t want it to look like a New Year’s resolution, so here I am, 3 days before the new year!


A short recap of the past few months... I returned to America from my study program in Petersburg in mid-May; spent 5 weeks in America with my folks; returned to Petersburg in late June and began teaching (English) the day after I arrived.  Switched to a different language school in mid-September and have continued to teach there up until my 3 week Christmas vacation in America and will continue upon my return on January 7th.


The work recap: The first English school that I worked for didn’t pay me my salary.  I was late in paying my rent and had to borrow money from my pastors to pay my insurance on time.  First time in my life I had gone through a financial struggle and I’d love to never have a repeat of that feeling.  To say the least it was a humbling experience.  Found a new English school in September that has so far paid me on time.  My boss, Tony, is an American who doesn’t know any Russian, and the secretaries are all Russian, extremely friendly, and very impressed at my motivation to learn their language.  I love all of my students, even the ones who don’t spend 5 minutes studying outside of the classroom, and I love teaching English.


The church recap: In September we were blessed with a handful of British students who became very important members of our church.  They are all back home now, but many have promised to return to Russia someday.  Our traditional Wednesday night dinners at Dave and Hannah’s flat became so crowded, that in October we began to meet in a café by Tim and Rachel’s place.  Hansie (from South Africa) and Lena (Russian) joined our church team, which gave our church legal standing.  Since Hansie is our senior pastor and has permanent residency in Russia, we were finally able to become a registered church.   In September we had our first real church service in a real building.  On any given Sunday we have about 30-40 people attend.  On Sundays we mingle and drink tea before the service; then we sing in Russian and English (Thank God for our projection screen); listen to Dave, Hansie, or Tim’s sermon (which is translated into English or Russian thanks to the most talented Russian translator I know, Nadya); and finally we all eat lunch together and clean up the hall, which we currently rent.  Other than our pastors and their families and our translator, almost every church member has their own ministry.  My friend, Johanna, has a ministry which works with orphans and abandoned children; our 6-7 newest additions from the Northern Caucasus led a ministry which helps those with drug and alcohol addictions; and I lead our student/English ministry, where I lead a free English discussion group after our services on Sundays.  Everyone is up to their chin in work, so we are really praying for new members who are ready to help. :-)


The language recap: Although I had a few months where the thought of studying Russian gave me a headache, I have gotten back on track and am constantly learning new words.  I was reading my old blog entries and thinking about how far my Russian language has come since I first arrived to Russia 2.5 years ago.  It’s much easier for me to think about everything I don’t know as opposed to everything I do know, but it is much healthier to think about the latter.  I am applying for an advanced language scholarship (I actually applied for it last year and wasn’t accepted), which would potentially fund a summer Russian language immersion program in America and an academic year program at the Philological Department of St. Petersburg State University.  Since last May, I feel as though my speaking abilities have not improved a bit, but I know I have learned several new words between then and now.  I wish there was a trick to turn passive vocabulary into active vocabulary, but there isn’t… just an ample amount of speaking Russian.  The only negative part of my job is that it completely impedes my main goal of living in Russia - to improve my Russian language!  With this scholarship, I would be able to stop teaching English and focus entirely on studying Russian, something which makes me quite happy!


The living situation recap: I rented a flat far from the center of town (but close to the metro) for the past few months.  Since Tim, Rachel and their daughter, Mia, have returned to England for a few months (Rachel is expecting baby #2 in February), I am subleasing their flat from them until April.  It is much nicer than my previous flat and much closer to the center of town.  I’m elated.  Kyra, who I studied with in Nizhny Novgorod, is doing a Russian studies master’s program beginning this semester, so we will be living at Tim and Rachel’s together for a few months.  After Tim and Rachel return, I will probably end up renting a room somewhere.  I’m indifferent about the situation currently.


The views on Russian life recap: At my new job I have been teaching a conversation group, where I facilitate a discussion on a topic of my choice.  Being interested in social and other political issues, the majority of my topics so far have been related to that: stereotypes, racism, corruption, homosexuality, abortion, military, etc.  I have learned more about the Russian mentality through leading these groups than I have in any other contact with Russian people.  In future posts, I plan on further discussing what I have heard, seen, and realized.


