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 😛
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. 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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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: firstname.lastname@example.org