On Reverse Culture Shock and Readjusting

Home home home! It has been wonderful. I spent two full weeks with family and friends catching up on all the things I’ve missed and just spending time relaxing with them. It’s been marvelous and everything I’ve hoped for. They have been thoughtful, understanding, loving, and supportive of my experience, and I’m truly lucky. But…

I still miss St. Petersburg. A lot. In fact:

25 Things I Already Miss About St. Petersburg

  1. Efficient public transportation (aka: not driving in snow)
  2. Almette Cheese Spread
  3. Borsch
  4. Let’s just say all Russian food because it was delicious. Mmmmm, all healthy and organic.
  5. Счастье Кафе
  6. Produktis on every corner. (Little grocery stores)
  7. Bread trucks
  8. Hot chocolate that is literally just a melted candy bar. (If you want the American form of Hot Chocolate, ask for Hot Cocoa aka: Какао.)
  9. Boyarskiy shots
  10. Cheap books
  11. Easy access to ZARA stores
  12. Пышки
  13. The city’s beauty (I find I am missing this the most.)
  14. My razgavor professor. She was exceptional.
  15. Marshrutkas
  16. Easy access to Georgian cuisine
  17. Russian culture – ballets, museums, operas…
  18. Hearing Russian spoken and reading in cyrillic 24/7
  19. Not always understanding what everyone is saying around you. Sometimes, it is nice to be blissfully unaware.
  20. How kind Russian people are. They are far more willing to go out of their way to help someone than Americans are.
  21. Being pale is considered to be attractive and normal over there!
  22. Banyas
  23. How classy people looked. I was amazed at just how sloppy most Americans dress. Sweatpants will never be acceptable in public ever again.
  24. Russian frankness
  25. The wonderful friends that I had to leave behind.

There are, however, many things I appreciate more now that I have returned home, such as: water pressure in the showers, large towels that cover your entire body, drinking tap water and getting water for free in restaurants/bars, not needing to use a converter for everything, high sanitary standards, and an efficient post office/mail delivery service (just for starters). A pet peeve of mine at my host’s, particularly since I grew up in the dairy state of Wisconsin, was that she would leave cheese sitting open in the refrigerator, which caused it to get hard and stale within a day or so.

As a Sconnie, that is just sinful.

But I must warn anyone returning back from a long trip abroad: reverse culture shock is very real. (Heads up, this post is about to get serious. I’m going to be completely honest about everything and I encourage anyone who has experienced reverse culture shock to leave me a message with their thoughts on how they went through it and moved passed it.) There are exceptions, I’m sure, and everyone suffers from it under varying degrees but it exists. And from what I’ve gathered through other friends, reverse cultures shock is even worse than the original. The best explanation I can give is one I read on a fellow tumblr site.

“Why is reverse culture shock worse? Well, unfortunately, I do not have an exact answer for this, but my guess would be something along these lines:  When you go abroad, everything is new and different and exciting.  People understand that this is strange to you.  It’s not like that back home.  You may have been off changing, but you’ll find that the people back home have been living more or less the same life.  And their idea of you, who you are, has remained more or less the same as well.  They’re going to be expecting the you that left so long ago, but you’re not going to fit into that box anymore.”

I’ve read that there are two periods of it: the first was the clear shock stage right after getting off the plane, while the second took place 6-8 months after returning home. I have only experienced the first so far, so I can give my personal account of that.

The first is when the really obvious differences are going to be confusing and probably bug the crap out of you. I had expected the jet lag struggle (it’s very real), the readjusting to processed foods (I threw up for the first 3-5 days. Spicy foods in particular, until my stomach finally accepted it.), and the peculiar mannerisms from strangers. I was not expecting to find myself growing annoyed with people who were close to me. Friends, family, neighbors… It wasn’t their fault – they hadn’t changed, I had – but there it was. I found myself grinding my teeth when I was constantly interrupted in the middle of a sentence (Americans are notorious for this). I found that I would personally get hurt feelings when friends and family would ask “How was Russia?” but only cared to listen for the first 3-5 minutes before they grew bored with the topic.  To me, it came off so insincere a question that I stopped bothering to answer it with more than a, “Great! Hard to sum it up in just a few sentences.” I’d wait to see if that actually cared to ask more. Some people did. See, in America, questions such as, “How are you?” or “How was ____?” are normally asked as a greeting rather than actually wishing for a long-winded response. I had grown used to the Russian approach to this question, however, which was a you-better-sit-down-because-you’re-going-to-be-here-for-a-while sort of thing. I had forgotten that not everyone wanted to listen to my adventure, and sometimes that was hard to swallow. It was okay, they were entitled to that, but that didn’t mean it didn’t sting a little. Things such as foot/shoe etiquette (which is very different in Russia from America, where feet are considered generally cleanish rather than Untouchables), the appropriateness of kissing friends in greeting, hearing “This is completely unacceptable.” in a Starbucks line, mean-muggging anyone who is whistling indoors, and forgetting the English equivalent for the word I wanted to say would would frustrate me more than I had planned. Stereotypical comments such as, “Are you a communist now?” or “How’s our little Russian spy?” or “God, I hope our country never turns out like that.” – usually meant in good humor – would cause me to roll my eyes and get defensive. There were a lot of things that Americans could learn from Russians, just as there were a lot of things Russians could take note on from Americans. We both have things we could work on, but, in my mind, who were they to judge this other culture when they hadn’t had the experience that I had? What I realized was that there are going to be some common misconceptions about the place you were, so it may be a good idea to prepare short answers to frequently asked questions. This way you won’t be caught off guard when people ask you questions that may sound ignorant (“Does everyone drink vodka for breakfast, lunch, and dinner”) or somewhat offensive. I had read an article before I had left about trying to refrain from saying, “Well, when I lived ______” or “Well, over in ________ …” so as not to come off as “pretentious” or that I was “bragging”, so I tried to keep silent about my experience unless someone asked. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why it could get a little annoying to hear “When I was in Russia…” over and over. I mean, I was only there for four months right? How could I not just snap back into my American life like the flip of a light-switch? But it’s the truth. A lot happens in four months, in both the US and Russia. I found that not sharing my trip, more than anything, was the most frustrating because I couldn’t relate to anything that had gone on in the past few months in the United States. I hadn’t been here. 

As bad as I make it all sound, though, it really wasn’t. It’s more of an internal struggle where you have to watch what you say and think about how you’re going to approach a situation. Social interactions in America differ than in Russia. You have to remember that most people don’t mean to hurt your feelings or annoy you. It’s just happening because social interactions were not like this in your host country. So just recognize it for what it is and work through it. You’ll readjust before you know it.

The second phase that takes place a few months later is something that I’ve only read about. I’ll let you all know if I feel the same way come mid-June. As a fellow blogger wrote,

“This is a much deeper discomfort—the kind you might not be able to put your finger on for a while, a general antsy-ness, a feeling of distance or displacement.  You might find yourself lashing out against your native culture or attempting to recede into your adopted one.  Personally, I remember feelings of otherness, as if I had lost my own culture and my place in it but hadn’t fully integrated into the second.  I had nowhere.  No culture.  That was the worst.”

Let’s face it, it’s hard moving back home to your previous life after having such an adventure abroad. It seems a little anti-climatic after what you’ve just experienced. Basic things such as missing your old routine, FaceTiming friends who are still over there or abroad, accidentally forgetting words from your native language, reading about historical sights and tours that you missed, and feeling lost and out of sorts back home in your native country are normal. I’ve already slipped into using Russian on a day to day basis because I fear that I will forget it all now that I’m not constantly surrounded by my adoptive language. I once read that a second language is like a muscle that you must work constantly or it will atrophy. It’s made me paranoid.

My best advice is to plan in advance. Research the heck out of reverse culture shock. It sounds silly, but it helped me to move past it when I recognized what it was. Take lots of pictures and bring back mementos that mean something to you rather than those chintzy, cheap souvenirs that you could find on eBay. Don’t always take photos of buildings or artwork either. Take photos of your walk home from school or work, of your favorite restaurant and foods, of the people that you pass on the street. It will remind you of more than tourist attractions. Make sure to get addresses, phone numbers, emails, VK, and Facebook contact information from all your friends abroad too. Maybe even try to plan a trip to return for a visit, if you have the means! Save up and bring your family/friends with, so that you can share your experience with them. Another great way to share your trip with them, minus the non-stop commentary, is by cooking up some traditional dishes or watching a movie you enjoyed abroad. I know I’m going to attempt making borsch for my family and khatchipurri for my roommate. (Pictures to come on the result.)

At the same time, don’t compare and contrast your home with your host country. Just like your own country can frustrate you at times, your host country isn’t without its problems. Each has their positives and negatives, and it can be easy to forget that once you’ve returned home. It’s okay to miss it, though. Even cry over it. I know I get teary-eyed when I think back to my life in Petersburg, and I haven’t even been gone long. Just try to remember that your responsibilities are now back in your native country. Embrace your study abroad experience, but don’t forget that your life is no longer there and you cannot live in the past. There are many wonderful things going on in your life here, and those are the things you need to focus on. In all reality, life has probably moved on without you being there and not everything will seem familiar. You will have to readapt to the positive and negative changes that occurred, but remember that, despite the sacrifices you made going abroad, it was definitely worth the experience.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t forget to remind your family that they were missed. Because they were. A lot. (Remember Thanksgiving? Yeah. You better shower them with love.) Make sure to ask about their lives and their semester, any new updates you missed while you were gone, and take notice of new furniture of decorations around the house. Your family will appreciate it, trust me. They missed you a lot, so be sure to give them the attention they deserve. If you’re like me, you may want to just block out an entire week or so before going off to see friends. Also, remember that not everyone has the opportunity to study abroad and factor this in to your conversation so that you sound appreciative about your experience, not snooty.

I hope this post didn’t come off as negative. It was merely to caution anyone who is going to go abroad for a while because this is a reality you’ll have to face upon returning. Honestly, my readjustment went great. Jet lag was gone in a week, I was eating Mexican food within five days, and I was falling into my American habits by the time New Years Eve came around. You should have seen my face when I saw my parents’ refrigerators.


100% accurate

I still have some bad Russian habits I’m trying to break, and some good ones I’m trying to keep. Time is the best cure. You just have to ride it all out until it takes hold.

Know what I found out helps a lot? Starting a blog.

Проживай каждый день будто последний. Наслаждайся каждым мигом, каждой секундой своего существования. Впитывай каждую каплю радости и счастья, улыбок и прикосновений. Занимайся тем, без чего жить не можешь. Люби безоглядно, обнимай крепче стали. Цени прошлое, смотри в настоящее. И будь счастлива. В конце концов ты этого достойна.

“Live each day like the last. Enjoy every moment, every second of its existence. Absorb every drop of joy and happiness, smiles and touches. Tend to those whom you cannot live without . Love recklessly, hug stronger than steel. Appreciate the past, look to the present. And be happy. After all, you deserve it.”

(And just in case this post was a little heavy, here is an image of Putin playing with balloon animals. Yes, you read that right.)

Well, everyone has a a hobby.

