Russia, set, go!

Well the business visa went through! I can now travel in and out of the Russian Federation until the end of November 2017. I got to the Heathrow Airport a tad bit too early today so I’m sitting at a restaurant nursing a Guinness as I write this. I stayed at my sister’s place in Cambridge this past week, and we had a great time. It was wonderful to be able to catch up with her, my other sister Nikola, and my nieces and nephews. Also shout out to my brother-in-law Andy for keeping Guinness stocked in the fridge this week: team player.

[I was going to put more cool pictures of London/ Cambridge here, but apparently my camera too took large of pictures :/ ]

I took the train from Cambridge today around mid-day, and was to report to the Russian Embassy in London by 16.00 to collect my passport. I was a bit nervous this past week that it wouldn’t go through because of some careless error on the application. I took the tube and lugged my luggage not only to the embassy, but also to Heathrow. To all you students out there it cost roughly £6.00 in total for transport throughout London to get to the embassy and then to the airport. I think a London cab or Uber would have run me about £50.00 today when all was said and done.

So things I am excited for this summer: my internship, blini, banya, borscht, continuing to improve my Russian conversation, and of course all the other wonders that Russia has to offer. This summer won’t be all fun and games, but I hope to get in as much enjoyment during my last few months in the motherland as I can. I know in earlier blog posts I made a checklist of sorts regarding things I wanted to do during my time in Russia. I’ve checked off that whole list, except for the Transsiberian Railroad. After my experience during an 8-hour train ride in a Russian train, I thought that I had discounted this checklist item forever. Over the past couple months, however, I’ve had a bit more free time and as such have been planning what I want to accomplish with my remaining time abroad. I am in the process of convincing two or three of my friends from study abroad this past year to do the railway from Moscow to Vladivostok with me. It would be really awesome for them to come, but if they don’t I’m pretty sure I will still do it. It would be anywhere from a week to two weeks depending upon how long I spend at the various stops throughout Russia. I’ll post a route map below. Follow the dark blue route below that doesn’t veer off into Mongolia. The preliminary plan right now would be to stay in Russia to avoid the hassle of procuring another visa for China, but we’ll see what happens. I would start the trip at the beginning of August, giving me roughly two weeks before I need to fly back to the US to start my final semester at UPS.

Trans-Siberian-map

Trans-Siberian-map

On that note, I am also really excited to finish my final semester at UPS. Of course, sad that I will be graduating and leaving that wonderful university, but happy that I haven’t squandered my time there. I feel like I have learned so much, and in such a wide variety of subjects. All of my professors have been top-notch, and I’ve loved the small class sizes. I could go on, but I won’t)

Anyway, I am going to head off to my gate to start the always wonderful security screening process, so bye for now.

-Andrew

My Year Abroad

14.05.17

It’s been quite the ride this past semester. Many “ups” and “downs,” trials and tribulations, but most importantly an incredible amount of personal growth and clarity regarding what I want to do with my life. Let’s face it; a large number of people (at least who I’ve spoken to) didn’t really have any clue where their true direction lay in life when they first began college. Sure there is always that one kid who wanted to be a nuclear physicist or an engineer when they entered college, and did it. I think that’s awesome, and wish I could have had that same level of future clarity regarding my life. I’m actually thankful it took me a few years of college to kind of carve a path for myself and figure out what I was passionate about. They said this at the beginning of my freshmen year at UPS, and I don’t think I quite understood it at the time, but their liberal arts degree undergraduate programs expose you to such a wide array of subjects and interests that you’re bound to find something you like (unless of course you decided to make every day thirsty Thursday).

