Name: Roman Gusdorf
Location of Study: St. Petersburg, Russia
Program of Study: Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program (RLASP)
A brief personal bio:
I’m a freshman from St. Louis, Missouri. Two of my favorite hobbies are swimming and playing the drums. I went to St. Louis University High School, which is one of those rare high schools where Russian is actually a language you can study, meaning I was actually lucky enough to have a jump-start on my Russian studies! I’m planning on majoring in both Science-Business and Russian. I hope to one day become a doctor and work internationally, whether that be physically practicing medicine abroad or giving lectures.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
This summer language abroad opportunity is a priceless opportunity for me. It will fix a lot of errors in my speech and grammar, will help me to understand and communicate with Russians better, and will help me to become more culturally competent in general. In addition, it will help to strengthen my already strong passion for all things Russian!
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
I intend to develop my Russian language skills in a way that is simply not possibly back here in America. I intend to personally experience Russian culture, literature, and art. I intend to broaden my worldview and further develop my understanding of the world around me. I intend to have one of the most worthwhile and enjoyable summers possible.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- By the end of the summer, I will correct my pronunciation and stress errors which have unfortunately been incorrectly reinforced over time.
- By the end of the summer, I will master and utilize the complex grammar that I’ve spent so much time studying.
- By the end of summer, I will develop my listening and speaking skills tremendously.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
First and foremost I wish to fully participate and experience Russian culture with my host family in daily Russian life in the cultural capital of Russia — Saint Petersburg. I wish to reconnect with the friends that I have made in Russia in my first study abroad experience and explore the city with them. I want to go to plays, symphonies, operas, and ballets such as at the Marrinsky Opera and Ballet Theater for example. I want to go back to the Hermitage and the Summer Gardens and to tour the Catherine Palace, The Peter and Paul Fortress, and The Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood, just for starters.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
After a Pre-departure orientation in Washington D.C., I finally arrived to Saint Petersburg, Russia on Friday, June 13th around 3PM (Saint Petersburg time)! Before arriving however, I was fortunate enough to already have some significant and meaningful experiences.
First off, I saw a group of teenagers from Russia on the “FLEX” program in the Washington D.C. airport. I had the chance to interact with a couple of them, meeting a couple of girls who were actually from Siberia. It was humorous to then see one of the young boys literally wear a flag with “РОССИЯ” (RUSSIA) printed on it. Later he took off the flag, and the teenagers lined up together, stretched the flag out, and began to sing the Russian national anthem, in front of everyone in the airport. Then, what could very well be one of the most interesting experiences of this whole trip, I was blessed to sit by my highschool friend, Dominic LaMantia (who was going to Saint Petersburg as well on a different summer program) and a young girl by the name of Lera. At first, when we took our seats, we had a bit of an awkward experience, when we found out that Lera would be sitting in the seat next to the aisle, because she (at the time what I thought was “unfortunate”) is blind, and we were worried about getting to the bathroom (since it was around a 8 hour flight to Frankfurt). However, a couple minutes into the flight, in preparation for culture shock, Dominic and I decided to start speaking Russian to each other. Overhearing our conversation, and obviously noticing our accents, the girl sitting next to us perked up and said, “Oh, I’ve never heard Americans try and speak Russian before! You guys speak so well!”. This sparked many long conversations throughout the plane ride, in which we learned a lot about each other. What I first thought would be just an awkward encounter when I needed to use the restroom, ended up being a striking life lesson: Sometime during the plane ride, we started talking about Shakespeare. She loved almost everything Shakespeare — all except the ending of Romeo and Juliet. Why? Well her justification was brilliant and enlightening: “because you need to appreciate what you have” and not give up when something doesn’t go your way. Well of course you might say, we’ve all heard this phrase before, but in the context, it meant so much more to me. It was a real, concrete lesson, not some abstract philosophical logic. She talked about how she lost her sight very soon after being born through some medical accident. However, this isn’t a “problem” for her. Remember how I said I thought her blindness was unfortunate earlier? Well, it isn’t unfortunate to her — it was only unfortunate for me, because I chose to make it so. She proceeded to talk about how she doesn’t really care that she doesn’t have sight, because what she does have, she loves — the ability to learn languages: she knows Russian, English, French, and Spanish (and one could argue that according to Psychology, due to her lack of sight, she has thus better hearing and speaking abilities — a clear advantage of being blind — and this is exactly the attitude I need to start approaching life with — seeing the advantages in situations and being grateful for even having the opportunity to experience life.). Through our various conversations, I noticed how honestly happy and content she was — her smiles and laughs were genuine, and she had a graceful and joyful aura around her. All in all, it was a true blessing to have met this wonderful, joyful, and enlightening girl, and I hope that I will appreciate life in the same way that she does.
