- 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!
I started class. The first day, Grisha, the son who is living at home, took us via metro to the university. It isn’t too far, but it does take a while for us to both shower, eat, and travel. When I got there we had a meeting. It seems like a lot of people have had some problems (two other people had their bags lost, two people were still stuck at the airport, etc).
After that we split up into our respective groups, though my group has most of the program in it. Basically, we talked with the woman who was our speaking leader for two hours. It wasn’t so difficult for me because I had already been in Russia for two days, as opposed to people who had just arrived and were somewhat cold. When class was over we ate in the dining hall at the institute. The food is fine, Russia isn’t quite fine dining like in Italy, but it serves its purpose. To end the day, we were supposed to go on a walking tour, but it turned into us running errands (which was good since I had to buy a sim card for my phone). A bunch of the students went home on the metro together and, after exchanging numbers, we called it a day. I went around with Dan to see if we could get his visa card working, though this was to no avail, and he is still without money.
In many ways St. Petersburg is like most cities; people, buildings, cafes, restaurants, metro, etc, but you do start to notice little differences after only a few days. For example, on the metro, at peak hours, only women sit, as it is too crowded for there ever to be a free seat for a man to sit down. Also, the old women who sit often have their eyes closed in order to rest, while many others read a book or newspaper. Another thing is that Russians are very particular about change and will ask you if you have a 1 or a 5 so that they return less bills. I think this has something to do with the poor design of the ruble, in that small denominations of rubles buy you essentially
nothing, so you often have big bills and this can turn into lots of change (like when I paid for 101 rubles with a 1000 ruble). One last thing of note that I recently noticed, was that the pharmacy had everything on display behind glass doors, when the real merchandise is behind closed doors. The lady was pretty horrified when I tried to open the display to get toothpaste (which had been confiscated from me at the airport).
The last couple days of living has gone smoother than the first, though not without problems. I realized today that yesterday I had gone the bathroom in the girl’s room (and by realized I mean someone told me after I attempted to do it a second time). Furthermore, I think the host woman was briefly upset with me since I forgot to lock the door all the way upon returning. Lastly, during class, I may have offended the teacher when I read a passage in English slowly (in order to give myself time to translate it into Russian as was the exercise), since he thought I was making fun of the way he speaks English (slowly).
But class is class. Something interesting that happened today was that the university invited Russian students to come speak with us, one on one in the dining hall. Originally I got this girl (HOT), but she was speaking very fast and I was having trouble understanding her. Then, I think to break the ice, she asked if I wanted to go sit with her Russian friend, who was with another girl I knew from the program. It actually turned out really well, since I was able to communicate with him without problems and we all talked for a while. Eventually we exchanged numbers and the two invited us to go out the next day and, later on the subway, they invited me and this other girl to go to a movie that night. We didn’t go to the movies, but we did go out the next day and it was pretty fun without too many communication problems. Basically we went to a bar and talked about our respective cultures among other things; movies, music, women, etc. It was a good time, and we got a bottle of vodka and basically went at it, followed by a bottle of wine to keep us occupied as we walked around the street. I like my new Russian friends and I expect to see more of them over the summer. They invited me to go to a sauna (apparently a Russian tradition) on Sunday.
Thank god today is Friday.
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