Posted by: Abbey W | March 25, 2012

The rumors are …



The rumors are true, folks- I’m alive! Sorry for, ah, completely ignoring this blog for a solid four or five months, but to be fair when Russia freezes all people really want to do is stay in bed in an effort to survive the -30 temperatures, and I wasn’t about to argue. In all honesty, even though November and December weren’t particularly cold, they were the hardest months for me. Not seeing the sun for weeks at a time (not being sarcastic) probably had something to do with it, and also being away from home for the holidays wasn’t fun. But aside from looking like a ghost, and the obvious psychological damage spending most of my waking hours in darkness does, I can say last semester was extremely successful. I never really clicked with my suite mates, but I made other great friends in the dorm, got good grades, and lived up the biggest holiday in Russia – New years! I went to the celebration in the city center for New Years Eve, which was a blast, but I was actually afraid for my life while walking home. As far as I can tell, Russia has no regulations on fireworks. Even when we were in the large crowds in the city center people were shooting them off all around us. At one point during the 20 min walk from the metro to the dorms somebody lit a firework that shot off to the side, passed only feet in front of us, then blew up a car. You get the idea.

Once January and colder temperatures arrived, I made the my escape to Western Europe. I traveled alone, and aside from meeting friends in London and Paris I Couchsurfed the whole time. What an incredible experience! I visited mainly the larger cities because I’m a cheapo and could use the discount airlines. I started in Berlin, then visited London, Thessaloniki, Rome, Venice, Barcelona, Malaga and Paris. The whole trip took five weeks, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. People tried to tell me that traveling in Europe during January is an awful idea, but I liked it because there were significantly less crowds. I also met really interesting people through Couchsurfing- A Greek who spoke 9 different languages, an Italian who travels the world to participate in chess tournaments, a Spanish guy who used to play volleyball professionally, the list goes on. The most difficult part of the trip was definitely my lack of language skills. I took some German and a little French and Spanish in high school, but I’ve forgotten almost everything by now. There is  nothing quite so humbling as not being able to speak language of the country I was in. Especially in Greece- I don’t even know the Greek alphabet, so I felt like a complete idiot. In the end I think it helped my confidence in Russian though. I mean, I sound like a foreigner and my grammar might be off, but at least I am understood here. I was happy when I finally arrived “home” in St. Petersburg, but the week before that I spend lying on a beach in Spain did nothing to prepare me for the frigid temperatures I met upon my arrival. Brrr.

I’m still not really sure why, but because Russia is Russia and worships bureaucracy, international students suddenly got bumped to the end of the line when it comes to university housing. As a result, even though we were in the middle of the school year, they tried to move us to a different island which is a good two hour commute to my university. Luckily our program director saw how unreasonable this was, so now I am living in a hotel that has roughly an 8 second commute to Smolny. Not bad. There are pros and cons- the cons being the lack of kitchen (I am currently doing all of my cooking in a microwave and steamer we hide under dirty clothes) and not living with Russians anymore. I do enjoy the commute though, or lack of I guess.

Despite the fact that it’s the end of March and still snowing outside, I’m trying to make an effort to get as much out of this last semester as I can. Some highlights so far include meeting Shostakovitch’s son’s wife and grandson and getting free tickets to a concert conducted by his son; Meeting and talking to Alexander Kudrin (finance minister of Russia from 2001-2011 and also the dean of my faculty at spbu); and going to a SKA hockey match and watching workers scrape blood off the ice before being able to continue the game. I’m also teaching English again, which I’ve decided I am completely unqualified for and totally incompetent, but I’ve decided to fake it till I make it.  I’m looking forward to coming home, but I already know it’s going to be difficult to leave. I can’t wait to see what the next three months have in store!

Beautiful Malaga

Dead end in Venice


Orange trees!

Greek sunset


Brick Lane...finally ISP is relevent

Tea in London

Checkpoint Charlie

Women's day flowers!

View of Smolny from my new bedroom window

At the blini festival during Men's Day weekend. Of course feats of strength are obligatory.

