Friday, August 29, 2008

Host Family and School Stuff

Today (Wednesday evening) I met Galina’s daughter, Olya, son-in-law, Zhenya, and grandson, Artyom (Tyomich). They are all simply delightful! Olya works out a lot and is in really good shape (as in, bulging triceps and abs you can see through her shirt. damn!), so next time I see her I’m going to hit her up for fitness vocabulary. Zhenya was really great about making conversation with me, and is convinced that Iowa is famous for something other than corn, soybeans, and hogs. And insurance companies in Des Moines (I learned the word for headquarters!). It’s news to me, so as soon as he remembers what else we’re famous for, I’ll be happy to pass it on to you.

Artyom is pretty much awesome. He’s almost twelve and will be starting 5th grade on Monday. I think he was flirting with me a little bit, or at least trying to impress me, because Galina said after they left that he’s usually not so energetic and rabbity. As soon as he’d decided that I understand Russian pretty well, he was off talking a mile a minute, and found it utterly hilarious every time I didn’t know some word or another, or when I completely fell off the speeding language train. At one point he was telling a story and said the word for “duck,” but he was talking so fast that I didn’t hear it. When I asked him, “wait, what was swimming/sailing in the river?” he said, “you know, a duck. A duck! That thing with the wings that quacks that swims in the river and quacks and goes like this….” on and on. Then he found it funny to explain in minute detail lots of common words, like “hill” or “green.” The kid’s a riot, seriously.

Generally speaking Olya’s family speaks pretty quickly, but I pick up on most of what they say. With a little more training for my ear (i.e. hopefully within the next month or so) I’ll be able to mostly quit saying “What? What? I didn’t hear you.”

In other home-stay news, our water heater died on Monday (boo), so we’ve been without hot water for a couple days. The mechanic (plumber? electrician? who does water heaters?) came today and said that it had died completely (what? You mean this 50-year-old gas heater won’t last forever?), so I came home to a brand new kolonka! It’s swank. I’ll post a picture if I remember. Too bad, really, that I didn’t take a picture of the old one for comparison’s sake.
Also, the renovation work on my room should be finished tomorrow or Friday, so I’ll hopefully be able to move into my permanent room over the weekend, and Galya will get her living room back.

Kennon and I found a great little Georgian cafe today, a little on the pricy side if you’re just going for tea or coffee, but it’s close to school. I’m so there for Ajara-style khachapuri!

Today we got our group assignments and our schedule for next week. My week starts with phonetics. Joy. Don’t get me wrong, I love phonetics, they’re really necessary and helpful, and I want to sound Russian when I talk, but dang, first thing Monday morning? In addition to our core classes, which include phonetics, literature, grammar, speech practice, writing, and daily work with tutors, we will each be auditing a regular university class – as in with Russian classmates and teachers lecturing in Russian on specific topics. I’m really excited about picking a class, although I’m a bit nervous about my ability to follow lectures, especially if there’s a lot of specialized vocabulary. But what a great learning opportunity! We don’t even have the full list of classes we can take yet, but so far I really have my eye on “Conflicts in International Relations;” I’m interested to see if the professor will mention anything about the war in Georgia. However, I’m also interested in “Ethnoconflict,” “The Social and Economic History of Russia,” “Social Movement and Political Ideas,” and “Russian Foreign Policy.” And those are just from among the classes available from the history and philosophy departments! We’ll be getting a list from the philology department soon, but those will mostly be literature classes, and I think for once I’m going to give literature a rest. We’ll have a lit class in our core sections, and I’d like to do some exploring outside my usual field of study.

Thus, my weekly schedule for the fall semester is starting to take shape. I’ll be in class 9:30-2:20 every day. Once a week I’ll have my audit course for one and a half or three hours (why is it that my top choice class is a three hour one? boo that.). I’m hoping to fill in some more time in the evening at the gym; I have my eye on a few different classes, but I still haven’t gone to ask for info about cost yet. I’ll also have my internship, which, although it doesn’t start officially until January, I’ll probably start working at in the fall. Between all those activities and having a social life, being in Petersburg is going to resemble life in the US in many ways. At least I’ll be busy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Mailing Address

This address is for letters only. I'm still working on getting information about packages. For now, please don't send me packages. It could cost me a lot of money to get it from the post office.