Advice for Studying Abroad in Russia/ Highlights of St. Petersburg

This blog post might not be as exciting as others for my regular readers, but I figured since I’m now on my last week here in St. Petersburg I should gather up all the lists I’ve made about things I’ve learned here – advice, favorite places, general expectations, suggestions – and gather them into one giant compilation . I know I googled this a thousand times before I left, and there weren’t too many blogs offering much advice. I’ll do my best not to repeat too much! For those of you reading this that have been to Petersburg before, speak Russian fluently, disagree/noticed a mistake, or have anything to add please feel free to let me know in the comments!

So first, imma break some stereotypes down real quick: There are no bears roaming the streets here. Nobody owns an AK-47. Or a matryoshka doll, for that matter. It’s not terribly cold (unless you’re in northern Siberia). Russians are not angry people (perhaps a little pessimistic, but that is their culture and their history). However, there are some rather accurate ones: The women here are very beautiful, thin, and stylish. You’ve been warned. They do drink a fair amount, but don’t always bank on vodka. Baltika beer is quite cheap here. Dash cams do not lie. Borsch is delicious.

Favorite Restaurants/Bars/Clubs/Cafes

  1. Счастье (Schastye): –For the most relaxing and positive cafe experience you will ever have.-
    I am absolutely in love with this small chain of cafes. Each one is more beautiful than the last, and their service is impeccable. They offer English menus and speak fluently, for those of you who are not familiar with the language, but are happy to practice Russian with you if you choose. The food is  delicious (perhaps a little on the pricey side), but tea and snacks are quite reasonable. My favorite location is the one on Малая Морская ул., 24 (Malaya Morskaya Street, Building 24) just kiddy-corner from St. Isaac’s Cathedral. I once spent an entire afternoon studying there, and the waiter brought my friend and I free cookies to help with our study session! So, don’t spend all your time at a Шоколодница (Shokolodnitsa) or a Кофе Хауз (Coffee House)! Visit their webpage here!
  2. MarketPlace-Cheap, tasty food for the struggling college student.-
    This self-service restaurant is great for those living on a budget. While similar to the Столовая (Stolovaya) chain, MarketPlace seems to be far more immaculate than their competition and provides a comfier atmosphere. There are multiple locations, but it’s especially nice to stop in when you’re wandering along Nevsky Prospekt looking for something a little more inside your budget. (That street is a nightmare for any wallet.) You can visit their website here, but be warned – it’s только по-русский.
  3. Цифербург Анти-Кафе (Tsiferburg Anti-Cafe)-A little hipster, a lot of awesome.-
    I love anti-cafes. There. I said it. The concept is fantastic. Instead of paying for each item you drink or eat, you pay for the amount of time that you spend there! For example, I spent about four hours at Tsiferburg, had a nap, a mug of tea, a glass of hot chocolate, and an entire basket of crackers and I paid the US equivalent of $7. Located on the 3rd floor of the Pasazh (Пасаж) shopping center, this anti-cafe has a great view overlooking Nevsky Prospekt and Gostiny Dvor. Visit their VK page here!
  4. Morrisons: –Favorite bar. I frequented so often that I ended up befriending the bartender.-
    Dumskaya and Lomonosov. The two most notorious party streets in St. Petersburg, and with good reason. However, tucked away close to the canal is my favorite bar in all of St. Petersburg. It’s quite small, friendly, and a favorite of many locals in their twenties. I’ve witnessed some of the best karaoke – ranging from Eminem to Adele to Blink 182 to Celine Dion – some intense foosball games, and was introduced to the Boyarskiy shot here.

    Vodka. Grenadin. Tobasco. Taste the magic for only 100 rubles.

    Vodka. Grenadin. Tobasco. Taste the magic for only 100 rubles.

    Open til 6am, this place is wonderful for having a relaxed atmosphere with friends until the metro opens, and is a great place to meet locals your age! GO THERE. Check out their VK page here.

  5. RadioBaby: – A dance club that is willing to party just as hard as you are.-
    RadioBaby is a must for those wanting to dance all night until the metaphorical sun comes up. (Because…the sun doesn’t rise here until about 10:45a.m. in winter.) The multi-room layout makes it easy to find a place to enjoy spending your night. Whether it is the dance floor, the bar,  foosball, or just relaxing at a table off to the side, they have something forever. It seems to be a very popular bar with foreigners, so you are sure to run into some Americans or Europeans there. (Even ran into an Australian there once.) Always pumped up jams, but no techno/house music allowed. Closes at 7am, has a coat-check (bless them for this), and can be a little difficult to find hidden through an archway a block or two behind Kazan Cathedral, but it is totally worth the trip. Check it out here.
  6. OpenBar!For those visiting in the summer time, check out this open-air bar at the Peter Spit on Petrovsky Island-
    Whether it is indoors or outdoors, Open Bar has one of the finest ambiances in the city. Live entertainment, delicious food, and a great view of the harbor/Finnish Gulf? What more do you need? Don’t be afraid to make the trek out there in the wintertime either. Last time I was there, I had the best laugh watching a bachelor party attempt a limbo competition. Find it here.
  7. Idiot Restaurant: –For those in need of some cheap, delicious Russian food at a quality restaurant.-
    Omnomnom, I had some spectacular Russian food here. Big ol’ bowl of borsch (with smetana, of course), a plate of mushroom pelmeni, glintvein (A hot, mulled wine with cinnamon and fruit. Perfect for the chilly winter months.) , and complimentary vodka shots. It quite reasonable, and has a beautiful location along the Moika embankment (not too far from Счастье, actually). Named after Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ and evocative of the area that he lived and wrote in, this has been a St. Petersburg favorite since its opening in 1997. Bonus? It’s entirely vegetarian. You can visit their website here.
  8. The Green Room Cafe: –For those on a low budget in search of fresh, organic food and a rooftop view.-
    I was so happy to stumble on this place. While the majority of what they serve is traditional Russian cuisine, they did slip a few Uzbeki foods in there! (Try the manti. It’s delicious!) While you’re there, you’ll have the opportunity to check out the Loft Project Etazhi (mentioned below), which was one of my favorite ‘hidden gems’ in St. Pete’s. Visit The Green Room’s website here.

What to Pack for Russia (Clothing Only)
I actually feel I am quite equipped to answer this. I grew up in the bitter cold of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and let me say that if you’re a native from either of these states visiting Petersburg you’ll be fine. Really. I heard someone complain the other day that it was cold out when it was 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

It was -15 degree in Minneapolis. Same day. That didn’t include the wind chill dropping it to -36 degrees.

I also found, now that I’m on my last few days here, that I actually underpacked rather than over. Truthfully, this was easier since I do not have to ship anything home or pack an extra bag, and I was also able to buy a few special things here in Petersburg.

Some quick advice on clothing before you leave:
– Girls, if you live in the north buy your tights here in the States. I know you can buy them in Petersburg, but let me tell you that Calzedonia is on my hit list for having the shittiest tights ever made in existence. They will tear and snag if you breathe wrong, I swear. So, bring a pair or two from home if they’re of good quality. You will need tights, though, if you plan on wearing any skirts/dresses. If not, you are considered to be a prostitute. They’re also useful for layering during the cold months. Do not forsake the tights.
– Pack light.
– Bring a duffel bag for overnight trips.
– Choose clothing that can mix and match. If it’s an outfit that you go, “Well I don’t wear it often, but I wore it those couple of times-” STOP. Don’t bring it. You know your wardrobe. Bring only what you rewear every week or so.
– Generally, Russian wardrobes stick to darker colors. Feel free to keep this in mind.
– Bring an umbrella
– Russian women do not wear t-shirts in public. Nor are sweatpants publicly acceptable.
– UGGs are warm and comfy and perfect for winter weather. However, they’re not incredibly popular here. I brought mine and I do not regret it, but I did not wear them as often as I thought I would purely so that I would fit in more. Bring at your own discretion. If you’re unsure, leave them.

  1. One sweatshirt. (Men and women really don’t wear them often. They’re bulky, too.)
  2. Two pairs of jeans or slacks.
  3. Two pairs of leggings (for girls, if you choose)
  4. 1-2 everyday dresses/skirts
  5. 1 nice outfit (ballet or opera)
  6. Pajamas
  7. Underwear
  8. Scarf, mittens, hat (for fall, winter, spring)
  9. Winter coat and boots (only if you’re there during that season, of course)
  10. Comfortable walking shoes.
  11. Wool socks
  12. 1 Autumn jacket (again, only if this applies to you)
  13. 1-2 cardigans
  14. 4-5 tops/blouses

Seriously, that’s it. That’s all I brought. You will want to buy a lot here anyway because Russians are very stylish. I certainly added a couple pieces to my wardrobe. Be warned, shopping is very expensive here, but it usually is of high quality.

Most Helpful Phrases to Know

Thank you = Спасибо (Spa-SI-ba)
Please/You’re welcome: Пожалуйста (Pa-ZHA-luh-sta)
Where is the bathroom? (always important to know!): Где туаллет? (G-DE tu-a-LYET?)

  1. Вы выходите? (Vy Vy-КHO- di-te?) – This is your number 1 public transit phrase.  Use it to find out if the person in front of you is getting off at the next stop.  If they aren’t, they’ll move aside to let you through.  Russians have public transit DOWN.
  2. Извините (Простите), пожалуйстa (Iz-vi-NI-te, pa-ZHAL-sta): Means excuse me. And trust me, you’ll be needing this all the time. If you bump into someone/hit them with your bag/etc. make sure you use “pro-sti-te”, which means “pardon me”.
  3. Как добраться до…(Kak do-BRAT-sya doh…): How do I get to/how do I reach? This is helpful for getting directions. Oftentimes, even if you don’t understand (because if you don’t understand you will be making a funny face and Russians will know) they will point and use hand signals so you understand. Some might even just walk you there, just to make sure you don’t get lost. Don’t be freaked out by this.
  4. У вас есть студенческая скидка? (Oo vas est stoo-DEN-che-ska-ya SKEED-ka?): Basically “Do you have a student discount?” This is a wonderful thing to know since many museums, exhibitions, galleries, stores, and even restaurants have student discounts. You can even get into some for free (like the Hermitage)!
  5. без газа/не газ (bez gaza/ ne gaz) – This was a lifesaver for those of you who drink still water by the gallon, like I do. If you don’t want carbonated water, make sure you ask for “bez gaza”.
  6. Сколько стоит? (SKOL-ka STO-eet?): How much does this cost?

Top Tourist Attractions to Visit

  1. Peterhof
  2. St. Isaac’s Cathedral (Make sure you climb to the top and have the best view of the city.)
  3. The Hermitage
  4. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
  5. Nevsky Prospekt
  6. Catherine’s Palace
  7. Peter and Paul Fortress
  8. Kazan Cathedral

Hidden Gems of St. Petersburg

  1. Пышки (Delicious little doughnut place off Nevsky Prospekt that has been serving the same doughnut recipe since 1958. A true Soviet experience!)
  2. Летний Сад (The Summer Gardens)
  3. Smolny Cathedral
  4. Yusupov Palace
  5. Naval Cathedral in Kronstadt
  6. Erarta
  7. Loft Project Etazhi (Amazing rooftop view of the city!)
  8. Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery

25 Things I Missed Most About America While Studying Abroad

  1. Texas Roadhouse.
  2. Curly fries.
  3. Always having the option to use a credit card.
  4. A dryer.
  5. The general public wearing deodorant.
  6. Delivery Food
  7. Self Checkouts/Orderly Lines
  8. English
  9. Free water
  10. Splitting checks
  11. The sun
  12. Pre-made cookie dough
  13. WiFi accessibility
  14. Free refills
  15. Pandora Music Channel
  16. Southern Comfort Whiskey Liqueur
  17. Bagels
  18. Watching Packer Games at a reasonable time of day. On a television.
  19. Pancakes. (Blinis are great and all…)
  20. Ice cream shakes/malts
  21. Mexican food.
  22. The excessive amount of Christmas music that is normally played this time of year on every radio station in existence in America.
  23. Halloween
  24. Happy Hours
  25. Family, puppy, and friends. 🙂

I thought about writing “What I Will Miss About St. Petersburg”, but I think I’ll have a better list once I’ve been back in the States for a bit!