More typically Russian festivities



Stilts on ice

View of the frozen Neva, broken up in the middle by a special boat


St. Isaac's Cathedral, now only a couple of blocks from where I live


Beautiful afternoon


Posted by: Abbey W | November 2, 2011

I just realized it’s been nearly two months since I’ve
blogged- sorry everyone. I feel like there is always something to do here, and
writing about it is always my last priority. Anyway, here is the beginning of a
blog a started writing several weeks ago but never posted:

Hooray! I have internet at home now! I no longer live in a
cave. It’s Ethernet, I have to pay for it monthly, and it only works with one
computer with one Ethernet outlet, but it’s decent. Remember that extra room
wrote about? I accidently signed up my internet for that room instead of mine.
This would have been fine, except that one day we came back and the door was
mysteriously locked and fixed. However, there is conveniently a hole already in
the door that was covered up with duct tape, so I took a hanger and pulled my Ethernet
cord through the hole. Problem solved!

Smolny is an interesting place. For the first three weeks or
so the power would turn off periodically, as well as shut down the internet.
This was apparently due to a missing part they needed that couldn’t be found
anywhere in the Russian Federation and was, of course, being shipped from
Australia. I’ve settled on one class in English (nationalism) and one class in
Russian (past and future of Russia.) I was hesitant to take the class in
Russian for obvious reasons, but the teacher is very accommodating and only
judges us a little bit.

I wrote this a few weeks later:

I’ve now been here for four months…aahh! A few weeks ago I
started to meet people in the dorms. It’s funny, as soon as I met some girls
who live down the hall it had a snowball effect, and now I know lots of people
here. I met a guy, Genya, through a mutual friend. Let’s just say Russian guys
are a lot more forward than Americans. I had only known him for three days before
he was bringing flowers, texting me constantly, and coming up to my room (he
lives in the same building as me.) I had to hide in the bathroom more than
once, but I think he finally got the hint. On the other hand, I’ve made good
friends as well. We went to Pskov again last weekend, and I asked three friends
Nastya, Ksusha and Sasha to come with us. It’s nice to know people here that I
can speak Russian to….not just in class about topics I don’t care about.

I’ve started “teaching” English at an English school here. I
enjoy it and it’s really easy. I literally just ask questions and my students
answer them for speaking practice. It’s nice to have something to do outside of
classes, plus it’s a good way to make some extra cash for traveling in January.
Speaking of which, if any Goucher people are going to be in Europe in January,
let me know!


Since writing both of those, not too much has change.  We now have Russian suitemates who should
honestly be a blog post by themselves. They don’t speak any English, which is
fine, but they also don’t seem to want anything to do with us. I have a
suspicion that one of them is always giving me the stink eye, but then again
maybe that is just the way she looks. They don’t use the refrigerator, all they
seem to cook is cauliflower, they have a strange aversion to flushing the
toilet, and I’ve never seen people polish their shoes as often in my life. I
will be living with them for the rest of my time in Russia though, so I should
probably get used to them.

Like I said, life is busy but hasn’t changed a whole lot. We
are taking the midnight train to Moscow for the long weekend which should be a
good time. It’s been nine years since I’ve been there and it will be
interesting to see how much I remember.

Posted by: Abbey W | September 12, 2011

It is crazy to think
that in a few more days I will have been here for three months. There
have been a lot of changes since I last wrote, the biggest probably
being my move to the dorms. I stayed with my host family for about a
week after the other summer students left, and spent most of my time
catching up on sleep and visiting museums. The day of the move I was
pretty nervous- I’ve heard some horror stories about Russian dorms. I
had no idea what to expect, and my expectations were pretty low. I
was pleasantly surprised! While I’m certainly not living at Goucher
anymore, the dorms here are rather endearing in their own way. I live
in a suite with a double, triple, bathroom and kitchenette. The
kitchen has a sink, mini fridge and hot plate. Although the fridge is
small it’s clean and works well, but only one of the hot plates gets
hot enough to cook anything on. There is duck tape keeping together
the top of our counter, and I’ve already lost several pieces of
silverware to the abyss behind the sink. It’s great for a college
student though, which is good since there isn’t a real cafeteria and
we have to do all of our own cooking.