If it's possible for you to print the address on a label or something in Russian (rather than English), your letter is more likely to reach me.

I'll post these addresses in the sidebar of this blog as soon as I figure out how to do that.

The Special Department of Philology
St. Petersburg – 199034
Nab. Leitenanta Shmidta, Bld. 11/2, Office 307
Allison Rockwell

Специальный филологический факультет
Санкт-Петербург – 199034
Наб. Лейтенанта Шмидта, д. 11/2, Оф. 307
Эллисон Рокуэлл

Little moments that maybe no one else will appreciate, but oh well.

1. My host mom has a steamer for cooking. As in, for two days straight, I’ve eaten vegetables that hadn’t been touched by oil. I think Galina Anatolievna was sent by god.

2. I took another oral exam today (Tuesday). I’m pretty sure I sounded like a two-year-old. As soon as I got out of the testing room, I sounded normal again. Will I ever be able to show how well I can actually speak on one of those tests?

3. Sore calves from high heels are better than quarter-sized blisters from flats that rub the wrong way.

4. One of the joys of living in a new place is figuring out the best way to walk to various high-frequency locations like, for example, school. I have most of the route pretty well down, but the bit at the beginning, getting from my house to Tuchkov Bridge has, for some reason, proven problematic time and again. I can walk along the main road, but it’s pretty busy, and the exhaust fumes are choking. Clever me, I decided to walk along a much less busy parallel road today. Guess what I discovered? The less-busy road is also less well-drained, and it rained a lot this morning. But for the kindness of the four or five cars that sped around the lakes in the road instead of through them, I would have been completely covered in dirty street water before I even got a quarter of the way to school. So, on rainy days, I’m sticking with the choking fumes.

5. A little wisdom from Galina Anatolievna for you: stewed blueberries are good for your eyesight (whether or not this is true, stewed blueberries are yummy, and have the added benefit of turning your teeth and tongue blue), and if you don’t eat before going to bed, you’ll have nightmares.

6. Filtering and boiling water doesn’t make it taste any better. That’s why Russians drink tea instead of plain water. A lot of Piter’s water problems stem from the fact that most of the pipes in the city are really ancient and made of lead and other delicious heavy metals like that. However, a huge project to replace all the old pipes is being undertaken even as I write, so hopefully at least some of the water problems will be solved within the next few years.

7. Galina and I watched the Russian version of CSI this evening. It’s called FES, Federal something something. I’ve already forgotten the acronym. This morning we watched an old episode of Daddy’s Girls (Папины дочки). The dialogue in that show is horribly stilted and poorly acted, but it still makes me laugh. In general, if Galina’s home, the TV in the kitchen is on, even if she’s sitting in front of it reading a book. It was like that at my old host family’s too, but here our kitchen is about the size of a large closet, so I find the TV a bit overwhelming. However, it is a good springboard for conversation, which is always a good thing.

8. Speaking of conversation, I’ve noticed the past few days that even though I know Russian about a million times better than I did upon my first arrival in Piter, I am still shy or nervous in situations that should already be fairly easy. For example, I’ve been putting off getting more info about joining a gym. I know my language is sufficient for such activities, but some part of me has gone back to the place I was at when I didn’t know anything and was scared of everything. Probably the best cure for this is to just quit being nervous and try stuff out. I’m sure if I go to the gym tomorrow, it won’t be nearly as scary as I’ve made it out to be in my head. Just like buying a cell phone went seamlessly yesterday (“Yeah, gimme that one. The cheapest one in the shop”). Galina again has come to my rescue – to give me a nudge towards the gym, she stopped by herself today (without me asking), and got the schedule for the aerobics and aquatics classes. Looking over the list has gotten me excited to find out more, so I’ll probably head on over there after our written test tomorrow.

9. The special department of philology at St. Petersburg State has significantly better-maintained restrooms than Herzen had. I'm talking toilet paper, soap, AND paper towels. Sure, there are still no toilet seats and it smells funny, but otherwise it's almost like heaven.

I think 9 points is sufficient for one fairly random blog entry. Good night and good luck!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


It appears that, at least initially, I’m going to be doing quite a bit of comparing my first Russia experience with my second. Mostly it is just fascinating for me to see how my perspective has changed in three years and how I’ve grown up since then. I hope that such observations will also be of interest to you, because they’re going to show up in this blog.

