An American In St. Petersburg

Today marks four weeks into this trip of a lifetime. In the past month, so much has changed for me. An entirely new time zone, a new place to call home, new friends, and a different language in which I am totally immersed. It’s been quite an experience so far, but I am eager to continue this experience for the next three months. The first week, in particular, was difficult. Many tears were shed, most of my mental capacity was split between trying to figure out what was going on and why am I here. I’m happy to report that at least one of those questions has mostly disappeared (besides the days when the temperature dips below zero – Fahrenheit). Every day is still an experience, although most encounters are becoming easier. I don’t know what, or how, to order at a Starbucks in English, but I seem to be getting it in Russian.

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The Hermitage

You can’t even begin to talk about St. Petersburg and the art and culture hidden in every nook and cranny of the city without talking about the Hermitage. I’ve started an unpaid internship/volunteer position in the Hermitage. I’ve only been able to go twice, once to register and try my hand at getting responses to surveys outside of one of the exhibitions, and once I stumbled upon the 14th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the volunteer department in the Hermitage. I’m hoping to go back one or two times a week, depending on the rest of my schedule. I’ve included a picture of the beautiful building from the square. The picture truly doesn’t do it justice. I’m hoping for another sunny day sometime soon so you can see the gold along the building and how the blue/green paint truly pops in contrast to the grey clouds seemingly forever encompassing the city. More updates to come as I explore more of the building and experience more through the “internship”.

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Living Situation

Most know I was very adamant about living by myself in this city, as the two living options were with a host family, or in a dorm. I wouldn’t even send in my deposit without having confirmation that my request to live in the dorm would be honored. The very first day here, I begged my residence director to find me a host family. I was in the dorm, alone, with just a small bedroom and a small bathroom. The WiFi didn’t reach my room. I had no idea how I would feed myself. I had no idea how I’d survive.  I’m now living with Galina Anatolevna, a woman in her mid sixties who crochets. She understands my allergies and knows I really can’t have barley or shellfish, ever (this was one of my biggest concerns because Russians do not always understand that allergies are real). We live across the canal, so I always have to be aware of how long I’m out because of public transportation, but especially when April rolls around and the bridges go up and I can’t get across the Neva until around 5 am.

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Galina Anatolevna is a pretty good cook, but I usually come home after she’s already eaten. There’s only been two situations where it’s been confusing, one was a miscommunication where she thought I was having dinner out with friends, but I came back to the apartment and ended up making myself eggs and warm bread (kinda like toast, imagine a grilled cheese, but just the bread). The other incident was last night when she told me there was rice in the kitchen and was confused when I asked if I could microwave some leftover chicken with it. I went into the kitchen and the promised rice was on the stove, but with about two inches of water above it. I figured she just didn’t finish cooking it, so I took it upon myself to boil off the rest of the water. When she came into the kitchen to get coffee, she was entirely confused by why I was eating rice and chicken. It was apparently supposed to be a soup, but I just boiled off the rest of the water like the naive American I am. She just laughed it off and said “Aye yie yie” before leaving the kitchen. Both experiences are just funny misunderstandings, of which there have been plenty outside of our apartment.

School

I am officially a student at the Russian State Pedagogical University named for A. I. Herzen in the Intensive Russian Language for International Students department (Российский государственный педагогический университет им. А.И. Герцена; Управление международного сотрудничества). The program I’m on requires 4 days of classes, 3 daily classes at 1.5 hours each. Most of the classes focus on language (word building, speaking practice, phonetics, and grammar), but I also have another class on politics. For everyone who is wondering, no. We aren’t duking things out over political views. For the most part, we’ve been discussing things on a historic scale, like talking about Nicholas II and the Bolsheviks so far, although current politics sometimes creep into discussions for very short spurts of time.

All of the classes so far have been really great, but one class in particular is one that will most likely stick in my memory far after this program is over. Phonetics with Nina Nikolaevna. Every class with her has been…interesting. There’s always something new that happens that takes a moment to get over. In a different post, I’ll get into more of the misunderstandings that have occurred here, but I can definitely see her making several appearances in those stories.

There will be more posts to come! I’ve gotta head home for dinner soon, so for now… пока!

By: Abigail Cossaboon

Program: Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program

Term: Spring 2017

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