bathroom is a little grungy, and although we have scrubbed and
scrubbed, the mold won’t come off of the tub.  For the first week
here I only took cold showers because the hot water pipe was too
pressurized and every time we turned on the hot water the hose would
pop off the faucet water would spray everywhere. The toilet is
constantly running, but hey, at least we have our own bathroom!

am rooming with two other American students from the Bard-Smolny
program. I requested to be put with Russians, but apparently they
don’t like rooming with foreigners. It’s all right though, I get
along really well with the other American students. There is an empty
double in our suite, but nobody else ever showed up. It was locked
when we got here, but I managed to open it, so now we have an extra
room for studying, having people over, etc. We aren’t actually moving
anything in there because there is always the possibility that
someone will move in, but it’s nice to have the extra room (more
space in the fridge too!)

think my favorite part about the dorm so far is the view. We live on
the 18th floor, the top floor of the building, and have a
great view of the Gulf of Finland. There isn’t any internet here yet,
but I’m trying to figure that out. We have an Ethernet port that
doesn’t work, but I’m not sure if it’s supposed to or not. Then
again, we also have a three bulb light fixture with only one working
bulb and a disassembled fire alarm. Our window is kind of creepy
because it is large and there is no screen. However, it is convenient
for dumping out dirty mop water. Or watermelon.

from moving to the dorm, the semester has officially started at
Smolny. It’s weird to see so many Russian students where for such a
long time it was just summer American students. My Russian as a
Second Language classes are really small, only four other people, and
it’s really nice to have a lot of individualized attention. I haven’t
decided what other classes I’m going to take yet. I’m looking at
Civic Initiatives and Urban Development in St. Petersburg, The
Politics of Central Asia, Nationalism in Theory and History (all in
English), The Resource Curse, and The Russian Revolution (both in
Russian.) I’ll probably take one in Russian and one in English for
this semester. I really want to take the Russian Revolution course
but there are a lot of long readings, a 10-15 page paper and a 20-25
page paper….in Russian. I might save that for next semester.

Smolny building itself is basically a giant maze. It sounds like I’m
kidding, but…really. Especially right now because there is still
contruction going on in part of the building. During a computing
meeting a couple of weeks ago we were shown where the computer lab
and printers were. The computer lab was on one side of the building,
and the place where our printed pages show up was on the other.
Somehow I wasn’t surprised.

it feels strange that I’m almost a ¼ of the way through my year
here,  there are  parts of home that I miss a TON. I miss my family a
lot, and my friends at school. For about a week straight I dreamed
about burritos. I am slowly starting to remember not to take things
for granted… even if it’s just little things like all of the books
in the library facing the same direction.  I miss everyone at home, and I’m sorry I haven’t been
able to post or be on Skype much lately, but overall things are going great here.  До Завтра!

Posted by: Abbey W | August 3, 2011

I know I have been lax in posting, but
I have been trying to write at least a little each week! Here are
some blogs that I started but never got around to posting.

Week of July 10th

One of my favorite things about being
online here is all of the ads I get. They are always in Russian, and
there have been some pretty entertaining ones. My favorite is the one
that says “Who is the current president of the USA? Guess right,
and receive a green card to the US!” The choices? George W. Bush,
Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

This week was the last week for the
students who are only doing the four week program, so there was only
one excursion on Monday. When we weren’t preparing for midterms we
found some interesting things to do in the city on our own. Tuesday
we visited the geology museum (I have a friend here who is a geology
major…), which ended up being a lot more entertaining than I
thought it would be. Wednesday we went and saw Harry Potter (yes, it
opened here two days before it opened in the US), and even though it
was dubbed in Russian it was worth it. The dubbing job was good, we
literally sat on a sofa (see picture below), and the special sofa
tickets were only $8. Thursday we went to a soviet submarine turned
into a museum, and Saturday we tried to find an art museum, but
didn’t know exactly where it was once we got off the metro. We asked
someone for directions, but we ended up at some other museum…I’m
still not sure what it was. Everything was in Russian, and while I
gathered that part of the Museum was some famous person’s house,
there was this other section that at first I thought was a history of
a Russian version of Boy Scouts. Then I thought it was a history of a
school for the blind, but then there was a room that looked like it
was full of war time propaganda. So confusing.