When I arrived in St. Petersburg in 2005, everyone I saw around me was Russian. Their faces were Russian, their hairstyles and clothes were Russian, and their shoes were definitely Russian. By comparison I felt painfully American—or at least foreign. Even by the end of the program in May, when I had gotten pretty good at stringing Russian words together into a sentence, I was sure that anyone could peg me right away as a foreigner based on how I looked. I didn’t have the right shoes or clothes, and I’m proud to be mullet-free since 1984. The feeling of always being foreign is a really uncomfortable position to be in when you live somewhere. If you’re just being a tourist, it’s not so bad – you know you’re only going to be somewhere a few days, and the locals don’t expect you to blend in completely. So even though I didn’t even want to leave in May of 2006 because I’d gotten so comfortable in Piter, I had (and have) great friends here, and my language gains were coming along strong, nevertheless, the feeling of being foreign never completely left me.

I’ve only been in Piter a few days, but already I have a much different outlook on the people around me. I look around me now and I see people – just plain old people. Some of them are Russian, but many are Caucasian, Central Asian, Tatar, Korean, and even American. The mullets still abound, as do interesting clothes combinations and impossibly tall spike heels, but for some reason this no longer screams RUSSIAN!!! to me. Part of this shift in attitude, I’m sure, is that I had a much better idea of what to expect this time around, and I did come more prepared to blend in (I’ve been sporting pointy shoes [and have the blisters to prove it], makeup, and my shiny silver purse). Part of it is having prior knowledge of the best way to react in various situations – although in some cases I’ve needed reminding. Part of it is already having the ability to understand most of what comes out of people’s mouths. But it’s more than just how I dress or interact with people – I could be doing all of that “right” and still have that feeling of foreignness.

I think the difference this time around is in my goals: this year, I am committed to becoming a part of Petersburg. This is my city too, and it no longer matters where I’m from initially. So what if people know I’m an American? That doesn’t change the fact that I’m here to be a part of Piter for 9 months. Sure, I’m not trying to stick out, but I no longer walk around feeling like there’s a great neon arrow pointing at me with the word “American” flashing in red, white, and blue. I am just one of many people sticking it out in this great northern city.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I am writing this blog on my third day in Russia, Sunday. Let’s see if I can think all the way back to Thursday to fill you all in on my experiences so far.

We were scheduled to fly out of DC at 5:23 PM on Thursday. After all 303 passengers had boarded, we just sat there for a long time. Then they told us all to disembark – there was a problem with the water system on board; we were going to have to wait for them to bring another plane. So we sat in Dulles for another few hours, finally flying out around 10 PM. Some passengers were grumbling, but I was actually not too upset about the whole thing. The airline did a pretty good job keeping us informed about what was going on and worked hard to rebook everyone’s Frankfurt connections.

As we were preparing to leave at 5:23, I was on the verge of a panic attack – I couldn’t breathe, I was shaking, and I wanted to cry. I don’t know why; it’s not like I haven’t been to Russia before. I didn’t have a strong feeling of wanting to return to Iowa City, it was more like knowing that I’d be away from home for so long, knowing that I’d chosen to put myself into an unfamiliar and uncomfortable environment again for 9 months. Somehow, the delayed flight snapped me out of it, and I was fine when we left at 10 – mostly just relieved, in fact, that we weren’t just sitting in the airport anymore.

Once we finally got out of DC, the flight and our connection in Frankfurt was uneventful. We arrived in Piter about 6:30 PM local time on Friday and piled into a minibus with all of our luggage (that was a game of Tetris if I ever saw one). There are thirteen of us in the Flagship program, and we live all over town. The bus slowly worked its way from the south side of the city to the north. I was the fifth to be dropped off at my host mom’s apartment, and I sat in that bus for two and a half hours. Yikes. Katie was the last to be dropped off; she got in at 11:30.

