- 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!
Today, I think, was my first 4th of July outside of America. The program did a pretty reasonable job of making us feel at home. We had the day off of school to begin with. Next, we went to a supermarket, bought $400 worth of food/supplies on Harvard’s dime, and went to the Gulf of Finland. The Gulf of Finland is a beach, sort of. If you were back home, it wouldn’t be a beach you would rush to. It isn’t very large, the water isn’t very clear, and there’s glass in precarious places. That said, it was still a really good time. We grilled pork, ate, swam, and tanned. I can’t really think of a better way of spending the day.
On Saturday, our grammar professor (60+ year old Russian male) wanted to take us out to clubs at night. We met him at 10:30pm and he was with a friend who apparently knew a lot of owners so we were able to get in free to a few places. It was a pretty good time and my friend from Harvard who is up visiting his sister in St. Petersburg came out with us.
The next day we met our professor and his friend again at a studio to take photographs. He’s an amateur photographer and they wanted to teach us how to use a film camera and have us take pictures of each other etc. It was kind of difficult because they explained everything in Russian, and the fact that I don’t know how to use a film camera in general made it nearly impossible to figure out. Anyways, I was pretty sure they invited us just so they could take pictures of us and less the other way around, but after a couple hours we all went back to finish a literature project that was due the next day.
The last two days have involved a few unpleasant encounters with Russian people. The first was leaving the university. I went and bought ice cream, as usual, and passed through the turn style in order to board the metro. I guess it didn’t occur to me that they don’t allow food on the metro and right away I was yelled out. When I asked
the metro worker if I could stay here and finish, he just blinked and said “you’re not Russian are you”, to which I replied “of course not, I’m American”. The following look I can only describe as disgust. He practically spit on me, rattled off some words which I didn’t understand, and so I just backed away and finished my ice cream as he
stared at me.
Similarly, today we went to the museum. At some point my friend called me on the telephone to find out where we were. I answered, and was walking and talking in order to find them until eventually I hear, in Russian, “young man!”. I turn around. Then, in English “you don’t understand Russian” (even though I clearly just turned around when she said young man in Russian), to which I replied, now all in English, “yes, I understand Russian, but I was talking on the telephone and didn’t hear”. The rest of the conversation pretty much went as me trying to explain that it was an accident and her giving me a lengthy lecture on museum protocol/behavior, until eventually she pulled the foreigner card, asking where I was from, which I think I hate more than anything because it’s an unnecessary question meant only to make you feel like an outsider. I don’t really think the words of the
conversation convey the situation, but there was just an air condescension about both situations that really put me in a bad mood. That and the fact that the whole thing turns into a spectacle and everyone stares and laughs, whether they understand or not. Anyways, not wanting to be in a place where I wasn’t welcome, I left the museum immediately after that, mad that I hadn’t been more of a smartass.
Later that night I got into an friendly argument with Love about Russian people. I said that no one here helps, and that both times people had just been rude and given me unnecessary lectures like being a foreigner implies some sort of intellect deficiency. She said that I was a full of myself American, that the Russian people don’t need to help, and that Americans will be nice to you and then spit on you behind your back. Maybe that’s true, but I’ll take my fake niceness over overt rudeness any day of the week.
I’ve had plenty of nice encounters with Russians during my time, and I’ve had plenty of rude encounters with Americans. That said, there is a general attitude here, particularly among people doing a service, that they don’t need you. If they don’t understand you, they often won’t make any attempt to communicate, and just stare at you with a look that I just don’t believe would be acceptable in America (if I ever did something like that while I was working at the movies I’m sure I would have been written up or fired). If I had my camera with me at all times I could probably publish a book of disgusted looks that I’ve gotten from people. Despite the fact that Love believes
there are many foreigners here, I really don’t think it compares to the amount of foreigners there are in America, and I’ve run into plenty of people who will say I’m the first American they’ve ever met.
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