Russian Police

Russian Police

I just finished my spring semester studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia. As I write this I am sitting on a national express coach on my way to Cambridge, England to meet up with a couple of my sisters, niece, and brother-in-law. I was supposed to continue on back to the USA with the rest of my fellow study abroad comrades, but one thing I’ve definitely come to learn during my time spent abroad thus far, is that plans change. Through a Russian conversation club downtown off of Nevsky Prospekt, which is the main street downtown in SPB, I was able to obtain a social media marketing and digital advertising internship over the summer with a Russian company. In order to do this, however, I needed to apply for a business visa from the Russian Federation. After a month of frantic calls and last minute edits to the online business visa application (which has to be spot on or it will be rejected), I finally was able to receive my invitation from the Russian Federation. In order to apply for any type of visa, whether it is for business, study, or diplomacy, the Russian Federation has to issue you a formal document saying you are welcome in the country. Of course leave it to the way Russia does things, and I ended up having to go to some sketchy hostel called “The Puppet Hostel,” the day before my student visa expired and my flight was booked out of the country to pick up my invitation. You have to apply for a visa outside of the Russian Federation. Since I have family in England and London is a common stopover for transatlantic flights, I figured I’d take the opportunity to spend some time with them while I sort out my visa. It is going to take about a week-or-so when all is said and done, and according to my invitation I can re-enter Russia on the 22nd of May. My business visa will expire in November, and allows me to enter and exit Russia as I wish during this 6-month period. Of course my final semester at UPS starts the third week of August so I will be returning shortly before then. This type of multi-entry business visa is convenient because living so close to Europe it can be quite inexpensive to take a weekend trip somewhere and go on a mini-adventure of sorts.

Now you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just go home for the summer, or maybe you’re not 😉 With the exception of one person (Emily :P), I find that people who have lived in Russia for an extended period of time either love the country and want to become an expat, or hate it and are counting down the days until they never have to be there ever again. I personally have loved my time in Russia. I love the language, the people, the culture, and I wish I could say all the food but sometimes I just can’t do it. It’s not so much that the food tastes bad, just Russians typically do not add spice to their food, so you are stuck with a diet that mainly consists of root vegetables, meat, and bread with no flavor. Sure it is sustaining during those -15°+ winters, but sometimes I just need some hot sauce or paprika…something.

I think I mentioned this at the beginning of this blog, but the two main responses I got when I let people know I was going to study abroad in Russia for the year were: “Why Russia?” and “You’re crazy man.” I still can’t answer that first question, but I can definitely tell you I do not regret my time spent abroad. Like someone told me right before I left to study abroad, it is a life-changing experience to be able to get out of the “US bubble” and look back at America from a different vantage point. I know what they meant by this now! Having lived abroad I consider myself to be much more of an active global citizen than before. I am more sensitive to cross-cultural interactions and am able to examine everyday situations with greater depth of perspective than I ever could before. I hope I am clearly voicing what I have gained from my time abroad…sometimes it is hard for me to even express what I have gained. To address the second response, no I don’t think I’m crazy, but the country I’ve lived and studied in definitely has its’ moments.

Where do I even begin!? Talking with my classmates at the hotel today before we all parted ways, we of course were talking about war stories and the most insane things that happened. In a country where at the start the majority of us could not speak the language, more often than not you just have to fly by the seam of your pants and hope nothing bad happens along the way. As a matter of fact, attested to me by countless native Russians and based upon my own observations, a majority Russians live everyday like it is their last. Of course right there you can imagine how exhausting of a pace this can be to keep up on a daily basis.

The past 9 months or so I have had 18-hour days. Toward the end of the spring semester the sun started coming up increasingly early. A couple nights (mornings) ago I think sunrise was around 04:00. With how cumbersome transport could be to take me all the way to my homestay at the north of the city from my uni, often I was looking at ~45minutes one-way. This may not seem like much if you are driving, but I either rode the metro or marshrutki. Let me re-enforce my thoughts about the marshrutka from previous blog posts. During the winter the rides were fairly smooth because of all the snow on the ground. At times I was a bit afraid for my life, but they were smooth moments of terror! Once all the snow stopped falling and the ice melted, all of us passengers got to experience Russia’s poor infrastructure. The past month or so I’ve actually been getting motion sickness on the marshrutka, which is weird because usually I have a fairly strong constitution.