One nice thing about being on the bus, however, was seeing some familiar (and some unfamiliar) parts of the city again. In the familiar parts of town, it was both cool and weird to know where I was already. It has been three years since I last arrived in this town, and I remember the feeling I had of having absolutely no way to orient myself to where I was. This time it was comforting and exciting to see a Coffee House on every corner (the Russian version of Starbucks, and possibly my internet lifesaver), the same old “Skins and Furs” stores (ick :P), tiny grocery stores tucked into closet-sized spaces on the first floors of tall apartment buildings, nifty new Toyotas driving alongside 30-year-old Ladas belching half-burned fuel fumes. Speaking of which – the smells of this city have come back to me instantly, particularly the car exhaust smell, the courtyard archway smell (anyone been in Petersburg? You know what I’m talking about.), and the metro smell. As choking and potentially life-shortening as they can be, they make me happy. I’m in Petersburg!!

My host mom, Galina, is very sweet. It’s just me and her in a fairly sizable apartment (3 rooms, plus kitchen and bath). She doesn’t force me to overeat (as in, she lets me take as much as I want of food, and asks if I want more, but doesn’t put it on my plate without asking), which I greatly appreciate – she’s been hosting American women for a while now, and I think she understands how we eat. So far our conversation has been a little stilted, but I think we’ll get more comfortable with each other as time goes on. Right away I noticed that I have a hard time understanding the first part of almost all her sentences, so either she’s mumbling or I’m deaf. Even though it’s uncomfortable now to have to ask her to repeat herself all the time, I know that with practice I’ll start to understand her all the time, particularly as my listening comprehension overall increases.

Speaking of listening comprehension, being back in Petersburg has reminded me of the one type of language practice I haven’t been getting in the last three years – natural situations! I have tons of classroom practice, and lots of media practice (radio, TV, etc), but I haven’t spent much time talking (not writing, but talking) with Russians who aren’t teachers. It’s really funny to me that I now understand TV better than real people – when I started studying Russian, for at least the first two or three years, TV was a great mystery. Now I’ve spent so much time with TV and radio as my best and most available source of native Russian that I forgot that people don’t talk like TV. Thus, yesterday, when I went to The Teaspoon, my favorite blini joint in town (which, by the way, has removed my two favorite blinis from the menu! Grr…), I completely goofed up my order, since I couldn’t understand a word the bored teenager behind the counter was asking me. Those kinds of situations will become automated very quickly – now that I remember what they ask me (What can I get you? Do you want any additional sauces with that? Anything else?) I won’t sound so stupid next time. Funny, they asked the exact same questions three years ago, but I forgot right away once I left.

So, back to my host mom. She has one daughter, Olga, who got her degree in biology specializing in plants (this girl’s for you, Jenn!). Olga is married and has a son. I haven’t met them yet, but I’m sure I will once I get more settled in. Galina has done some traveling with her family, and I’m looking forward to having a great photo exchange with her at some point soon (only all my pictures are on the computer).

My room, I’m sure, will be lovely, but thus far I’m sleeping in the living room, as my room is under renovation. Apparently they were supposed to replace the radiators and pipes in there in May, but didn’t get to it till August (a somewhat typical occurrence in Russia), so it’s not livable yet. Galina says it should be ready by the end of the week, and I’m really hoping she’s right, but I’m a little doubtful. It’s a bit of a bummer for me, actually, because more than anything I was looking forward to getting unpacked and settled in. I really don’t like living out of my suitcases. But, since there’s nothing I can do about it, I’m managing the best I can.

Overall, I’ve got a great location on the south end of Petrograd Side, practically on the river. I’m about a 40 minute walk from school, which is about as far as I had to walk last time I lived here, so I’ll probably be hoofing it to school most of the time. Where I live is still considered the center, although I’m not quite as downtown as I was when I lived on Marata Street. Local attractions include the Petrovsky football stadium, where the beloved Petersburg team, Zenit, plays during soccer season, and the Tuchkov Bridge, over which I will be hiking to school every day (winter winds on the river? Perhaps a good day to take the bus). I hear tale that there’s several gyms in my vicinity, so sometime soon I’ll be scoping those out and hopefully joining one to keep fit while enjoying Russia’s love for butter.

