Ella in Buenos Aires: Mendozzz

May 18, 2018

So I have officially been here for a full three months. It is crazy to think that I only have two months left in Argentina! The time has really flown by. Apologies for the two travel posts in a row, but my friends and I are trying to see everything before we leave!

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This past weekend, my two friends and I went to Mendoza, Argentina! It was such a nice break from the recently rainy Buenos Aires; we had warm sunny days the whole time we were there! I really loved walking around and exploring the city, as well as doing the little excursions we had planned.


The first place we went in Mendoza was the Reserva Natural Divisadero Largo which was a mini nature reserve with a bunch of cool hikes. It was only a 15min taxi ride outside of the city!


We chose to hike the longest trail which took us about an hour but gave us such amazing views. Many of the mountains surrounding us were a deep red color, it reminded me of Arizona in the US.


Another activity we did while we were there was biking around to each of the bodegas in an area called Maipu. The little bodegas were adorable and had huge vineyards. The views while we were biking were incredible, since we could see the Andes mountains along the horizon throughout the whole ride.


Our last activity while in Mendoza was horseback riding! We went to a little estancia at the foot of the Andes and rode horses and had dinner with the owners as well as a bunch of other travelers!


My horse was named Gringa, which I thought was fitting!! She loved running, which stressed me out a bit since I was holding my camera and trying to take pictures while riding.

Chau for now!


Justine in Russia: Leisure Time

May 11, 2018

I wanted to talk about how people are quick to assume that Russia is extremely archaic and still lacks things that the rest of the world (or the U.S.) has. Friends back home always are in awe when I talk about eating somewhere or at a local event. Even after all the pictures and stories, there is still a belief that Russia is just full of snow and vodka. People believe there is an absence of events or anything fun in this country. I acknowledge that I am in Saint Petersburg, but I am speaking from the idea that people can’t seem to wrap their head around the fact that a city like Petersburg or Moscow actually has things going on.

Earlier this week, I was in Moscow and visited the Botanical Garden of Moscow State University. I was lucky that the weather was wonderful and the botanical garden was already set up. My friends could not seem to believe that there was actually a botanical park in Moscow or even plants in Moscow. May 1st is Labor Day in Russia, so people do not have work or school. The botanical garden and the space around it was filled with families and children trying to enjoy the nice day out.


The Botanic Gardens of Moscow State University – in Moscow


The Botanic Gardens of Moscow State University – in Moscow

The weather has been extremely kind to us this semester. This spring has been one of the sunniest springs in decades. One of the program directors once approached me in the morning and started talking about how he has lived here for all 28 years of his life, but has never seen so much sun. This only makes the outdoors and leisure time even more exciting. My host mom transitioned from going skiing every Saturday to going to her friend’s dacha (country house/cottage, usually about an hour or two from the city) every Saturday. The sun sets at approximately 10pm here, so people are out taking walks at night.


Taking a walk at 10pm in Moscow.


Taking a walk around 9pm in Saint Petersburg.

The other day, I went to this part of the city that has a little beach-like area and there were a bunch of people there enjoying themselves. Some people brought their tiny barbecue sets and were making food. Some others were just enjoying the weather.


The sandy stretch on Vasilyevsky Ostrov. The giant tower in the back is the new eighty-six story center that is being built.

In Moscow, a lot of their new spaces for food, art, shopping, etc. are being build in giant abandoned lots.


“Xлебозавод” in Moscow. An art space with stores and restaurants. This was once an abandoned lot.

Meanwhile in Petersburg, everything is found in a dvor. A dvor is roughly translated in a merchant yard of some sort. This makes things hard to find, but if you come across a dvor, it usually means that everything in it is really cool and interesting. I remember I was walking somewhere with my friend and we came across this dvor. My favorite Russian clothing brand has a store there and there is also an amazing pasta place in this tiny space.


My favorite dvor in the city!