Alright, so transport is nuts, long days…white nights! I’m so incredibly excited to be able to spend the summer in St. Petersburg, Russia living and working as a true expat (even though if not for long). My fellow study abroad classmates and I decided that in order to call yourself an expat, you can’t be in the country through a study abroad program or something of the sort. White nights is a phenomenon in this region of the world, where for approximately a month or so, it is high noon 24-hours a day. Of course the answer to this solution is blackout curtains in your room, which I have in the flat I will be renting just off Nevsky, but still…nothing I have ever experienced before.

On a side note I also have to mention Russian pop and EDM because I have been saturated with it for 9 months. Whether I am watching the channel 5 Russian news with my tea in the morning, eating lunch in the cafeteria, riding the marshrutka home, or trying to go to sleep and my host brother had the tv on in the next room…it’s like my life has had a nonstop dance party soundtrack. Ok maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration, but I don’t quite know how to convey how much Russian pop…so much Russian pop.

Russian 202

Russian 202

I don’t want to drone on here because 1) I know it’s summer right now and if you’re reading this you should be outside enjoying yourselves, and 2) I want to wait until I’ve finished my summer internship in Russia before I give you a really thorough perspective on what my year and Russia has been like. Bye for now!

 

-Andrew

Добро пожаловать в русский язык

The title, Добро пожаловать в русский язык, means “Welcome to the Russian Language.”

IMG_2514

Stonehenge rocks!

Yes, you don’t have to tell me. It has been more than a while since my last post. Winter break is about to come to an end for me, so I figured I better write something to preface my last semester abroad. My return flight to Russia is on Saturday. Contrary to what you might assume, I’m actually excited to get back to Russia. The way my semester schedules worked out I had a month+ long winter break, and there is only so much time off before anyone may get a little stir-crazy. Yes, daily living can be hard there, whether it’s waiting at the bus stop for the маршрутка in negative degree weather, or trying to find coffee that isn’t acrid espresso. Most of all I’m excited to continue studying Russian in an immersion environment.

Top of London Eye

View from the top of the London Eye.

Quick overview of my winter break: Tay and I spent our first X-mas in London, and our second in Oklahoma over New Years. I say first and second X-mas because the American, westernized holiday is traditionally celebrated on the 25th of December, but in Russia it is celebrated during the first week of January. By this time of year in Russia the weather is so poor and there is so much snow, that everything closes down. People stock up on food and alcohol, and spend that week drinking, eating, and connecting with family and friends.

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas

When we were in England I took Tay to Cambridge to meet two of my sisters and their families. We also met up with my cousin Scott who lives in Bournemouth. We spent a little over half a month there, but London is such a vast city that we both feel we only scratched the surface in terms of things to do. We AirBnB’d a one bedroom flat in Canary Wharf, with the only downside being the 15 minute or so walk to the local tube station. We went to the Houses of Parliament to try to sit in and observe, but unfortunately it was closed to visitors during the times we could have gone. We rode the London Eye, walked through Harrods, went to the London Museum of Natural History, visited a few pubs, and explored as much as we could. We even tried to go get some borsch one night, but unfortunately that restaurant required reservations. It was nice to be greeted with a now familiar здравствуйте (“zdrast-vui-tyeah” formal version of hello).

Kansas

Kansas

We left London on the 27th, and arrived in Kansas. I’d never visited this part of America before, but I think the couple of pictures in this post accurately sum-up what the majority of the midwest is like. We went to Tay’s Grandma’s house, where she put on quite the feast. I got to meet most of Tay’s family including her mom and dad. I ate biscuits and gravy for the first time, which were delicious. Yes, I did get some Chipotle Mexican Grill when I got back to America, and it was amazing.