Things I’d forgotten about but am now remembering:

• Mullets. I hadn’t actually forgotten about these, but it’s a little funny to see them everywhere in real life again. Particularly surprising: mullets on children in commercials.
• You don’t hand your money to the cashier, you put it in the little tray.
• I think I’m smiling too much on the street, even when I’m with friends and it’s more okay to smile. Also, even though we’re talking in Russian, I think we’re too loud.
• My host mom calls me a polar bear because I went out yesterday in a skirt and short sleeves when it was only +18 Celsius. Most Russians I saw had jackets on. She says that many of her students have been polar bears, but I’m actually one, because I’m white, and her last girl was Indian. Yikes.
• Lots of oil in fried vegetables. I mean lots. I mean, my plate was orange when I was done eating.
• Don’t swallow the water when you’re brushing your teeth. Spit that ghiarrdia right out, young lady!
• On the tap: cold water on the left, hot on the right.
• In order to get hot water, first turn on the tap, then turn up the gas in the water heater. To avoid double-heating the water for next time, turn the gas off first, then the tap. Between these steps the water should keep running, even if you’re not using it.
• Medieval-looking skeleton keys for the double-layered doors into the apartment.

Class doesn’t start for us until September 1, the traditional first day of school in Russia. Thank god, because I’m way jet lagged. I feel sluggish and weird all the time, sometimes even woozy or nauseous, and I can tell it’s just because my body thinks I should be sleeping and I’m not. Last night I started to get a headache right around 5 PM – that’s 9 AM eastern: I’m late for my morning coffee. As I write this, it’s 3 AM at home, and I really want to sleep, but it’s noon here, and I just got up three hours ago after sleeping for nine hours! I know these first few days are going to be the hardest, and by the time school starts I should be fairly well adjusted to my new schedule, but for now, it sucks.

You know what else sucks: having no cell phone and no internet. I know, I know, just a few years ago no one had those things, but I’m very used to them, and I feel really disconnected without them. I can’t even call my Russian friends because I didn’t think ahead to write down their numbers from my email before I left the US. I’ll have a cell phone soon, but getting one requires a registered passport, and we are thus far unregistered – and will remain so for about a month, as registration is a complex process, apparently. Hopefully Galina will help me buy a SIM card with her passport. As far as internet goes, I think I can buy internet cards that will let me get online using the phone line, which will at least be something, even if very slow, and even if only at night, when no one else will need the phone.

Okay, if you made it all the way through this, I applaud you. For lack of a smoother transition to the end of a three-page blog entry, I’m just going to stop writing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Last night in America

Well, folks, this is it. Less than 24 hours from now I'll be on a plane out of America, and I won't be back for at least 9 months. People keep asking me if I'm excited, or nervous, or a variety of other emotions, but honestly, at the moment, I'm pretty numb about the whole thing. It's like I've been planning on this for so long, that I can't really believe that it's happening finally. Also, since I've been to Petersburg before, I don't feel the terror of stepping into the unknown that I felt before I left in 2005.

There are 13 of us going on this trip, and we're about evenly split between girls and guys. Everyone seems very nice so far, and we come from a variety of backgrounds and interests, so I think we'll be able to learn a lot from each other. Even though everyone seems great, I've been uncharacteristically shy the past couple of days. Perhaps my silence is a mark of the stress I don't feel like I'm feeling.

Our orientation has been not as bad as I thought it would be. We've had it separate from the main ACTR group, which has been nice, because the information has been more tailored to advanced learners of Russian and for people who have a lot of experience living and traveling abroad. That said, I've about died of boredom each of the past two days, not because the information being provided was not useful or interesting, but because you can't sit for 8 hours like that and still be as excited by the end as you were at the beginning. Or at least I can't. They've done their best to scare the crap out of us with the health and safety talk, but having already lived in Petersburg, I know they're just giving the worst-case scenario for everything we might encounter. Life in Petersburg is going to be fine.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Dad and I did some of the typical touristy things in DC yesterday, including a trip to see the Lincoln Memorial:

We also walked through the Vietnam memorial. Looking at all those names on that wall made me want to cry, even though I don't know any of them personally. It's just so many boys. And for what?

Dad and I also hit up the Smithsonian Museum of Modern Art, which had some good stuff, and a couple sculpture gardens. I really liked this one: it's a triangle, two sides of which are two-way mirror, and the third side that wooden lattice thing. The pictures turned out kind of cool:

If you'd like to see more pictures from our touristing adventures, click here.