One thing I appreciate most about Russian people is that they take advantage of their free time no matter the weather. My host mom always has activities lined up daily. When the weather is not so great, she goes to museums, shows, etc. She still goes skiing every Saturday, but now that the weather is getting nicer she goes north to the country houses. This goes for the general population too. When it’s winter, people go skiing or go to the outskirts of the city to do winter sports. In the spring, people go on walks at all times of the day, go to parks, visit gardens, etc. Staying home all day is not exactly ideal. My professor once said being outside is viewed more as a freedom rather than being home. There is always something to do here and I am not only saying this because the city is big. Sometimes I struggle to find things to do when I am in the states, so I end up doing nothing. I found myself here to be much more productive with spending my free time because there are so many new things always popping up in the city.

Even right now, I am getting ready to go out and go to all the remaining spots in this city since I have only a week left here…however, not even once was I bored with this place! (even when it was 10 degrees out)

До следующего раза (until next time)

Justine G.

Жюстин, usually Джастин, Жастин, or Жустин.

Ella in Buenos Aires: And in Santiago!

May 6, 2018


I think this last week has been one of the best of my study abroad experience. Last weekend, I took a trip to Santiago, Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, Chile. It was the first time I had really gone somewhere completely solo, but it wasn’t too bad because I was able to visit two of my friends from my hometown that are currently living in Chile. I had such an incredible trip!


The first place I went was Valparaiso, and this was the view of the sunset from my hostel! It was amazing, I physically couldn’t stop taking photos. I was lucky to be able to find a free walking tour while I was there, so I was really able to explore and get to know the city.


The next place I went was Viña del Mar, where one of my friends have been living since August. It was such a beautiful city, and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the beaches were there.


I was so lucky to have a friend that was able to show me around Viña. One of my favorite parts was when I went to watch the sunset on the beach. While the sun was going down, we came across a guy selling chocolate covered strawberries on a stick on the pier where we were sitting. They were so delicious!


Another great part of my trip was the few days I spent in Santiago. My friend and I went on a hike called Cerro Manquehue where, at the top, you can look out over all of Santiago. I had never seen anything like it!


It was such a great opportunity to be able to compare two Latin American countries that are so close to each other yet are still so different. Chileans use so much slang and speak so quickly, I could barely understand their Spanish! I really enjoyed discussing with my friends the differences in culture between Chile and Argentina. I feel like many times in the US we group all the nations in Latin America into one category, but they are truly so distinct. My trip to Chile really gave me some perspective and definitely broadened my worldview.

See you next week!


Justine in Russia: An Ordinary Day

May 2, 2018

Writing about my typical day feels very strange since I have less than three weeks left in my program and I am not looking forward to leaving this city in any way. However, I wanted to run through my typical day. I think I will talk about my Mondays.

08:00am – My host mom wakes me up every morning by knocking on my door and tells me my breakfast is ready. I get up, brush my teeth, wash my face, etc. I sit down with my host mom and she eats breakfast with me 80% of the time. Sometimes, she has the food prepared for me and waits for me to sit down at the table for her to tell me that she is going back to sleep. She interacts with me every morning whether it is for the entire meal or just before she goes back to sleep. My typical breakfast comes from this list

  • блины (Russian thin pancakes)
  • гречка (buckwheat, but generally referred to as каша)
  • мюсли (cereal, oats)
  • сырники (I don’t know how to translate this besides mini-cheese pancakes, generally sweet, but my host mom makes it without sugar and I thought these were potato pancakes for the longest time)

Classic breakfast (сырники со сметаной, cheese pancakes with sour cream). Сметана (sour cream) dominates the kitchen tables of Russian households. People put it on everything! When I say sour cream, it is a little different from the way we have it in the states. It is a less airy and has a different taste to it, too.

08:20am – After breakfast, I get dressed.

sometime between 08:30-08:45am – I leave my apartment. I take the bus to university and it is about a five minute walk from my front door. I always miss the bus by exactly ten seconds, but I am usually able to catch it at the next stop. The nice thing about Russian bus drivers are that, once they see you running after a bus, they will always wait for you. I have had many experiences where a bus driver in New York would see you trip and fall on the way to the bus, but they would still drive away. I am never late to school, but I like getting to school extremely early.


On the bus to school! Usually the bus is jam-packed, so it was strange for me to actually get a seat on the bus that day.

09:00am – Once I get off the 20-30 minute bus ride, I have to walk about 15 minutes to the university. The distance from the bus stop to the university is about 10 minutes, but from the front gate of the university to the actual building where I study is a 5 minute walk.


The entrance to the Political faculty building (where I study).

The weather here has been spectacular the past few weeks. The locals say they have not seen this nice of a spring in their entire lives. Unfortunately, I took this picture the one day it rained last week.


Hallways of the Political faculty building.

Every faculty (department) has it’s own wall colors. The Political faculty is this peach color, but the International Relations faculty is a light blue. This means that every classroom in that hallway belongs to each faculty. It is very easy to get lost in this building because every classroom number resets depending on the hallway. For example, there is a room 114 in the Sociology faculty and there is also a room 114 in the International Relations faculty. The only way to figure out where you are is by the colors of the walls.

10:00am – I get to school around 09:15 every morning, but this is the time my classes actually start. Mondays mean that my first class is Gender and Sexuality in Russia. This is one of my favorite classes. We do not necessarily learn about things chronologically, but we touch on interesting topics like Soviet masculinity, gender bending in the 19th century, women during wartime, how socialism shaped gender order, etc. The class is very evenly divided between lecture and discussion, which I appreciate.

11:30am – Break between classes.

11:40am – Grammar class! A lot of fast-paced verb conjugation or case-agreement speaking.

1:10pm – Lunch! I usually pack my own lunch or I go to the school cafeteria and get a pastry.

1:50pm – Conversation class usually is when we write a dialogue for homework and present it to the class. We also do a lot of monologues during class on different topics depending on what we are learning that day.

3:20pm – Freedom! It is a joke that no matter where you live in the city, it takes a hour to get to our campus. There is only one bus that goes straight to my house, but the bus is always crowded because it is the only bus that goes through the center of the city AND the only bus that goes to the immigration center. Because of this, I always go home the weirdest way I possibly can. I have an unlimited public transportation card (tram, metro, trolleybus, bus), so I always go a different way home. Recently, I’ve been taking the trolleybus to the south side of where I live, and I walk across the canal to get home since it does not take more than ten minutes from there.


5:15pm – This is usually when I get home if I do not have plans for the afternoon.

6:00pm – My host mom and I always eat together at this time, unless she is going out to see a show or hang out with her friends. Her dinners are always different, but always involves a soup and a main course. We always have the soup first and then the main course. Sometimes, we eat a little later or a little earlier because she likes to watch TV at 6:15pm for a specific program. What I appreciate is that even though I am gone for most of the day, we make sure to always talk during our meals. Some meals we talk more than others, but even though I do not have a great grasp of the language, we manage to talk. We always talk about where we went today, what we ate (outside of home), what we plan to do tomorrow, etc. She never lets me do the dishes, but I occasionally do them when she goes out immediately after dinner because she usually comes home late. She never sleeps with dirty dishes in the sink and I don’t want her to do dishes at midnight. I often get a gentle scolding (not really) for doing it, but I don’t mind.

7:00pm-12:00am – ??? This is my confusion period because I usually go into my room and start my work or attempt to do so. When the weather is really nice, I take a walk with a friend. If I am not talking a walk, I’m in my room.. I’ve been trying to make better use of this time after dinner because some museums in Petersburg are open until 9:00pm on certain days of the week. Since I have less than three weeks left, I’ve been trying to strategically plan the days I end earlier since there are a lot of places I still have not been.

12:00am-1:00am – I try to sleep at this time and I usually do, but sometimes my homework is extremely tedious to the point that I did not realize that it is suddenly 2:00am.

anytime after 1:00am – Likely asleep (like right now) 🙂

До следующего раза (until next time)

Justine G.

Жюстин, usually Джастин, Жастин, or Жустин.

Ella in Buenos Aires: Salsa-ing Around the City

April 25, 2018


Hola from BA! Since we loved our tango lesson a few weeks back, this week my friend and I decided to take a salsa/bachata dance class. It was being offered for just $1 for international students! Honestly, neither of us are the most coordinated dancers, but we had so much fun trying out the dances and laughing with the other international students.


Every weekend there are little fairs (ferias) around the city selling gifts, souvenirs, clothing, jewelry, and practically anything else you can think of! My friends and I spent a lot of time walking around this one in Palermo, and I loved the little paper cranes that this person had hanging throughout her stand. The funniest thing I saw being sold were tshirts for small dogs! I was so tempted to buy one to bring home for my dog.


After walking around the feria for a while, we wandered around Palermo a bit, taking in all the beautiful sights. I feel like Palermo is known for its street art and giant walls covered in all sorts of painting and graffiti. Here was one wall that we thought was really cool.


Also this week, I came across a juice bar/açaí bowl place called Be Juice. The bowl I ordered was absolutely amazing and I pretty much inhaled it. I think I had really been craving a meal like this since I eat this type of food so often back home!  Be Juice was the closest thing I could find to RVA’s Ginger Juice, one of my all time favorite restaurants.


Chau for now!


Justine in Russia: Fighting Insecurity

April 25, 2018

I am still playing a bit of catch-up with my posts, so I am still talking about things that happened about three weeks ago. After our trip to Moscow, we all had a week of break. I decided to go to Kyiv and Astana (alone) during my break. I think what I have appreciated the most about my experience in Russia (along with Ukraine, and Kazakhstan) is that people are very patient and grateful if you speak even a bit of Russian. I do not really want to talk too much about my travels, but more about what I learned while traveling.

My first stop was Kyiv, Ukraine. Since there are no direct flights from Russia to Ukraine anymore, I had to take a flight with a layover in Minsk, Belarus.

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Flying out from Zhukovsky Airport in Moscow, which only had ten flights operating out of the airport on a Sunday.

I was a bit sad because it’s my dream to go to Minsk, but flying between Russia and Belarus is still considered a domestic flight. I would need a visa to enter Belarus, which is also complicated because I am not in the states right now. Flying through Minsk International Airport was an adventure since I had a one hour layover and I had to literally run through the terminal to our next gate. When I was going through security a second time, the customs woman was asking me questions in English, but I was replying in Russian because I was very stressed about missing my flight. She then asked me whether I spoke Russian and I said not really. She thought it was really funny that I was responding to her in Russian. I made it to our gate in time, but it was a whirlwind experience. Once I landed in Kyiv, I was staying in a hostel where all the staff spoke English. However, I spent the entire trip alone and spent my time outside speaking Russian. Kyiv is a very English friendly city since they get many tourists.


Courtyard of the hostel I was staying in.

Even though I spoke very little (not so great) Russian, people would never switch to English on me and were extremely friendly to me. The only time I used English outside of the hostel was when I forgot Ukrainian alphabet differences while ordering food at a cafe. The Ukrainian and Russian alphabet are very similar, but a few letters are different and I was aware of the differences. However, I forgot them at this very moment.


I ordered black tea, a brownie, and a chicken pesto sandwich. The word for brownie in Ukrainian is “Брауні” and “Брауни” in Russian. These words both read and pronounced as “brownie.”

The next item on this receipt is, “сандвіч з куркою і песто”, which is a sandwich with chicken and pesto. The first and last word are both English cognates of the word “sandwich” and “pesto”. In Russian, it would be “сэндвич с курицей и песто.” As you can see, these words are almost the same and only then I realized how confused I must have been because these are just English cognates.

I felt really comfortable with communicating because many places in the world will likely switch to English on you if you are a foreigner and try to poorly speak their language. However, this gave me a bit more of a language experience since Ukrainians were very warm and welcoming when it came to speaking. There were times that souvenir vendors praised me for being “able to understand them”, which felt nice at times since there are moments I do get confused since my vocabulary is still pretty limited. I was staying near a very touristy street and most vendors spoke English, but did not try to do so if I asked questions in Russian. Even museum workers and guards were very warm with me when I asked dumb questions in Russian. One thing I struggled with was that sometimes, people would respond to me in Ukrainian and I would just have to reword my question until I understood one of their answers in Ukrainian. One of my last days in Kyiv, I visited the Kyiv Perchersk Lavra, a Orthodox Christian monastery.


Entrance to the Kyiv Perchersk Lavra.