Arriving at the St. Petersburg airport, I exchanged some money, and was outraged to discover that a Tall Mocha Frappucino at Starbucks cost 250 roubles (which, so you can share in my outrage, is around 8 dollars)! Therefore I decided to go to Mcdonald’s. But don’t worry! I got the “village-style” fries, unique to Russia. Also, to truly make it a Russian experience, I payed almost a dollar, just so I could have ketchup with it (Yes, it costs almost a dollar just for a small container of ketchup). I waited at the airport for the rest of my group to show up, and then we went to the Herzen University’s International Student Dormitory. We stayed there until Sunday, when I finally got to meet my host family, the Tereshkina’s.
I greeted my Russian babushka, Elizaveta, with flowers and a hug, and we quickly became acquainted. Around ten minutes in, she calmly mentioned she recently got a cat, to which I responded with a dropped draw and a “Серёзно!?” (seriously!?). Thinking I was expressing excitement because I loved cats, she continued talking about how amazing the cat is. I told her however, that I have severe cat allergies, and that this would be a problem. Fortunately, the situation is now worked out, and the cat is staying with her daughter Nastya for the next two months.
At the apartment I live with Elizaveta, who is in her 60’s, and her son Egor, who is in his 30’s. Elizaveta works for the TV channel “Culture” as an interviewer for documentaries, and has traveled all around the globe for her work! Egor, is a tea connoisseur, and has already spoiled me with some outstanding tea and invited me to visit him sometime at his tea shop. They are extremely friendly and very, very, VERY talkative. I love it. I don’t understand everything they say, but they repeat what I don’t understand, and draw pictures and do hand gestures so I understand as much as possible. It is unbelievably helpful for my Russian. On Monday I took my placement test, and am now in these classes: Contemporary Russia, Grammar, Phonetics, and New Lexicon. The teachers are amazing, and somehow miraculously I understand 99% of what they say. The classes are extremely interesting, engaging, and helpful — already in one day they have addressed a numerous amount of important problems I have.
Yesterday, unfortunately due to bad weather, we did not go to Petergof, so instead I went to the mall near Moskovskii Station and bought toiletries and chocolate (However, fortunately Petergof will be rescheduled). Yesterday I also got shawarma for the first time and it was just as good as everyone says. I also got my University ID which will allow me to now go to most of the museums here for free! I can’t wait to utilize this. Today (Thursday), I bought a ticket to the Marinskii Theater to see the Anna Karenina Ballet on Monday. I also met with my personal tutor for the first time. It was a young girl named Masha. We walked around a park and got acquainted and then went into a cafe and went over some essays I’ve written. In addition, we talked about important grammar topics and questions I had. Tomorrow, I’m planning on going to the symphony.
Overall, this has been an extremely successful week! I’ve become very acclimated to my surroundings, and feel as though I can navigate around the city by myself pretty easily (in fact even easier I’d say than my hometown of St. Louis).
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
The past 7 days have been extremely culturally enlightening, to say the least. It all started on Friday when I went to the Bolshoi Zal (Large Hall) for an orchestral concert. I was fortunate enough to buy my ticket for only 100 roubles (3 dollars), because a friend of mine’s host mom is one of the violists. They played Brahms, Stravinsky (Firebird — which I was familiar with because I watched Fantasia 2000 a million times as a kid), and Rachmaninoff. It was a beautiful concert which featured a choir as well as some terrific soloists. Following this concert I met up with a few friends of mine from Notre Dame and celebrated Alye Parusa (a St. Petersburg holiday translated into “Crimson Sails”). Beginning a little after one o’clock in the morning, over a million people crowded around the raised bridges, and an epic firework display began, accompanied by music and a light show. Soon, a ship with crimson sails floated along the Neva river. The ship is meant to be an inspiration for all of the recently graduated St. Petersburg students to follow their dreams.
