Oh my, oh my, I cannot even begin to express the joy I have felt being back in beautiful St. Petersburg, Russia. I am currently in my second year of graduate school and am pursuing a Master’s degree in Russian Studies and I am fortunate enough to say that this is not my first time studying abroad in Russia. As a student who has studied in Russia before, I was elated to be able to return to this country that captured my heart six years ago. For the most part, a lot of superficial things have changed since I was last here. The construction that was going on around the city center has been mostly finished, there’s significantly more vegetarian friendly restaurants than last time, and a few shops and restaurants have disappeared, but for the most part, St. Petersburg and its people has not changed drastically and still remains the beautiful “Venice of the North” that I remember and I still consider this city to be my second home.
While culture shock did not hit as hard as it did the last time that I was here there were certainly some things that I had to get used to all over again. Those situations ranged from small things like remembering to wear my tapochki (house slippers) inside the house all the time lest I become infertile, to bigger things like learning not freak out over breaking a glass, because, from what my wonderfully kind and feisty host mother has told me, in Russian culture accidentally breaking a glass brings a person good luck. While I think I’ll be okay, I’m hoping that apparent luck will come in handy on those days that are particularly difficult.
On the note of host families, for any potential students reading this post, I cannot stress enough how important it is to choose to live with a host family. Even if you are someone like myself who enjoys having a significant amount of alone time and space, being with a host family not only gives you hands-on experience with the Russian language, but you learn more about the culture by actually living in it and being involved in it on a daily basis. Also, on those (hopefully rare) days where you feel like you “just can’t do Russian”, your host family has your back.
I have been lucky enough to end up with a host mother who not only has a water filter built into her sink (let me tell you, this will save me a significant amounts of rubles each month), but who is also incredibly kind and understanding. I’ve already had one big (or at least in my opinion) linguistic misunderstanding at home, but she was incredibly kind and reassuring after I realized my mistake. Her daughter-in-law and her youngest grandson were coming over to visit for the day and were arriving very early in the morning. When she was telling me all of this the night before they arrived she was telling me that it would be better for me to wake up at 7am instead of 7:30am like I typically do so that I could meet them. While I completely understood that part of the conversation, I did not quite understand the part where I thought she was telling me to get my breakfast ready by myself (like she normally has me do anyways) before their arrival. In the end, I found out that I was supposed to eat breakfast with everyone and I cannot express how embarrassed I was that I had went ahead and eaten before her guests arrived. However, instead of being upset with me, she was very reassuring in that everything was completely fine and that these linguistic misinterpretations happen. She also made it a point to let me know that I was part of the family, which is why she wanted to me to be included in the meal. Thankfully, her, or should I say our guests, were also very understanding. While I was only able to stick around for tea I was so thankful to be placed with a host mother who wasn’t incredibly offended by my misinterpretation.
So in the end, while living with a host family can sometimes be a bit of a daunting and nerve wracking experience, you will always have people who have your back and are there for you when you have a rough day or have a misunderstanding. This experience ossified the idea for me that Russians, for the most part, are an incredibly welcoming group people. Sure, you have to get past the initial layer of distance, but after you get past that you are able to come home to a family that you can be open and honest with every day.
By: Alicia Baca
Term: Fall 2017