Midwest

It’s Brad, my future father-in-law.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma

I had someone email me the other day who is about to study abroad, wondering about culture shock upon returning to the United States. We receive diagrams and information packets about the re-adjustment process from the Study Abroad Office and the program administrators, but for the most part my return hasn’t been so dramatic. I have been eating a bit more because I lost so much weight after living in Russia. Other than that, no depression or feeling “out of place.” Maybe it will be different after next semester… As always feel free email me to ask me questions, or to make requests for things you would like me to do and report my experiences.

Пока,

Андрей

Достопримечательности

Me with a group of Russian Soldiers I got to take this picture (don't ask me how).

I got a group of Russian Soldiers to take this picture with me at the Kremlin(don’t ask me how).

Добрый вечер,

Я пишу это на вечером, и поетому я сказал “добрый вечер.”

What I wrote above says, “I am writing this in the evening, so that is why I said good evening.”

…I know, very basic. That is just what I could think of off the top of my head to write in Russian. Also, if you can’t tell by the title already, I’ve played some scrabble in Russian with my babushka. (It’s a word in the nominative case that means “interesting places”).

Disclaimer: I just read through this and it’s a tad bit on the long side, but a month of my life living & studying abroad so to be expected. I’ve added pictures to break up the monotony). Also some of the photos from Berlin I have to give Tay the photo cred for because we only took one camera.

Just outside the Red Square in Moscow, Russia.

Just outside the Red Square in Moscow, Russia.

It’s been a few weeks here since I’ve last blogged. My apologies, a lot has been happening. I’m not quite sure where to start since there is over a month of events to account for. I don’t have a video of my commute to and from school each day like I said because I have stopped walking to school. Originally I was either taking Uber to and from school, or a combination of the metro and walking. After Tay urging me to use other forms of public transport, I started riding the bus and маршрутка (marshrutka) to and from school everyday. I get unlimited large bus rides with my student metro card, and marshrutkas are smaller buses that cost 40 rubles per ride. Marshrutkas are notorious for having erratic drivers who you have to tell to stop or they just keep driving. As soon as you get on you pay the driver and off they go without waiting for you to sit, jerking the vehicle around. I have learned to say “Остановите здесь, пожалуйста.” (Stop here, please.) in Russian though as a result, which is good. Now that it is snowing (“снег” means snow) in Russia, taking public transport means I only have to endure a short walk from the stop to the academic building.

Unfortunately I forgot who this statute is of...cool though huh.

Unfortunately I forgot who this statute is of…

For the first half of fall break the other Americans and I went to Moscow. We rode the Sapsan high-speed train that connects to the Московский Вокзал (Moscow Railway Station) from Плошадь Восстания (Ploschad Vostaniya), off the St. Petersburg metro’s red-line. When we got off the train in Moscow and were on the tour bus on the way to the hotel, we saw a nuclear power plant with some green smoke coming out of it. We initially thought this was the city light illuminating the smoke, but came realize that the smoke was glowing green…

Stalin Skyscraper

Stalin Skyscraper

Industrial Moscow, to the left Moscow's new burgeoning business center.

Industrial Moscow, to the left Moscow’s new burgeoning business center.

We went to the Kremlin which was quite a sight and somewhere I had always wanted to visit. In the same area right in Красная площадь (Red Square), we went into Lenin’s mausoleum and saw Vladimir Lenin’s preserved body. We also saw St. Basil’s cathedral, an iconic image of Russia for sure. One of the days in Moscow Tay and I met up with two of her friends from KU studying at the Moscow School of Economics: Eric and Abby. They were both really fun to be around and graciously showed us a bit of Moscow we would not have otherwise seen. We met up with them at a Krispy Kreme doughnuts, which was вкусно (delicious). Then we all went to the Tretyakov Gallery which was amazing. Tay wanted to see a Malevich painting, Black Square, but we found out it was at the new Tretyakov Gallery, so we decided to go there after. We waited over two hours in close to freezing weather, and just our luck they decided to limit the number of people allowed in for the remainder of the day. I’m sure we’ll make it back to Moscow soon though so I’m not worried. Then they showed us this cool Serbian burger place that you would never have found unless you knew it was there.

