Justine in Russia: My Friend, My Host Mom

June 18, 2018

The hardest part about leaving Russia was not leaving the place itself, but leaving the people. This includes the people in my program, the Russian students I met at the university, and last but not least, my host mom. One of the main reasons I had such a wonderful time in Russia was because of how my host mom treated me.

I remember the first time I met her, I was extremely nervous because I thought I was being rude. However, I really did not have much to say. I only knew about twenty verbs and none of them I could use to describe me. I also had a two month long break from my Russian (only a semester), so I was extremely terrified. I remember sitting in this taxicab with my host mom and she could obviously feel my nerves. She would tell me to look out the window and talk about how beautiful certain streets/monuments were. When we finally got to the apartment, I was really tired and still stressed because I hadn’t spoken many words to her. However, she was extremely kind and accommodating the whole time. Even though I share a room with my grandma at home, sharing a flat with an older person still worried me.

What if I made too much noise after 9pm? What if I came home late too often? I remember over our first dinner, she was speaking 90% of the time and I did not really talk much (only because I really could not understand most of the things she was saying). I managed to pick up a few things about her family, but I forgot a lot of important details. Towards the end of the program, I asked her things like what she used to work as, etc. As she retold me all of this information, it hit me that she did tell me all of this information, but my vocabulary was not big enough for me to understand half the words she was saying.

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In my second week, there was a power out in our apartment complex for about three hours, but we still managed to have dinner in the dark.

 

My host mom always treated me like I was one of her own, not just a student living in her house. Every time she made a meal, it was for us to share and we always talked about our day. She would divide our food in half, but always snuck an extra scoop of rice or extra piece of cutlet. I always felt bad whenever I called home and let her know that I would not be home for dinner, but most of the time I just went home and stuffed myself anyway because I did not have the heart to call her thirty minutes earlier. Every morning, I would tell her when I was leaving and she would either tell me I was overdressed or underdressed or that I forgot to bring an umbrella. She asked me if I was wearing a new shirt or if she has just never seen me wear it before. She asked me about my friends and about my plans everyday. She wanted me to have plans. She was happy whenever I stayed out late because “I am young and I should”. On her birthday, she hosted a dinner party with her friends and I. She was young at heart, even though she had just turned eighty one years old. We lived on a fifth floor walk-up. She walks everywhere and goes skiing every Saturday in winter and early spring. She told me she’s been to Brazil eight times. She has been to many places. She talks about her daughters and her grandchildren.

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The dinner table (that she set up in her bedroom since the kitchen only had room for approximately four people).

Sometimes I came home from school late and she would have left a note for me telling me what she had prepared for me to reheat. I would always wait for her to come home before I went to sleep (once that was around 1:10am, but it was a Saturday). She always supported my decisions and never questioned what I did. When I was sick for that one week in March, I told her I did not want to go back to the doctor anymore and she did not push me to do anything crazy besides sleep. I told her I was going to Kazakhstan and Ukraine for travel week and she told me they were great places to go. I told her I was going to hop on the midnight bus to Helsinki and come back eighteen hours later because I did not want to pay for accommodation. However, all she did was laugh at me and said that she would look forward to seeing me home Sunday morning at 5am (she was asleep when I came back, but woke me up at 9am for breakfast).

I remember when I was packing my stuff up the day before I had to go, she would pass by my room and laugh at my lack of progress. I usually am a fast packer, but knowing this was the end of my study abroad made it a lot harder. I know I will return to Saint Petersburg to visit her, but I would no longer be the person living in that room. I no longer had the keys to her apartment. There would be someone else living there. I know she will let me in and make me tea like she always did. She will yell at me because I would have brought her a souvenir from somewhere (I always brought her back something whenever I left Petersburg). The day I left Petersburg, she was going to fly to Greece that same night. I assume she has returned, but who knows, she could be anywhere right now. I am currently writing a letter to her, but I haven’t finished yet.

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Packing on the day before my flight.

I remember us hugging goodbye as my Uber driver patiently waited for us to say our last words to each other. When I finally got into the car, my street was full of traffic, so my host mom stood by the car for another two minutes. My driver was a kind Uzbek man from Samarkand. He asked my host mom if she wanted to come to the airport too and she smiled and said that I would be alright. When we finally drove away, my driver could obviously tell that I was sad and started asking me questions. He asked whether she was my grandmother and I smiled and told him that she was my host mother. I spent the rest of the ride telling him all about her and how much I looked forward to coming back here (might have shed a few tears along the way).

