Unfortunately, my time abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia is coming to an end. It is crazy to think that I have less than three weeks left with a city I’ve fallen in love with. Though I am excited to return home and share my experience with friends and family, I will surely miss St. Petersburg, its people and the lively culture. Realizing that I will be returning home from my adventure has given me the chance to reflect on all the amazing experiences I’ve had during my time abroad.
When I first arrived in St. Petersburg I was overwhelmed with the fast paced life, use of the Russian language and adapting to my new home. I was completely surprised to find that I experienced very little culture shock. I adjusted to the time change in about four days, which was a lot faster than I expected. I never felt any homesickness, which came as no surprise to me because I’ve always been an independent traveler. These factors made settling into my new life abroad a simple task.
When I arrived to my host family’s apartment I was quite nervous. My anxiety was quickly quieted by the welcoming nature of my host family. The apartment was adorable. I was instantly captivated by the simplicity and practicality of the three bedroom, one bathroom apartment. (I did find it odd, at first, that there was a separate room for the toilet and the shower. I came to find out later on that this was very common in many of my peer’s apartments as well.) The kitchen was charming. The cabinet above the stove was lined with spices and the top of the refrigerator was filled with numerous types of tea.
I was shown to the room I would be staying in for the remainder of the program. It was quaint. It had two large bookshelves, a desk, a bed, wardrobe and a window with a windowsill large enough to sit on. (I’ve done some of my class readings sitting in the window.) The walls were covered in small paintings that my host mom had painted. It added a real sense of home for me because painting is one of my hobbies. Once I unpacked my belongings, the room really began to feel like home. I definitely couldn’t picture coming “home” to any other apartment in St. Petersburg.
Aside from my easy transition into Russian life, I found that the little things were the most rewarding. While abroad you experience so many monumental things. You see gorgeous new sights, meet wonderful new people and learn so much about the world and yourself. What I came to discover is that, with all the immense changes in my worldview, culture and language, it was the little things that brought me the most satisfaction, especially with use of the language. I can give a few examples about “little victories” that helped me to feel as if my language skills were improving.
One of my silly but satisfactory “wins” was going to the movies. I knew going into the movie, “Tarzan,” (the one from the U.S. with a Russian voiceover) I wouldn’t understand everything that was said during the movie. I was excited to see how much I would understand. Plus, the movie theater had the most delicious caramel corn I’ve ever tasted. After the movie I was pleasantly surprised. I understood the movie the movie as a whole and I understood most of the dialogue during the movie. The satisfaction in knowing I could understand an entire movie in Russian made me feel confident that I was getting a sense of the language.
Now, understanding an entire movie seems like a lot, but try ordering a cup of coffee in a new language – not as easy as it sounds. The first time I tried to order a cup of coffee – it was a disaster. The café was busy, loud and I couldn’t understand the cashier when she was asking me whether I wanted medium or dark roast. I felt silly and humiliated that I couldn’t answer such a simple question. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the words or how to respond; it was just a distressing first experience with Russian. It was overwhelming and at first I was discouraged. I told myself that it was only the first day and if I gave it another try, maybe I would have better luck. When I finally ordered myself a cup of coffee, with the right type of roast, room for cream and the correct size, I was so incredibly happy. It’s the little things like ordering coffee or understanding everything that your waiter says that make you feel like your language is improving. In the big scheme of things language is the most important part of this program and actually feeling like you are successful makes a huge difference.
I am so grateful for this amazing experience. I wouldn’t change anything about my summer in Russia and I hope I will be able to return again someday. Until then, I will have to find ways to keep the Russian culture alive when I get home.
By: Ashlyn King
Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program (RLASP)
Term: Summer 2016