Me at the Kremlin

Me at the Kremlin with a candid shot of some guards.

Incredible cathedrals inside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.

Incredible cathedrals inside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.

Cathedrals inside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.

Cathedrals inside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.

Cathedrals inside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia Part II.

Inside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, yes this photo has a filter but man…

Cathedrals inside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia Part II (yes there is a filter).

Cathedrals inside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia Part II (yes there is a filter).

In Moscow we also got to go to the цирк (circus), which was a lot of fun. They had a bunch of adorable dogs and cats who were trained extremely well, and I saw an elephant twirl hula-hoops on its trunk and another hoof while spinning in a circle on a rotating platform, standing on one hoof…crazy! We also went to a cemetery with a lot of notable military and cultural figures buried there. Some of the graves were extremely elaborate as you can see in the pictures. The last day we were in Moscow we went to Arbot Street, which is apparently famous for Souvenir shopping. I went with Tay, Jolene, and Lilia to an Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant. The place was really well done with all the decoration and put you right in the story.

Famous graveyard in Russia where Khrushchev is buried.

Famous graveyard in Moscow, Russia where Khrushchev is buried.

Columbus the Great Peter the Great head with Christopher Columbus' body, message me for the story.

Columbus the Great
Peter the Great head with Christopher Columbus’ body, message me for the story.

Fairly early one of the mornings in Moscow I went to go get a bottle of water from a corner store because you can’t drink the tap water in Russia. I already knew to ask for “вода без газа” (water without gas, flat water). Take in mind this was before we got more into question words in our Russian language classes. Anyway, the guy asked me, “Откуда?” (Where from?). I figured out what it meant eventually, after some pantomiming and listening to him sing part of California Girls by The Beach Boys when I told him I was from California. Now I won’t forget what that word means. This is just an example of what it is like to learn Russian, or any foreign language for that matter, from a survival or practical perspective. Think about what it would be like to be dropped in a foreign country with no classes backing up your language, you’d have to do this all day every day.

The "New One."

The Kremlin in all it’s glory.

The "New One"

The “New One”

At the end of the trip some of the Americans stayed in Moscow, some flew out from Moscow Airport, and others took the train back to St. Petersburg. Back at the end of August Tay and I decided to go to Berlin, Germany for the second part of fall break. We took the train back to St. Petersburg and had a one day layover before we left for Berlin. On that one day back in St. Petersburg I had reservations booked at Restaurant Tempo, a place right outside the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood. I’m sure Tay would agree it’s one of our favorite places to frequent in the city. There is a bridge over one of the many canals in the city that we cross each time to get to this restaurant, and I thought it would be the right place, and the right time to propose to her. Unfortunately I think she had an idea something was up. Maybe I was acting a little weird, or maybe because I’m apparently not very sneaky, but either way she said yes. No wedding date set yet, but we’re going to be together for a while.

Tay & I in Red Square outside St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia.

Tay & I in Red Square outside St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Russia.

We booked an airBnB for the first two days in Germany, and stayed with her friend Jakob for the remaining time. The airBnB was so-so, but worked for our purposes. Tay had the awesome idea of getting on one of the bright yellow city tour buses, which turned out really well because we got to pretty much see the entire city without having to walk very far! On foot we went to Checkpoint Charlie and saw the museum there, which was quite eyeopening. They had all these name registry binders in the museum, where if you find a relative’s name who was a casualty or missing during that time period, you can submit a claim. We also went to a Salvador Dali exhibition that happened to be in Berlin while we were there. I have always liked Dali’s artwork, and it was an incredible opportunity to be able to see some of it in person. We hoped to find a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Berlin since they don’t exist in Russia. No luck, but we did find a similar place called Dolores Burritos. It was pretty good, but of course nothing beats a Chipotle burrito bowl. One of the things I am really looking forward to when I am back in America for a couple weeks during the winter break is some Chipotle!!