Week of the 18th


I’ve had a hard time staying interested
in my classes this week, I’m definitely looking forward to taking a
couple of weeks off before the real semester starts. Monday we toured
the museum about St. Petersburg’s history, and Tuesday and friend and
I found some roller blades at a second-hand market. I bought them
with the grand idea of roller blading to class every day in order to
save money, but it was SO much harder than I remember. I put them on
outside of the metro and I probably hadn’t gone 20 yards before I
wiped out. Some Russian guys just laughed and clapped, but at least a
babushka helped me off the ground. I went out again that night
without a backpack on and did a lot better, but I wasn’t ready for
the attempt I made the next day: rollerblading home from class. It
took an hour and a half (slightly longer than it takes to walk), and
I had a multitude of bruises and scrapes by the time I was home. But
it was fun! If I do try again at some point I will definitely be
walking the bridge over the Neva. Going up was fine, but I didn’t
discover until I was going down and it was too late that I am
incapable of stopping myself.

Nothing else too exciting happened this
week, although yesterday we toured the Political History Museum. The
building itself had a lot of history, and it used to be the political
headquarters for the Bolsheviks back in the day. When I was paying
very close attention I could understand a lot of what our tour guide
said, but since the tour was two hours long it was easy to zone out.
Afterward I found pizza without dill! A monumental moment.

Sunday I took a walk to the part of the
Island I live on that I haven’t seen yet, and I found a beach! Sort
of (see pictures below.) It was pretty and had a lot of potential,
but there was a revolting amount of litter. The way many Russians
often drop their trash on the ground is something I will never get
used to. In many places there are city workers whose sole job is to
clean up trash, but the beach I was at today was filthy.

Since nothing super interesting has
happened here, I’ve included a few pictures of my host family’s house
and the neighborhood.



The past week and a half

Everyone who is leaving next week keeps
saying how the summer has flown by, and I can’t help but agree with
them. It started getting colder again this week! I woke up on Monday
to find myself needing a sweater- so exciting! The days are starting
to be noticeably shorter as well. Still longer than any day I’ve ever
experienced in America, but the white nights are definitely gone.

Last week we
started off on Monday with a trip to the Alexander Nevsky Lavra,
basically just a cemetery for important Russian people. Tuesday we
saw Swan Lake at the Михайловский
театр- literally one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever
seen. The dancing, music, gahhh everything was incredible. I
seriously considered going to see it later in the week because that
particular company was giving their last performance at the theater
on Friday. The first time I got on the website it was in Russian, and
I was surprised to find tickets for as low as 250 rubles. When I went
back later I somehow ended up looking at the English version and was
confused when the cheapest ticket I could find was over 2000 rubles.
However, just by clicking on “view this site in Russian,” all of
the cheap tickets were  back again. Russians taking advantage of
American tourists…typical.

Although it has cooled down, last week was still really hot. A friend and I
even braved the beach on the gulf of Finland. Despite the broken
glass, mountains of trash, and babushkas in bikinis, it was a nice
way to cool down. On Saturday we went left for a weekend trip to
Novgorod, a historic city roughly three hours south of St.
Petersburg. It was nice enough, but I think I’m still a fan of Pskov.

