- Travel Topics
Context: In the summer of ’09 after my sophomore year at college I studied abroad for 8 weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia. I frequently wrote updates home (once a week), and this is one of those updates. I am adding this here because this is our travel website and I want it to be a collection of our travels, however, it’s important to know that I wrote these years ago without the intention of them ever being part of a travel website. They are not representative of our future work, but maybe you will enjoy reading them and get a taste of what it can be like to study abroad. Hope you enjoy!
Being Russian in America isn’t a big deal. If you hear Russian on thesubway, you might glance, and then think nothing of it. However, in Russia, being American attracts its fair share of attention. This is both good and bad. On the subway in the morning, speaking English definitely attracts attention. This is the kind of attention I generally don’t care for, as you don’t feel very discrete. However, at night, if you are at a bar, it can be very nice. For example, the other night I went out to see my friend at a bar to have a few drinks and to watch the soccer game (Russia is doing very well in the Euro Cup). This is commonplace in Russia just as it would be commonplace in America, however, what slightly escalates it above the normal is the extra attention we get from the beautiful women behind the bar. In America, we probably wouldn’t even get the time of day from them, but in Russia, we are a rarity. Needless to say, I like this very much.
It’s funny the way days pass in Russia. Sometimes, I’ll have class, then an excursion somewhere, followed by dinner, some homework and bed, and before I know it, the day is over and I won’t feel like I had a minute to myself. Other days are the exact opposite, and I’m incredibly restless, looking for errands to keep me busy and people to talk to. These days can be particularly difficult, as there is no internet or tv in the apartment, so finding new ways to pass the time is a constant battle. Speaking of the apartment, the hot water has been shut off for the next two weeks, which means cold showers (and I do mean cold) in the morning. This is about as close to roughing it as I have ever come.
After only two weeks in Russia, I have already managed to lose my wallet. The story explaining this night is a long one and should only ever be told in person in order to achieve the full effect. That said, I left my wallet in an unlicensed taxi after I paid the guy. By unlicensed taxi I mean a random guy that pulls over to drive you somewhere. If anyone wants to know why we didn’t take a “real” taxi, well, good luck finding one. Secondly, I’d argue that I actually acted pretty responsibility this night, just a series of very unfortunate and unexpected events made it almost impossible to come out unscathed. Thirdly, as I’m sure most people would assume that I would never see any of these items again, well, you’re wrong, because the man called to say he would come by and return them (however, this was only after I had canceled all my cards and bought a new wallet, so it’s almost useless aside from a few goodies like a library card). Anyways, no harm no foul.
My favorite thing to do in Russia is to run errands. This may sound strange, but it’s actually fairly invigorating. The reason being is that you communicate with people with an intended purpose. Some examples were the other day when I helped this girl by shoes, or when I had to find out what was wrong with my phone and add minutes, or finally buying a wallet. It puts all my learning to the test, and it’s really satisfying when you walk out with that new pair of shoes or working phone.
On the flip side, however, you have to be willing to accept that whenever you go out with Russians, you will, at some point or another, look like an idiot. Understanding people is tricky business. Some people, as a result of their accent, word choice, and talking speed I understand very well, and others not at all. A lot of it also has to do with setting. For example, when I’m in conversation class, focusing, I understand the professor pretty well, but if I run into her on the metro, which has happened from time to time, or we’re walking on the street, it can be very difficult to understand her. You learn to just smile and laugh; most things that people say aren’t that important, just chatter. However, every so often something not so unimportant comes out, a question of some sort, and it’s these times that smiling and laughing makes you look like an idiot.
Today I went to the zoo with two of my American friends and two Russian friends. I understood them well enough, except when at the end she asked for us to give her our tickets so that she could give them to the institute and we could be refunded (at least I think that’s what she said…). Knowing that I had taken Russian the longest, they turned to me with this request. I thought the girl wanted me to buy her a metro pass because she had spent all her money at the zoo. After this, just imagine more confusion. Inevitably, you have to learn to take these moments with a grain of salt, as the very reason for the confusion is that their English is far worse than my Russian, and in that sense, you’re not doing too badly.
Want to read more about Dave’s Study Abroad Program in St. Petersburg, Russia?
Letter 1: St. Petersburg, Russia – Arriving in Foreign Territory
Letter 2: St. Petersburg, Russia – Starting Class
Letter 3: St. Petersburg, Russia – The White Nights
Letter 4: St. Petersburg, Russia – Some Things Lost Some Things Gained
Letter 5: St. Petersburg, Russia – New Friendships
Letter 6: St. Petersburg, Russia – Beach For July 4th
Letter 7: St. Petersburg Study, Russia – phhh Piskov
Letter 8: St. Petersburg, Russia – End Of Days