My Year Abroad


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!