The Berlin Wall.

The Berlin Wall.

Berlin Wall art, I swear it wasn't us who vandalized it.

Berlin Wall art, I swear it wasn’t us who vandalized it.

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany.

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany.

A building in Berlin where someone painted an interesting message.

A building in Berlin, Germany where someone painted an interesting message.

Soviet WWII memorial in Berlin, Germany.

Soviet WWII memorial in Berlin, Germany.

We definitively had much more fun with her friend Jakob showing us the city. He took us to a hidden rooftop bar on top of a shopping mall with an incredible view of the entire city that is only known to the locals. We went to a German grocery store to buy food to make taco salad (again, pretty much no Mexican food in Russia). It was incredible to see cheese, fresh shiny fruits, and crisp vegetables again in a grocery store; something not quite as common in Russia. We tried this weird orange looking fruit called “Kaki” in Germany; really good. It was like eating a mini cantaloupe. Jakob also took us to see remains of the Berlin Wall where local artists have painted over sections of the wall that is left. Last time I was in Germany I didn’t get to make it to see the remains of the Berlin Wall, and was happy I made it back and got to see it in person. We also went to this insane Soviet monument in Berlin honoring all those Russians who stood up and fought against the Nazi regime in WWII; very Soviet, very eerie and stolid.

Jakob, Tay, and I at the secret rooftop bar in Berlin, Germany.

Jakob, Tay, and I at the secret rooftop bar in Berlin, Germany.

My Russian language class is going well. I got a “пять” (five) on my grammar midterm which was great. Grading is a little different in Russia. You get a grade of 5 through 1, which is equivalent to A through F in America. My professor Inga says I am doing well and thinks I can make it to intermediate 200 level next semester! We are learning about the dreaded Russian motion verbs right now. There are all sorts of subtle nuances you have to pay attention to that completely change the meaning and context of what you speak, read, and write: prefixes, pronunciations, etc. For example, the two verbs “Идти” and “Ходить” both mean to go by foot. Now, the first verb Идти would be used if you do not walk to this place regularly or it is a one way journey. The second verb Ходить would be used if, as I’m sure you guessed, you do walk to the place regularly or it is a round trip. With prefixes as an added challenge, say you added “При-” to Ходить. This would change the meaning to more specifically arrive on foot. Anyway, just a tiny glimpse into Russian grammar (kinda cool, but difficult)

Russian lit is also going well, we just finished Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and are currently reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. We just finished a comparative paper on medieval and contemporary Russian literature, so take that how you will :P, I enjoyed it… Contemporary Russian life is an interesting class. Our professor is really funny and offers some very candid opinions about Russia. I’m glad I decided to take this class. I just wrote a paper comparing the United States and Russian Federation’s constitutions. It was really eye opening to research and find out just how much Russia emulates the United States with regard to governmental structure and policy. Luckily I took the Never Never Land connections core this summer at UPS, which was partially a constitutional morals and ethics class. Having taken this class I definitely was at a good knowledge base to write this paper. Also, taking Business Law and Ethics at UPS really helped me when researching and writing this paper.

Anyway, a lot of writing, a lot has happened. I’m sure I left out a couple things here and there, but I think I captured most of what has happened. As per usual if you want to know anything else, have any questions or requests, feel free to email me at asexton@pugetsound.edu

Пока,

Андрей

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

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

Ya Ni Gavaru Paruski

29/08/16

So I had a blog post I wrote during my layover in England, but there is way too much to talk about for the “okla” 48 hours I’ve spent in Russia. Someone just told me “okla” is the word for “around.” I’ve been in Russia for around 48 hours, and I don’t even know where to begin…this may be a bit all over the place.

A picture from our bus leaving St. Petersburg Airport.

A picture from our bus leaving St. Petersburg Airport.

