Friday, March 28, 2014

Some Good Days in Saint Petersburg

So this blog post doesn't have a special topic, just an update on my life and how I'm doing!

A few people have expressed some concern for me over the situation in Ukraine, and the West and Russia's reactions, but no need to worry! I have not seen anything that made me feel uncomfortable or in any kind of danger and I don't think there will be anything like that in the future. It is highly unlikely that my program would be compromised by this issue so I'm just enjoying being at the center of an interesting political event!

The weather is getting a little bit warmer now so I've been able to walk slowly outside and enjoy the city a little more. I've been discovering lots of adorable cafes and beautiful streets and just soaking in the sunshine.

My Russian classes have been a little...unstable thus far, but yesterday I tried out a new class and I think that's where I'm going to be the rest of the semester! It's actually made for heritage speakers who know almost no grammar and have no writing skills, so it's a different kind of focus, but it will force me to build my vocabulary very quickly because they all know so much!

So I have some pictures and a few stories to share with you guys, check it out!:

Last Saturday I had my first exam in Russia and boy was it interesting. The way my classes work here, if you don't already know, is each class is 1.5 credits and is 4-5 hours a day for 5 or 6 days, then it's over. To have the credits transfer to UVA I have to take two classes and "bundle" them into one UVA-equivalent class- kind of a pain. Since the class is so short, we usually don't really have assignments or quizzes, just participation grade and a final project or exam. The exam isn't on the last day of class, though, it's generally some vague time in the future whenever convenient for the professor. So although I finished my International Economic Law class more than a month ago, I had the exam last Saturday! It was an oral, supposed to last 5-7 minutes per person, but there were like 40 people so it took FOREVER. I was, of course, a tiny bit late and ended up at the very end of the list. Fast forward four hours, we have been reviewing in the hallway the whole time, and of course my voice is the most American and the most obnoxious and it carries. A few people came out of the exam room and said the professor made a comment about being able to hear me! So I tried to turn it down a bit but you I get into the exam room, literally the second to last person, and the professor just looks at me with his red, exhausted eyes and says "I'm not going to ask you any questions. I've heard you in the hallway the last few hours and I know you know the material. 100%, A, get out of here." WUT.
So yeah, I was shocked because that would not happen in America, I was a little bit annoyed because I had waited so long for nothing, and super happy because obviously! I really do know my stuff, though. Seriously, ask me (almost) anything about the basics of international trade and economic law and I'll knock your socks off   =p
Pretty harsh, but I totally understand this comic now!
After the exam I was exhausted and it was late so I just headed home (yes I stopped on the way and got a milkshake, stop judging me!). When I got home I saw my host mom's daughter, Zhenya, her husband whose name I can't remember, and their son Vlad were there! They had just seen a ballet at the Mariinsky and were all fancy laughing and talking. So I sat and talked with them for about an hour and half in Russian. I didn't think much of it until I got into bed that night and realized that 3 months ago I never would have had the confidence to be able to do that! I'm not sure how much my actual grammar and vocabulary have been expanding thus far, but my confidence, familiarity with conversational norms and sentence patterns, and willingness to speak has skyrocketed!

So my apartment building is very typical for the Russian city center, a few apartment blocks that circle a central courtyard (called a "well" in Russian because sometimes the buildings are so tall the light never reaches the ground). The other day I came home from school and one of the few cats who like to hang out in the courtyard was sitting by the dumpster licking himself with pride and right next to him? A big fat juicy dead rat. Yum. Anyway, I'm guessing the cat caught the little guy and had some fun. I took a picture because it was interesting and this woman comes out of the tailor's in the bottom of the building next to mine and starts yelling at me! No idea what she was saying, so of course I just said "I don't speak Russian!" and ran upstairs...oops

I was talking with a Russian friend the other day, and we were talking about the economy, and how Russian income tax rates are higher than American tax rates. I asked him if he felt that he could see his tax dollars at work, and he said "yeah, in the new cars and apartments of the parliament members!" hahaha good one, Russian humor

So tonight Roman's university is having some sort of celebration, fancy-dress-party for the 20th anniversary of his department. He invited me and I am very excited to put on a nice dress and go meet some new people!
Not that he never takes me out, by any means- two weekends ago we went to a Vivaldi concert at Smolny Cathedral, and it was wonderful! I'll be sure to post pictures from tonight)))

On Monday there was a field trip for my Russian Political System class- we went to the Russian Museum of Politics! (not sure if that's the official name...)

Piece of the Berlin Wall

Portrait of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, raked by bayonets of revolutionaries when the State Duma was taken

Russian Constitution and audiobook!

An interesting, large sculpture inside the museum

Rock wall I think memorializing those who died in gulags

Stalin's Death Mask

On Sunday morning SRAS took us on a Dostoevsky walking tour! The weather was appropriately dreary. The tour was pretty interesting, although it turned out I wasn't as excited as I thought I would be to see the places where characters "lived" and where scenes "happened"...because they really didn't happen at all. It was better just to walk through the neighborhoods, pretty well preserved from when Dostoevsky would have seen them, and try to put yourself in his mind, imagine his inspiration.
Apologies for being the worst photographer ever...

House of Raskolnikov

Later on Sunday I did a cooking class through my university! It was kind of pricy and way too many people, but still fun)) My group learned how to make syrniki (sort of cottage cheese patties) and other groups made schi (cabbage soup) and "herring under the fur coat"...ew.
Walking on Nevsky yesterday ran into this great band, tons of people around them. Guy on the guitar was just wailing, totally rocking out, and the guy on the drum was in some kind of trance, really cool, and then there's the guy in the background...older than the rest, kind of in the background, playing basically an Arizona Sweet Tea can full of rice. Not even sure if he was actually in the band or just wanted to be part of the jam session lol


  1. This is such a great insight into Russian culture. It's also good to hear about your life over there. I'm glad you are doing well and are safe.

  2. hi. Just a little confused - how exactly is Russian income tax (at flat 13%) higher than American tax rates?