Continuing on my journey of Russian culture I visited the Hermitage museum on Saturday. I spent four hours there walking around, looking at exquisite paintings, sculptures, vases, clocks, furniture, and more. One of my favorite pieces was the painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt, which my mom had requested for me to see because she is reading a book about it. Honestly, I plan on going around two more times in these next two months, as I still have so much more to see, and also because of the fact that I’m so fortunate to be able to enter for free with my student ID.
Experiencing yet more Russian culture, I walked around Letney Sad (The Summer Gardens). This time I went with some old Russian friends that I had met on my previous exchange trip. This time, I payed special attention to some large and beautiful photographs that were taken all around Russia and put on display. Then I returned home for the last five minutes of the Russian vs. Belgium World Cup match — just in time for Belgium to score, and my host and his friends to go ballistic in the room next to me. A little while later, I joined them in the kitchen, where they sipped on the whiskey I gave to my host as a gift, and of course they eventually got into a philosophical conversation — because after all, every Russian is a philosopher.
Towards the end of the conversation I was fortunate enough to be invited to go with them on a fishing expedition to Lake Ladoga, a couple hours north of St. Petersburg, sometime around July 11th. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic. Unfortunately, it conflicts with some plans I had to go to Moscow with some friends, but I’ll definitely figure out another time to go to Moscow instead.
I also recently had the opportunity to go to the Marinsky Opera and Ballet Theater (the new one), in order to see the Anna Karenina ballet. It was the first ballet I’ve ever been to, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I honestly enjoyed it.
On a side note, I’ve learned to never decide to leave your key and phone behind in the apartment, even if you’re going with your host to work out at the local school’s park. Yes, I really went to a little kid’s park to work out. We did a variety of exercises, including dips, push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups. Then, I went for a run by myself, which was where the problem came in. I was locked out of my apartment at 11:30PM (still light out however thankfully to these White Nights, which I’ll elaborate on in a future blog post), and had to go to a local bar in order to use the free wi-fi and send a message to my friend on my Galaxy s3 (which I brought for music and doesn’t get service in Russia), so that he could call my host family and tell them. It took around forty minutes for me to finally get back in. I’ve sure learned my lesson.
All in all, this trip so far has been a blessing, and I can only imagine what kind of cultural experiences await me in these upcoming 6 weeks!
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Honestly, there’s just so much to say about food in Russia that unfortunately I’ll have to condense it all into a few short blog posts. Overall I’ve been extremely pleased with the food I’ve gotten to enjoy here in St. Petersburg. It turns out that there’s a lot more to Russia than Beef Stroganov and Pelmeni (Russian dumplings).
Bliny is possibly my favorite dish, and one about which I’ve joked about opening a store back in the U.S. Bliny are basically thin pancakes that are topped and filled with almost anything: sour cream (well of course — what Russian food is there without sour cream after all?), assorted meats, caviar, cottage cheese, jam, honey, and more. You could theoretically have a meal full of different Bliny courses! And did I mention that you can get these pancakes at any time of the day? My favorite places to get them are Чайная Ложка and Теремок.
Kasha (a kind of wheat porridge served with butter) is one of my favorite discoveries here so far. I have it for breakfast around three times a week, and I hope to somehow find it back in the states.
There are two desserts in particular that my sweet tooth simply cannot resist here. The first is Vatrushka with tvorog (a sweet Russian cheese that I could live on if given the chance). The vatrushka is a cheese danish, but not. I say not, because it is so much better, that it’s not even comparable. There’s a peeshka restaurant across the street from me, and I’ve gotten into the horrible, but oh-so-delicious habit of stopping there every day on the way back to my apartment for a vatrushka.The second, is a bowl of strawberries that my host prepares me with sour cream (which I was quite skeptical of at first), milk, and what seems like more sugar crystals than anything else. I know I’ll be regretting it in forty years, but oh my goodness, this crazy concoction is so delicious.
Well, that’s enough for now; I don’t want to make you too hungry.
