Sunday, December 22, 2013

Study Abroad Bucket List

Although I've already been to Russia three times, studying abroad there is going to be a completely different experience. I will be living like a local (or at least trying), I won't have my boyfriend to rely on as a language crutch and I won't be staying with his family like in the past, I will actually have to learn something (including "International Trade and Regional Integration: Legal and Economic Perspectives”- yikes!), and, clearly, it will be for 8 months, not 3 weeks!

So I've put together a list of things I've learned in Russia so far (see previous post) and a little preliminary bucket list of things to do while I'm abroad. I'll try to revisit the bucket list every two months to see how I'm making progress!

1. Attend Luzhitsy Bounty. Every summer there is a festival in the village of Luzhitsy celebrating the heritage and culture of the Votian people- it’s small and local and I think it would be amazing to see a little minority group trying not to blend into Russia completely. For more info, check out this video.  

2. Work this look at least once: the mini skirt/tights/high heeled boots in snow look is pretty popular in Russia 

3. Go South! I suppose if nothing else my proposed research trip to Azerbaijan would count for this, but I really want to go into the Northern Caucasus (the safer parts) or somewhere on the Black Sea, maybe check out Mt Elbrus!

Valley in the Caucasus Mountains

4. Observe an Orthodox fast during Lent. The diet is basically vegan, which you follow along with with increased religious observance (prayer, meditation), an overall heightened consciousness, and more ascetic mentality. I tried this last year and it basically involved eating nothing but black bean burgers and In the Nood (UVA on-Grounds noodle restaurant- I still can’t stand it), total failure. Hopefully it will be easier in Russia, fingers crossed my host mom will be super religious and help me out!

   5. Feed the squirrels in Pavlovsky Park. Listed as the best place in St Petersburg to feed squirrels…sounds fun! (and an easy one to cross off)

   6. Learn Azeri to some extent…probably not very well as most of my concentration will be on Russian of course, but I just can’t waste the opportunity to learn from a native speaker!

Typical dacha "neighborhood"
7. Go to a dacha + banya! This will involve having to befriend someone who has a dacha, so step 1: befriend as many Russians as I can and subtly ascertain the crucial detail.

      8. Visit Kizhi. Kizhi is an island in the center of Lake Onega in the Republic of Karelia in north western Russia. It is famous for the ancient architecture that is mostly wooden structures made without any nails! 
Kizhi Pogost (Churchyard)
9. Kuznechny Market:
one of the best markets in St Petersburg, full of interesting vendors and a great variety of products. Apparently vendors will yell out to you as you walk by!
10. Go to a Zenit FC Game. Petersburg's soccer team, fans get crazy! 

This is not a comprehensive list, so if anyone has any suggestions, throw them at me! I am looking to make the absolute most of my time while in Russia and it is always a good motivator and fighter of home sickness to have a to-do list of fun things to look forward to.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Things I've Learned in St. Petersburg

        After my most recent trip to St. Petersburg, I feel like I need to share some of my experiences with Russia- both good and bad- and what I've taken away from my time there.

I visited St. P briefly in spring 2012 and was too lazy to write about it, then I spent New Year's Eve and the extended holiday season there and started this blog post but was too lazy to finish it, then I spent the better part of this past August there and was, again, too lazy to write about it...but now! Now that I am almost a month from embarking on my 8 month adventure study abroad trip and since I should be studying for my economics exam, it's the perfect time to finally write a blog post!

So I've put together a list of things I've learned in Russia so far to help me conceptualize my time there so far and get pumped for next semester!

Things I've Learned in Russia (so far)
1. You cannot customize fast food orders. Not even "add tomato" or "no onions" and all condiments cost extra. 

2. You cannot get a good American milkshake. (these two are probably the biggest problems I have with Russia, honestly it's much more difficult than you think) 
3. They have an entirely different scale for cold.

but yes, they have summer too!

4. You don't become friends with someone until you've spent a considerable amount of time together and built a deep trust- friendship is serious business. Until then, you're just an acquaintance.

5. Everyday is a holiday...or at least every day within a two week radius of a holiday.

6. Winter is more beautiful than I've ever seen it- and I didn't even see snow until I was in middle school, so I have an above average appreciation of winter to begin with.
St. Isaac's Cathedral

7. Privacy and personal space are not common themes.

8. Racism is real, prevalent, and almost instinctual for some. I've met people with a real belief that different races are biologically different to the point of inferiority.

9. Physical appearance is extremely important, but more for women than men. It's not uncommon to see a young-20s woman in high heels, mini skirt, and flawless makeup with a toddler and a fat, bald husband 3 inches shorter than her (also, I find the commonness of women taller than their husbands, especially in heels, really empowering!)

10. Despite the beautiful models all over the place, and the inability to PUT A TOMATO ON A SANDWICH WITHOUT HAVING TO CALL 2 MANAGERS, there are people in Russia so much like me. People who study, learn, work, wear jeans and don't know how to use eyeshadow, who love watching America's Next Top Model and smile at snowflakes...

In conclusion, there is still so much for me to learn about Russia, so much to explore, and so much to be absolutely thrilled about looking ahead to my next adventure! Also- I love answering questions, so if anyone is curious about Russia or anywhere else I've been, lay it on me))))

Samantha <3