My time in Saint Petersburg is quickly passing, with only one month left, I still have so
many museums and cathedrals I want to see. The issue is finding the energy for it all. I am not sure if it is just the white nights having that effect on me, but I think the hardest thing for me by far is finding the time and energy to fulfill each day. Coming from Florida, there is minimal public transportation and so I have to drive if I want to get anywhere. This is not the case in Saint Petersburg, where many things are located within walking distance. This makes it easy to do many things downtown, however, since I am not used to it I get tired very quickly. I try to make each day a productive one, by either getting in a good study session, going out to see a ballet performance, or going to a museum. Some days I just get so tired I have to take the day off to just rest and have some alone time. I think that is an important thing to get the proper rest when studying abroad because when you go out and do things it is a more enjoyable experience.
Living in the dorm I basically am situated downtown literally behind the Kazansky Cathedral. I am so glad I chose the dorm because it is so easy and close by all the main sights to see (Savior on Spilled Blood, the Hermitage museum, etc), not to mention being across the street from the Herzen State Pedagogical University. When I went to the Smolny Cathedral during a service it was a surreal feeling to walk inside a Russian Orthodox Church and hear the echoes of old Slavic prayers sung in harmony and in response to the priest’s chants. The feeling is indescribable, being in that ambiance just makes me zone out and I get the feeling of being in another world. Being an Orthodox Christian myself I do not get many chances to go to church because where I live does not have any Russian Orthodox Churches, just Greek ones.
Growing up in a Russian family, I have already been acquainted with the Russian culture and the shock that comes with it since childhood, and so I can not say I am experiencing immense culture shock here in Saint Petersburg. Being in the Heritage Speakers Program however gives me the chance to feel closer to my heritage by experiencing the lifestyle and getting to know the people. Coming to Russia since childhood I’ve had negative phases in the past where I found myself judging the culture, complaining about the differences, and believing that the way things are done in the US is better. When I was younger I had that attitude when I experienced culture shock. That was just my naivety and lack of understanding that led me to think that way. The more I experienced the more I learned. I matured a lot in high school, and travelling ever since I sought to understand instead of picking out the differences. This is how I truly felt the immersion within the Russian culture, and thanks to that I am more connected with my heritage. The beauty of diversity comes with embracing these differences and seeing their strengths.
Whether they be bad or good, an experience is an experience. I value every one of my experiences in Russia because it gives me a chance to learn and understand what I probably could not have otherwise had I never visited the country. That is the value of studying abroad; The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.
By: Christine Simatos
Program: Russian Heritage Speakers, St. Petersburg, Russia
Term: Summer 2019