General Advice

  1. Research before you go. The more prepared you are, the better off you’ll be.
  2. Don’t drink the water. Russian tap water has a bacteria called giardiasis in it that will make you incredibly sick. Brushing teeth, showering, and boiling the water to drink/tea is fine. Just don’t drink it from the tap. I don’t even trust my Brita filter.
  3. When it comes to transportation: If you plan on using more than the metro (trolleybus, tram, bus, marshrutka) to get around the city and to school on a day to day basis, buy the “Electronic Wallet” card option. You put a certain amount of money on the card, and then just swipe it on the little scanners. It’s faster and what everybody uses. Coins and change are a pain. Best part is, the more you use the metro the cheaper it will get with this card. (From 27 rubles down to 20 after 41 rides.) Rush hour is from 8-10am and 5-7pm. Avoid it if you can.
  4. Carry toilet paper/tissue paper on you at all times. Bathrooms here aren’t always equipped with some.
  5. Always Have a Back Up: Be it passport document copies, extra money option, international cards, or whatever. You never know when you might need it.
  6. Speak in “Вы”: It’s always better to ere on the side of being more polite than too informal. Wait for Russians start speaking in ты to you before you switch.
  7. Try to set a budget. Trust me, you will thank me later. Money goes fast when you’re abroad, especially that first month or so when you don’t quite have the conversion chart memorized. In addition to this, bring an extra $500 more than you think you’ll need. The advice I found most helpful was: Lay out the clothing and cash you plan to bring on your trip. Now pack just half of the clothes and double the money.
  8. Try everything once. My mother always said to me as a child that I couldn’t say “no” or that I didn’t like something just because it looked strange. How on Earth could I know I disliked it if I never tried it before? So, go in with an open mind. Try that jelly meat. (It’s disgusting.) Put tobasco in your vodka shots. (It’s delicious.) But don’t hold yourself back from new experiences while abroad. (Disclaimer: THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO DRUGS OR OTHER DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR.)
  10. Be prepared to take naps. Translating Russian, even if you don’t speak a lick of it to start, is exhausting. You will be very tired somedays and sometimes get headaches. It’s okay, your brain is just working hard to process and understand everything it’s seeing.
  11. Accept the cultural differences. I’m not going to lie to you. You might experience culture shock to some degree when you’re living abroad. Let’s face it, you’re in a different country than the one you grew up in. Language, food, manners, fashion, and weather might all surprise you. The best way to get used to it is to just accept it as being different. Learn to laugh at the communication problems and embrace the new experiences rather than be scared and resent your new home. I promise, it will make your stay far more enjoyable.
  12. Talk to locals. Don’t be that person that just stays in their room and watches Netflix the entire trip. Get out there and get to know the culture. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, you’ll fumble through some awkward conversations. But it gets better. You’ll feel more confident the more you try.
  13. Set a realistic goal. Before I left, I had set one goal: “The purpose of this program will not be to outdo every student in my program, but to improve myself. If I am able to come back from this with a better grasp on the Russian language and culture than when I left, I will consider it to be a success!” Be realistic with your expectations. There are many reasons to study abroad, but it’s up to you to make sure you gain exactly what you want from the experience.
  14. Don’t panic. It might seem scary at first, being in a new country, but just like your first few weeks of college that fear will fade. The more you embrace your country, the easier the transition will be. But when in doubt, ask. Russians are generally very polite and helpful.
  15. Don’t forget to study. This is not a vacation. Keep your priorities in check.
  16. Stock up on necessities. Birth control, tampons, that particular medicine you have to get every year to fight the same common cold. Stock up on them. While you can find similar medicines in whatever country you’re studying abroad in, I think it’s best to go with what you’re familiar with. It’s especially difficult if you’re trying to read the warning labels in a different language. For example, I told my host I wasn’t feeling well and she handed me a box of pills in Russian, then said to take one a day until I felt better. Googled the box and found out these were used to help people with seizures. Needless to say, I did not follow her advice. Russia also is notorious for their “home remedies” (which I will, begrudgingly, admit work sometimes). However, if you’re not comfortable with these it is best to have your own stockpile of medicine. (I’d like to add: If you are seriously sick or injured GO TO MEDEM. The clinic is located on Marata Street by Ploshad Vosstanya. While it’s a little pricey, they speak English and I can say from experience that they are thorough with their examinations.) A lot of people on my program got sick those first two weeks here due to the climate/atmosphere change. Don’t be surprised by this if it happens to you.
  17. Don’t forget to explore. When moving to a new country, it can be scary. You might feel out of place for a while, and you’ll be a little off-balance from a lack of routine. After the first few weeks of getting around, however, you’ll start to feel a little more confident! Don’t fall into the trap of doing the same thing every day. Even if it’s taking a new route home or stopping at a small shop, try to explore the city you’re in as much as you can! You’re only there for a small time. (My favorite way to explore is to get on a city bus and see where it takes me around the area. Not my family’s favorite choice, but I certainly familiarized myself with the city quickly. I don’t recommend this for everyone, but if you’re feeling adventurous – and are certain the bus isn’t going to dump you off in a different town – give it a go. As a disclaimer, you might want to bring a map just in case.)
  18. Don’t take a gypsy cab by yourself at night with only the driver. Actually, don’t take gypsy cabs in general.
  19. Unwritten Rules:
    – Boys pay on dates.
    – Take off gloves to shake hands.
    – Politeness goes along way (for instance, with security guards, bartenders, or bread truck owners.)
    – Smiling in public is strange. People will think you are mentally unbalanced.
    – Don’t put feet up on tables.
    – Punctuality is not a strict rule here. Be flexible.

But really, if there was one piece of advice I could give a study abroad student, it’s this:


St. Petersburg is the most beautiful city in the world, in my opinion, so make sure you just enjoy it. I’ve been to Paris, Venice, Rome, London, Budapest, Vienna, New York, San Fransisco… None of them compare.

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Or maybe I’m just biased. 🙂

So go have that shot of vodka with some Russians. They’ll welcome you with open arms. Go climb to the top of Isaac’s when the sun is out and see how the city shines. Walk along the Moika embankment at night, take a canal tour, and peek inside the courtyards of old houses. You never know what you’ll find.

**Last six photos out of the twelve were borrowed from Urbanize, Olga Shuruht, Alexander Petrosyan, and St. Petersburg Guide**

I came, I saw, I banya-ed.

It’s so hard to believe I’m down to less than two weeks left in St. Petersburg. (Twelve days, to be exact.)  I must admit, it’s a strange feeling knowing that I will be leaving this beautiful city so soon. I’ve grown used to my daily routine – buying my vanilla and chocolate флейнта at the Буше bread truck, the morning metro commute, walking the halls of the Smolny convent for class, heading to Счастье cafe to do some homework with Ryan, exploring St.P on the weekend – it is going to be strange returning to the States where things are so different. A girl in my program said that one of the strangest experiences upon her return to the U.S. after being abroad was the ability to read and understand everything without having to translate it in your head. While I’m able to read Cyrillic quite easily, just being able to look at a street sign and understand it will come as naturally as breathing back home in America. I’m certain there are a few other things I will have to readjust to after living in the Motherland for four months. Because of this, I’ve decided to compile a list – some borrowed from other websites or tumblrs – of daily sights and activities that I’ve grown accustomed to here that might not be the same back in the U.S.

20 Signs You’ve Been Living in St. Petersburg 

  1. You catch yourself whistling indoors and feel guilty.
  2. You never smile in public when you’re alone.
  3. Cigarette smoke becomes ‘tolerable’.
  4. You know seven people whose favorite novel is The Master and Margarita.
  5.  You develop a liking for beets.
  6. You give a 10% tip only if the waiter has been really exceptional.
  7. Seeing a car mount the curb and cruise by is no big deal.
  8. You know the safest places to get good shaverma.
  9. When these need no explanation:
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  10. When you carry sunglasses, mittens, and an umbrella on you at all times.
  11. You’re no longer surprised when you professor answers his/her cell phone in class.
  12. You wear a wool hat in the sauna.
  13. “Boyarskii shots” and “hatchapouri” become integral parts of your vocabulary.
  14. You immediately recognize these strange foods….and know to avoid them, if possible. (Not a fan of the gelatin meat in particular…)
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  15. You carry toilet paper or tissue paper on you at all times.
  16. You have VKontakte. Because it is better than Facebook in all ways.
  17. You now understand Russian slang.
  18. Your feet no longer notice that you’ve spent 10-12 hours in heels on cobblestones.
  19. Successfully took a gypsy cab and was not ripped off.
  20. When Улыбка Радуги gives you kopeks.

I have been putting my spare time to good use, however! This past week I visited more museums and palaces than I think I did the entire first month I was here. First, I had the opportunity to travel and hour south of St. Petersburg to the suburb of Pushkin to see the famous Catherine’s Palace. Not even the clouds and the footpaths that were covered with six inches of ice could diminish the glory of the Great Palace of Царское Село.

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The famous “Amber Room” of Catherine’s Palace.DSC_5004 DSC_5025

This weekend I also had the chance to visit Menshikov’s Palace, which was once the home of the Russian statesman Alexander Menshikov. Despite the allegations of fraud against him, which were brushed under the rug thanks to his close friendship with Peter the Great, Menshikov’s story is that of a peasant who rose to one of the highest positions of power during that time period. This was due to Peter the Great’s decision to have nobility based on merit rather than birthright. While his palace was certainly large and exquisite, it was no where near the extravagance of Peterhof or Yusupov. It was a rather refreshing change to see a more modest palace!



The Kunstkamera Museum (Aka: Peter the Great’s Anthropology and Ethnography Museum) and the Zoological Museum were fascinating! The Zoological Museum housed an actual mummified wooly mammoth calf that had been found in the Yamal region of Siberia, as well as models of almost every living creature that has been discovered so far on this planet. It was massive. 

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Two Minnesotans in their natural habitat. 

The Kunstkamera museum was interesting and…disturbing. Peter the Great was incredibly interested in studying anatomy, something that wasn’t quite popular during that time. The walls of the Kunstkamera were lined with jars of mutated and deformed fetuses that Peter the Great had dissected and observed 300 years ago. After a couple of minutes, I felt a little sick to my stomach…


And, finally, the last museum I had a chance to visit was the massive Russian State Museum. It was a founded in 1895 by Nicholas II and is the largest depository of Russian fine art in St. Petersburg. I thought it was incredibly interesting to see the progression of art in Russia, starting with icon paintings and working our way up to more contemporary art. I was actually so enthralled with the different paintings that I forgot to take pictures! Here are a few of the ones I snapped on my phone:

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This weekend was also the perfect time to explore the city! It snowed a bit, but the nights were rather clear and I was able to snag a few photos along the Neva river and the Moika embankment.