The main cultural experiences of the week include a trip to The Yusupov Palace, The Dostoevsky Literary Memorial Museum, The State Russian Museum, and a journey up onto the colonnade of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral.
The tour of The Yusupov Palace has been one of my favorite activities so far. Despite blending in with all of the other buildings next to the Moika River, as soon as I stepped inside this palace, I immediately understood what a treasure I’d ventured into. The interior is simply stunning, and the architecture is unbelievable. I wonder if I’ll ever experience such a feeling of awe again.
After reading The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment, and having fallen in love with Dostoevsky, there was no way that I could come to St. Petersburg without visiting the Dostoevsky museum. It was a very simple, but unique museum, relative to the other ones I’ve seen here, but powerful nonetheless. The museum actually encompasses one of his former apartments (this particular one being the one where he wrote The Brothers Karamazov). It was such a blessing to see the room (reconstructed to how he had actually lived in it), where he wrote such a powerfully moving and spiritually fulfilling book which I love so much.
Unfortunately I only got to spend around two hours in The State Russian Museum, and only got to see the Roerich exhibit and the contemporary art section. I’m sure I’ll visit again at least 2 more times.
The last significant (it pains me to skip over so many other amazing experiences) cultural experience of the week was walking up the spiral staircase and onto the colonnade of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. On the colonnade you can almost see the whole city. I could see the Hermitage, The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, Kazansky Cathedral, Troitsky Cathedral, and so much more, all in the same instant. It was one of the most magnificent views I’ve ever been blessed to gaze upon.
And of course, in addition to all my exciting cultural experiences, it’s important to fill you in on my language development. All of my classes are thoroughly exciting and informative. For example, debatably the two most influential classes I’m in right now (although it’s a close race), are Contemporary Russia and Phonetics.
I’ve never taken a phonetics course before, and I’ve never covered any of the themes we’ve talked about in the past couple of weeks. It’s almost funny how horrible my pronunciation has been the past couple of years, and I’m so excited to be learning how to finally speak Russian correctly. I’m learning about all of the exceptions to the rules, about voiced and unvoiced letters, soft and hard sounds, and more. I’ve noticed some of these concepts when listening to Russians, but considering I’d always been told Russian is spelled exactly how it sounds, I’ve ignored my observations. Well, it’s a lie — don’t believe it! Russian is not written exactly how it sounds. AT ALL! I can’t wait to see what kind of pronunciation I’ll have developed over the next two months.
In Contemporary Russia we are learning, well, about contemporary Russia! We are learning about important topics such as the current government system, political climate, economy, music, and more! It is an extremely interesting class, and I’m lucky to have this chance to learn about this culture that I’m so in love with.
It’s hard to not write more about all of my amazing experiences here, but alas, I must get to bed. After all, tomorrow is a big day — the Fourth of July (The one day where I will take a small break from this beautiful immersion and celebrate my own culture)!
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
It’s a small world.
Growing up I had often heard the phrase “It’s a small world” used to describe the chance encounters that have come up in my life. Yesterday, I was a bit taken aback to hear this phrase used by some Russians I had just met on the street. Feeling a bit adventurous, I decided to walk home a different way than usual so that I could see more of the city. Unfortunately, I ended up losing my way and found myself by some canal far away from where I was supposed to be. After asking a couple people how to get to the Technological Institute Metro with no luck, I stumbled upon a group of three young students. It turned out they were going a similar way and told me I could come along with them. After about ten minutes of small talk and introductions with them, one of the boys said that he studied at Herzen State Pedagogical University. Quite surprised, I nonetheless pulled out my student ID and showed it to him, telling him that unbelievably enough, we study at the same university. It turned out that two of the three studied Biology at Herzen and the other was studying at another university to become a Kindergarten teacher. After finding out that they were studying Biology, I asked if they knew a couple of other Herzen students who studied Biology (including another Roman! It’s crazy to think that my name is “normal” here!) that my friend had introduced me to. They started laughing because they knew exactly who I was talking about and couldn’t believe it. Ultimately they led me to the metro station and we parted ways, saying we’d be seeing each other around at the university in the nearby future.