I guess I should also mention my New Year’s resolutions:

-see more sights in St. Petersburg

-work less

-spend more time with my friends

-take the Trans Siberian Railroad to Mongolia


Over and out!

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Mar. 31st, 2009 | 03:04 am
mood: contentcontent

Sunday, March 29, 2009


In less than 7 weeks I will be back in America.  I can’t believe the first quarter of the year is almost over.  I can’t believe my formal studies in Russia are almost over.  The past month has gone by faster than the rest, as I have been traveling for the past 2.5 weeks.  I’ll do my best to recap…

A few weeks ago all the Americans took the night train down to Moscow.  My first experience on the night train from Piter to Moscow was a few years ago, and I didn’t like it because I had a lot of trouble sleeping.  Now I am used to it and really enjoy being asleep on the way to Moscow because no time is wasted.  In Moscow I met up with a friend, whom I met in Nizhny Novgorod this summer and who moved to Moscow a few months ago.  It was nice to visit Moscow now that I finally know someone who lives there.  I usually dread trips to Moscow, but I noticed that I liked Moscow more this time than I have previously.

After dinner with my friend, Johanna and I took the night train to Kiev.  We road in platskart, which means that we were in a big open train car with tons of beds, as opposed to a small room with a door, a lock, and 4 beds.  Although I was nervous about the idea of platskart at first, I have now decided that I probably will not ride kupe (room with lock) ever again.  Platskart is much less expensive and everyone in platskart looks after each other’s things, so it is actually safer than riding in kupe, which cannot be locked from the outside if you have to go somewhere.  It’s also a wonderful opportunity to meet Russians and speak Russian.  Johanna and I taught a Moscow businessman how to play crazy eights, and he taught us yet another version of the Russian card game “Fool”.

We arrived to Kiev late morning, walked around and got lost, got ripped off by a cabbie, and finally made it to our hostel.  We had a very relaxing 4 days of touring a few museums (a Chernobyl museum, a Ukrainian history museum), a few cathedrals (St. Michael’s, St. Sophia’s, St. Andrew’s), the Babyn Yar memorial (where Stalin killed several Ukrainian Jews), a monastery with a maze of caves, and the “Mother Russia” of Kiev.  Having seen the first Mother Russia in Volgograd, it was very interesting to see the differences and similarities between the two memorials.  Along the walls of the memorials, both have very large carvings of soldiers.  Both memorials also have several artillery vehicles and other weapons on their premises.  The actual statues differ greatly, however, as the statue in Kiev is nowhere near the size of the statue in Volgograd, and the statue was made out of a different material, which looks like tin.  The only thing the statues have in common is that they are both of women holding swords.  This summer when I have reliable internet, I will post pictures.  My apologies for the lack of photos this year.

We also tried Ukrainian food, which for the most part was similar to Russian cuisine.  I tried authentic Ukrainian borsch, which I liked better than Russian borsch, since the meat in the Ukrainian borsch is marinated.  For the record: borsch is originally a Ukrainian dish.  Russians have a similar traditional dish called “she”.  It is made without the beetroot which along with the tomatoes gives Ukrainian borsch its red color.  I also tried authentic “chicken Kiev”, which is a flattened chicken breast, wrapped around a slab of butter, breaded, and fried – delicious.  All of the food in Kiev was very tasty, and we ate like kings.  Thank God that we walked everywhere, as I managed not to put on any weight.