A friend here has a short hair cut, and on the declaration that she was
starting to grow a mullet, I gave her an impromptu haircut on the
banks of the Neva. I figured I have seen enough strange things here
that a little haircut wouldn’t draw any attention, but I’m pretty
sure a man stopped to take pictures of us, and a random guy walked up
and started up a conversation. Although there have been plenty of
times when a Russian has tried to talk to me and I haven’t had any
idea what they are saying, this was not one of those times. As I was
snipping away at my friends hair, we had a fairly normal conversation
with this kid. It’s really encouraging when this happens, and it has
started happening more and more frequently. There have also been a
few times when I’m talking to someone and I use a word that I’ve
never had on a vocab list before. Even if I haven’t formally learned
a word, I can still understand the meaning and how to use it simply
because of the frequency I hear it in conversation.  That is very

Sorry I’ve been slacking on the posts,  and that they are getting boring.
As always, feel free to ask questions!

Posted by: Abbey W | July 10, 2011


The summer heat has definitely arrived
in St. Petersburg! It doesn’t get very hot here often, so air
conditioning isn’t really needed, but it’s been pretty hot the last
week or so, and I’m (dare I say it?) looking forward to cooler
weather. The five hour bus ride to Pskov reminded me how spoiled I am
in America with constant air conditioning. I know I’ve already ranted
on here about Russian driving, so I’ll keep this short, but the
highway driving is obnoxious. First of all, it’s only a two lane
highway, and whenever a car passes it has to use the other side (two
solid lines divide the lanes.) On the way home from Pskov there was a
lot of traffic, and somehow our side of the road merged into a four
lane highway at times while the other side was forced to drive on the
shoulder. There are also a surprising number of pedestrian crossings.
A trip that should have taken three hours took five, which probably
wouldn’t have bothered me as much if it wasn’t 90 degrees on the bus.
Oh, Russia…

Fortunately, the mildly torturous bus
ride was well worth it. Pskov was beautiful.
We toured the fortress and some churches (including a favorite of
Ivan the Terrible), and that night we went swimming in the river. It
was strange to be swimming at eleven at night while the sun wasn’t
down. The next day we drove a little outside of Pskov to the
countryside, and there we were greeted by rolling hills, an extremely
old, picturesque church, and a beautiful, sparkling lake. We walked
down to the base of the hill  to where it met the lake, and enjoyed
the natural springs that resembled mini waterfalls. Lots of locals
were coming to the springs with empty water jugs and filling them up.
For once the water was clean, cold, and free! We were told that the
springs never freeze over. Definitely a highlight of the trip, and I
plan on returning to Pskov sometime during the next year.

classes are starting to get easier because I am understanding more,
talking to “real” Russians is still difficult. I am definitely
understanding more than I was, but If I want to have a conversation
it usually requires a lot of patience of the part of whoever I’m
talking to. This weekend we decided to go watch the bridges  go up;
they are up from 1-6 am every day and if you are on the wrong side
you are stuck until morning (yes, this has happened to me.) It
actually got pretty crowded, and we made some Russian friends while
we were waiting. A lot of people here speak some English, and when
they find out we are Americans they usually want to practice. The
people we met while waiting for the bridges didn’t speak hardly any,
so it was both fun and challenging to keep up a conversation in
Russian. Every time I am forced to speak in Russian I feel like it
helps, so I can’t help but think it is only a matter of time before I
stop sounding like an idiot.

A few
days ago I bought the first Harry Potter book in Russian- I can
actually read a lot of it! It’s fairly simple Russian, and I can’t
understand every word, but I usually know what is going on. I was
feeling very accomplished about this until I was talking to the
daughter of the family I’m staying with and she told me she speaks
seven languages fluently. Yes, seven. After that I just felt

week I was riding an almost empty mashrutka home by myself. At one
point the driver was talking on his cell phone (they have this
incredible ability to talk on the phone, drive, look for people
wanting to be picked up, listen to the demands to be dropped off, and
take money and give change at the same time), and I guess he reacted
too slowly to a changed red light. A man on the bus started shouting
at him, and I’m pretty sure was making racial slurs. Then a woman who
was sitting in the back started yelling at the first man, saying
things like “you aren’t a little boy, go home to your mama,” and
“if you don’t like the mashrutka just take the bus.” Then a woman
who was sitting in the front turned around and yelled at both of them
to shut up, which only provoked things further. While I was curious
to know how it ended, I wasn’t sorry when we arrived at my stop.