Dad dropped me off at the Embassy Suites this morning and headed back to Texas. I'm gonna miss him! Now I'm just chilling in my suite for a few hours, waiting for my oral exam time this afternoon. Our meeting begins this evening with dinner, and for the next couple days I'm going to be swamped with tests (the same ones I took two weeks ago, blargh!), lectures about culture shock, etc.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Everybody got crabs....

..... and ate them. :D

"Here's lookin' at you, kid"

I have safely arrived in DC after a tough goodbye with Kerry and Stephanie. Dad and I are spending the night at the home of his cousin Steve and his wife, Betty. I think I met them when I was a little kid, but I don't remember them at all. They are the nicest people ever! Steve has a smile like Robin Williams but definitely the nose of a Rockwell. And they make their own wine! I tried some - it was fantastic. They have lots of great stories to tell, including about family members, which is always interesting for me to hear. Also, as documented above, I ate crab for the first time ever in my life, including all of the tearing off of limbs and busting open of shells. Part of me was simply enjoying the tasty food, while another part, which I kept trying to shush, was mortified and slightly nauseated at the whole process. My fingers seem to have acquired a non-washing-off fish smell.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Kerry, Sasha, and I had a pretty lazy day. Sasha and I got up before eight to see our teachers off. I can't believe how much crap they have to cart back to Petersburg. We spent the day watching the Russian mini-series Esenin, napping (Kerry), reading Russian Cosmo (Sasha), and chatting with Georgians online (me). In the afternoon, we drove over to the Otter Creek Brewery for the free tour and beer samples.

Me and Kerry sport some classy safety glasses:

Sasha with her very first beer ever and the otter:
Kerry with a small, small sausage, me with a small, small beer, and an otter:
After the brewery tour Kerry and I went to dinner at Fire and Ice, where we enjoyed the Salad Ballroom and the kitchy interior. One beer run later, we were back at the dorm, where I bit the bullet and finished packing. Amazingly, everything seems to fit in my suitcase better than it did the first time around. We'll be eating breakfast at an as-yet undetermined eatery, and then Kerry's driving us to the airport in Burlington. Completely by accident, Sasha and I are on the same flight to DC, so we don't have to say bye quite as early.

I've had a fantastic summer in Middlebury, but I feel ready to move on to the next adventure. I'll update again once I'm lodged in the Embassy Suites for our three-day orientation next week.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Goodbyes and Hellos

I'm not a big fan of goodbyes. Even though I'm totally ready to be done with the Middlebury program, I'm not really ready to give up my new friends. Like Patrick, the Level 1 student I've been closest with, who has made enormous progress this summer (as in, when he arrived, he didn't know a word of Russian, but now we have real conversations!):

We had a lovely closing ceremony and final banquet, after which most people gave up the language pledge, even though officially we're still on it until lunchtime tomorrow. In many ways, it was such a relief to be able to fully express myself with people here that I didn't mind forgetting all about speaking Russian for a little while (although for much of the night I found myself switching back and forth somewhat indiscriminately). It's nice to finally hear about some of the really intelligent thoughts and ideas people here have that we've been unable to express until now.

Also, minor language frustration: We've spent the whole summer in conversation practice talking about abstract concepts, like the connection between Russian language and the Russian mindset. This is wonderful, interesting information, and a lot of good vocabulary. However, I still don't know how to properly tell someone I got a haircut today. Some of the most day-to-day language is still lacking in my knowledge of Russian. I worry about some of this stuff, because I'm at a level that's too advanced for these kinds of things to come up in class, but they're rare enough in day-to-day language that I'm unlikely to pick them up from conversation. Pooh.

I found out who my host family is today! I'll be living with Galina Anatolievna on the Petrograd Side, near the Sportivnaya metro station. Galina Anatolievna lives alone, but her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter often visit. This will be an interesting contrast to my last host family, which was quite large. I'm hoping that Galina Anatolievna and I get along really well and have lots of opportunities for conversation.

Okay, it's almost 3 AM, I'm going to bed. =) Kerry arrives in about 12 hours. Hooray!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Despite barely sleeping for two days and trying to concentrate on essay writing, despite the constant distraction of the war in Georgia, I made it! I took my last exam this morning. Whoo! This evening is the closing ceremony and banquet. Tomorrow we can start speaking English after lunch!

Sunday our Russian Folk Choir performed, singing and dancing their way through all the steps of a traditional Russian wedding. It was a ton of fun. Pictures here.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


War has broken out in South Ossetia, Georgia. I have a friend in Georgia. He's not near the fighting at the moment, although Georgia is smaller than Iowa, so it all seems pretty close to me. I'm really worried about him, about what's going on in Georgia in general. His internet or computer or something got disconnected while we were mid-conversation today, so I don't really know what's going on with him at the moment. I feel kind of woozy thinking about it. It's one thing to hear about a war in some far off land, it's another thing when you have friends there. And it's not like they're in a war halfway around the world, like us in Iraq. It's in their country. I hope everything ends quickly and with as little additional bloodshed as possible. 1500 are already dead. Jesus.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Spectacular, Spectacular!

Tuesday was the school play, "The List of Good Deeds." The play was written in the 1930s and is about an actress who gets what's coming to her for criticizing the Soviet government (think Stalinist purges). As an officially sanctioned play, it was, of course, originally written with a direct message: the Soviet Union is good, those who question it are bad. However, it has taken on quite a bit of new meaning since 1931, and our theatre group definitely played up the "actually, censorship and arresting people for thinking 'incorrectly' is bad" aspects of the play. Everyone did a fantastic job, I was really impressed with the level of acting. And I understood most of what was said. =) If you'd like to see more pictures, click here.

Oh, also, Boris Borisovich shaved his magnificent beard right on stage before the beginning of the show! See the picture above for his smooth cheeks, and the video below for a view of The Beard.

The rest of this week has flown by. I managed to scrape together a presentation for today on a wing and a prayer. Now I have two days to write two essays (1000 and 500 words). Eep. I'm already past burned out, but there's only a few more days to go, so I think I'll pull through. My last final is next Wednesday. Kerry is coming to visit on Thursday and Friday, and she'll be taking me to the airport Saturday morning. Then I'm off to DC!

Sunday evening is the Russian choir concert. I'll be sure to update with images from their sure to be stupendous performance.

Last but not least, a video clip from our awesome talent show a couple weeks ago. This is Nathan, a student in Level 1, and Boris Borisovich, the Level 1 teacher, doing a Russian version of "Who's on First" called "Who's in Level 1?" Hilarious.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Stuff I've been doing

Here's our soccer team getting a pep talk before the match with the French school. Despite the patriotically waving Russian flag, we got our butts kicked. It wasn't pretty. But we've got a good team anyway!

Saturday evening there was a concert of Russian folk music by Zolotoi Plios, the musicians who direct our choir. Before the concert, Foma (Tom) and I grabbed a beer at the Two Brothers. He will also be in St. Petersburg this fall, although on a different program, so it was good to get to know him a little bit better. He arrives a week after me, so I fully intend to show him around the city and help him get adjusted.

As we came out of the bar, we saw a rainbow! It was actually a full bow arching all the way across the town, but I could only photograph part of it from where I stood:

These are all pictures from the concert, which was awesome, as expected. Sasha, Elena, and Sergei are all so talented; they all play so many different instruments, and have fantastic voices. At the end, they played a dancing song, and many students got up to dance. Fun!

Tomorrow is the performance of our school play, for which my roommate Stephanie has been rehearsing for weeks. I'm really looking forward to it! In the meantime, I have tons of prep work to be doing for my finals, which start a week from today. Yikes. Hope all is well at home; I'll try to update again as soon as something interesting happens.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Testing, testing, 1 2 3 4 5 6

Ahh, the eternal irony of student life. You get to the end of the semester, you're tired as hell, you spend all your time chatting on the internet instead of doing homework, but justify it by saying, "Well, at least I'm chatting in Russian," and then... exams. Today we have exit exams that partner with the entrance exams we took to see if we've made any progress while we've been here. I have exams from 10-12 this morning and 1:30-5:30 this afternoon. It's gonna suck.

Then, I have a presentation to write for Friday. For finals, which are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of my last week here, I have to write a 1000 word essay and prepare a 10 minute presentation on it, write another essay of thus-far unspecified length and prepare a 10 minute presentation on it, and study for the written exam which will be Wednesday. Ahhhhhhhhh!

If someone ever invents a way to preserve some of that energy and enthusiasm that you have at the beginning of the semester so you can use it at the end when you really need it, he or she will become a very rich person.