As I sign off for the last time, I can’t say до следующего раза (until next time) anymore. The last thing I said to my host mom was увидимся! (I will see you) and I hope this statement holds true, wherever my life takes me next, to Saint Petersburg, to my favorite pasta bar, to the Central Asian market, to the 24-hour flower shops, to the 181 bus to Smolny, to Russia, to my host mom.

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Людмила.

 

.Увидимся. 


Justine G.

no longer Жюстин, but Жустин (Джастин, on official documents).


Justine in Russia: Progress

March 14, 2018

Within the next few days, our program is holding our “individual progress meetings”. This does not mean our individual grades in each of our classes, but mid-term updates on our mental health, home stays, and how we have adjusted to life here. As I mentioned in my last post, I can’t believe that it is already March and that this is almost mid-term of our 18-week program. Also, it’s starting to get warmer (25 to 30°F instead of -7°F) and the sun is out almost every single day. When we first arrived to for program, we were told that Saint Petersburg only gets about 60 days of sun a year. I do not really believe that because there were many days where it was sunny…and snowing at the same time!

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Sunshine at 8:00 a.m.

The snow is starting to melt and it is above 0°C/32°F most days. It was raining today and you can start seeing a bit of the ground.

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Statue near Park Pobedi metro station.

 

Progress is hard to be measured. I’ve been here for a few weeks and I’ve never really felt so comfortable about a place in my life. I go to school via bus. I take public transportation all the time. Everything is smooth sailing, except the occasional fights on the bus/metro during peak hours. Having an unlimited bus pass makes things a lot easier and encourages me to go out more. Sometimes I do forget that I am home and that rules in New York aren’t the same as in Russia. I noticed that in more crowded/touristy neighborhoods, people jaywalk a lot. However, in more residential areas, people wait for the full 30-90 seconds before crossing even if there are no cars on the road. A few days ago, I was in the southern part of the city for a weekend market and crossed the street diagonally. Apparently, I wasn’t allowed to cross diagonally. A police officer stopped me and told me that I was not allowed to cross the street that way. I was not really panicking, but more confused than anything. (This entire exchange was in Russian). Eventually, he asked for my documents and I handed him my spravka (letter saying I am legally allowed to be in this country, because my multi-entry visa was being processed). He was pretty confused because it’s not really a common document to come across. He ended up asking me if I could wait a minute and he brought me to his partner, who eventually told me to not do it again or else I would get a fine. It was one of those moments where I did not think about adjusting my behaviors for the host environment.

I am also starting to fully understand my host grandmother, but I still need to work on responding to her. I am able to interact more with shopkeepers and food service workers, which I am happy about. Although we all have Russian IDs, sometimes museum workers do not like giving student discounts to visiting students. However, I’m getting better at sounding less confused during my interactions, which helps me get the discount 95% of the time. Here is one of the exhibits I visited this weekend (at the Манеж)

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The food scene here is great. I am not exaggerating this simply because I love being here so much, but because it actually is the best food I’ve ever had. I managed to find amazing tacos in the northern most part of the city.

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Best tacos ever!

Interestingly enough, I also found the best pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), in the middle of a Central Asia market near my house. There is no real address, but I used 9 photos to guide me to it.

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I often think about how I would want to come back to this city after I leave, but I would not know what I would do here career wise. I currently audit a master’s level class (In English) and I really like it, so I can imagine myself enrolling at the university for that program. However, I do have a lot of time to figure this out (especially since I still have 1 year of university left).

До свидания (goodbye).


Justine G.

Жюстин, sometimes Джастин, Жастин, or Жустин.


Justine in Russia: City-As-School

February 15, 2018

*Title is inspired by a high school in my city that I wish I went to, just because of the name. (City-As-School)

My study abroad program (CIEE) puts a big emphasis on getting us involved in the community and the city as much as possible, through excursions, interest groups, and even our classes. On Sunday, we all went on an excursion to the The State Hermitage Museum. The State Hermitage Museum actually has many buildings/parts, but we only visited part of the Winter Palace that day.

Here are some pictures from the excursion (note: none of these pictures are edited, it is actually that amazing in there)

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All taken inside the Winter Palace.

 

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Well, I did not want to post any faces of my peers without their permission, so this photo is edited.

 

This weekend, I also had the opportunity (and the excuse) to explore the city to my liking without having worry about to calling my host grandmother because she went skiing for half the day (yes, you read that correctly). I took the metro to Petrogradsky District (one of the “islands” in Saint Petersburg) and explored a bit. My first stop was the Saint Petersburg Mosque, which has been the top place on my bucket list for the past five years. The fact that it was snowing that day, made the experience even better. There is something about the snow that makes this city a lot quieter. Places like the Saint Petersburg Mosque and the Winter Palace really make me stop and think about how lucky I am to be able to be studying here. As for the snow, it does not really bother me as much as it does when I am at home.

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The exterior of the Saint Petersburg Mosque on Petrogradsky Island.

 

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The Neva River, which is currently iced over and covered in snow.

As for my classes, my electives started this week and I have only been to each of them twice so far, but I am really looking forward to the rest of the semester (as cliché as it sounds). My electives are: Russian Civilization: Popular Stereotypes and Social BehaviorGender and Sexuality in Russia, and Intercultural Communication & Leadership. 

In one way or another, all the classes overlap since they all discuss the culture of this city and country. Even outside of my classes, I feel like I am learning a lot about the culture of this city, when it comes to things like the metro, restaurants, etiquette, body language, etc. This city and country is not as stone-cold as depicted in the media, which I really wish put this country in a more positive light. Even with my extremely limited Russian, I have only had positive interactions with locals and am really feeling at ease with my life here so far.

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My host mother, Luda or Lyudmila (Люда or Люмила) preparing tomorrow’s supper.

My understanding of my host mother also increases each and every day because there are words she constantly uses, but I am too shy to ask her to repeat. Also, she notices when I newly understand the meaning of how to use a word and she’s pretty happy with me. I was a little worried about living with just one person, but I actually really enjoy it. She’s really patient and really nice, but sometimes I wish I could help her around the house! She does not let me do dishes and every time I ask her if I can help, she tells me how I am a guest in her home. She says her job is to take care of the home, while my “job” is to study, explore, visit museums, etc. One of these days, I’ll finally do the dishes when she is not home and I’ll talk all about it. However, that wasn’t today, so I will see you next week around the same time.

P.S: for the people who are curious about the weather here….

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До скорой встречи (see you soon).


Justine G.

Жюстин, not Джастин

 

 

 


Ella in Buenos Aires: Packing up!

February 14, 2018

Hello everyone! I’m Ella, and I’m from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m an International Studies major and I am also on the soccer team at UR! I’m super excited to leave for my semester abroad in Argentina, but I’m going to miss UR and my teammates so much. I chose to study at UCA in Buenos Aires because wanted to experience a new culture and be completely immersed in the Spanish language. A few of my goals are to improve my Spanish-speaking skills as well as play a lot of soccer while I am there!

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I’ve just started to pack up today, here’s a photo of a few of my essentials for my trip!

 

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I thought it would be nice to get my host mom a little gift to thank her for having me for a whole six months. I hope she likes it!

 

I can’t wait to leave this Monday. I’ve just gotten all the information for the pre-semester Spanish course that I am taking during the month of February before the semester starts. I’m so excited to meet all the other international students doing the same program and to start exploring the city.

See you next week!

Ella


Justine in Russia: Week 1!

February 7, 2018

Hi! It’s been able a week since I arrived in Saint Petersburg.  I’m a little surprised at how much and how little time I’ve spent here so far (makes no sense, but let me elaborate).

My first day in Saint Petersburg was not actually in the city, but instead at a hotel in the outskirts of the city, next to Pulkovo International Airport. CIEE holds orientation at the hotel for the first two days and depending on our housing situations, we all leave the hotel separately. The first days were stressful because the people who chose to live with a host family, were not given any information about them up until the day we arrived. I found out that my host family was just one person named Lyudmila, who was most likely going to be a grandma. I was not afraid of the fact that she was an older woman, but I was afraid of our language barrier considering I only know 1 semester of Russian.

 

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My hotel room (during orientation)

 


At the end of our two long days of orientation, it was finally time for us to be picked up by our host families. I finally met Lyudmila (she insists I call her Lyuda). I was terrified as I walked out to meet her, but everything turned out to be fine. I found out that she has hosted students with zero knowledge of Russian, which is a bit interesting to me considering she only knows a few words in English (like mushroom, chicken, day, morning). 

So far, we understand each other alright. I would say I understand 80% of her sentences, but occasionally I do have to pull out Yandex Translate (not Google) in order to respond to her. We have breakfast and dinner together every night (all 3 meals on weekends), and I have enjoyed our conversations so far. About 20% of our meals are just us smiling at each other, but it’s okay. I got a bit sad my second night here because I really wish that I am able to talk to her more about her life, but she said it’s completely normal for me to not know much right now. As days go by, I am able to talk to her more since I have language class almost everyday and I am happy with my progress so far.

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My bedroom in my host mother’s apartment!