We went to see the Russian museum and the Hermitage this week, but I
don’t have any pictures. It cost 250 rubles (a little under $10) to
take pictures at the Russian museum, and I thought it would cost at
least that much at the Hermitage. It ended up being free there though
(free admission, too! One of the benefits of having a Russian student
ID), but I’m sure I’ll be back. For now enjoy the Pskov pictures, and
I’m sure I’ll have more pictures to add soon. Poka!

As I finish another week of classes, I’m just trying to remember how far I’ve come already. The language, of course, is a daily struggle, but I continue to notice improvement. Aside from that though, I think the fact that I’m staying here for a year is starting to sink in. The students who are only here for a month have already started talking about all the things they are going to do when they get home, and it just reminds me that it will be a long time before I can. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy that I’m here and staying, but there are definitely a few things that I have started to miss.

Water, for example, is not as accessible as in America. I figured out why Russians never seem to need to use the bathroom- they don’t chug down water like Americans usually do. I have a cup or two at lunch because smolny provides it, and then sometimes a glass (carbonated-it’s the only kind my host mother buys) for dinner, but that’s about it. You can buy bottled water on the street or in a produkti for about two dollars a bottle, but don’t count on it being cold. Water is usually served at room temperature.

Because the piping system is so old, all of the hot water in St. Petersburg is turned off for about a month so that maintenance can be done. This hasn’t happened in my part of the city yet, but I have a friend who lives where it has. One of the program coordinators at Bard said that all host families are required to provide us with hot water by boiling it on the stove…but really? Just take a cold shower. Then again, with some of the kids I’ve met on this trip, I’m not really surprised.

I’ve posted some pictures of the past few cultural excursions we’ve been on. While they may not always be the most comfortable way to spend the day, I’ve seen some pretty incredible things so far. At Peter and Paul’s fortress, for example, I was able to see where Anastasia and the rest of her family are buried. St. Isaac’s Cathedral had great views of the city, and was massive and breathtaking inside. Olga, our usual tour guide for our excursions wasn’t allowed to give the tour, but one of the official guides did. I didn’t understand everything she said, but I did understand when she turned to Olga and said, “They don’t understand anything I’m saying!” However, Olga insisted the tour remain in Russian. We went to Peterhoff by water taxi, and as luck would have it it started pouring rain at the time we had planned to leave the island. Everyone wanted to leave then, and the line to get on the water taxi was really long. I’m not really sure how it happened, but somehow the line turned into a massive crowd with people literally trying to fight their way onto the boat. At one point I picked both my feet up and, sure enough, I didn’t move- we were packed so tightly that the people around me were holding me in place.

At the Mariinsky theater we saw Eugene Onegin- the opera by Tchaikovsky based on the poetic novel by Pushkin. It was really interesting, but SO long. It started at seven and didn’t end until eleven. I tried to be Russian for a night and wear heels, but I didn’t even last the whole evening. I honestly don’t understand how girls here always wear heels. There is a lot of walking to do in St. Petersburg, and most of the girls are wearing three or four inch heels- it’s absurd!

I finally got the guts to ride a маршрутка. It’s sort of a mix between a bus and a taxi. They look kind of like oversized minivans, and although they have specific routes, they will pick of or drop off anywhere along that route. I’m not sure why I was so nervous to ride one, it was pretty easy, but you do have to tell the driver where you want to be dropped off at and they are generally just more intimidating than taking a bus. They are also slightly more expensive (30 r, just over a dollar, while a bus is 21 r.)

Tomorrow we leave for Псков, and small city about five and half hours south of St. Petersburg. I’m excited because everything in St. Petersburg is relatively new, and Pskov dates back to the middle ages.

Oh, and happy birthday to Dad and Sarah! Wish I could have been there- I love and miss you!