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Canal Griboedova

The Hermitage lit up at night. 


Kunstkamera Museum

It also gave me the perfect opportunity to go and explore inside Спас на крови or “Church on Spilled Blood”, as it is more popularly known. I felt that it would be a huge disappointment to leave Petersburg without having been inside the most well known church! Let me say, it was beautiful. I’ve been in MANY churches while in Russia, but Спас на крови was one of my favorites. The colors were so vibrant, and the holy gates were extravagant but not gaudy.  Take a look for yourself below!

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As I mentioned before, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and we were able to celebrate it in style here in Russia. By the end of the night I was stuffed full of turkey, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, and a sweet potato souffle! While I certainly missed spending time with my family, this was the next best thing. I’m so thankful that I had such wonderful friends to share a traditional American holiday meal with while abroad. It felt as if we had carved out our own little section of America there at Smolny.

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Alright, you guys have waited long enough if you’ve read all the way to here. I’m sure you’re interested in hearing about the most Russian thing I did this past weekend: the Banya. I’ll be honest – I don’t know if I will be able to properly put into words how strange and awesome the Russian banya is, but I will do my absolute best. First, let me start off by saying that I went with my best girl friend on the program, Ryan, and our wonderful Russian friend, Anya. I felt a little better knowing that there would be no problem with the language barrier. It’s hard enough trying to properly formulate a sentence in Russian. Now add being naked.

And I don’t mean kinda naked. I mean as naked as the day you were born. Yeah, so go with people you’re comfortable with.

Because nothing says friendship quite like strippin’ down and beating each other with branches…

As an American, the blatant nakedness was kind of a shock. Sure we were separated from the males, but most Americans are not that open or comfortable with such exposure, and usually attempt a little decency by wrapping themselves in a towel at all times while walking around. Even at the YMCA everybody would turn toward a wall and keep their eyes down while changing. Well, in Russia, you need to get over that awkwardness ASAP because it only gets stranger/more awesome from there.

So after stripping down and wrapping myself in a gown I swear to God, it was a bedsheet…. we then proceeded to the wet sauna, which was about 130-140 degrees, and the air is so thick with moisture that we were quickly  dripping with sweat and condensation. After about 20 minutes, we left that and immediately jumped into the cold pool, which was about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the most shocking sensation to go from such intense heat to such a cold temperature! My muscles felt all loose and relaxed after the first dip, so we went and laid down alongside of the pool for a couple of minutes before prepping ourselves for the most exciting part of the banya: the birch branches.

Now, I had thought the wet sauna was hot, but I had had no idea what was coming. The most famous part of the banya looks like a little wooden cabin, has a humidity of 60-70%, and temperatures that exceed over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. No, you read that right.


If Hell had a travel brochure.

Before we could enter the banya, though, we had to put on these funny wool hats to protect our hair from the intense heat. Then, we grabbed our birch branches and climbed up onto the wooden racks. I felt like a slab of meat put over a grill, it was so warm, and I thought my eyes were melting out of their sockets.

With all this going on, it was pretty easy to forget you were buck naked in a room full of old women and your two friends.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the birch branches, but I have to say that it was rather enjoyable. It was a strange stinging sensations, but it wasn’t painful. Let me say that Anya went to town on my back. The birch branches aren’t used to gently brush your friend’s back, no. These leafy bundles, called venik, are used for the purpose of trying to improve blood circulation, intensifying capillary activities, and improving metabolism. Venik leaves release phytoncides – biologically active substance that kills or depresses the growth and development of pathogens – and the essential oils released prevent aging.

So you beat the living hell out of each other. 


After this, we quickly ran back to the cool pool to shock our bodies one more time. It was as if the outside of our bodies had quickly cooled but the insides remained warm. We did this three more times before finally calling it quits. It was hard to believe that we had spent four hours at the banya. I could have spent the whole day there!

My final review? The banya is wonderful. If you ever visit Russia, make sure you go. Leave your discomfort at the door or else you will miss out on an amazing Russian experience. Plus, my skin felt silky smooth and rejuvenated once I left.

If you haven’t gotten tired of reading this post yet, I will leave you with a few other random thoughts and observations before I finish!

* (Another girl on the program did something similar to this, so I decided to give it a go!) Here’s a little attempt at math for you: My daily commute from my apartment to school and back is about 3 hours. This includes the walk to my bus stop, the bus ride I take to the metro, the 5 minute ride purely on the escalator to go more than 200 ft underground, the metro ride itself, back up the escalator, and then either walking to a shuttle bus and riding that to school or taking the trolley and walking from the bus stop. I make this trek four times a week, but we will round it up to five since I’ll include time spent traveling on weekends (although, I probably spend even more time on the weekend, but for simplicity’s sake we will keep it to five). By the end of this trip I will have been in Russia 105 days. Three hours = 180 minutes x 5 days a week x 15 weeks that I am here in Petersburg. Guess what this equals? 13,500 minutes. Guess what that is in days?


By the time I leave Petersburg I will have spent about 10 days just riding the transportation around the city. It’s no wonder that Russians travel with books in their hands! You can get a lot of reading and work done during that much time!

* Pandora music channel doesn’t exist here. Neither does Netflix. I’m telling you: Get a VKontakte. It will save your life over here.

* A kopek is the worst thing to see in your wallet because it is equal to .03 of a US penny. I didn’t think something so useless could exist, but it does…

* To explain from my list above, shaverma is the shadiest but most delicious food you can find when you’re drunk for cheap in Russia. The problem is that some places aren’t the safest. NEVER eat street food shaverma from the trucks or the little street stands because you’re probably not eating chicken like they’re advertising, and I can almost guarantee that they follow zero health code regulations. ALWAYS buy it from an actual shaverma restaurant. Specifically, the one on the corner of Dumskaya and Lomonosov. It’s magical.


I kid you not. This is safer than street food.

* English gets harder the longer that I am here. I’m either trying to speak more Russian, or I am around Russians who are not always quite fluent in English. I find myself forgetting how to spell certain things that are not in cyrillic, or floundering to find the correct word for translation. Please forgive any grammatical mistakes I make while writing these. (It’s 1:30am here.) Instead of improving at a second language, I now just feel like I suck at two. Ужасно!

* There is nothing worse than the metro during rush hour.

* I’ve lost a fair amount of weight in Russia. Yay for defying statistics!

* While I know I’ve mentioned the chivalrous, sometimes verging on misogynistic, men in Russia, I feel I’ve failed to mention the creepy/aggressive ones that will sometimes harass poor young girls.





So, here is a rather uncomfortable but necessary piece of advice. As creepy as they are, and believe me I know, I cannot stress this enough: Do not engage with them. If a Russian man is harassing you on the street, ignore him.  Put on your coldest, haughtiest Russia face and keep walking.  Do not awknowledge, not even to snear disdainfully at him.  These men are five year olds.  Ignore them and they’ll move on. If you do not, they might follow you home. As much as you might want to, do not smack, flip off, or insult them.  The only thing that might do is make matters escalate, quickly and aggressively. I’m thankful that the one time I couldn’t hold my tongue nothing happened, but it is not a situation you should go on the offensive. Russians don’t fight the same way we do in America. It will hurt, and you will lose.

I hate to leave it on that note, so here is a picture of Jake, myself, and a very kind Russian police officer who rode the marshrutka (a mini shuttle bus) and metro back home with us from Pushkin.


Anyway, I have to go MC a talent show at a nightclub in Russia now. Leave me a comment to let me know your thoughts!


On Excursions, Georgian Cuisine, and Those Holiday Blues

Боже мой! It certainly has been some time since my last blog post. I guess there is a bit of catching up I need to do!

These past couple weeks I’ve had the opportunity to tour some of the most famous historical sites in St. Pete’s. (I know, you’re probably thinking ‘But isn’t all of St. Petersburg pretty much one famous historical museum or monument after another?’ The answer is yes. They seem to have an endless supply of museums, galleries, monuments, and memorials.)

Last weekend I visited the island of Кронштадт (Kronstadt) with some friends. You might remember me mentioning this island in a previous post. It was founded by Peter the Great in 1704 to serve as Russia’s main seaport and Naval base. I was lucky to be given a tour by my Russian friend, Anya, who had grown up on the island and still had family living there! In fact, she not only took us on a complete tour, but she even brought us over to her grandmother’s house where we were served a three course traditional Russian meal! I was so happy and grateful that I hugged her mother. The island itself was actually quite small! We were able to walk from one end to the other in under 45 minutes. I bet we could have even shaved off ten minutes if it weren’t for the 38mph wind!! I managed not to get blown away, but I can’t say the same for my mittens. 😦 I hope they enjoy their new home at the bottom of the Gulf of Finland.


My friend, Emily, drinking her чай after a hearty Russian meal!



St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral at Kronstadt – The 2nd largest church in all of Russia!

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Kronstadt Lighthouse


Nearly blown away!

I also had two excursions with my program in the last two weeks. The first was the State Historical and Memorial Museum of Smolny, which has been occupied by the state government since the 1920s. In this building we were able to see Lenin’s office and living quarters before he moved to Moscow, an exhibition on the building’s history (it began as a school for girls of noble birth), and the famous assembly hall where the victory of the October revolution was proclaimed in 1917.


Lenin’s private quarters



The actual phone used by Trotsky and Lenin during Soviet times. I touched a piece of history, even if it was a rather dark era. 

We also toured the famous Yusupov Palace!! I had been looking forward to this one for a while. For those of you who didn’t know – but, honestly, I have no idea how you would not know this –  I’m a huge bookworm, and every now and then I get addicted to a certain topic where have to read everything there is to know about it. Well, when I was about ten years old, I started reading more about  the Bolshevik uprising, Rasputin, and, of course, the Romanov family’s demise. Part of this was probably due to Don Bluth’s “Anastasia” movie that came out in 1999.


Completely accurate.

Anyway, my fascination with the last royal family has never faded, and I finally had the opportunity to visit the site where the infamous Rasputin was murdered. In case you aren’t as familiar with the story: The Yusupovs were one of the five major noble families of that time (the others being Scherbatovs, Golitsyns, Bobrinskois, and Sheremetevs) and had acquired a vast amount of money and land, making them one of the wealthiest families in all of Russia. Aristocrat Felix Yusupov married Princess Irina Felixovna, the niece to Tsar Nicholas II. The Tsar’s son, Alexei, suffered from hemophilia, which was impossible to cure at that time. The Tsarina had countless doctors see to her son – all of this kept a secret from the public, of course – but none was able to make any difference except a peasant from Siberia named Grigori Rasputin. He was a gifted preacher and hypnotist, and the Tsarina believed that he was essential to relieving her son’s suffering. His “gift” made him a regular visitor of the royal family, and seeing this peasant on such familiar terms with the royals sparked confusion and anger in many of the aristocratic families, many of whom had to wait months just to schedule a meeting with the Tsar. As I said, they had no idea why he was so familiar with the family since Alexei’s condition was known only by the immediate family members and Rasputin. On December 16th, 1916, Felix Yusupov, along with Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, lured the Romanov’s healer to the palace where he was ultimately killed. There are still many questions regarding his death – Why he didn’t initially die from the cyanide poisoning in his tea? Why, when Yusupov shot him, he still did not die? Did he, in fact, die from drowning in the Neva River where they had disposed of his body? Despite these questions, it was quit surreal to stand on the exact spot where Rasputin had fallen after he had been initially shot by Prince Felix Yusupov.

