So much to do, so much time.

What my room looked like when I arrived at my meet-and-greet dinner with my babushka. Natasha is the best!

What my room looked like when I arrived at my meet-and-greet dinner with my babushka. Natasha is the best!

Well I’ve been sitting here and I realize that it has been over two weeks since I last blogged. I guess time just flies by sometimes. So after reviewing my last post and master calendar, where to start…tak… Of course, my home-stay!

So remember that brief group of things I wanted to get accomplished in my first post? Well one of them, get a babushka, has been accomplished. I went to meet my babushka on a (средой вечер) Wednesday evening. Her name is Natalia, but I call her Natasha. In Russia often you find that when you get to know someone to the point that you can interact on an informal basis, you call them by a different name. I took the Chang twins to dinner with me so they could see what a home-stay was like, see the picture below.

Two girls from the East Coast also studying abroad through AIFS. Yes I can tell them a part :P

Two people from the East Coast also studying abroad through AIFS. Yes I can tell them apart :P

Natasha started off the evening with some drinks and light hors d’oeuvres, followed by salad and cold cuts. Next, we had an amazing soup followed by stuffed bell peppers and homemade pizza. Finally, we had dessert and chai (tea). Needless to say we were stuffed. This is how meals are most days when I actually make it home to eat. I’m never without something to do around the town. During dinner Natasha put on a WWII movie that was in Russian, and proceeded to translate all of the dialogue to us. I can already notice myself increasingly retaining and using Russian words in everyday conversation, and I attribute this partially to my home-stay, and obviously to Tay as well.

Some amazing chai (tea) cookies.

Some amazing chai (tea) cookies.

My classes have been going well. In my literature class we’ve read: The Song of Igor’s Campaign, Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin, and A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov. I love my literature classes. We get into so much depth about all the symbolism and history of the authors of these classical works of Russian Literature. My Literature professor Tatiana has a really soft voice though, so sometimes I have to grab an extra coffee at break to stay awake. We also have class from 13:30-16:00, which is definitely longer than any class period I’ve had at UPS. My language classes are also a lot of fun. I’m starting to be able to formulate sentences in Russian, and I never thought I would pick up reading and writing as fast as I have. I’m no expert by any means, but having never studied Russian I’d say that I’m doing decently. Below is a picture of our classroom and our professor Inga.

My professor Inga in our small classroom that fits 10 people.

My professor Inga in our small classroom that fits 10 people.

So in Russia the cost of living is extremely inexpensive. A 20-30 minute Uber ride on average runs me 150P (roughly less than 3 USD). A filling lunch at school costs me anywhere from 150P to 400P (~2 to 5 USD) depending upon how hungry I am. Living in Russia as an American is great cost wise.

I also attended a conversation exchange with other Russian students in the area in the past couple of weeks. The room must have had a dozen bottles of champagne, mixed drinks, chips, pretzels, chocolates, etc. There were about 70 of us in this room, speaking broken English and Russian to one another. It was great! I haven’t been back there recently, but I think this place called the Ambassador’s Club will be a great resource in the coming months.

An upcoming performance by one of my favorite Русский рэп artists, Basta.

An upcoming performance by one of my favorite Русский рэп artists, Basta.

The other Americans and myself went on an excursion to Veliky Novgorod. This is a province roughly 3 1/2 hours by bus from St. Petersburg, Russia. We visited the oldest cathedral in Russia (see pictures below). It was a long bus ride, and I didn’t get as much of one of my lit books read as I wanted, but we did manage to take a few productive naps. Tay and I broke away from the group toward the end of the tour because we wanted to keep seeing the fortress at Novgorod, when others were interested in getting McDonalds. Unfortunately we misunderstood where the bus was meeting everyone, so we ended up delaying our departure. Sorry to all yall hangry people on the bus. I also managed to pick up a couple huge head scarfs from a babushka vendor. She didn’t speak English and I don’t know nearly enough Russian, but I still managed to haggled the price down somehow (it’s a mental game).

Little market in Novgorod, Russia.

Little market in Novgorod, Russia.

Traditional Berezka dancers in Novgorod, Russia.

Traditional Berezka dancers in Novgorod, Russia.

Wooden Cathedrals in Novgorod, Russia.

Wooden cathedrals in Novgorod, Russia.

Wooden Cathedrals in Novgorod, Russia.

More wooden cathedrals in Novgorod, Russia.

An extremely intricate monument in the middle of the fortress in Novgorod, Russia.

An extremely intricate monument in the middle of the fortress in Novgorod, Russia.

The oldest cathedral in all of Russia.

The Cathedral of St. Sophia, the oldest cathedral in all of Russia.

The other Americans and I attended a Russian hockey game last Friday. Our team was SKA, who almost scored in the double digits against the visiting side whose name I forget (probably because they were so horrible). Tay, Sara, Tiffany, and myself got to the area a bit early and decided to go to a Кофе Хауз (Coffee House) for a drink before the game. We also walked through an open air market beforehand and got to see some interesting vendor stalls; nothing that caught the eye though. Anyway, if you think Americans get passionate about their football, or the English get excited about their…football…then try going to a Russian hockey game (it was off the hook). I wish I had taken more pictures at that game instead of snapchat.

Now something I had been waiting to see for a while, Swan Lake. This ballet performance took place at the Mikhailovsky Theater right in the central downtown area of St. Petersburg, Russia. It was an amazing performance, and I mean come on, it was the world renowned Russian ballet! Best part of the performance, hands down, was the black swan. Tay and I got all fancy and took an Uber there early. We ate at a restaurant called ChaCha, which was decent. I got to talking to our waitress Elizabeth, who is also a student, but at the local government policy and customs university. Her English was quite outstanding to say the least.

Tay & I at the ballet. I know, we look good.

Tay & I at the ballet.

The Mikhailovsky Theater, first founded in 1833.

The Mikhailovsky Theater, first founded in 1833.

Anyway, I’m going to head to bed now as it’s approaching 0:00. Thanks again to all the people giving me such kind words and asking me questions as you follow my blog. Any questions, feel free to email me at: asexton@pugetsound.edu. On my next blog post I am going to try to get a video of what my walk to and from school and my home-stay is like (minus the metro of course b/c it’s illegal to film in there).

Pacah,

Andrei

Perspectives

It’s been a little while since Orientation, but my mind keeps on drifting back to that time. It was… incredible to say the least. I mean, I can easily say being a Perspectives Leader was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

For those of you that don’t know, the University of Puget Sound has an intense 9/10 day (depending on who you ask) orientation program. Yeah. We’re crazy. Whatever. Three of those days are dedicated to Passages, which is a camping trip in the Olympic National Park. Another three days is for Perspectives, which is for learning more about Tacoma and how to get around/involved. The rest of the days are for various other orientation activities. Every year, the university hires upperclassmen to come back to campus early and lead Passages or Perspectives and pays them the princely sum of $100. Don’t worry, the experience was totally worth only being paid $100.

I arrived on campus on August 13th (exactly 3 months after I left campus for the summer in May!) and spent the day moving into my room. That night, I was so excited for training beginning the next day I could barely sleep! I didn’t know what to expect and couldn’t wait to meet the other leaders.

The next few days were long and damn hard. We spent anywhere between 10 and 14 hours together, training, learning and discussing. I always went to sleep completely drained. Sometimes, I dozed off during presentations because I was just so burned out. But I would do everything again in a heartbeat.

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In those few days, I bonded so much with all of the other leaders. We laughed together, cheered together, chanted together and even cried together. We all got to learn so much about one another through more activities or discussions than I can count. They became more than just friends. They became family.

Ashley and Ben were impressed with my Nalgene balancing skills

Ashley and Ben were impressed with my Nalgene balancing skills

And then came move-in day. Training was over. Time to face the first-years. My day started at 6:30AM and I didn’t go to sleep until almost 1AM. It was a reeeeeeeeeeally long day. But it was so much fun!

