One of the things I was most nervous about before coming to Russia was what my host family situation would be like. Would they be kind, friendly, or willing to converse with me? Would I have any time to myself? I had heard from various people that Russians had no word for “privacy” and no conception of it either.
However, immediately upon meeting my host family, all my doubts vanished. On the cab ride to their apartment, my host mother was turned around talking to me the entire time, and I was doing my best, with what broken Russian I could muster, to respond. As soon as we arrived at the apartment, I was given a tour of the apartment, little of which I understood, and treated to an incredible meal, complete with two varieties of home-backed pirogi at the end. I settled into my room and sat overwhelmed from relief on my bed, staring at the wallpaper of a sunny Mediterranean beach, in stark contrast to the snow-encased city out the window.
The first rule of Russia is that any woman over the age of sixty always gets whatever she wants. Most of the time what they want is to tell you to dress warmer. And so nearly every day for months I would receive warnings from my host mother that I needed to put on a scarf or a hat, a sweater under my coat, or I would be asked whether I had my gloves. However, this was by no means meant to be overbearing or controlling; Russian babushki show that they care by telling you what you should be doing. It was all very funny; I would try to sneak out without a scarf, only to hear, “Антон, уходишь? Ах, что ты!” at which point I would be required to turn back around to change.
While kind, friendly, and always ready to talk, they were never overbearing. While it is true that Russians have no direct translation of ‘privacy,’ it is a concept with which they are by and large familiar. In fact many times I heard the English word used in Russian conversation from teachers and other Russians.
My host family was incredible, and my experience of Russia would not have been the same without them, from watching travel shows with my host mother on television in the evenings to conversations with my host father about Soviet times. While every host family differs, almost every student I know couldn’t have been happier with their host family experience. If I could give any incoming RLASP participant advice about host families, it would be that — while there will be many things you won’t be used to and you might have to be flexible concerning schedule, food, and privacy — your host family experience will likely be one of the highlights of your time in Russia.
By: Anthony Stoner
Program: Russian Language & Area Studies, St. Petersburg, Russia
Term: Spring 2019