I did not realize how flat St. Petersburg is until we started walking around Kiev, which is very, very hilly.  The sidewalks are all smooth, which is a nice change from the sidewalks in Piter.  The architecture was also very nice.  In some ways it was similar to the European-looking buildings of Petersburg, and some buildings looked more modern.  Kiev reminded me much more of Tallinn, Estonia, and even Cologne, Germany than it reminded me of Russia.  I was surprised to see how different Kiev is from any city I have seen in Russia, since Russian people often joke that Ukraine is just like Russia, Ukrainian language is just like Russian language, and Ukrainians are to Russians what Canadians are to Americans.  Reading Ukrainian all over the place was fun.  It was quite similar to Russian, but it did have some strong differences.  Trying to read the billboards and other advertisements was fun because it was like playing a word game.  Everyone was very kind when I asked for directions, and I didn’t feel that anyone was annoyed that I was speaking Russian and not Ukrainian, which I was a bit worried about before we arrived.  I also noticed that Ukrainians dress much more like Europeans than like Russians, and they do not make eye contact for as long as Russians do.  It was fun to be in a foreign country where I was able to use Russian.  Although Kiev is a lovely city, after a few days I was ready to return to Piter.  Russia has quite a strange hold on me.

I had one full day between my vacations in Kiev and Istanbul.  That day I had two job interviews for English teaching jobs, which went quite well.  I also taught English that night and packed.

I arrived to Istanbul Friday midday and waited in the airport for 3 hours for Christie’s flight to arrive.  We were driven to our hotel by a very attractive man who spoke only a few words of English, which I think made him even more attractive.  We walked around our neighborhood a bit to find a SIM card and called Christie’s friend Cicek, whom Christie met while studying abroad in Italy.  We had a delicious dinner in a restaurant called 360, since it had a wonderful panoramic view of the city.  That night we went home early to get some sleep.

Saturday was a beautiful day.  We met up with Cicek and ate fish sandwiches at a small outdoor café on the water.  We took a boat tour down the Bosphorus and then walked around some markets.  Christie and I had our fortunes told by a bilingual bunny, who picked out our fortunes from a small pin board.  I could tell Turkish was his first language, as his written English translations were not very good.  Cicek took us to a place which had several different cafes inside tents.  There we sat on bean bags, smoked hookah, watched football, ate fresh fruit and played backgammon.  We walked around a bit more and had the famous doner kebab for dinner, which was tasty.  We also went to a café for Turkish coffee, tea, and more fortune telling.  It was the first time I had seen tarot cards outside of a movie.  The fortune teller gave Christie and I approximately the same fortune, and it was as general as anything you can expect from someone who claims they can predict the future.  Cicek did a wonderful job translating the fortunes and everything else for the entire weekend.  We would not have survived without her.  That night we went to a few small clubs and managed to meet a few Turkish guys who had studied in America and know English.  We were very fortunate to find them, since Cicek had to return to work Monday and we would not be able to see her for the rest of the week.  She helped me with some Turkish phrases, and thanks to my year of Kazakh (in the Turkic language group) I quickly picked up a bit of Turkish.  At the club I finally tried Efes (the word for Ephesus in Turkish) beer, which is sold here in Russia and which I didn’t even know was Turkish.  I really liked it.  I would say it is about as good as Russian beer, but of course German beer is still the best.  I have lost all faith in American beer.

Sunday we met up with Cicek and saw a very beautiful fortress, which was located right on the water.  We then took an English tour of the Dolmabache Palace, which was quite unlike any of the palaces I had seen in Russia.  The biggest difference I can remember is that the Dolmabache Palace wasn’t covered in gold, as are most of the Palaces here in Russia.  After the tour Cicek had to get back to her normal, non-touristy life, so we went our separate ways.  Christie and I found a small restaurant south of our hotel and had shish kebabs for dinner.  After that, we asked the manager where we could find ice cream, so he asked his delivery boy to show us the way.  As we were led down streets we didn’t know by a person we didn’t know, I was quite glad I had my pepper spray on me.  Everything turned out well, however, and we made it to the ice cream place.  The man selling the ice cream was a riot.  He did a little show for us by picking up the ice cream on a big stick and twirling it all around.  He even gave us his business card, and he has Facebook!  After the ice cream show, Christie and I returned to the hotel to plan out our week.