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Rasputin’s Official Death CertificateDSC_4664

The last remaining descendent of Rasputin, his great-great granddaughter, lives in the United States. 

However, even if you’re not a history buff like myself, you would have loved the Yusupov Palace. Much of their private art gallery is now on display in museums across the world, but their  private theater – it was almost like a little Mariinsky Theater – was a sight to behold.

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Another fun activity CIEE offered was a chance to try out my master chef skills in a Georgian cooking class! I, along with eleven other CIEE students, had an absolute blast making khachapuri (it’s like the best cheesy bread you’ll ever have), kharcho (the Russians thought it was a ‘spicy soup’, but they have a rather skewed idea of what spicy is… Best thing I ate, though!), an eggplant/pomegranate spread, and Chakhokhbili (a chicken and tomato dish). I think my roommate will be pleased with the new recipes I picked up to bring home.

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Finishing some khatchapuri!


Our handsome chef, Aleksander


Looks like dog food, tastes like magic. 

Aside from these fun little excursions, I’ve had some time to just enjoy St. Petersburg with friends. It’s frightening to think that my study abroad experience will be coming to a close so soon! There is so much that I still want to see, and so little time to do it! It can be hard to motivate yourself to get outside on days off when you’re hungover, especially with this crappy weather here. I feel like I need to explain just how awful St. Petersburg weather can be. Most of you reading this are from Wisconsin or Minnesota, so you know that winter can be brutal. In fact, I watched the Badger/Minnesota game and the Packer/Vikings game, and I saw it was a nice balmy 15 degrees Fahrenheit (although with windchill it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit). While I pity you suffering under those frigid temperatures, I also saw that the sun was shining that day…

… I hadn’t seen the sun in over 13 days. Today was the first day it has come out. In fact, we went two days without it even being LIGHT out. It looked like this, permanently:


10 a.m. on my way to school…

This isn’t like a “Oh, it’s a bit cloudy and dark out, but I can see that the sun is hiding behind there!” NO. It’s pitch black. It’s disorientating and, frankly, depressing.

Which leads me to my last topic – homesickness. Never thought I’d be the one to get a little homesick, especially since my parents are divorced – meaning I grew up used to only seeing each parent half the week – and I only come home to visit my family a couple times a year anyway when I live in Minneapolis, but whaddaya know! It happened! I think it’s hitting a bit harder now that the holidays are coming up. It all started when I had some free time to clear out old photos from my phone and came across pictures from last Christmas. It got me thinking about Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday) at my grandparents’ houses and how I will be missing both dinners for the second year in a row. I will be thinking about how I will be watching the Lions/Packers game alone instead of with my family. In the back of my mind I also brood over how my Uncle will have complete access to the sweet potatoes, but I’m trying to repress those thoughts…Thankfully, CIEE is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for us students, so I will at least get to celebrate the holiday with my fellow Americans. I think it’s important to admit that it’s happening, though, instead of trying to ignore it. Recognizing it makes it easier to remember that I have so many great things happening here to enjoy first before I can think about my trip home. Trust me when I say that it’s not a crippling pain, like some people have described when going abroad for long periods of time. I like to think of it more like I’m appreciating how lucky I am to be so close with such an amazing family, and realizing just how important spending time with them is over family get togethers like the holidays.

I’m now down to 26 days left here in Petersburg, however, and I will not be spending them moping over the piss-poor weather or my slight pangs for home. December 21st will get there soon enough, and when that time comes I’m sure I will be thinking about how I’m already missing my life back in Russia! Instead, I’ll keep exploring and sharing my adventures with you! I love the comments that you all leave. Taking the time to do so means a lot, since I sometimes feel like I’m just rambling to myself and boring you all.

Всего наилучшего,

Random Observations
1. Manual cars suck. Or perhaps Russians are just not the best drivers. Either way, all forms of vehicles here are manual, and the constant shifting and downshifting of gears in heavy traffic makes me nauseous. 

2. I saw my first rat the other day outside the produkti near my apartment. Honestly, at first, I thought it was a squirrel or a small rabbit.

3. I get a strange sense of satisfaction from cutting Russian women off on the escalators that are going aboveground from the metro. There is a massive wall of people trying to squeeze through this tiny, gated space, and then you get these insert expletive here who try to cut the entire line and squeeze their way in after you’ve waited your turn. OH HELL NAW. I whip my elbows out and send death glares like it’s my job.
— 3a. After going to Western Europe, I’ve realized I’ve picked up some other bad habits regarding metro/transportation ettiquette that I will have to break back in the U.S.

4. Went to a really cool Lights Festival in an area of St. Petersburg my friend Anya lovingly referred to as “the Bronx/Harlem/Brooklyn of St. Petersburg”. (Glad I get to experience every side of Petersburg, I guess?) Anyway, my friends and I saw some sort fire show in the distance and decided to check it out. As we got closer, we noticed this:


10 points to those of you who guessed “flamethrower”

5. Had the opportunity to check out some contemporary art at the Erarta museum. It houses the largest non-governmental contemporary art collection in Russia.



Which, I guess, includes this tapestry of Snoop Dogg/Lion…


And this gem.


I’m sure the deeper meaning to this is hidden just behind the scrotum.


Kiev & Moscow: Be There or Be (Red) Squared

That’s right. It’s travel week for me!! I’m writing to you right now from Warsaw, Poland! (I have a 9-hour overnight layover so I’m curled up on a nice little bench.) In a few hours, I will be flying out to Budapest (Hungary) where I will begin my travel week with my good friend, Camille. We both study Russian together at my university, and I am so excited to see a familiar face from home again. She is an expert traveler, so I know that the two of us will have an amazing time! We’re spending a couple days in Budapest, then taking the train down to Bratislava (Slovakia) for a day, and finally finishing up the rest of the rest of the week in Vienna (Austria).

BUT, that’s not what I’m going to write about now because I just saw two amazing cities these past couple days.

This past Wednesday I flew out of St. Petersburg at the asscrack of dawn early in the morning, and then landed in Kiev that afternoon. We immediately left for a bus tour of the city, where we had the opportunity to see some beautiful churches, barter for souvenirs, and then have some free time to explore the city on our own! Some of you might not know this, but “borscht soup” is originally from the Ukraine, so I immediately went out to find a bowl.


Guess what? It was delicious.

The best part about the Ukraine (besides the ridiculously attractive men) is that everything is dirt cheap. The Ukrainian grivna is about 1/8th of the USD. I had to resist going out and spending all my money there. The next day was pretty rushed since we had to get to our train later that evening that would take us to Moscow, but we managed to see this amazing museum dedicated to the Great Patriotic War during WWII (to be more specific:  1941-1945, when the eastern campaign between the Soviet Union and the Nazis began). We also had the opportunity to visit a monastery and its catacombs, which date back to the 11th century. Truthfully, I felt like we could have spent a couple more days in Kiev. We really were quite rushed, and the people there were so kind that I didn’t want to leave!

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That night we took a 14-hour overnight train from Kiev up to Moscow. Let me just say, riding platzkart (where there are 6 fold out beds in one compartment) was quite a trip, but it was lots of fun since I had great company. Five others along with myself grabbed a compartment and had a great time laughing and telling ghost stories for the first half of the trip. We were stopped at the border to have our passports checked around 1 a.m., which is a very serious affair. I might have to touch on this again in a later post, but Russia  lacks efficiency in many areas. One of them is the amount of paperwork you have to keep on you at all time when traveling abroad, so I triple checked before getting on the train to make sure I had everything in order. I’d rather not be detained by the Russian police in the middle of night nine hours away from Moscow…


Americans taking over platzkart

We pulled into Moscow around 9 a.m. tired, hungry, and rockin’ the worst bedhead I’ve ever had in my life, but everything seemed to be okay because the sun was out. That probably sounded strange to most of you since the sun is pretty much always there, right? Well, the week before we left for Kiev I had not even seen the sun. It just rained. For days. Part of this was due to the storm in Northern Europe sending high winds and even more rain our way, but not seeing the sun is something I’ve grown used to while living in Petersburg. I never realized how much I missed it and how much it perked me up. I think I had an actual bounce in my step for the entire trip. Of course the sun had been out in Kiev, but that had been expected. But in Moscow? It was fantastic. Despite our last day there being a rainy one, those first two days of sun had really made up for it.


Photo Cred: Caroline Wood. I was so jealous of your beautiful view!


From the train station we went immediately to the hotel for some breakfast (hungry college kids are not fun) and then on a bus tour of the city. I can’t stress enough the sheer size of Moscow. Picture New York. Now picture something bigger. Moscow still is probably bigger than whatever it is you imagined because it’s difficult to picture 11 million people in one space. I had mixed feelings about the city, and my friends and I actually ended up using a point system by comparing it to Petersburg. Here are a few of the biggest ones:

MetroSo everyone had been super hyped up about the Moscow metro system, saying that it was the most beautiful one they had ever seen. Perhaps it was because I hadn’t gone around the entire Golden Ring, but I was not that impressed. Yes, I understood they were over seventy years old, but I was not wow-ed the way most tourists were. Perhaps I had been spoiled (or biased) because all of Petersburg’s metro stops seem to be a tad more modern, cleaner, and beautiful. The ride in Moscow seemed much more unstable than in Petersburg. I constantly had to brace myself against the wall or grab a handle to keep from being tossed around In St. P’s, apart from some spots on the purple line, most of the rides are very smooth, and it is very easy to do the “no hands metro dance”. Another fault was that the wait was just a tad longer than in Petersburg, but it was also understandable that Moscow covered a much greater distance. They did gain points for not being so obnoxiously crowded, even on the weekend. Perhaps I just had gone at a good time, but I was impressed with the lack of bodies crushing me against the door.  Still, in the end:

Petersburg: 1                  Moscow: 0

Beauty: Alright, so I might get a lot of hate for this, but we will see… As I’m sure you’ve seen in my pictures, Petersburg is positively gorgeous. Lots of fountains, gold plating, expert craftsmanship, and bright colors. IT’s beautiful, but after some time in can almost be overwhelming. I wouldn’t use gaudy… but I’d say lavish to the degree of being obnoxious. They really had put in a lot of effort to make themselves the Versailles and Venice of the North, which was why Moscow was a refreshing change. The buildings here were not plaited in gold, and 90% of them were not painted bright blue or gold (although, there are a few exceptions). Instead, the beauty came from the imposing sizes of buildings and with seeing how the ancient, tsarist decor and buildings meshed with Soviet ones. The best example of this would probably be in the Red Square – St. Basils, the Kremlin, the State History Museum, GUM (pronounced “goom”), and Lenin’s Mausoleum… it was a crazy blend of the ancient vs the modern times of Russia. However, you’re still able to see the gilded domes and the intricate frescos in Cathedral Square. I’m not saying St. Pete’s isn’t gorgeous! (Because it is. Much more so than Moscow.) I’m saying that it was a nice change. So, despite knowing I might have хлеб thrown at me for this…

Petersburg: 0                   Moscow: 1

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Weather: So this one is pretty obvious. Moscow has sun more often than Petersburg. It also rains a bit less. However, it was COLD AS FACK, and the rain on the last day did not help. Still, going to have to give this one to Moscow. 

Petersburg: 0                  Moscow: 1

The PeopleThis one was difficult because there were plenty of exceptions to both cities. As a whole, though, I’d say that the people in Petersburg as a group might be nicer than in Moscow. It’s just like in New York. People who haven’t grown up in that city and atmosphere usually find them rude, unhelpful, and aggressive. The same goes for Moscow. I’d say that anyone who was older than 25 didn’t really want anything to do with us, and were very impatient with us practicing our Russian. Under 25, though? It was completely different from Petersburg. The students in St. Pete’s usually don’t go out of their way to ask me questions when they realize I’m an American. In fact, they usually ignore me. But in Moscow it was drastically different! Three separate times I ended up joining a group of Russians and talking with them, and all of them were so interested in what I had to say! They were kind, curious, and were patient with my Russian. Props to Moscow on that. (Fun side note: More people seem to know English here than in Petersburg. In fact, usually they automatically switch to English the moment they hear my accent.) Nevertheless, as a whole, Muscovites could be a bit… douchey. So props to Petersburg on their patience!

Petersburg: 1                 Moscow: 0

Some Other Fun Things I Noticed in Moscow

* Instead of tons of flower beds, Moscow has dyed-mulch beds. I don’t mean just have a reddish mulch. I mean TEAL, YELLOW, PINK. It was just silly.
* My hotel came with a complimentary gas mask. I don’t know what to make of this.
* Russia doesn’t have milkshakes. They have flavored milk. It was very shocking to discover this the first time I ordered one in Petersburg, but GUESS WHAT? Thanks to a friend, we managed to find an American-style diner with the closest thing to real milkshakes you will find. I WAS SO EXCITED. Chocolate Peanut Butter Milkshakes with Russian vodka! OMNOMNOMNOM GET IN MAH BELLAYYYY.
* I’ve finally found a place where I know when men are hitting on me. I suppose that’s because they come up to me and go “You’re pretty. I want to know you more.” As most of my friends and family know, that’s pretty much the only way to get the message through my thick skull. It was a real surprise when my friends pointed out that “Let’s hang out more. I will help you improve your Russian.” was, most likely, them dropping a line rather than actually wanting to study together. So, way to go Russia. Ninety percent of the time, you manage to get past the concrete barrier that is my obliviousness.

All in all, the trip was amazing. I just wish we had had more time in both cities! There was so much to do/see and so little time to do it! Anyway, I’ve officially arrived in Budapest. I’m finishing this post in my hostel while Camille is finishing some homework for one of her classes. We are ready to take this section of Europe by storm!!

Thanks again for all the special notes and comments from you all. Love you so much and can’t wait to share the rest of my adventure with you!


Russia: Hot like the love of Stalin, cold like a Siberian prison

^ Legit quote from one of my Russian advisors. Makes me chuckle every time.

I know people have been wondering about the weather here, since November is just around the corner, so here is a brief summary: St. Petersburg (on some days) can seem like the butthole of the planet because we can go 6-8 days without ever seeing the sun. I don’t mean that the sun is hidden behind clouds. No, instead it looks like the sky has been painted completely grey. When it does manage to get off its lazy butt and make an appearance, the sun is only out for about eight hours a day. Usually, it rises around 9sh and disappears around 5 or 6pm.

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The fog is a nice touch in the morning…

But, really, you should all ignore my sarcasm because I am still having a wonderful time here. I only get to be sassy because I’ve been here long enough that the glamour of being abroad has worn off. I’ve now had the chance to get to know “the real Mother Russia”, and her and I have had some ups and downs together. Overall, though, it’s been great.

This past weekend I toured Петропавловская крепость aka:  “Peter and Paul Fortress”. It was incredible! The fortress was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and was meant to be a huge military base for the city. However, once Кронштадт (Kronstdat) was built Petropavlovsk lost most of its military importance. (Kronstadt is the main seaport on the island of Kotlin, and is also the main base for the Russian Baltic Fleet. It was the primary protector of St. Petersburg during wartime due to its strategic location.) Petropavlovsk was still the head of operations for offices and political prisoners, and is  considered to be the original foundation of St. Petersburg. The fortress contains the Peter and Paul Cathedral, which was magnificent to behold up close. The cathedral is the burial place of all Russian tsars from Peter I to Alexander III, with the exception of Peter II and Ivan VI. The remains of the Romanov family were also interred there. Towards the end of 2006, the remains of Dowager Empress Maria Fedarovna, Anastasia Romanov’s grandmother, were brought from Copenhagen, Denmark (where she escaped to after the Bolshevik revolution and remained until her death) back to St. Petersburg so that she could finally rest next to her husband, Alexander III, as per her last wish.







The tomb of Maria Fedarovna, the last person to be buried in the cathedral.


Peter the Great’s tomb and bust.


Memorial room to the Romanov family.

We also had the opportunity to tour the fortress prison, which held many famous political prisoners. Leon Trotsky, the founder and first leader of the Red Army and Soviet politician, was imprisoned here after Stalin had successfully expelled him from the Communist party. After his imprisonment, he was banished from the USSR and moved to Mexico, where he was then assassinated under Stalin’s orders by Ramon Mercader.


I also had the opportunity to watch my first Russian hockey match – СКА vs. Riga! It was so intense! I think I might have to start following hockey, it was that exciting. We had fantastic seats, and it was even more exciting when St. Petersburg won after two overtimes and a shootout.



Unfortunately, on the way to the game, Mother Russia wanted to test my skills and decided to plant a big pothole in my path, cover it with water to disguise it as a puddle, and have 12,300 people swarm around me just to make it extra confusing. The result was that I fell in said pothole, banged my knee up bad enough that I couldn’t walk on it, and had to suffer one of the top ten most embarrassing moments of my life by having my friend carry me all the way to the stadium princess-style. My face had to be as red as a tomato. It was a pretty solid faceplant too. I actually had to miss the Olympic torch passing through Petersburg today because I was unable to do more than hobble around my apartment. I’m icing it and wrapping it, so hopefully it will be better before I leave for Kiev/Moscow and my European tour trip this Wednesday!

Russia: 1       Kayla: 0

Despite missing it, I was able to snag this pic of the torch passing through from another student on the program. (Thanks, Connor!)


Let it be known that the torch did NOT go out in St. Petersburg, unlike in Moscow…

This past Thursday I volunteered at a local animal shelter in Petersburg. It was both heart-warming and heartbreaking all at once. The conditions were quite decent for the size of the building (a five-story warehouse) and the small amount of people working there. According to my host, it is very strange to volunteer at a shelter. Most Russians would not do such a thing. It  broke my heart to see animals left at shelters, especially the lot that were clearly abused. I just wanted to take them all home. I was able to play with both cats and dogs for a few hours, and will be returning after my two week vacation.


Стигма (Stigma), the three-legged dog who lost his limb in a car accident.


Лена (Lena), a sweetie who loved to curl up on my shoulders.

I’ve been trying to keep up with Russian news and current events here and there were two articles that caught my eye that I thought I’d share with you all:

1) A New Strain of HIV is Spreading Rapidly Through Russia – This past Wednesday, new studies have been conducted about a strain of HIV first discovered in 2006 in Novosibirsk, and the results have  found this strand now accounts for 50% of new HIV infections in that region. The number of HIV-positive people living in the Novosibirsk Region has grown from about 2,000 in 2007 up to 15,000 in 2012. Even worse is that this new strain is not limited Siberia. It has also been found in patient lab tests in Chechnya, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, Russia lacks the proper preventative measures to slow this, and the World Bank estimates that by 2020, Russia will lose 20,000 people per month to AIDS.

2) Terrorist Bombing in Volgograd – A female suicide bomber, allegedly the wife of a militant leader, detonated a bomb on a local bus in Volgograd that killed 6 and injured 37 others. Over forty people were on the bus and at least eight are in critical condition, including a 20-month old child. Russia’s Health Ministry indicated that most of the victims in the explosion sustained mine explosive-type wounds, caused by the bus’s paneling and the shattered glass. The bus route was primarily used by students of Volgograd State University and patients at the local Cardio Center. The incident has caused Putin to intensify security at Sochi, just north of the Caucuses, in preparation for the Winter Olympic games.

Heavy stuff, so here is a hilarious .gif of typical Russia to cheer you all up:


Click image for laughs

Last, but not least, I thought I’d leave with some random thoughts I’ve had throughout the week. This might sound like a stream of consciousness, but I hope you’ll bear with me.

* On not being picky with food – I came to Russia with the open-mindedness of trying everything once, even if I normally don’t eat it in the United States. This has served me well because I’ve learned to accept certain flavors just so that I can cut through the sheer amount of dairy that served in every dish here. I grew up in Wisconsin, the dairy state of the US, and let me just say that the amount of dairy Russia consumes in one day is more than Wisconsin produces in a year. It’s insane. So, now I eat tomatoes, meat, beets, and nuts! I also am drinking milk again, as well as mead and ale. The milk is primarily because Russia lacks calcium minerals, and my host says since I don’t take calcium tablets I need to drink it so that my teeth don’t get soft. I understood, but growing accustomed to 2.5% milk was a challenge. I’ve also tried Georgian food and Uzbeki food, just to try some new flavors. They are delicious, and I highly recommend. Russia lacks spicy food (they think it is unhealthy), so I have been ordering anything that has spices in it, even if I have never tried them before. I miss my step-dad’s cooking with all his spice mixtures and marinades. 🙂 Anyway, the food here is really quite tasty, but it has taken some time to grow accustomed to certain things. Mom, I can’t guarantee I’ll eat tomatoes when I return home. I’m still not a huge fan.
Russians are very superstitious. Sometimes it’s cute, sometimes it’s annoying. For example: Never put unmarried women at the corner spot of a table. “In ancient Rus, it was usually the old maids, poor relatives and dependants who took the humblest places at the table—the corner seats. From this developed the idea that if a girl sits at the corner of the table she will not marry for seven years.” I think that’s hilarious in a cute way. However, I have been scolded by babushkas on many an occasion for sitting on stone benches or steps because I am supposedly freezing my ovaries and  contributing to the population crisis in Russia.
Click to see all my sass summed up in one image.
Some others that I hear on a daily basis:
– “If someone sneezes while telling something, it means he or she is telling the truth.”
– “Whistling indoors brings misfortune.”
– “Killing a spider will cause it to rain.”
– “When you have alcohol, it must be drunk until it is gone.”
– “It’s a bad sign to put an empty bottle on the table, always put them on the floor.”
– “It’s a bad sign to give something over a threshold, both people should be either outside or inside.”
– “Hiccups mean someone is thinking about you right now.”
– “If a woman does not wear tights and has bare legs she is most likely a prostitute.” (This is problematic for me because tights are poorly made here and rip often, meaning I have to buy a ton weekly. There is nothing worse than wearing a pair with a run in them and not being able to take them off because you might be asked ‘How much do you cost?’)
* Flowers are a BIG deal here. First off, you can only give an even number of flowers for funerals. Always give odd numbers for any other occasion. Second, the color is very important. Red is considered proper for any occasion but is also seen as a color of passion (depending on the context), while yellow is considered a color of separation or breaking up. Very strange. Tulips are the most popular type of flower to give if you’re dating. Roses, irises, freesia, and lilacs are also popular choices. Truthfully, anyone would be happy to receive any type, so I’ve learned that just giving them is a thoughtful gesture. Especially as a foreigner, you’re not expected to know the context behind all the colors and flower types. Just remember, odd numbers only.
Russian children will walk around by themselves with no adults. It shocks me every time, but I see kids 8 or 9 years old walking around the streets of Petersburg with no supervision. Usually they are returning home from school, and I often see them by themselves on the buses or the trolley. It’s so startling, but that is how it is here.
The weather – Honestly, I’m quite prepared for it. I come from Wisconsin and Minnesota, so I’m used to bitter winds and arctic temperatures. Really, it’s the rain that I cannot stand. Right now the temperature fluctuates from low 20s to low 40s, depending on the days. St. Petersburg has the most bipolar weather I have ever encountered. I’ve left my apartment when it is sunny and about 45 degrees, gone underground on the metro for about twenty minutes, then return aboveground again only to find the temperature has dropped 15 degrees and it’s raining. Piece of advice if you ever visit Petersburg? Always carry an umbrella. Even on sunny days. Anyway, it’s almost time to put away my fall coat! Probably once I return from my travel weeks it will be time to whip out my big parka and the UGGs.
In case you don’t know, I will be leaving this Wednesday for a trip to Kiev, Ukraine and Moscow with my study abroad program. After that, I get a week off to travel on my own, so I will be traveling with a friend from my University back home who is studying abroad in London right now. She and I will be traveling to Budapest (Hungary), Bratislava (Slovakia), and Vienna (Austria) for a week. I’m very excited to share my upcoming adventures with you all! Hopefully my leg will be be better and I won’t have to hobble around Red Square.
С любовью,

“Brothers, love is a teacher; but one must know how to acquire it, for it is hard to acquire, it is dearly bought, it is won slowly by long labor. For we must love not only occasionally, for a moment, but forever. Everyone can love occasionally, even the wicked can.” – Father Zossima, “The Brothers Karamazov”

I live in a fairytale land…

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I mean, just look at it. 

I hope you all aren’t worn out scrolling past photos on my blog, but I really want to show you what it is that I see every day. All the time, I find myself thinking “Wow, Kayla, you’re in Russia right now. Is this anything like you imagined?” Usually, the answer is no. Whether or not it’s because the picture in my imagination just wasn’t grand enough or that I hadn’t expected such beauty to exist here depends on the day and my mood. With these photos, I hope that I am breaking down the stereotypical images that you might have built up about Russia in your own imagination.


Such as this.

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about classes – and I know my family is curious – so I’ll give you a little update on them all! My language classes are going incredibly well. I find my разгавор (conversation) class to be the most helpful because it is two hours of just talking in Russian and it is all about stuff that I use in my daily life. I’ve learned that my textbook from back in the U.S. is actually incredibly outdated, and am considering sending an email to my professors back home to let them know! My host has often corrected me, saying that “Nobody says that anymore!” or “That is a Soviet word!” So yeah, no more referring to that book. My electives are also going well. I just had a test in my США Россия (Comparison of US and Russian Political Culture) class, which I think went well! I think the most challenging class I have is my Russian literature class, mainly because it is entirely in Russian (19th century Russian, no less. Very difficult language.). However, Russian poetry and prose is…indescribable. Just beautiful. I’m not a crazy big fan of Pushkin, but I’ve completely fallen in love with Lermontov’s poetry and Gogol’s stories. The thing about their works is that the Russian version is so descriptive that it can paint a picture in your mind, while the English translation seems oversimplified and falls flat. Let me give you a brief example.

Russian:                                                                                               English:

Выхожу один я на дорогу;                        Lone’s the mist-cloaked road before me lying;

Сквозь туман кремнистый путь блестит;    On and on it winds and draws me far.

Ночь тиха. Пустыня внемлет богу,         Night is still, all earthly sounds are dying;

И звезда с звездою говорит.                             Nature lists to God; star speaks to star. 

В небесах торжественно и чудно!        Clothed in dark is earth and wrapt in slumber,

Спит земля в сияньи голубом…                         and the skies are full of majesty.

Что же мне так больно и так трудно?      Why, then, does reflection, drear and sombre,

Жду ль чего? жалею ли о чём?                          Plague my heart and slay felicity?

Уж не жду от жизни ничего я,                            I await no boons of fate, regretting

И не жаль мне прошлого ничуть;                      not the past, for that is buried deep.

Я ищу свободы и покоя!                                  Ah, to find true freedom, true forgetting

Я б хотел забыться и заснуть!                         in the calm of everlasting sleep.

Но не тем холодным сном могилы…                Yet I dread the cold and clammy fingers

Я б желал навеки так заснуть,                         And the leaden, icy sleep of death.

Чтоб в груди дремали жизни силы,        Would that life within me, dormant, lingered

Чтоб дыша вздымалась тихо грудь;               And I felt its warm and balmy breath;

Чтоб всю ночь, весь день мой слух лелея,   Would that love’s own voice, my ear caressing

Про любовь мне сладкий голос пел,                Night and day sang dulcet song to me,

Надо мной чтоб вечно зеленея                   And an ancient oak, my slumber blessing,

Тёмный дуб склонялся и шумел.                       Swayed above my head eternally.

It is a very nice translation, however, the Russian version has these beautifully descriptive words that the English version isn’t able to translate. Lermontov writes from a cosmic perspective, and his entire third stanza leading into the fourth is read completely different in Russian. Instead, it reads about how he is looking for freedom and peacefulness. He dreams of death but not of real death, as he is afraid of the cold graves. Instead, he dreams of another life filled with love and a beautiful woman’s voice. It shows that he still believes in love’s existence, just that it exists in another realm. That nature is eternal and he wishes to live as a part of it.

Am I the only one who finds that beautiful? I can’t wait to buy a book of his collections and just get lost in it.

Alright, my nerdy inner bookworm is coming out… New topic!

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to go on an excursion around the city to visit important sites during World War II. I think my favorite was the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. It was so vast and there were so many people who had lost their lives there. Between 8 September 1941 and 27 January 1944, the German Nazis and Finnish army surrounded Leningrad in order to starve all of its citizens to death. Over 1,500,000 civilians and soldiers died during the 872 day period. At least 560,000 of them were buried at this cemetery – 490,000 civilians and 70,000 soldiers. Leningrad symbolized the heart of the Communist Revolution as well as Russia’s cultural center (though Russia was then part of the Soviet Union, of course). Hitler planned to destroy all of Leningrad and its people, considering Russians and other Slavic peoples to be “Untermenschen”– subhuman. The Soviet army was completely outnumbered by German forces, so even before the siege was actually enacted, the government began to make preparations. Millions of the nation’s treasures were secretly evacuated from the Hermitage, Russian Museum, and other state museums, knowing that the Nazis planned to steal or destroy everything.

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Citizens were rationed a certain amount of bread per day during the Siege of Leningrad (roughly 10 ounces); pictured below is an actual ration from this time. There was so little food that this bread was made out of anything that was able to be consumed– including carpenter’s glue.


“Here lay Leningraders
Here are citizens – men, women, and children
Next to them, Red Army soldiers.
They defended you, Leningrad
The cradle of the Revolution,
With their lives.
We cannot list their noble names here,
There are so many of them under the eternal protection of granite.
But know this, those who regard these stones:
No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.”

After being here over a month now the “honeymoon period” is drawing to a close and I now find that the culture shock is seeping in subconsciously. Russia is still very different from America (the weather alone, at times, can be quite oppressing) and, despite loving many things about this place, there are times where I find myself being unexplainably annoyed or angry. Nothing happened to me to cause this irritation, and yet that pissed-off attitude burned like a little ball in my chest. It’s only happened twice now, not an every day occurrence, but I figure that this is something I will have to get used to the rest of my stay. I actually got mad the other day with a woman at a ZARA store. Mind you, she was a complete bitch, like, in the worst way. But, yeah, I actually got mad. For those of you who have actually seen me legitimately angry (Mom, Dad, Lori, Grandpa Henry, Jay… Yeah, that’s about it) you know I’m a force to be reckoned with. It took all of my self-control not to let loose on her in the store because a) didn’t want to terrify my new friends b) the clerk was Russian and I knew this was a common attitude. We were foreigners and she took advantage of us. So I swallowed it all down and bit my tongue. In the end, my friend needed to get her host sister involved in order to solve the problem.

So, to counter this, I’m once again writing about the things that have made me smile this week.

1) As I was taking the bus back home, we pulled up at a stop light next to a family in their car. In the backseat was a little boy – couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 years old – and he had his hands and cheek pressed against the window as he looked up at the bus. The two of us made eye contact and he gave me the biggest, toothless, chubby-cheeked grin I have seen the entire time I’ve been in Russia and it just warmed my heart. I really took for granted how nice it is to see people smiling openly in the street back home, and this little tyke not only caused a smile to crack on my face but to full out chuckle on the bus. I didn’t even care that the rest of the ride the people next to me thought I was crazy.

2) Russian children in general usually make me smile. There is something about hearing their basic Russian sentences that just causes me to smile. Perhaps it is because I can understand 90% of what they’re saying, or perhaps it’s just because they remind me of my little brother back home. Miss you, Jack!

3) When I hear English spoken by someone other than the people in CIEE.


This is me.

It’s becoming a rarity, now that tourist season is over, and I swear I will stop walking in the middle of the crowded metro the minute I hear some English. It’s even more exciting when it is American English and not British.

4) The 80s and 90s Classics being played in bars. Smashmouth. The Offspring. Backstreet Boys. Mambo #5 (because, really, who knew the actual artist’s name?). Metallica. Venga Boys. Nirvana. Def Leppard. Yeah, these are our bar jams. And I am so okay with that.

5) This one I am stealing from my friend Ryan’s blog because she worded it perfectly: “When I see a Russian woman stumble in her heels. Russian woman are a different species. They can wear heels that make your feet hurt just by looking at them, but they maintain a straight face and perfect posture. So, as evil as it sounds, when a Russian woman stumbles a little bit in her heels, I feel a little better about myself. I get the same feeling when I see a Russian woman in sneakers or a sweatshirt.” Hear, hear!

6) Russians and their dogs. Not only do most not require leashes because they are so well trained, you see Russians dressing them up and carrying them in purses all the time! And guess who usually carries them? The big stoic Russian men!! Along with flowers for their wives and usually their wife’s purse. Why? Because this is one of those times when Russian gender roles is blatantly obvious. Women should not have to carry such things because they are heavy and us women are apparently too weak to do so. In case you all haven’t had a good laugh in a while, a Russian man offered to carry my backpack because I, Kayla Torrison, looked “too frail” to do so myself.

Think on that for a moment.

7) The man at the bread truck at Primorskaya Metro Stop. He always smiles at me when I order my breakfast bread roll and listens patiently as I try to formulate a new sentence every day to tell him that I hope he has a good day. Thank you, Bread Truck Man. I’ll see you in eight hours.

8) Russian puns.


9) The fact that mullets, denim skirts, pageboy hats, male turtlenecks, and scrunchies are still a thing here. A very popular thing.

10) Russian Parking.

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Because lawlz.

Anyway, last but not least because I promised it from the last post: The Nevsky All-Nighter

Nevsky Prospekt is the main street of St. Petersburg. It is loaded with stores, restaurants, hookah bars, regular bars, themed bars, clubs, museums, galleries, and multiple metro stops. It is one of the best places to spend the night out at as a young adult. Unfortunately, St. Petersburg is a city made up of a bunch of islands connected by bridges and underground metro lines, and these modes of transportation close at midnight and do not reopen again until 4am (for the bridges) or 6am (for the metro). So guess what that means? If you don’t make that last metro you are stranded. Most of the times that isn’t too big of a problem. Bars here are open until 5am, so you only have to wait one hour, right? WELL THAT ONE HOUR SUCKS. It’s 25-30 degrees out, you’re in a little black dress, and you have to wait on a park bench in the dark with your friends until the metro opens. Usually, Drunk Donalds is involved just to kill time. It’s pretty much like the typical Minnesota weather, except you can’t go home for another hour or two and UGGS are not a suitable shoe option. I’m a professional at staying up until the sun comes up (my roomate, Cooper, can testify that I had the worst sleep schedule ever before I left for Russia), but that last hour until the metro opens is the worst. Luckily, there are now people in the hostel (some of the kids in the program do not live with host families and live in the hostel on Nevsky instead) who are willing to share their beds for us poor islanders. Bless them. Really though, the Nevsky All-Nighter is well worth it, at least once. I stayed in last weekend, so I’ll be pulling mine tomorrow.

Hopefully you all managed to make it through another long post. I’ll be going out to see “Swan Lake”, the ballet, tomorrow night. Saturday I have plans to go to the suburbs to see Tsarskoe Celo (Catherine’s Palace) in the town of Pushkin, head to my advisor’s concert, and then see the EPIC movie “Stalingrad” that is playing in theaters here. Watch it and love it:

Я желаю вам успеха, товарищи!

– Kay

P.S. Abbie, to answer your question: Yes there are a lot of good looking men here. 🙂

P.P.S. For those of you who might have missed it, be sure to check out my tumblr link for fun little sarcastic comments I make throughout the week. The link is along the header.

“Because it’s Russia”

So can you believe  I’ve been in Russia for about a month now? Time is whipping by so fast. I have to admit that, despite absolutely loving living here, there are some pretty bizarre things I have witnessed here. Whenever I ask a Russian “Why is this happening?” or “That’s allowed here?” or the usual “WTF?!” I always get the same response:

This is Russia.

Let me give you an example. This here is a cartoon my host said she watched when she was about 9 or 10 years old.


‘Happy Tree Friends’

It’s an American cartoon, but Lord knows I’ve never seen it on any television in the States. At least not that young. But this is Russia.

Another instance was when I was walking down Nevsky Prospekt around midnight and a horse just went galloping by down the sidewalk next to me. I just stared for a moment before asking my sobesdnik partner “WTF was that about?!” She just laughed and said, “It’s Russia!

I’ve also asked, “Why does Russia have some strange obsession with having crazy artwork on their cars?”

PicMonkey Collage decals

And, “Why is there this portrait of Snoop Dogg/Lion in an art gallery?”


“Does anyone ever follow the rules of the road?”

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I can’t even make this up.

I can speak about this from experience. If I can give one word of advice to foreign travelers it is to NEVER RENT A CAR TO DRIVE AROUND RUSSIA. There are lines on the road, but I have yet to see anyone follow them. If there is a space for you to put your car, then a Russian will put it there. That lane to the left of you? If it’s open, use it. Doesn’t matter if there is another car coming directly at you because he can just use that line of gravel on the side of the road.


This was taken on our ride back from Vyborg.

And don’t even get me started on Russian traffic jams. They’re so terrible you could probably get out of your car, walk to the nearest coffee shop, sit down, have a cup, and come back to your car only to find that traffic still hasn’t moved.


Moral of the story? Don’t drive in Russia. Take the city transportation.

The response to all of these seems to be, “It’s Russia…” So, for now, I think I’m just going to roll with it. I’m actually contemplating of keeping a list of all the moments that make me feel as if I’ve entered the Twilight Zone.

That aside, I’ve had a lot of wonderful excursions these past couple days. I was fortunate enough to be invited with some friends to travel to a suburb outside of St. Petersburg called Vyborg (Выборг) where I was able to see buildings from the 13th century and to go hiking for a few hours out in the countryside. St. Petersburg in autumn truly looks like a fairytale land.

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I also spent an afternoon with a friend wandering around St. Petersburg. We decided to go up to the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in the colonnade, which has the most spectacular view of the city.

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I also was FINALLY able to take a trip to the Hermitage, and let me just say that there is not a single room in that place that isn’t dripping with lavish jewels, precious metals, and expensive paintings. The feeling is indescribable. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has the largest collection of paintings in the entire world. The entire museum is comprised of SIX buildings along the embankment but only four are partially open to the public. The collections (which are only a small portion of the museum) contain over 3 million items. I have heard that if you were to spend only a minute looking at each item in the exhibit, it would take you over two weeks to see it all. I have to agree with this. I spent four hours there and felt as if I had barely scraped the surface. The building itself is almost more beautiful than the exhibits inside!!

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Finally, let’s get to Kayla’s newest section of her blog titled: Things I Took for Granted Back in America
1. Dryers. I even miss my crappy dryer in my apartment that would only partially dry my clothes. Here there are none. And it rains all the time so you can’t hang them outside. This is a dilemma.

2. Campus Priced Drinks. Most of you know I drink Long Islands like they are water. Well, here they cost $10. My wallet cannot afford that so i’ve now grown accustomed to beer, mead, and ale. За здоровье, ya’ll!

3. Not having to struggle with the shower for five minutes every morning. I swear, there is  one specific spot both nozzles have to be turned to for the shower not to be either scalding hot or bitterly cold. I have yet to find that spot.

4. Halloween Decor/ Autumn in the Midwest – Autumn in SPb is beautiful, but so far there are no signs of pumpkins, Halloween decor, pumpkin flavored things, corn mazes, or apple cider stands. I’ve received mixed reviews about whether or not Russians celebrate Halloween. Too bad I’m going to be in the Ukraine over the holiday, so I will have no way of knowing for sure. 😦

5. Bagels. Seriously, where are they here? Who the heck doesn’t eat BAGELS?

6. Bars being in close proximity to my home. I’ll save an explanation for this one in my next post.

I had more that I wanted to write, but I have to leave for the ballet in a half hour and I’m not even close to being ready. That just means you’ll have to wait for the next post!! 🙂 Thanks again for all the comments you leave. Makes me feel like I’m talking to you all about this back home.

Hugs and Kisses,

Иногда один день, проведенный в других местах…

…дает больше, чем десят лет жизни дома.

Sometimes one day spent in another place is worth more than ten years at home. 

Well, here it is! Another blog post about my shenanigans in Mother Russia. It’s been rather busy since I last posted. This past Monday was very exciting because I went to my first Собеседники (Sobesednicki) mixer!

I’m sure I’m drawing blank stares at that.

Basically, the Sobesednicki mixer was a chance for us American students to meet and chat with multiple Russian university students. There was about thirty of us total, and we met at a bar near one of the most popular areas in the city. The mixer was set up very much like speed dating. We had five minutes with each Russian student where we could get to know each other and see if we connected with anyone. At the end of the night, we picked our top three choices of whom we’d like to be partnered up with. I was so lucky to get partnered up with a girl I really enjoyed talking to! Her name is Anastasia (Nastya) and we will be setting up a time to get together this week where we can talk in both Russian and English so that both of us can practice our language skills. I’m very excited! More news on that to come!

The other day some friends from the program and I decided to be adventurous and try bear meat at a restaurant. Yes, you read that right. Bear meat. Let me just say, it was probably the most tender and delicious meat I have ever had. Almost everyone knows I’m not big on eating a lot of meat, but that bear could probably turn a vegetarian into a carnivore. It was that good.


Random Observations About Russia
1. Russian’s love yorkies and daschhunds. I swear, everybody and their mother has one here…
2. It is so humid here and my hair is just not having it. Most of you know I’m pretty savvy when it comes to hair styling, but I don’t even bother here because if the humidity doesn’t ruin it in the first two minutes then the metro surely will.
3. If you’re ever in St. Petersburg and you see an exclamation mark (!) sticker on the back of a car STAY AWAY FROM IT. It’s not like it’s going to blow up or anything, but these are stickers that the driver WILLINGLY puts on the car to warn other drivers that they are terrible drivers. One sticker = I kinda suck. I probably don’t check my blindspot and I may not break fast enough to avoid rear-ending you. Two stickers = A dog or a child could probably drive better than me.
4. The longer I have lived in Russia, the stronger I take my tea.
5. Russian alcohol is much stronger than booze in the U.S. In fact, they have a numerical system for their Baltika beer. One is pretty much non-alcoholic while nine is almost undrinkable, it is so strong. I still can’t do beer here, but I have found one fermented drink that I enjoy…



I think the most important think I have realized since arriving here is that people are people, no matter where you go. I know that some Americans have this image in their mind of what all Russian people are like, what with the media and horror stories from Soviet times. There is a lot of negative press about Russian people in the US. But the same holds true for a Russian’s stereotypical idea of us Americans – fat, lazy, stupid, etc. While we can admit there are some people in the States who are all of these things, we know for a fact that this is not our entire population. I came to Russia having heard terrible stories of corruption, violence, poverty, pessimism, and rudeness, and I am sure that there are some people out there who do possess these negative attributes.

But I have yet to meet one.

Perhaps the best way to explain my thoughts is this: One of my favorite parts of the day is when I pop my earbuds in and peoplewatch as I travel to and from school. St. Petersburg, while it is a big city (5 million people), it isn’t this scary “Gotham City” image the way that some people had described it. It has skyscrapers, shopping malls, McDonalds, playgrounds, and dogparks. Sure, they might have the greatest collection of historical buildings I have ever seen, but asphalt is asphalt and water is water just like any other place in the world. The people, too, are just like any other people who you might see in the United States. They all wear the same clothes (well, they’re much more fashionable here, but still…). They all have their morning coffee and read the newspaper on the metro. They all complain about the prices of groceries going up. And guess what? All of them have been so kind to me. They’re polite, chivalrous, and willing to help you if you at least make an effort to try to converse in Russian. Many Russians forget any English they have learned after tourist season, so even if your grammar is poor they can piece together what you are trying to say. Sometimes, you don’t need to be fluent in order to communicate. Hand gestures and facial expressions go a long way when you’re trying to explain yourself.

I wish I could explain what I’m trying to say better, but sometimes it is hard to put feelings into words. How do you describe the feeling of watching sunsets in St. Petersburg? How can you explain the smile that unconsciously spreads across your face when you offer your seat to an elderly babushka and see her look of gratitude? Like I’ve said before, it’s the simple things that make me smile. Whether it was correctly asking a babushka for directions or kicking a soccer ball around for a minute or two with some children, I am slowly beginning to feel right at home.

Tonight we will be venturing out to hit up some bars. I was sick all last week so this will be my first time going out with the group at night. I promise, I will be safe. Hopefully, I will be able to update again this Sunday about my weekend!

С любовью,

 “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou