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!


Tori in Spain: ¡Feliz Cumpleaños Yolanda!

December 5, 2016

The first time I walked into Iglesia Evangelica de Cristo Vive, I was greeted by a lady who talked a mile a minute and never stopped smiling. Although it was my second week and I was extremely overwhelmed by Spanish, she was patient, and we started to get to know each other. Yolanda and I chatted every week after church, our conversations always beginning with her scolding me for not arriving early enough to chat before church. “¿Por que tú siempre llegas tarde?” She later introduced me to her son Eker, who has become one of my closest friends in Madrid. He taught me how to salsa dance and came to Morocco with me… he is the best!

3 months later, my week would not be complete if I did not have a mínimum of 3 texts from Yolanda reminding me that God is in control and that she is praying that He will guide me. Last weekend, I had the privilege of celebrating Yolanda´s birthday at her brother´s mountain house in la Sierra de Madrid, and it was an incredible day.

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View from Eker’s uncle’s mountain house!

Me, Eker, Kristina, and Amalie arrived at 10am, and Yolanda was in the kitchen, making all sorts of things that smelled wonderful. We met Yolanda´s brother, and he gave us a tour of the house. It was the highest in the village, so it had an amazing view of the mountains and pueblo below. It was breathtaking. Two dogs ran around and a huge garden of veggies and fruits surrounded the house. Yolanda, being a typical Spanish woman, then began insisting we eat everything in the house… They do hospitality well here. We ate some integral cake and a platano pineapple drink that was super yummy, and then went off to explore the beautiful mountains.

Our quick hike turned into a 3 hours affair because we decided to forge our own path instead of following the trail. By decided, I mean we were forced to because none of us had any idea where we were (don´t tell Eker I said that, if he asks I had full confidence in his ability to get us home the whole time). We found a beautiful lake and some even more incredible views. I breathe easier in the mountains, and being surrounded by sunshine and trees was good for my soul.

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I’m in awe of this place!

The house in the mountains was a place of peace, and the tranquil atmosphere made the presence of God almost tangible. They use the house for lots of church retreats and dinners, and I can see why. It is a special place of rest and rejuvenation and recalibration of the heart. A rock lies outside the house that says “Jesus es el camino” in honor of Tio´s wife who died 6 years ago. It served as a beautiful reminder of the creator of the beauty and peace we experienced that day.

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When we returned from our hike, the feast began. Most of Eker´s family is Peruvian, and the relatives started rolling in to celebrate. We collected firewood for the wood burning stove outside, and Tio began cooking every type of meat imaginable. Even though it was her birthday, I am pretty sure she only left the kitchen to make sure everyone else was comfortable and having a good time. Her joy and energy are contagious, and her constant thankfulness to God a beautiful reminder of what is important, and what isn´t.

There were about 18 of us there to celebrate Yolanda, from age 12 to age 90. It was a really fun mix. Eker´s sisters absolutely blew me away, they were kind and beautiful and wise beyond their years. I am constantly in awe of their whole family. We feasted on lamb, AMAZING chorizo, pork ribs, yummy cilantro salad, and a delicious rice and chicken soup, while sipping pineapple wáter. It was one of the greatest meals of my life, and was followed by roasted SWEET POTATOS, platanos, platano bread, and an amazing dessert called leche asado (cooked milk). Every minute of the day I was in awe… it didn´t feel like real life.

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The whole fam!

The day ended with 3 content, sleepy girls trying to play UNO in a group of what felt like a gagillion Spanish speakers and understand their jokes. Most of the time, we just laughed along and played our cards, content to be with this amazing family, and so thankful to have gotten to spend such a special day with them. Yolanda and Eker, thank you! Being a part of your family this semester has been incredibly sweet. I will never forget you.


Tori in Spain: Me, a homebody?

November 1, 2016

Since coming abroad, I have realized how much of a homebody I actually am.

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Enjoying dinner with my host mom in Madrid!

Anyone reading that sentence is likely to be shocked, since I am not a homebody in the traditional sense of the word. I am always out exploring, adventuring, and traveling. Homebodies, by definition, prefer to stay at home and are perceived as unadventurous.

Let me explain.

I used to say that I am most comfortable in a room where no one knows me, and that I almost always prefer new places and faces to old ones. My favorite friend used to always be my most recent acquaintance. I have come to realize that this was because I deeply desired a clean slate in order to be able to recreate myself and prove myself and enter into relationships with no past mistakes or hardships. I also had a tendency to idolize the consumption of experiences, and thought the more I experienced the more whole or fulfilled I would be.

I was so comfortable and confident in rooms where no one knew me because I could be the center of attention and hide simultaneously. I would hide behind my mask of perfection and accomplishment and goodness, and no one would have any grounds not to believe me. Ha. Had ‘em right where I wanted ‘em. I could be whoever I wanted.

As relationships go on, they get harder. My image of perfection is slowly replaced with a more accurate picture that includes my weaknesses, brokenness, and sin. I mess up. My selfishness shows through my silly façade of perfection, and my pride becomes evident despite my angelic image.

I used to hate this. Like reaaaaaally hate it. I felt like after people saw me for who I truly am, they would only see the bad parts of me for the rest of eternity.

Before leaving for Spain, I feared that my decision to go abroad stemmed from this continual desire for a clean slate in order to appear like I had it all together. If not that, then from a belief that the more I experienced the more whole I would be as a person. Abroad seemed to be the perfect setting to indulge both these weaknesses, and yet, it has taught me much.

I am coming to grips with the fact that I am a broken human with a deep need for a Savior, and the only good in me is due to Christ’s redeeming work on my heart. I have not earned or deserved any of the titles, accomplishments, or positions I possess. If this is true, then comparison is truly laughable, as is portrayal of oneself as “good” or “better” than anyone else. No amount of experience will heal my brokenness, I cannot save myself. Quantities of experience are irrelevant unless they are done with an intention to love deeply and glorify the Lord.

Instead of going out and continually desiring to meet new people and consume all the experiences I can in a new place, I now prefer to connect to a few people deeply. I believe that every person desires to be fully known and fully loved; despite their flaws and imperfections. I used to try to preserve too many relationships, and thus, I was not able to give to anyone, nor was I able to truly know and be known. People rarely saw beyond the mask I hid behind because my calendar was always full and I was afraid of my own pride and brokenness.

I have now come to fully embrace my homebodiness. Madrid is wonderful, but I long to return to my family and community in Virginia and North Carolina, and just sit with the people I love.

Today, I am spending Halloween at the home of some family friends in Barcelona and savoring family life here.

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I am more than content to teach this family how to carve pumpkins, listen to their stories, learn about their traditions, and allow them to know me in all of my faults and brokenness. I think slowing down is the most important part of life, and let me tell you, Spaniards know how to do it. There are about 324892369 things that “every tourist needs to do” in Barcelona that I will leave here without experiencing, but that’s okay. I will leave with a few important relationships strengthened, and a feeling of rejuvenation from time spent in a loving home. This is what I have been given this weekend, and what I get to look forward to returning to in the United States.

Life is most beautiful when we take off our masks, empty our calendars, and sit with the few we love the most in the places we love the most.

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A beautiful, slow morning in Barcelona.

 

 

 


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