Monday we spent lots of time and money at Topkapi Palace.  There were several different things to see, and we took the advice of our LonelyPlanet guidebook and didn’t plan anything else for the day.  I ordered our tickets in Turkish, and the man working the ticket desk was so happy that he asked where I was from and shook my hand.  The appreciation for someone who tries to speak the local language is not underestimated in Istanbul.  After the palace a guy our age selling carpets picked us out on the street and asked us in for tea.  He spoke English fluently, and we sat in his shop, talked, and drank tea for 2 hours.  We mentioned that we were interested in seeing the Whirling Dervishes, who do a spinning holy dance to bring themselves closer to God.  He told us of a mosque where the Dervishes dance on Mondays and he took us there.  We sat in the back of the mosque for 3 hours.  We were able to watch the singing, chanting, and praying of the men inside the mosque, and we had a great view of the Dervishes.  It couldn’t have been more authentic.

Tuesday Christie and I went to the Grand Bazaar.  We were invited in a lot of shops for free tea, and we met a shop owner who knew Russian, so we practiced with each other for a few minutes and made Christie bored.  We even met a shop owner who was a model.  He showed us a small portfolio of his, although by looking at him, I had no doubts that he was a model.  That night we went out with our carpet-selling friend to a show with Turkish folk music, folk dancing, and belly dancing.  We had dinner and drinks there and there were tons of foreigners from all over the world.  The last song was sung by a man, who knew popular songs from other countries in probably 10 different languages.  He sang in Turkish, Greek, German, French, Farsi, English, etc.  He came by our table and sang “This land is my land”, “Yellow rose of Texas”, and “When the Saints”.  The last song was quite ironic, being in a Muslim country and all.  I have to admit, I’m not always proud to be an American.  When the man sang to Christie and me, I felt embarrassed.  My embarrassment, however, has nothing to do with politics.  I’m not embarrassed by Bush or by Obama.  I am embarrassed because we live in such a wealthy country, have so many opportunities, yet manage to complain about how bad our country is.  I’m embarrassed because in school there is no emphasis on learning geography, history, or language of any country other than our own.  I often feel like America is in a bubble, and that other countries don’t like us because we are so naïve.  At the show, our table was next to a table of Iranians (each table was marked by the flag of the country where the guests were from).  Trying to avoid the rest of the crowd while the singer sang to Christie and me, I turned around and was greeted by a warm smile from an Iranian man, who was at the show with his family.  That smile made my evening.  It’s nice to think that people of different nations can be kind and civil toward each other, even if their governments cannot do the same.

Wednesday we visited the archeological museum, which was actually a set of 3 museums.  While we were looking around at the different artifacts there were art students sitting on the floor and drawing some of the statues.  Wednesday evening our Turkish friends, whom we met with Cicek, took Christie and me out to dinner at a Greek restaurant with live Greek and Turkish music.  We had a table with an unforgettable view of the Bosphorus, lots of delicious Turkish/Greek food, and unlimited drinks.  After dinner we went to the adjoining club and danced to European dance music and enjoyed more great views of the Bosphorus.

Thursday we started the day by visiting the Blue Mosque.  We had peeked inside one mosque earlier in the week, and the inside of the Blue Mosque was incredibly similar.  The carpets were similar and so were the tiles on the walls.  I did not think that the Blue Mosque lived up to its hype, but if you are ever in Turkey, I would still suggest seeing it.  Christie and I then paid for a guided tour of the Hagia Sofia.  And yes, we turned down all of the English speaking guides until we found one that was attractive enough so we would fully enjoy the tour.  Unfortunately, they have been and will be doing renovations on the Hagia Sofia for a long time.  The Hagia Sofia has been an Orthodox church, a Catholic church, and a mosque.  It was wild to see a golden fresco of the Virgin Mary and Jesus right next to a big sign in Arabic which read “Praise Allah and Muhammad”.  It had the same cold feeling that most of the Orthodox churches in Russian have, and I think that may be because the colors of the walls were all very dark and there were no carpets, but instead a plain concrete floor.  We also went to the military museum, where we saw a military band give a performance.  At night our Turkish friends took us out to a place for dinner with another beautiful view of the water.  Unfortunately, I forget if it was on the Bosphorus or on the Golden Horn.  We went to a club afterward which was more bar-like and the light-colored exposed brick gave it a very warm atmosphere.

Friday morning we went to the Turkish bath, which was the perfect way to relax after being out late the night before.  We sat in a big, steamy, marble room and dumped hot water on ourselves.  Then older ladies scrubbed us, washed us, and gave us massages.  I think that was the most relaxed I have felt in my entire life.  After getting back to our hotel for a power nap, we visited the mosaic museum, which was actually an old church.  The mosaics were made from such tiny pieces of material (around the size of a square centimeter), that I cannot imagine how long it took the artist to make them.  That night Christie and I ordered pizza and hung out with our Turkish friends again.

I really hadn’t any preconceptions about Turkey.  I assumed that more cab drivers would have known English, but after a few days that wasn’t a problem, as I could get my point across with the little Turkish I know.  Other than that, I had no idea what to expect, and to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.  I liked everything about Istanbul.  The food was delicious.  The roads were smooth and clean.  Everyone was so friendly and helpful.  The hospitality was a complete shock.  I would even argue that Turkish people are friendlier than Americans, which I didn’t think possible of any nationality before I arrived to Turkey.  I’m sure the fact that Christie and I are blonde (or at least have more blonde in our hair than the Turkish women) probably helped our situation a bit.  I didn’t really think of Turkey being in the Middle East, and when we were there I still didn’t feel as though we were in the Middle East.  Parts of the city reminded me more of Germany than of anywhere else I had been.  There was some nice architecture, although on little side streets the buildings weren’t very nice.  This trip was definitely my favorite vacation, and I do plan on going back someday, hopefully soon.

Saturday morning we headed to the airport.  And of course that Saturday was the sunniest and warmest day that we had!  I arrived to Moscow at 6PM and was greeted by snow.  I arrived to Piter close to midnight, got in one cab (metro closes at midnight here) where the cab driver tried to rip me off.  I got into an argument with him, got out of the cab and threw the money at him, and walked to another cab driver who gave me a much better price.  We had a nice discussion about life in Russia (he’s from Azerbaijan) and we even exchanged numbers.  Such is the life of a foreigner in Russia.

EDIT: One of my readers has informed me that the Nazis killed the Jews at Babin Yar and not Stalin..  Whoops!

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Feb. 22nd, 2009 | 06:11 pm
mood: chipperchipper

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve last written.  I have been incredibly busy, which has made the time fly.  In less than 4 weeks I will be in ISTANBUL.  I, unfortunately, have not had a lot of time to get excited about the trip, and the lack of internet at home has made it difficult to communicate with Christie about trip planning.  But I have a plane ticket and a hotel room, and that is all that is important!

I found out about a week ago that I didn’t get into the advanced program for next year.  I was bummed for about 20 minutes, and then I realized that I’m quite sick of formal study and am quite excited to find a job here and start living in the real world.  I will hear about the summer scholarship in late March, and if I don’t receive that, I will be in America working and enjoying the little things (like clean drinking water from the faucet) until I return to Piter in August.

One of my closest friends here just graduated and moved back to Kazakhstan, which gives me even more of an incentive to go there.  Before she left she was nice enough to introduce me to some of her friends.  They plan on visiting her sometime in the next few months or in the fall, and hopefully I will be able to go with them.

Every Wednesday night Dave and Hannah (English couple, who are starting a church here) have our “congregation” over for a delicious Western meal.  When I started going to their place on Wednesdays about 12 people went (Tim, Rachel and their daughter, Dave, Hannah, and their 3 children, 3 girls around my age, and me).  Last Wednesday there were 33 people and we even had a handful of the “new regulars” missing.  I cannot believe how much our church family has grown in just a month.  Wednesday is only fellowship time, and on Saturdays is when we have worship.  I wonder if we will all be able to fit into Dave and Hannah’s family room tonight.