Another small coincidence occurred about two weeks ago, on one sunny afternoon. I was walking around with a friend from my high school. We were heading back to the Nevsky Prospekt Metro when all of the sudden I spotted a familiar face walking in the opposite direction. It was my friend’s host father from our exchange trip two years ago! I pointed him out to my friend, who of course didn’t believe me. Turning around I ran up to him, got his attention, and told him that the student he hosted two years ago was right behind him. Letting loose a big smile, he immediately recognized us and we conversed for a good ten minutes before he went on his way.
I guess it’s a small world after all!
Babushka is the Russian word for grandmother (which you might even know from Buranovskiye Babushki, a group of Russian women who sang Party for Everybody on Eurovision — a video which you seriously need to check out if you haven’t seen it before. It will instantly make your day so much better) and can be used informally to address any woman who appears elderly. Babushkas are internationally infamous. I heard about them even before I began my Russian studies five years ago. They have a reputation for being extremely strict (as seen in the film Burnt By The Sun, in which a Babushka assaults a Soviet soldier), extremely strong (evidenced by the meme with a picture of 6 U.S. soldiers struggling to transport a tree trunk, juxtaposed with a picture of a single Russian babushka easily carrying a similarly-sized log by herself), and yet somehow still extremely extremely peaceful (seen in many photos of babushkas peacefully sitting on their porches). To my disbelief, my experiences here have shown these “stereotypes” to be generally true! Every day, particularly when walking to the metro, I come across a number of Babushkas, usually asking for money. These usually hunched over, frowning, quiet, and humble women are actually inspiring to me, and it’s been my wish to interact with one in a more meaningful way than giving them a few dozen rubles. I was fortunate enough to finally do so today when I returned to my apartment. Walking up the “whole three” flights of stairs to my apartment I passed by a Russian babushka standing on the staircase. Noticing that she hadn’t moved from her place since I passed her I asked if she needed any help. Her face, which had been a scowl, immediately brightened up. She said she has requested assistance from many people for help but had been ignored and so she had given up asking. I ended up carrying her purse and bags and walking up 6 flights of stairs (to the highest level of the apartment building) with her over the course of what seemed like 10 minutes. After every couple of stairs she had to stop and stretch out her left leg, which she explained to me (but I only partly understood) she had somehow broken several years ago, and for whatever reason it is now significantly shorter than her right leg. I noticed that the heel of her left shoe was actually 2 or 3 inches taller than that of her right shoe. She invited me into her apartment and for a couple minutes we chatted and I got to meet her dog. In hindsight it’s truly inspiring to have seen this old women with a bad leg walk up to the top of a building (even if it took 10 minutes). It definitely put into perspective all of my complaints of walking up four flights of stairs to my room in Siegfried.
All in all, everything is still going great and every day I feel like I’m making significant process. Honestly, my favorite part about living in Russia is that even the most simple interactions, the tiniest journeys, and the smallest insights about the language or local life are all extremely exciting and rewarding. There’s not one boring or repetitive moment when living here. Everything is exciting!
Tomorrow I will be traveling to Lake Ladoga to go fishing with Egor and a couple of his friends. Therefore I should probably start getting packed. So that’s all until next week!
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
This past weekend I finally got to go to Lake Ladoga with my host Egor, and a couple of his friends. It was only the second camping trip in my life (unfortunately!) and we stayed on a tiny little island. I cut wood for the first time with an axe, and started my own fire. Egor’s friends joked repeatedly that I was finally becoming a boy scout. It was a fantastic weekend full of swimming, chopping wood, hiking, conversations around the fire, and trolling for fish (letting the lure trail behind under water as the boat slowly progresses forward). The enormous lake was clustered with small islands, each providing their own beautiful view. I can say that with certainty as on Sunday we spent about three hours hopping from island to island trolling, taking in the beautiful views each island offered. We caught a couple of fish and made Ukha: a clear Russian soup made from fish, potatoes, green parsley, pepper, and just a hint of vodka. We supplemented our Ukha with toast and cheese, salads heavily dressed in mayonnaise, and, my favorite of all, shish kabobs! Both nights that we spent there we sat around the campfire talking until around 3 o’clock in the morning.