So you see how I wrote the date above, that’s how the date is supposed to be written in Russia. Rubles are pretty easy to keep track of, and the cost of living is really inexpensive in Russia. It looks like an average lunch costs the equivalent of ~$3 per day, which is just under 200P (rubles). The Russian equivalent of Walmart is called OK, and they have most things you would need or want in America. You can’t buy peanut butter there…you have to go to the special import store in the middle of central St. Petersburg & pay a premium. I haven’t made it to this store yet, but I will soon. Speaking of which, the metro is clean and efficient. It is extremely inexpensive (~20P or ~a 1/3 of a US cent). You can’t take pictures while you’re in there and you can’t congregate in large groups, or the police will come. Helpful hint, drivers in Russia speed up to hit pedestrians, so make sure you see the green man on the sign before you start walking.

Nuclear Power Plant...Maybe

A picture of what I thought was a Nuclear Power Plant aside the highway on the way to Akademicheskaya, St. Petersburg, Russia.

They do have a supplements store where you can buy whey protein, which I’m going to hit up tomorrow. I also joined to local “fitnus centor,” with some difficulty (more about this in a bit). The phrase “Ya Ni Gavaru Ruski” means “I don’t speak Russian.” “Eta Pravada,” means “this is the truth.” Well, this is the truth. I came to Russia speaking no Russian, not being able to read, and not being able to write. Hopefully I don’t sound too naive or over-confident, but I don’t feel nervous about this at all even though this is my new home for the next year. Let me explain to you what I’ve gathered so far.

Russian Highway

A typical Russian highway, the signs are in Kilometers.

Today I had about two Russian hours of language class (a Russian hour is 45 minutes). In that time, my Professor, Ingra, explained a few things. So the classic print Russian letters you see on signs, you don’t write with. You write in a different cursive form, which is how you first learn the language pronunciations. Then once this happens, you can start to read the print letters with these same pronunciations. By that time, you will start to be able to speak the language. Hopefully that made sense… :/

View from my Dorm.

The view from my dorm room in the International Dorms.

 

Dorm room is bare bones, the true Russian spirit of things!

Dorm room is bare bones, the true Russian spirit of things!

A view of the front of the international dorms in Akademicheskaya, St. Petersburg, Russia.

A view of the front of the international dorms in Akademicheskaya, St. Petersburg, Russia.

A picture of a building in the suburbs of Akademicheskaya, where our dorms are located, about 20mins from the city center.

A picture of a building in the suburbs of Akademicheskaya, where our dorms are located, about 20mins from the city center.

People in Akademicheskaya, a suburb of St. Petersburg, Russia.

People in Akademicheskaya, a suburb of St. Petersburg, Russia.

“Tak” (so) back to Fitnus Centor. I walked in to get a 3 month membership, 4450P (about 70 dollars). I asked the lady if she spoke English “Engliski,” because “Ya Ni Gavaru Ruski.” After ~20mins & my friend Tay speaking to her in Russian, I finally got everything sorted out. This is quite eye opening to say the least, now I know how people who don’t speak English in America feel! On a side note because I just remebered this, on our way to the dorms after first arriving in Russia, we saw some dude in a brand new Escalade driving on the grass along side the railroad tracks xD.

A vendor selling Matrushka dolls, scarfs, and other stuff to tourists outside The Peter & Paul Fortress in the City Center of St. Petersburg, Russia.

A vendor selling Matrushka dolls, scarfs, and other stuff to tourists outside The Peter & Paul Fortress in the City Center of St. Petersburg, Russia.

You have to keep a straight face most of the time here because Russian people don’t smile. It’s not because they’re all necessarily angry all the time, but they just don’t feel the need to show emotion. The train of thought is that when they see someone smiling as they walk around the street, they have something wrong with them mentally. Also, Americans abroad, putting things into perspective I guess we are all loud af, and a bit inconsiderate at times.