Posted by: Abbey W | June 23, 2011

First week of classes

It’s been a few days since classes
started, and I feel like I am finally settling into a routine. The
commute to school usually takes around 45 minutes, so if I plan to
leave an hour beforehand I can get there on time. Almost nothing is
on time here. Classes have been good so far, but pretty difficult. It’s not the grammar that is hard, it’s all review for me right now,
but since everything within Smolny is conducted in Russian, I have to
concentrate really hard to understand what is being said. I can
generally get the gist of what my teachers are talking about,
especially because I’ve had the grammar before, but I sometimes get
lost in my conversation class. I end up saying “я не понимаю”
(I don’t understand) at least once a class which is pretty
embarrassing. Fortunately, I’ve already noticed a difference in my
comprehension skills. Only a week ago was the first time I made a
purchase in Russia. I know the cashier gave me the total and asked me
if I wanted a bag, but at the time I didn’t understand what she was
saying. Today I went to buy a fan and had no trouble at all.
Considering I’ve only been here a week, I have high hopes that a few
months from now that я буду понимать всё (I will
understand everything.)

Because it’s been difficult
understanding, I’m glad the program is so intense, most of the time.
We have classes for three hours a day, an hour long “Russian table”
for lunch, and tutoring sessions after lunch. Everything ends around
three each day, except for Wednesdays when we also have an hour and
half phonetics course, or there is an excursion after classes.
Homework usually takes me a little under three hours, although today
it took over four. Like I said, I’m glad the program is intense,
especially because I’m already seeing improvement, but if I have a
full day of classes, an excursion, and then hours of homework
afterward, it can be a little overwhelming.

The longest day of the year for
Russians is sometime this week, and it’s really noticeable. The sun
isn’t supposed to set tonight until about 11:30, and it never gets
completely dark. If I look out my window at 2 or 3 am it still looks
like dusk, and that is the darkest I’ve seen it so far. Unfortunately
I know that as nice as it is now, we are going to pay for it this
winter when there are only a few hours of sunlight each day. Trying
not to think about that….

I’m not sure of the English name for it
(maybe cottonwood?), but there is a tree here that has this white,
fluffy stuff literally everywhere. It looks like it’s snowing outside
all the time, and if I walk through the streets it gets in my hair,
clothes, and sometimes up my nose. I was eating dinner in our 7th
floor kitchen today and piece floated by me as I was eating my
cucumber and tomato salad. One of my friends said that these trees
are in the US too, but I’ve never seen them.

While walking along the Neva the other
day, I watched a car zoom down the road at a speed that can hardly be
considered safe. It approached a cop car, passed it in the right
lane, and continued without being pulled over. I honestly don’t know
if there are speed limits here, but if there are then they aren’t
enforced. Many of  the cars appear to drive safely, but it’s not
usual to see a car going down the street at a ridiculous speed,
especially for a city. Actually, I’m not entirely sure if any road
laws are enforced. I see cars parked on sidewalks, driving down
sidewalks (!), and passing cars on the other side of the road when
there are cars quickly coming from the other direction. They drive on
the right side of the road here, but I’ve seen several cars with the
steering wheel on the right side of the car. The other day I watched
a car pull along another car by simply connecting them with a rope.
Right before my bus turned  and they went out of view, I saw the rope
break. I don’t even want to know what kind of a traffic jam that

Goucher’s president, Sandy Ungar, was
in St. Petersburg today, and the other two Goucher students and I had
lunch with him and his wife. The OIS is thinking about offering
Smolny as a sponsored Goucher program, and because Goucher currently
doesn’t have anywhere to study abroad in Russia, this would be really
good for the Russian department.

Although the sun is still up, it’s
getting late, and I want to watch “Anastasia” in Russian before
bed. Пока!