All in all it was a grand time, with a few instances of unpleasantness that can come with camping. First and foremost – the infernal mosquitoes. There must be something special about Russian mosquitoes as it didn’t matter how much repellent I applied, they never stopped swarming! Even now I feel like they were trying to eat me alive. Even more awkward and uncomfortable than mosquitos, however, were the two men we encountered on Sunday who claimed to be looking for “onions.” They came up, shook our hands (getting uncomfortably close), and made small talk, before carrying on their way. I wasn’t all that surprised when my friends told me that they were thieves, trying to stumble on camps of people out fishing. It was a bit spooky, but we were leaving in a couple hours anyway so it didn’t affect me too much. We were hoping to leave around midnight, but upon arriving back to shore we found that our car had a flat tire. Therefore I didn’t actually get home until 3AM Monday morning (a school day). Despite these unpleasantries, I would have to say that this camping experience just might end up being the highlight of my trip.
War and Peace
Yesterday I was privileged to return to the new Mariinsky Theater with tickets to see the opera of War and Peace. The famous Valery Gergiev conducted and, needless to say, it was beautiful. Two visually striking images that are lingering on in my head are the omnipresent tank, almost always visible no matter what was happening on stage, and a scene where dead soldiers were lowered via strings from the ceiling into coffins on the floor. It was a beautiful and poignant performance. Operas, of course, are not known for ending quickly, and considering this was War and Peace after all, the opera lasted over four and a half hours. Unfortunately I had to leave about 20 minutes early to catch the metro before it closed to make sure that I got home safely. However, ultimately I can easily say that it was quite a wonderful experience.
One of the common tropes of contemporary Russia and the Soviet Union is the inflexibility and the corruption of their bureaucratic system. It might be hard to believe, but the bureaucracy of the Russian Federation is actually larger than the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union ever was. Yesterday I had the unfortunate opportunity to experience some of this inefficiency first hand while getting student metro passes with my friend Katya. We walked outside of Ploshad Aleksandra Nevskovo Metro and after a fair amount of walking came by a shabby door that had “employees only” stamped on it. We went in, waited in line, and were eventually greeted by an unfriendly receptionist (My host says that practically all of the government workers here are extremely rude and unhelpful, and that they generally consider customers nuisances. I first encountered this to some extent last week when I went with him to the post office). After about 20 minutes with this unfriendly lady, taking pictures and signing documents, she directed us to a bank a ten minute walk away. We went with the documents that she gave us, only to repeat the process there with more stamping. We then took those documents back to the first station again where 10 minutes later we were finally handed our metro cards. Of course, then we discovered that the cards didn’t even work yet! We had to go inside yet another station to pay another fee to have them activated. Basically, it took well over an hour and four distinct trips to get a simple student metro pass.
That’s all for now because tomorrow I leave for Moscow and I need to get packing!
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
I boarded an overnight train for Moscow last Friday afternoon at Moskovskaya train station. As soon as I boarded, it became apparent that I was not on the kind of train I had envisioned. Instead of distinct, individual bedrooms separated by doors, it was just a train full of rows of public beds, completely out in the open, with no privacy whatsoever. It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life walking past a hundred sleeping people in order to visit some friends on another train car. Before going to sleep I ended up becoming acquainted with the two ladies staying across the aisle from me, Natasha and Svetlana. We ended up arriving Saturday morning around 1AM, but actually reached our hostel around 2. It was the first hostel I’ve ever stayed in throughout my whole life, and it was actually very nice. It was aptly named “Hostel Moscow” and was only a 15 minute walk from the Kremlin.
After waking up around 10AM some friends and I headed to Paul Cafe, which was a very tasty French cafe a friend of mine knew about. After breakfast we headed to Tretyakov Gallery, which was one of my favorite art museums of this whole trip. I got to see the original portraits of Pushkin and Dostoevsky, a menacing sculpture of Ivan the Terrible, various ginormous Christian paintings (which were then also interestingly broken up into smaller, zoomed in pieces of the same painting), and possibly my favorite: a sculpture of Tolstoy by Anna Golubkina.