A Store in the St. Petersburg city center selling clothes for humans only...i guess.

A Store in the St. Petersburg city center selling clothes for humans only…i guess.

What else…tak…so all the students in the same study abroad program are really nice and a bit nerdy similar to myself (I mean what did you expect of people who decided to go to Russia to study abroad, #florence2k16). I can repeat about half a dozen key Russian phrases so far, but this has just been out of the pure need to survive, like “Ge De Toliet” (you guess that one).

Pronounced, "Res-to-ran."

Pronounced, “Res-to-ran.” (Shout out to Tay and David).

Tak, I’ve decided to name my blog chain of posts Re-yal Nia-rosia, “The Real Russia.” Here I am not going to post pictures of stuff you could google like the Hermitage or the Church of Our Savior on Spilt Blood. I am going to post stuff that’d you’d need to investigate yourself, Re-yal Nia-rosia!!

Tea and cake we ate on one of our group meals in the international dorms.

Tea and cake we ate on one of our group meals in the international dorms.

A bowl of borscht we had at lunch, soo good!

A bowl of borscht we had at lunch, soo good!

In Russia the light switches for the bathroom are on the outside for whatever reason...

In Russia the light switches for the bathroom are on the outside for whatever reason…

 

A sign inside a karaoke bar in the city center of St. Petersburg.

A sign inside a karaoke bar in the city center of St. Petersburg.

My rough class schedule is language classes M/W/F, and upper div. electives T/Th. It sounds pretty geeky, but I could have easily spent 2 more hours in my language class. This study abroad is totally self-motivated (we don’t have a Russian language department at UPS), and that makes learning that much more easier. Anyway, I’ve got classes tomorrow, and need to find out where the laundry room is, so for now I will just get some pictures in this post.

My Russian textbook, literal translation of title according to Ingra my language professor is "Success."

My Russian textbook, literal translation of title according to Ingra my language professor is “Success.”

Spakonia Nochi (good night),

-Andre (Andrew is the equivalent of Andriy in Russian)

Headed to Mother Russia

8/18/16

It’s 12 o’clock on my last day of work at my on-campus summer job here at UPS. I’m sitting at my desk with a fan whirring beside me, googling how to go about writing a study abroad blog. I’ve never been one to keep a journal or diary so I’m hoping my posts won’t come across as too contrived. I guess to start out I should tell you a bit about myself.

IMG_0731

I’m a 23 year old junior here at UPS. I’m an international business major, just started playing rugby here this past semester, and for the past year have been planning to study abroad in Russia. I don’t speak the language, have never traveled to the country, and do not know anyone who lives there. Probably the top two responses I’ve received when talking with others about my plans are: “Why Russia?” and “That’s crazy man.”

You know, the more I begin to think about it maybe it is a little crazy. It wasn’t until a year ago I had even considered studying abroad when my faculty advisor strongly suggested I consider doing so, referring to it as a “once in a lifetime, life changing experience.” As for why, I don’t really have a one tell-all response that can sum things up. Sure Russian cuisine isn’t world renowned, the tap water in St. Petersburg may be contaminated with an intestinal virus and heavy metals, and during the winter the temperature drops below freezing, but that’s just focusing on the negative aspects of the situation. I’ve created the opportunity, for an entire academic year, to immerse myself in a completely new culture that I’ve always been curious about.

At the moment I only have a few goals while studying abroad, but I’m sure this list will grow:

-Learn the language

-Be assigned a babushka during my homestay

-Travel the Trans Siberian Railway

-Volunteer at the Hermitage Museum

As for the frequency of my blog posts, ideally I would like to post at least bi-monthly. I’ll try to post as many photos as I can, and candidly share my experiences. Most sources recommend that a travel or study abroad blog be designed with a recurring theme, but at the moment I’m still trying to figure out what that should be. This is my first time blogging…any thoughts or suggestions? If you have any requests for things you want me to find out while I’m there, feel free to email me!

-Andrew