The best part of the day was Convocation. All of the new students and parents were gathered in Baker Stadium to listen to speeches from the Dean of Students Mike Segawa, New University President Isiaah Crawford and other speakers. I’m gonna be honest, as great as those speeches were, they weren’t the best part.

The best part of the best part of the day was being in the section of the bleachers with all of the other campus student leaders. Perspectives, Passages, ResLife, CICE, we were all there. We were all screaming our heads off, coming up with chants, doing weird things and generally acting crazy. We were having the time of our lives.

Lots of orange

Lots of orange -ahem- salmon

My voice was so sore by the end of the day. But it was totally worth it. Then I realized that I was freaking exhausted and Orientation hadn’t even technically started yet.

Also, sometime around 9/10PM-ish, I yelled “ALL MY LIFE I WANNA BE LOGGER” at the first-years in Anderson/Langdon Hall. No one replied. It was a sad time. Moving on.

Orientation was crazy. Almost every day, there was something going on. Meetings, skit rehearsals (more on that later), groups to talk to, volunteer activities, debriefs, updates, registrations and tons of other things to do. But like training, it was so much fun.

One of my groups, with my co-lead Ashley

One of my groups, with my co-lead Ashley

Ryan needs to get better at selfies...

Ryan needs to get better at selfies…

One of my favorite parts of Orientation was the Campus Life Skit. The CLS is a series of skits, songs and dance numbers to help inform new students about all aspects of campus life, from university services to partying safely. All the Perspectives leaders had parts to play. I had roles in multiple skits, which were: Tour Guide, Drunk Partygoer (in two different skits) and Drunk Naked Boy. I think I see a common theme among some of these roles. Whatever. And as I keep saying with just about everything, IT WAS SO MUCH FUN.

Yes, I am in an orange morphsuit

Yes, I am in an orange morphsuit

 

After our second showing of the CLS (we had two showings for the two different orientation sessions), we had one of our final activities. We did a name board activity. Basically, we all took turns writing notes on each other’s boards, which ranged from little messages to short essays. These boards would become our keepsakes of Perspectives. A physical memory of our time as leaders. Together.

That night, I read all the messages that everyone wrote on my board. Because my roommate was asleep, I had to use the light peeking between my window blinds to read. As I read, I was filled with just so much happiness. The messages were so sweet, being filled with praise and just good old love. Then I was filled with a ton of regret. Everyone had written such amazing messages on my board while I had written what I considered as comparatively superficial messages on theirs. So I spent all night laying in bed, thinking about how terrible a person I am. Okay maybe I’m over dramatizing things. It was more like two hours.

And then the next day was the final day of orientation. The first event planned for the day was Matriculation, a ceremony that signaled the official beginning of college for the new students. Given that this was a semi-formal event, all the leaders were dressed up, so while the speeches were happening, we were taking awesome pictures. My favorite was of when we were lined up on the side of Commencement Walk with Mike Segawa talking to the first years in the background.

Best Picture ever

Best Picture ever

After Matriculation, we had our final debrief. The very last one. The one that, when finished, would signal the end of the our time as Perspectives Leaders for the year.

It was an activity. Our last activity. We all sat in a circle with one person holding a ball of yarn. That person pointed out another person and threw the yarn to them. Then they just talked about them. Complimented them, praised them, talked about a funny memory. Anything. Then that person would pass it to another and another and so forth. Sometimes, the yarn would travel across the circle, other times, just a few people away. We were crying, but we didn’t care, we had cried in front of each other before. This continued until the yarn reached every single person in the circle. The end result was a network of yarn. It showed that each and every one of us was connected. We were more than just a group of leaders, more than a team, we were a family.

Once the activity was over, there was a hesitation. No one stood up. Standing up meant that we accepted that it was over. And many of us just weren’t ready to accept that fact. After a minute, someone stood up and it was over.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, being a Perspectives Leader was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was life changing. After reading this post, I hope that you can see why.

If you have the chance, apply to be an Orientation Leader! I promise you, you’ll have the time of your life.

This is for all of the Perspectives Leaders reading this right now: Ya’ll were LIT. I love you guys.

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Vui Gavaritei Po Engliski?

Outside a fenced off building that appeared to be the former location of a soviet physics and science university.

Outside a fenced off building that appeared to be the former location of a soviet physics and science university.

A lot has gone on since I wrote last, which I’m sure you expected. I’ll start with my classes. My Russian language classes have been going really well. I almost have the alphabet memorized. I believe I wrote about this briefly in my last post, but I’ll get into a little more detail just in case anyone is interested 😛

I live 20 minutes from this place.

I live 20 minutes from this place.

With Russian you write in a unique form of cursive. Each print letter like you would see in any publication or on a storefront sign has a corresponding uppercase and lowercase cursive letter. Each letter has a particular pronunciation with a hard sign and soft sign that separate consonants. Tay has been working constantly and patiently to help me with my reading, writing, and speaking. She’s been reading the Russian version of Alice in Wonderland to me at night, which is really great practice (although we’ve been slacking on that the past couple of nights). More to come on my language classes…according to my “prepadavacia “ (professor) Inga, it takes students on average about a month to be able to read and write in Russian (which doesn’t seem like that long if you think about it).

St. Petersburg, Russia City Center Canal tour.

St. Petersburg, Russia City Center Canal tour.

I also had my first 17th Century Russian Literature class this past Thursday. Right off the bat the “prepadavatelitsa “ asked if she could teach the class in Russian and write in Russian cursive on the white board. Luckily the class all agreed to have her speak in English, but I had to ask her to write in English since I can’t quite read Russian cursive that quickly. This wasn’t embarrassing to me, but rather I just hope she doesn’t resent having to write in English. I’m really excited about the different texts we’re going to be reading in the class: Diary of a Madman, Anna Karenina, Eugene Onegin, Crime & Punishment, and a couple other titles that are slipping my memory at the moment (I’m sitting in the laundry room doing an early morning load as I write this). If our first class discussion is going to be the standard, then I don’t mind reading a few thousands pages this semester and conducting literary analysis on them (I really liked this class if you can’t already tell).

Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter and Paul Fortress

I received information about my homestay family from my program advisor earlier this week. I move into my homestay the 24th of September! I got a babushka that lives a 15-minute walk away from the Politekhnicheskaya metro station. This is on the red line one stop from Akademicheskaya where my college is. She has hosted homestays for a few years now and usually takes students who are brand new to speaking Russian. Apparently she is a great cook, so needless to say I am really excited. I’m really looking forward to improving my Russian conversational ability (apparently homestays are one of the best ways to do this because of the constant interaction using the language). It is interesting the way rent & utilities are paid for during my homestay. I pay 600 rubles per day (about 10 USD), a onetime 1200 ruble fee for Wi-Fi for the semester (about 20 USD). Just take a mental note of how inexpensive the cost of living is in Russia in comparison to America. I have dinner with my homestay babushka this coming Wednesday, so more to come on that.

Neva River Canal tour

Neva River Canal tour

Tay and I went to scope out the route to my homestay the other day, and we stumbled upon a really great restaurant called “Peterburgers.” It was a real hipster kind of place with free Wi-Fi (free Wi-Fi doesn’t usually exist throughout Russia). The food was amazing, inexpensive, and it was really nice to get out of the rain that day. This place is on the way to and from my metro stop, so needless to say I anticipate eating here quite a bit over the next few months. Note the title of this blog post, it means “Are you able to speak English?” When I went to order my food at Peterburgers, I threw out my usual tell-all phrase “Ya ni gavaru pa-ruski harasho,” (I don’t speak Russian well). The guy taking my order looked a bit annoyed or maybe even offended and said in clear English, “Well I speak English so that’s fine.” Of course when I tell Russians I can’t speak Russian that well, it’s not because I’m assuming they’re uneducated and unable to speak English. In terms of becoming aware of cultural differences, this interaction really helped me to realize how language barriers can present unintentional consequences. My interactions over the last couple of weeks have shown me just how important it is to learn another culture’s language if you want to interact with them decently.

Neva River canal tour shot

Neva River canal tour shot

On Thursday I took Tay out to an Italian restaurant called Park Giuseppe, less than a minute walk from the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood. I still think it’s a little insane that I live about 20 minutes from that place. Anyway, this wasn’t as simple as planning a date in America, mind you, remembering that “Ya ni gavaru pa-ruski harasho.” That morning I went to pick up some flowers for her. In Russia you have to pick up an odd number of flowers because an even number indicates someone has died. None of the babushkas that sell flowers on the street corners here had flowers that looked any good, so I went into a flower shop next door to the metro station. The lady at the flower shop didn’t speak English so I spent about 20 minutes pointing, umming and ahhing, and quickly typing into a translator on my phone to try to speed the process along. This type of thing happens semi-often, but that just provides all that much more motivation to keep on hitting the books in my language class. All the signs in the metro are in Russian, with phonetic English names of the stops included on the maps. That week I charted out what route we would take to get to the restaurant, and scoped it out once when I was out getting a haircut in the city center with one of my suitemates. This was great practice creating an existence here in Russia, and as a result Tay and I had a great time.

That's a lot of gold!

That’s a lot of gold!

Speaking of my suite mates, the Slav Bros, one of them had to leave the program during the second week due to bereavement. He is a solid dude and I wish him all the best. People throughout the dorms have also been sick this past week (knock on wood, my immune system has just always been pretty good). Getting sick seems to be much more of a hassle in Russia, and I attribute this mostly to generally lower standards of hygiene and medical care in the country in comparison to America. Hey, Russia is apart of the BRICS “emerging” economies, so I’m sure this will improve over time.

Aesthetic

Aesthetic

I’ve also had the opportunity to meet some other foreign students studying at Peter the Great, from places such as Bogota, Colombia, South Korea, and Iran. It’s been interesting to have conversations with them, examining how native English compares to textbook English. I also got to talk to Jose from Columbia in Spanish, which was pretty cool (apparently my Spanish isn’t all that bad).

The Amsterdam of the East

The Amsterdam of the East

The Amsterdam of the East pt. 2

The Amsterdam of the East pt. 2

This past Friday the other Americans and I took a boat tour around the canals in the St. Petersburg city center. This was something I had wanted to do for along time. I got a lot of great photos. There was this Russian kid who kept running along the canals and waving at our boat as it went under bridges. He had most of us laughing by the end of the tour. Anyway, this has been a fairly long post in comparison to my other ones. I’m about to hit the gym and start reading my next book for my lit class. Thank you to those who have emailed me with suggestions and questions thus far, I’m glad I could give you some additional info! As always anyone else with questions feel free to email me: asexton@pugetsound.edu

Pacah,

-Andrei

Bozhe Moi

Well I’ve been in Russia for an entire week, and what a week it has been! I originally did not think that I would be blogging this often, but there’s so much to talk about. Where to start…

High rise apartments in southern St. Petersburg, Russia.

I guess I’ll start with my classes. Now that I have a more solid class schedule, I’m taking: Russian Language, Contemporary Russian Society, Russian Literature, and The History of Russia from Kiev to the Rus. My language teacher Inga (not Ingra, pazhalusta Inga) has been making sure we don’t get too overwhelmed. Not surprisingly Russian is a difficult language to learn. There are 33 letters in the alphabet, and you write in one form of cursive, read in print form (as well as your own cursive), and then there is speaking of course. Don’t get me wrong, Inga is giving us a lot of work considering that the majority of us in our class are complete novices, but she’s not making it difficult to learn. M/W/F we have language class from 10:00-13:30 (they use military time in Russia). T/Th are electives days, with six hours split between whichever electives we chose. I can honestly say I am excited about all of my classes; true self-motivated learning here since UPS doesn’t offer any Russian language classes.

Some amazing architecture commonly seen throughout the city of St. Petersburg, Russia.

Some amazing architecture commonly seen throughout the city of St. Petersburg, Russia.

Now to exploring Sanct Peterborg (that’s how the local’s pronounce it). Tay & I have been out exploring the city everyday since we arrived. We’ve gotten lost every single day, but that’s fine with me. We’ve gotten off on the wrong stop on the metro & taken wrong turns in the Nevsky Prospekt, but we’re better for it. I’d say we’ve probably walked a good 15 miles every day getting to know the city. It can be a bit overwhelming living and studying in a completely new country where you don’t know the language, but Tay knows the language, and has made things way easier and much more enjoyable. Everyday as we walk around I speak extremely broken Russian to her, basic phrases such as “yes, no, thanks, I agree, let’s go, etc.” We practice reading print on storefronts throughout the city, ordering at restaurants and cafes, and keeping straight faces on the metro to blend in with the stolid Russians.

Chillin' at the Summer Palace.

Chillin’ at the Summer Palace.

This Thursday night Tay & I went to see the world-renowned St. Petersburg draw-bridges go up at 01:30. We took a late metro to the Nevsky Prospekt, after getting off on the wrong stop, and walked down the Neva River. We spent some time at the middle of the Dvoretskiy Bridge and let me tell you, I don’t think people realize just how romantic St. Petersburg is. We shared a first kiss surrounded by the lights of the Hermitage reflecting off the River Neva. Then we walked a little further, only to hear a live performance from a band in the park right outside the Hermitage courtyard. As we sat down three white doves flew over our heads, I kid you not. It’s really interesting how romantic Russian culture is. Everyday you see PDA’s on the metro escalators, Babushkas (grandmas) selling flowers, and color-coordinated couples walking down the street.

The group of American students I’m studying abroad with, as I mentioned in my last post, are all a bunch of really smart and interesting people. We all meld really well and have the same mindset; we care about school and obviously didn’t choose to study abroad in Russia to go on a vacation.

Some of the American students, #florence2k16

Some of the American students, #florence2k16.

The food portions are about half the size of American servings, so whenever I go to order something I always end with “Bolshoi” (indicating a large size of that item). They never indulge my request, except for the Blini place down the street where I got a ton of strawberry jam and a bigger sized coffee the other morning (I think the ladies appreciated I was trying to order in Russian). Russians tend to drink tea instead of coffee, so finding a nice large cup of medium roast black coffee to start my day has been a big struggle. The struggle is real!!

A typical lunch of Georgian cuisine I eat here for less than 200 Rubles, or the equivalent of 2 USD, which is so much food that it's my dinner as well.

A typical lunch of Georgian cuisine I eat here for less than 200 Rubles, or the equivalent of 2 USD, which is so much food that it’s my dinner as well.

As a part of studying abroad the American students and myself go on excursions and see different major landmarks throughout the city. We went to the Hermitage, which was crazy aesthetic. Just to give you an idea, apparently you would have to spend nine years to see every single piece of art in the museum. Through this program I have the opportunity to volunteer there, which I’m hoping will work out. We’ve been to Peter and Paul Fortress, where we saw the Russian soldiers march, and they let off a blank mortar round as usual at 12:00. We’ve also been to the summer palace of Peter the Great, where we got to see all of the amazing gardens, fountains, and gold coated cupolas. We didn’t get to go inside the main palace, but instead went through the Dacha, where the Russian royalty used to go to Banya. Banya is a great Russian tradition where you sit in a sauna, and cleanse your body of all it’s toxins.

The summer palace in southern St. Petersburg, Russia.

The summer palace in southern St. Petersburg, Russia.

I know I put a couple of common touristy photos in here, but come on this is incredible. Getting adjusted to life here in Russia has been a bit of a learning curve, but overall I think my faculty advisor was dead right, “a life changing, once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Golden cupolas that capture the glare of the sun, according to one of our professors, "a Russian representation of God's divinity."

Golden cupolas that capture the glare of the sun, according to one of our professors, “a Russian representation of God’s divinity.”

That’s all for now, more soon to come.

Pacah,

-Andrey