An interesting thing I realized the past week is that Saint Petersburg has about 5 million residents, but I found the city to be extremely quiet. There are tons of people walking around and tons of cars/buses/trolleybuses going up and down the streets, but there is something extremely peaceful about the city. The only downside to this city so far is that there is so much snow to the point that the sidewalks are completely iced over and I even see locals slipping and falling (I fell only twice so far). My apartment is close to the city center, but far enough for it to be non-touristy.

As for the city, I have not explored much so far, but I did go to The Church of the Savior on Blood. I am not going to try to describe how this place blew me away, so I’ll just provide pictures of it.

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Outside the The Church of the Savior on Blood.

 

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The ceilings inside the The Church of the Savior on Blood.

 


My commute to school is approximately 40 minutes, but I am used to longer commutes since I am from New York City. We actually did not have class the first day of school, but we did have our language placement exams. I actually placed into Intermediate I (equivalent to 201), which I was happy about since I did not really review at all the past 1.5 months of winter break.

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I’m sorry, no one told me I would be going to school in a PALACE.

So far, I’m really enjoying this city, but there are still many things I have not done nor have I seen and I am really looking forward to sharing my experiences.

До скорой встречи (see you soon).


Justine G.

Жюстин, not Джастин


Jess en France: Nerves (the Good Kind?)

August 25, 2017

It’s a few days before I fly to Paris, and my hyper-active mind has presented me with a mixed-bag of emotions. I find myself reminiscing the days before I made my move across the country, from southern California, to start my college career at University of Richmond. But as I now face the new prospect of moving across the world, to one of the most gushed about destinations on our planet, the sentiment of these last few days feel similar, yet altogether different than that before I came to Richmond. If you’re like me, you like to plan and over-plan, going over minutiae in your head until planning becomes superfluous (and even unhelpful). But if there’s anything I learned from my move just a few years ago it’s that there’s a finite extent to which planning is actually going to help—especially when you’re travelling and taking root in an entirely new place. This isn’t to say you should “wing it”—travelling can be logistically challenging. However, one of the greatest parts about travelling is letting yourself be surprised by what you find and allowing it to paint your experience, rather than you painstakingly painting it for yourself. And this is where my anxieties fortunately drop-off, at the point where I let myself “be” and let what will come, come.

Hi, I’m Jess. I’m a UR student majoring in International Studies: World Politics and Diplomacy, and I’m spending my first of two semesters abroad studying at Sciences Po in Paris, France. I chose to study abroad in France for two main reasons—to work on my French language skills and to study at Sciences Po, which offers one of the best International Politics programs in higher education. I will be staying with a host family in Montmartre, which is a large hill in the eighteenth arrondissement (i.e. the outer district of the city) as well as a historically renowned part of Paris that artists have flocked to throughout the years, particularly in the nineteenth century. As someone who loves to write, I can’t wait to scope out a “writers spot” and bask in the wonderment this corner of the city has to offer. So I would definitely be remiss not to mention that Paris is a melting-pot of cultural, artistic, as well as musical, and gastronomical prominence! There is quite a lot to look forward to.

I’ve been truly blessed with such a wonderful opportunity to study here, and there are many people to thank—professors and friends who have supported me, but also the Office of International Education and Chris Klein, my study abroad adviser. Without them, I wouldn’t have been afforded such a life-altering adventure. I cannot wait to share my experiences with you and any tips or words of wisdom I may be able to impart as I venture off into Europe.  I will be posting weekly, so stay tuned!

À la prochaine (Until next time),

Jess


Meghann in Argentina: Porteño Politics

July 21, 2017

One thing that I learned very quickly here is that los porteños (what people in Buenos Aires call themselves) love their politics. Most extensive conversations that I have here eventually turn to politics in one way or another—especially with my host parents! After informing them that I am a Political Science major, they always love to hear my opinion on certain topics and express theirs in turn. My host dad told me that here in Buenos Aires it is “common to hear two best friends in a restaurant turn to enemies while discussing politics, and then turn right back into friends when the wine comes out.”

 

The importance of political activism is not only apparent in conversation, but also in daily public life. There are always small, peaceful manifestaciónes (protests or rallies) going on at street corners, but even more interesting to witness are the big rallies that occur every week in front of la Casa Rosada, a famous government building that contains the President’s office.

 

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My classmates and I went and saw the famous Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a group (composed historically of women) that march in a circle every Thursday in front of la Casa Rosada in memory of los desaparecidos (Argentines that were “disappeared” by the military dictatorship in the late 70’s).

 

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Social activism is also commonly witnessed in the streets. Here, a group supports the right to education.

 

I am excited to start taking real classes in Political Science in a couple of weeks when the real school year begins. Hopefully learning about Argentine history and politics will allow me to better participate in the never-ending political discussion that seems to take place here in Buenos Aires!


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