Sundays after church I have started volunteering with the Salvation Army.  I make sandwiches and then I, along with 3 other people, go around Petersburg, giving the sandwiches to the homeless and telling them about the free meals that Salvation Army offers during the week.  The homeless people here are a little different from American homeless people.  The homeless people here never refuse food, while in America I have seen homeless people refuse food when they hear it comes from a Christian organization.  The homeless here always cross themselves and hug us and tell God to bless us, it’s really an interesting experience!

School has not been quite as fun as the other aspects of my life.  My class consists of 7 students, and only 3 of the 7 always do their homework, listen to the teacher, don’t talk while the teacher is talking, etc.  It is as though the other 4 have given up, and it’s quite frustrating and embarrassing (as far as the impressions our professors must have of American students).  I have already complained to the director, so hopefully things will change soon.  I’m paying too much money to waste class time on the people who have decided that they have something more important to do here than to learn Russian.

Last weekend I saw Dima Bilan in concert.  Dima Bilan is like the Justin Timberlake of Russia.  He won a large European music competition (Eurovision) this past spring, and he is Russia’s pride and joy.  Since this was the first pop concert I had ever been to, I didn’t really have any expectations, other than the fact that I expected Johanna and I to be the oldest females there, surrounded by screaming 13 year olds dressed in pink.  The concert-goers were surprising normal.  There were a few little girls whose fathers had taken them, but there were also several couples my age and older.  Although Dima Bilan is fun to look at (something I cannot deny), his show left something to be desired.  Over the course of 3 hours, he only sang about 12 songs, excluding his very first (and most popular) hit.  Every two songs, he would go off stage to catch his breath and change outfits, while a girl DJ came on the stage and played some techno music.  I was expecting a little more from Dima, but I still had a fun time at the concert.  At the beginning of March, I plan to go see a rock group here called “Agatha Christie”.  I’m hoping for a little more of an adrenaline rush from that show.

Monday we don’t have school, as Monday is two very important holidays.  First it is Russia’s “Men’s Day”, more accurately, Day of the Defenders of the Motherland.  From what I have gathered from my Russian friends, it is a mix of Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day for men.  Everyone gets the day off of work, and women give gifts to their father, uncles, spouse, brothers, sons, male coworkers, etc.  Women’s Day is March 8th, which is the same idea only for women.  This Monday is also the first day of Maslenitsa!!  Maslenitsa = from the Russian word for “butter”, is a Pagan festival the week before Lent starts.  There should be some events around the city this week, of course the Sunday which ends the week will be the most celebrated day.

That’s all for now.  I will try to update again before my spring break trips!

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Feb. 9th, 2009 | 07:52 am
mood: boredbored

Saturday, January 31, 2009


I just finished my first week of classes.  I’m taking grammar, conversation, translation and literature.  I have 2 new teachers and 2 of the same teachers from last semester.  I don’t have class Tuesdays, which will give me an opportunity to volunteer or intern on that day.  I met two or three new kids, and they seem nice.  Most nights I work or have Bible study, so I am keeping busy and time is flying already!

My host mom has become a little sweeter about me going to church than she was during our first conversation on the topic.  Every time I return home now, she asks me if I was at church.  It’s cute.  I learned something incredibly interesting about the Orthodox religion this past week.  The Orthodox Church believes that one must suffer in order to reach Heaven.  But, but… that’s why Jesus came!  I’d be interested to find out how that belief came about.

I ran into a little snag this week.  Last semester I continued to bother the director of my program for the spring break dates, so that Christie and I could order our plane tickets ASAP.  In November, he told me the dates, and just a few weeks ago Christie and I ordered our tickets.  Then this week, I was told different dates from another director.  So I asked the first director about the dates, and he told me that they changed the dates in the middle of last semester.  Somehow that information never got to me, and 1500$ had already been spent on plane tickets.  Thinking I was going to have to buy another plane ticket (and Christie, too), made me quite upset.  Called my folks, and they just said the cheapest thing to do would be to take that week off of school (the week that I already have a plane ticket for).  So now I have the program travel week off from class, and the following week, when I will be in Istanbul.  Since I’d like to do something fun during the designated “travel week”, but still speak Russian over that period of time, my friend Johanna and I are planning a trip to Kiev!  I’m quite excited.  How wonderfully did that work out for me?

Yesterday was Friday and I had a frozen pizza for dinner.  It was like being in America!  I was instructed, however, to use the microwave (which I have to say I’ve never before used to cook a frozen pizza).  While eating semi-soggy pizza, I realized that Russians (unless baking pirozhki instead of frying them) NEVER use ovens.  This is a very interesting discovery to me, firstly, because last year I used my own oven so frequently and cannot imagine life without one, and secondly, because I had failed to notice this about Russian cooking earlier.  In each of the old wooden Russia houses I have seen in Suzdal, Gorodets, Novgorod, etc. there has always been a large oven, which was used for cooking and heating, so I’m curious as to when Russians stopped using ovens (or began to use them much less frequently).

I’m not sure if this made it into Western televised news (I myself read the article on BBC after seeing 5 seconds of the story on Russian television), but about two weeks ago in Moscow a Russian civil rights lawyer and a journalist were shot dead outside of a news conference, where the lawyer was speaking out against the early release of a Russian military figure, who was in prison for strangling a Chechen girl to death during the war.  The BBC article stated that people were shocked that this happened again (after the Politkovskaya murder in late 2006), but I don’t think anyone was shocked at all.  I think people know how things work here: if you don’t like the way the government does things, you shut up and deal with it, or you speak up and live with the fear that you could be killed any day at any time.  Having an interest in working with civil rights in this region, when I read this article I thought, “Whoa, no thank you, I don’t want to die!”  And I instantly realized (to an extent) how the Russian people feel, and how the Putin-run government even has me scared.  And with its people living in fear, Russia will never be a free country.  This saddens me greatly and, unfortunately, shrinks my hope and optimism that I can be of much help here.  But that doesn’t mean I’m about to pack up and head home!

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Jan. 19th, 2009 | 11:27 am
mood: annoyedannoyed

Sunday, January 18, 2009


After suffering from about two weeks of insomnia, I finally found the cure: earplugs. My host mother and brother are night owls. They are up and about until 4am or so, and since I am a light sleeper, that means I am awake until 4am or so every morning. Last night was my first full of night sleep in awhile, and it was wonderful!


I haven’t been up to a whole lot since I’ve returned. I’ve been able to see a lot of my friends, and I’ve been getting acquainted with the area where I live now. Like I mentioned, I’m very close to the metro. I’m also a 20 minute walk to the theatre, and I can finally get there without getting lost! They have opened a new metro line here, but it currently only has one station off of another line. I have yet to stop by, but seeing as how it doesn’t lead to anything there is really no point in going (taking pictures in the metro is illegal here, unlike in Moscow).


Last week I went with my friend, Johanna, to the apartment of an English family for dinner. The father was a pastor at a church in England, and he and his family moved to Russia a year and a half ago to start a new church. A second English family was there as well, and they moved to Russia in August and work with the other family. It was pleasant to be around Christians and interesting to hear other English-speaking Christians’ viewpoints on religion in Russia. Religion in Russia is not easy to explain. From my experiences here, being Orthodox (“THE religion of Russia”) in Russia means exactly what being Catholic means in America… it’s more like a nationality than it is a religion and if you aren’t that denomination, then you aren’t a real Christian. Anywho, this morning I went with Johanna to a church service, which was held in an auditorium of some building. I’d say the atmosphere was similar to my church at home, but with a little bit of the Baptist Church thrown in (lots of alleluias and amens – which is pronounced A-meen in Russian, how cute!). Until this day, I have never walked into a room in Russia and had everyone smile at me without knowing me. It was strange! I’m still quite shaky on the religious vocabulary, but the pastor spoke about how church attendance around the world has dropped severely, but people are coming back because of the crisis, and how we can and should rely on God, etc. It’s still quite difficult for me to sit and listen to Russian speech for 30-40 minutes about a topic other than Russian grammar or phonetics, but this should definitely help me improve. After the service, I got acquainted with Johanna’s church friends, and we went to the other English couples’ apartment for lunch. We discussed language differences between “English” and “American”. In England, instead of saying “vacuum” and “to vacuum”, they call the appliance a “hoover” and they say “to hoover”. Does that sound funny to anyone else? Sometimes I have difficulty understanding the two British couples (Dave and Hannah, Tim and Rachel). It’s so interesting to me that one language could form so many different words/usages in only 233 years.


When I got home my host mom asked where I was, so I told her. Then I got to sit through a lecture about how churches that aren’t Orthodox never succeed in Russia, and other balderdash. She said Russians only pretend to be other religions, in order to receive things (i.e. Mormons go on their missions abroad for free). What a nutcase. From now on I guess I will just not tell her where I go and what I do.


My new host mom is the first person I have met over here who has a beef with religion, which I find strange, seeing as how many of my Russian and Kazakh friends here are Atheist. I’m always surprised to hear that one of my friends here is Atheist, because they are all so cheerful and not touchy, whereas the vast majority of the Atheists I know personally in America seem to be quite bitter, cynical, and easily-offended. Here, the Atheists are Atheists, the Christians are Christians, and that seems to be okay with almost everyone. It’s an unexpected surprise of tolerance. Maybe everyone is too focused on hating the immigrants to worry about religion. :-(


This week is my last week of winter break. I’m ready to start classes again, and I’m ready to get back into routine here.

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Jan. 8th, 2009 | 09:46 am
mood: giddygiddy

January 7, 2009

I bought too many clothes, I ate too much greasy food, but I was able to spend some quality time with my real family.  And now I am back in Piter!

After my American Airlines Chicago-Moscow flight was delayed three hours, and after sitting in Domodedovo for four hours (where I met a very nice man from Tajikistan, who thought I was German) waiting for the second Moscow-Petersburg flight (I missed my original flight because of the delay in Chicago), I finally made it to my new home (and I think I have perfected run-on sentences).  I don’t think I will ever again take a flight that lasts 9+ hours, at least without taking a good sedative beforehand.  My flight from Moscow to Piter was pleasant, though.  I sat next to a very nice Russian male ballerina.  He is around my age, born in Ufa (city on the Urals, which separate European Russia from Asian Russia), and has been working in Perm (a bit north of Ufa) for 3 years.  He has a competition in Helsinki this week, and is staying with friends in Piter.  He invited me to go with him on Thursday to see some of his friends dance in the Nutcracker(!) for free(!!).  We split a cab home, meaning I didn’t get ripped off because of my accent.  How nice.


I arrived at my host family’s place at 11:30PM; unpacked until 1AM; called Dad; and went to bed.  I woke up at 8PM the next day (that’s 19 hours of sleep!); got up; and ate with my host family.  I have a mom, Liuba, and a 31 y.o. brother Grisha (short for the Russian form of Gregory).  Liuba has another son, Ilya, who is 40 and lives separately with his wife and son.  The older son opened an advertising company seven years ago, and the two brothers and the older brother’s wife work there.  The mom has been retired for over 15 years, but she used to teach Russian to foreigners (yay)!  She actually worked in the department where I may be studying next year.  Liuba started hosting foreigners when she retired, to give her something to do.  So hopefully that means she’ll enjoy helping me with my homework.  Her father used to be the director of engineers at Mariinsky (that’s a pretty big deal).  The apartment is very nice.  There are 4 large bedrooms.  I’m assuming during the Soviet Era, this was a communal apartment.  I live literally 3 minutes from the metro, which will be nice when the weather gets colder.  When I arrived to Piter last night, it was 15F, which sounds much colder in Celsius (-9C), but really isn’t that bad for 11PM!  I am also a few minutes from a McDonald’s, which is not exciting because of the disgusting food they serve, but because they have free wi-fi!  My apartment doesn’t have internet, which means I will have one fewer distraction from studying this semester.


Maybe I should have thought a little more about how much I was sleeping yesterday, because last night I didn’t sleep.  I didn’t fall asleep until 9AM.  Lesson learned!  It’s much easier for me to adjust from Moscow time to Michigan time, than the other way around.  I wonder if there is any science behind that.

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