Posted by: Abbey W | June 19, 2011


St. Petersburg- aka "Venice of the North"

Posted by: Abbey W | June 19, 2011

Move in and Храм Спаса на Крови

I’m here! It was a pretty stressful
trip at first, but I have finally arrived. For anyone who doesn’t
know what I’m doing in St. Petersburg, I am attending a year long
study abroad program coordinated by Bard College. For the first eight
weeks I will be doing only an intensive language program at Smolny
College, the first liberal arts school in Russia, and in August the
real school year starts. Then I will be taking several credits of
Russian as a second language, as well as classes for my International
Relations major. The first semester I will probably have to choose
classes taught in English, but I hope that by my second semester here
I will be able to take IR classes taught in Russian. I’ll live with a
host family for the first two months, and then I move into the dorms.
I have wanted to do this for long time, and I’m so happy that I am
finally here!

My first weekend here has been much
calmer than I thought it would be. We arrived around noon on Thursday
(eight hours ahead of the US), and since I wasn’t able to sleep on
the flight I had a hard time staying awake for the bus tour the
program took us on. One of the few things I remember hearing was,
“This is victory park. You probably don’t want to go there at
night. The fascists like to hang out there, but we will talk about
that later.” I also remember seeing lots of churches, monuments and
statues, but I was so sleepy that none of it really sunk in.

We spent the first night in a hotel
(I posted a couple of pictures), and spent the next day having
orientation and moving in with our host families. My family lives in
a three bedroom house with a kitchen. There is no living area, and
because the other girl in the program I am living with and I have our
own bedrooms, my host mom, dad, and brother are living in the other
room together. The first night I was here their daughter came to help
us move in, and she spoke English well. The host families aren’t
supposed to talk to us in English, but she only helped us move in and
get acquainted and I haven’t seen her since. The kitchen table isn’t
really big enough to have family dinners (it only fits two or three
people), so the other girl I am living with and I have been eating by

Speaking of food, if anyone who is
reading this knew me when I when I came to Russia when I was eleven,
I have gotten over my aversion to dill! It’s not my favorite, but
I’ve accepted the fact that it is going to be in almost every meal
that is cooked for me. However, once I move to the dorms this fall
and start preparing my own meals, I can’t promise I’ll use it. Aside
from dill, there is a lot of sparkling water, tea, cucumber and
tomato salads, and really, really delicious dairy products. The
cheese I’ve eaten here is the best I’ve ever had. My first night with
my host mother, she made us a cucumber and tomato salad (of course),
“sausages” and rice. And by sausages I mean hot dogs that appear
to have and umbilical cord. The food will take some adjusting to, but
I haven’t seen anything yet that I didn’t expect. My favorite part
about Russia meals is they are always followed by tea (the only
coffee I’ve seen so far is instant, and even that isn’t common.)

I’m surprised by how easy it has been
to live here so far. I have enough Russian to navigate the metro and
bus systems competently (most of the time), and when I go to stores
and restaurants I can sometimes purchase things without embarrassing
myself. We have had a lot of free time since classes haven’t started
yet, and I have yet to feel lost of apprehensive. Yesterday my
roommate and I decided to venture into the city to see how long it
would take us to get to school, and thought we were doing well when
found the right bus and got on. When the lady who takes your money
and gives you a ticket came over to us, however, she was saying
something in very fast Russian. My roommate was paying with a larger
bill, and we thought she was asking if she wanted just one or two
tickets. However, in about 20 seconds, when the bus pulled into a
large parking lot with lots of other buses, we realized she was
saying that the bus only had one stop left. We had gotten on the
right bus, it was just going in the wrong direction. She turned
around to the bus driver, opened the little window, explained what
happened, and they both had a good laugh at our expense (Russians
rarely smile or laugh, so I know we must have been a pretty good
joke). She told us to stay seated, and in about 20 minutes the bus
continued on, this time in the right direction.

Today we had our first cultural
excursion that was conducted entirely in Russian. We went to a
beautiful cathedral called Храм Спаса на Крови   (Church of Our Savior on the Spilled
Blood). I’m excited for classes to start tomorrow morning, because I
need all the Russian language instruction I can get. I’m not sure how
often I will be able to blog, but I’ll try to keep up with things,
and feel free to ask any questions if you have them!