I had to visit very quickly because I had to return to my hostel and register for classes. On my way out, I asked the security guards in Russian whether a ticket was only valid for one entry or the whole day. I have no idea what he said because he started speaking Ukrainian to me and I could not identify the verbs he was saying. In the middle of this interaction, a tourist asked me a question in English and I helped her out. So, I was still confused and reworded my question into whether I could only enter one time or many times. Even though he heard me speak English and I heard him speak English to the tourist, he was still responding in Ukrainian. However, this time I figured out that I was able to reenter the monastery for the day. Language is all about trial and error!


I stayed in Kyiv for approximately three days and then went my way to Astana, Kazakhstan. Astana was a lot more difficult because most people do not speak a lick of English. However, people were very patient with me and confused when I did not really know much Russian. At the hostel I stayed at in Astana, I befriended a receptionist and he told me I was the only person staying there who was not from a post-Soviet republic. He said that when he first saw me, he just assumed I was Kazakh. So when I did come up to a reception and asked them a question in English, you could see how confused the receptionists were.

I won’t say too much about my travels because this blog post will go on forever, but Astana has been one of my must-visit destinations since I was around sixteen. It was really surreal to be able to go there alone and experience the “post-soviet, architectural-confusion world” (is what I like to call it). There was a mix of very Soviet buildings and new architectural buildings that created a strange juxtaposition of old and new.


Pictured is the Bayterek Tower and the buildings surrounding it.


Imagine arriving on an airplane, where the area around the airport is still 90% dirt roads and going to the city center and seeing this pyramid of a building. This is the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. It serves as an event venue. When I took a tour of this building, there was a Kazakh(?) boy band rehearsing for their concert later that week.


About 70% of the population in Kazakhstan are Muslim. This is the Khazret Sultan Mosque, which is also the biggest mosque in Central Asia.


Expo 2017 was held in Astana, something the locals were very proud about. This gigantic building was built southwest of the city for Expo and now is a museum of future energy.

I think this trip helped me a lot with getting over some of my insecurity with speaking Russian. I really hate trying to speak English to people and I never try to, but sometimes I feel very stressed to go into some restaurants because I feel like I say any of these food items correctly. Since I came back from my break, I have been a lot more comfortable in attempting to say new words when it comes to ordering food or trying to read off of a page. What I will miss the most about being in this part of the world is that I do not feel like too much of an outsider. I often get asked directions and I usually am just stunned that someone thought that I seemed local enough to answer their question (not just in Saint Petersburg, but this happened in Astana and Kyiv too). People don’t stare here nor have I been verbally attacked like the few times I have been back in the states. I am just a little sad that I am finally getting over my insecurity in language and I have less than four weeks left here.

However, I know I will be back someday.


До следующего раза (until next time)

Justine G.

Жюстин, usually Джастин, Жастин, or Жустин.

Ella in Buenos Aires: Una Semana Linda

April 18, 2018


Wow. What an beautiful week it has been in Buenos Aires! The weather was absolutely perfect; around 75 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny with a nice breeze every day.


This week, I went to a food truck festival in Palermo, one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in BA. There were all different kinds of food, from argentine comida parrilla, to middle eastern cuisine, to trendy mediterranean and even Vegan trucks! I was so overwhelmed, I wanted to try everything.

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The festival included live music, which was super cool. The lady singing had a great voice, and the band was doing covers of a lot of old American music (the Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.). The crowd was loving it, clapping and singing along to the songs they knew. I always think it’s so funny to listen to Argentines sing the words to American music in their accents.


This weekend, I went roller blading in the rose gardens in BA. It was incredible, I’m definitely going to be coming back during my time here. People can rent roller blades or bikes for only around $150 argentine pesos an hour ($7.50 USD), which is plenty of time to blade around. My friends and I went right around sunset, so the gardens were absolutely beautiful.


Lastly, I wanted to show my typical BA breakfast. Most people here drink coffee, tea, or orange juice and have toast or a croissant with jelly, cream, or dulce de leche for breakfast. I’m not a huge toast person, but since it’s the custom here I’ve been adapting. Usually in the morning I make myself either toast with peanut butter and banana, or avocado toast!

Chau for now!


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