Then of course we headed to Red Square, getting the chance to see many beautiful churches on the way there. It’s kind of unbelievable just how many churches are scattered throughout Moscow. We walked around Red Square, seeing St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin Clock, and Lenin’s Mausoleum (which unfortunately was closed on the day we went). Then we went inside the Kremlin, where I went inside my favorite museum of the whole trip: The Kremlin Armory. Within The Armory (which unfortunately we weren’t allowed to photograph) was a huge collection of Fabrige eggs, Tsar and Tsarista clothing, thrones, golden horse-drawn carriages, scepters, knights’ armour, swords and sheathes, ornate rifles, crosses, Gospel books, incense holders, icons, and more. It’s hard to believe that a place with so many treasures actually exists.
After the Armory, I had a bit of time to myself, in which I visited three of the cathedrals within the Kremlin. They were all covered with multiple golden domes, so I felt a bit of my dome sickness temporarily go away. In addition I got to see the Tsar Bell (A ginormous bell that unfortunately is broken), and the Tsar Cannon (a giant cannon that has never actually been used).
After the Kremlin, we went to Gorky Park, which at the time I honestly didn’t have many high expectations for. But I was wrong. It was the coolest park I’ve ever been to. It was a ginormous park with an absurd amount of things to do and an unbelievable amount of people. There was a beautiful fountain park that played along with different classical musical songs, sand volleyball, free swing dancing lessons (with at least a hundred people), a free outdoor movie theater, sand bags to sit on, a skateboard park, a public break dancing contest, an outdoor market, and various fields for sports. It had it all!
After Gorky Park we headed back to Red Square to see the place lit up at night. It was beautiful. The GUM department store was covered with Christmas lights and Saint Basil’s had an even more striking image, in contrast with the darkness around it.
The next morning I got up and went to the Izmailovsky Market, where I only got two hours to shop around unfortunately. There were a lot of cool souvenirs which I saw and wished to purchase, but ended up running out of time, due to the fact that I spent so much time bargaining with the merchants. A couple of my most proud purchases are a Notre Dame Football Matryoshka doll set, a Notre Dame Grandfather Frost Christmas tree ornament, and some Soviet Union propaganda posters. Afterward I headed back to the train station to head back to St. Petersburg. In Moscow I somehow ended up walking almost twice the amount I do in St. Petersburg (which is already a lot), mainly because the Moscow metro is generally a lot more confusing (even in the opinion of Russians), and also due to the fact that there were a couple of stations closed due to the recent Metro accident.
The Past Week
The past week has been a pretty intense week, seeing as it was the last week of classes. I ended up having five exams: Contemporary Russia (multiple choice, short answers, and a conversation with the professor – a new testing method for me), Phonetics (reading a prepared poem and prose passage, and then reading a random prose passage of my teacher’s choice), Grammar (a cumulative grammar test, focusing especially on the infamous verbs of motion), New Lexicon (a test on contemporary slang and the different processes and reasons for new words), and Conversation Practice (a test focusing on Russian idioms, kitchen speech, and synonyms and antonyms). It’s hard to believe I’m all done now.
Also within the past week I’ve been taking cold showers – something I’ve never had to deal with before. I had heard that every summer there are periods for different regions in St. Petersburg to not have hot water (in order to repair and replace old pipes), but I thought I had gotten lucky and wouldn’t have to deal with it this summer. On Wednesday (in the middle of the exam week), with my program I went to Petergof where I ended up effectively taking yet another cold shower (due to the ‘joke’ fountains). Luckily I won’t have to deal with cold showers much longer though, because tomorrow I’m leaving for our Regional Field Study trip to Korilya! The trip is around 5 days long (but 2 of those days are long travel days on trains). There we will be visiting different monasteries and islands, go white water rafting (my first time ever), hiking, and more. I’m very excited.
The Catholic masses here have been pretty interesting in and of themselves. I’ve been going to the Catholic Church of St. Catherine on Nevsky Prospekt, because both English and Russian services are performed there. I’ve gone to the Russian services several times, but unfortunately haven’t understood much. However, considering it’s even hard to understand the English mass there due to the horrible echo, I don’t feel bad. Last Sunday I actually went to confession there with a priest who only spoke Russian. It was arguably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, because not only did I get that great clean spiritual feeling that comes with Confession, but I also felt really good about myself and my language development, because there’s no way I could have gone to Confession in Russian even two months ago.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future: