O’Brien, Joshua


Name: Joshua O’Brien
E-mail:  jobrie17@nd.edu
Location of Study: St. Petersburg, Russia
Program of Study: SRAS: School of Russian and Asian Studies
Sponsors: Nanovic


A brief personal bio:

I am a sophomore English and Russian major from South Bend, Indiana. My parents are both teachers, and I grew up in an environment that loved learning. I have been a tutor at the Robinson Community Learning Center for the past two years, and I taught an anti-violence class at Rise Up Academy in South Bend. I love reading Russian Literature, and I write in my spare time.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

The SLA Grant is very important for my future plans. I think I might go to graduate school to study Russian Language and Literature. My time in Russia will be formative in my pursuit of a vocation, and more importantly it will expose me to Russia’s rich culture while helping me learn and apply the language. I need to be able to speak, read, and translate Russian if I want to be a competitive graduate applicant.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

I hope to be challenged. Living in Russia will be a constant learning experience. Things I take for granted back home like communication and reading comprehension become much more challenging abroad. I hope that by the end of the summer speaking in Russian becomes a new comfort zone for me. I also hope to gain a better understanding of Russian culture while in Saint Petersburg.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

1. By the end of the summer, I will be able to keep up conversations with a native speaker without consulting a dictionary. 
2. At the end of the summer, I will have learned how to speak with proper intonation/pronunciation. 
3. At the end of the summer, I will be able to quickly recognize grammatical structures to more closely translate Russian to English. 
4. At the end of the summer, I will be able to read authentic Russian texts (like the newspaper and short stories)

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

In order to take full advantage of the generous grant, I plan on volunteering in Saint Petersburg. This is a great way for me to practice my language outside of the classroom as well as get to know the Saint Petersburg community. I also plan on getting the newspaper every morning and reading as much as I can before class. I think this will be a great way to learn more colloquial Russian, as well as a great way to improve my reading comprehension. I am also beginning research for a project on Joseph Brodsky. I plan on going to the Russian archives in Saint Petersburg to look at their Brodsky collections as well. This will be another way to work with Russian outside of the daily classroom.


Reflective Journal Entry 1:

Greetings from Saint Petersburg, Russia!

Week 1
First Thoughts:
I arrived Wednesday May 28, and a whirlwind of changes has happened since. I moved in to my room and the first thing that was on my mind was food. I hadn’t eaten since my dinner on the transatlantic flight the night before, and I hadn’t slept much either. My first adventure was to find a restaurant near the dorm. I decided upon a “Stolovaya” which means cafeteria in Russian. “Stolovayas” are very popular in Russia, have almost every kind of Russian food. You walk down a line and tell the workers what food you would like and they scoop it onto a plate or bowl. This was my first meal in Russia, and I was very excited. However, when I tried to order I was overwhelmed, first I did not know what I wanted to eat. Everything looked very different and strange, and then I did not know what all the dishes were named, so I did not know how to tell the server what I wanted. I eventually managed to get my dinner, dumplings and carrot salad, but this exchange made me realize how much work I have to do too function in Russian. Throughout the week I went through my old textbooks and relearned the food vocabulary, which was been very helpful. Ordering food is still however, the most challenging thing I do throughout the week.

Tour of Saint Petersburg:
Our wonderful tour guide Sergei took us on a tour of the center of city (which is where our university is located). He showed us a number of buildings, parks, and monuments near us that are not as famous, but absolutely incredible. Sergei taught us all about the construction of Saint Petersburg, and explained the history of a number of incredible palaces. Peter I thought that Saint Petersburg would be like Venice or Amsterdam because of all the islands and canals, and that people would get around by boats. However, in the spring the canals would all melt and be too thin to walk across, but too thick to boat across. This is why they eventually built roads in Saint Petersburg. Sergei explained the different styles of palaces, and what happened to many of the palaces during soviet times when all the palaces were nationalized (taken forcefully). It was amazing to see all the different styles of palace, and learn about the different monuments near our university.

The first week of classes have felt like a marathon. The classes are 4 hours long. I haven’t been in the same classroom for so long since grade school. The classes are entirely in Russian, and I am pleasantly surprised at how much I am able to understand. The classes are helping me to focus on listening and speaking Russian—it is conversation based which is exactly what I need. I have already noticed that while speaking I put things in the correct case quicker than ever.
Our teacher is incredibly nice and funny. She is very clear and makes sure everyone understands her. She only speaks about 2 or 3 words of English per class, and this is only to clarify untranslatable things or very complicated grammar subjects.

Peter and Paul Fortress:
As a class we took an excursion to Peter and Paul Fortress. Петропавловский крепость as it’s called was one of the first settlements built by Peter I. Built on a small island (Bunny Island) the fortress is strategically placed where the Neva opens to the Gulf of Finland. When Peter I came to the swamp area now known as Saint Petersburg, Russia was at war with Finland. Peter and Paul was built as a fortress to protect the opening of the Neva near the gulf of Finland. The fortress was never used as a military fortress (it was never needed for that purpose). Instead the fortress was used as a political prison. We were able to tour the prison where many famous political prisoners were kept, including Lenin’s brother, the poet Maxim Gorky, and the provisional government after the initial revolution. The island also houses Peter and Paul Cathedral, which is where members of the Romanov family are buried. The cathedral, enormous gold spire is impressive from outside, but the inside of the cathedral is something else. The tombs of the tsars are so ornate and beautiful. Our tour guide Sergei taught us a lot about the Romanov’s and really struck my interest. Another interesting thing about the island is that residents of Saint Petersburg use the periphery of the island to sunbathe. Mike, Craig, and I decided that we will come back and do the same at a later date.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

Week 2

First Thoughts:
The first week in Russia was challenging at first because I had to adjust to everything being in a different language. Food was my largest hurdle. I found that waiters and waitresses will sort of freak out when they realize you do not speak Russian fluently. They either shut down and don’t listen so you have to repeat yourself. Or they break into English. However, after ordering and buying food for the supermarket more I have gotten better at communicating with waiters, waitresses, and cashiers.
This second week however has presented new challenges. I am starting to get into a routine, which is good. I am completely over jet lag at this point, and my sleep is more regular. I have successfully prepared a few good meals and figured out good places to get food. But as I transition into a new routine I am constantly reminded of my old routine, my family, my girlfriend, and I am incredibly homesick. Whereas during the first week I saw language breakdowns as a challenge, this week I go out of my way to communicate easily and avoid challenges. My homesickness phased itself out towards the end of the week and I feel a lot better. Skype is a lifesaver.

The first week of class was very basic, but we are starting to learn more complicated grammar topics. I am starting to notice that things I struggled with at first are becoming a lot easier. I am able to put things in the correct case much faster during conversations. I am a lot better at saying numbers especially dates, and putting them into the correct case. I conjugate verbs unconsciously, and am picking up important vocab all the time.
I love to read, and one of the first things that I did was buy a few of my favorite books in Russian. I got Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita as well as Pushkin Hills by Dovlatov. Dovlatov write’s very simply (enough so that I can understand most of what he writes). So after class I read through about 5 to 10 pages in order to improve my reading and comprehending. I also pick up the newspaper whenever I find it and see how much I can understand. I have gotten marginally better at understanding. I need to know more vocab however!

Mike Craig and I tried to go to the Hermitage (the huge art museum located in the Winter Palace) but found out that it is closed on Mondays. We have a planned trip to see the hermitage with a tour guide next week so we were not too bummed.
Instead we sunbathed and read at Peter and Paul fortress. We stumbled across some very cool places on our way, including a park full of miniature versions of all the major palaces, cathedrals, etc. in Saint Petersburg. It was sweet.

Mike Craig and I also went and saw Swan Lake at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. The theatre itself was beautiful. I was honestly surprised at how small it was. The theatre had 4 balconies, with about a single row of viewing on each floor. The ground floor was like a normal theatre. The decorations on the ceiling were really beautiful. The ballet itself was incredible. I cannot believe how talented the dancers were. They make everything look so easy and graceful. The men were so strong, and the dancers were able to hang so long in the air.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Week 3

First Thoughts:
I feel a lot better this week. I was able to skype my whole family on father’s day which was incredible. And even thought I miss my girlfriend a lot, I am starting to get used to the 8 hour time difference, etc.

I have had several pleasant surprises this week. We learned how to decline numbers last week (which is very taxing). We did an exercise in class and I worked through it very easily. I have also been continuing my book of Dovlatov, and am finding that I understand more than ever. I no longer fear ordering food or speaking to cashiers. Even when I don’t understand what people are saying, I can usually pick up by their intonation what they mean. In a café, I ordered a hot chocolate. The waiter said something I couldn’t quite pick up because of how quickly he spoke, but I knew he was saying “we are out of something” so I immediately said “ok I’ll have an Americano instead”. I am exited again about Russian, and I am thinking a lot more in Russian, rather than thinking in English and then translating.

The Hermitage:
I really love art museums, and ever since SLA approved my application I have been excited to see the Hermitage. It was incredible. We went on Wednesday with our incredible guide Sergei, and I was absolutely blown away. First off the museum is absolutely massive. If Sergei was not there I easily would have gotten lost. There were some really incredible pieces of art. We saw two paintings by Da Vinci, two by Raphael, a Michelangelo statue, and some amazing works by Rembrandt. We were at the museum for 3 hours and we were only able to see a small fraction of the works. Apparently if you spent 5 minutes in each room it would take 7 days to get through the entire museum. The amazing thing about the Hermitage is the Winter Palace is basically a piece of art in and of itself. The rooms that house the paintings are just as incredible as the collections. Even the doorknobs were incredible. I cannot wait to go back to the hermitage to look at their collection of Impressionism.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

First Thoughts:

I cannot believe that 4 weeks have already gone by. I am surprised at how much I have learned already. And I am beginning to panic that I won’t be able to see everything that I want to before I have to go.

We tried to see one place of interest a day this week, and we did pretty well. On Tuesday Craig and I went to the Dostoevsky Museum. The museum is located in the apartment that Dostoevsky lived in towards the end of his life, when he was writing The Brothers Karamazov. The apartment was really cool. On the first floor they had a bunch of historical pictures of what Saint Petersburg looked like during Dostoevsky’s time. And the upstairs was his actual apartment. I got to see the desk that Dostoevsky wrote on, and what his family life was like. This was a really cool way to learn about Dostoevsky, and it was free for students!

We also finally walked through the Kazan Cathedral. We walk by the cathedral almost everyday (I can see part of it out my window), but this is the first time that I have been inside of it. It was incredible. The ceilings were so high, and the icons were beautiful. I’m a little upset that we couldn’t take pictures inside the cathedral, but I think the outside of the cathedral is more impressive anyway.

We took an excursion to go see Veliky Novgorod. Novgorod is about 3 hours away by car from Saint Petersburg on the way towards Moscow. The city was so old. We took a tour of a number of cathedrals built in the 1200’s. It was challenging to place the dates I was being told because they were so old. We first went to the old marketplace where 7 churches had been built. And then we crossed the Volkhov River to the Novgorod Kremlin. The Kremlin was massive. The long brick red walls stretched a mile around. There was another amazing Cathedral inside the Kremlin, The Cathedral of Saint Sophia built in 1050. The Cathedral was a little eerie and surprisingly cold inside. After lunch we went to a wood architecture museum, and were able to see a number of wood structures. All in all, the trip was very fun. I was incredibly impressed by the longevity of the structures.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

First Thoughts:
As I rapidly approach the end of my time in Saint Petersburg, my goal for this week was to see as many sights as I could. And I think I accomplished just that. After this week I feel like I know Saint Petersburg a lot better. I am completely comfortable riding on public transportation, and all the translating that it entails.

Russian Museum and Saint Isaacs Cathedral:
On Thursday we took a tour of Saint Isaacs Cathedral and the Russian Museum. Both of these places were on my ‘must see’ list so I was very excited to learn more about these incredible structures. Saint Isaacs was incredible. I have run by the Cathedral a number of times, but I did not realize how massive it was until I stepped inside. It is the largest Orthodox Church in the world and the fourth largest cathedral in the world. The huge pillars were beautiful marble and the ceiling stretched to the heaves. Our tour guide Sergei told us the long history of Saint Isaacs. The first Saint Isaacs was built by Peter the Great, and it was a small chapel built of wood. This eventually fell into decay. Catherine the Great then built a new Saint Isaacs, but she died during its long construction. Her son Paul spitefully stopped construction on the Cathedral, and actually used the marble intended for Saint Isaacs to build his own castle (which he was later murdered in! Karma!). Finally Tsar Alexander I commissioned the new Saint Isaac’s Cathedral that can be seen today. Our tour guide showed us how the massive building was built, and we were able to climb the stairs to the top of the cathedral and see a panoramic view of Saint Petersburg. This might have been the coolest thing I have done in Saint Petersburg. It was incredible to see all the buildings that I know in the distance. I could see all the canals, the rivers, and Saint Petersburg’s amazing architecture. It was also interesting to hear about the history of Saint Isaacs under the Soviet Union. The cathedral was damaged during the Siege of Leningrad, and you could still see some mortar shell damage on the outside of the building. The cathedral was used to store other relics, icons, and other religious objects, and it was also used to display anti-religious and bourgeois sentiment.
The Russian Museum was also incredible. I was still overwhelmed by my visit to Saint Isaacs, but the Russian Museum did not disappoint. The Russian Museum is a collection of Russian art. First we looked at a number of famous russian icons, which was pretty cool. I am not Russian Orthodox, but I still found the icons to be incredibly beautiful. My favorite part of the tour though was when we saw the paintings of Karl Briullov. His “The Last Day of Pompeii” was stunning. It was a massive painting and was incredibly detailed.

Dostoevsky Day:
Sergei also took a few students on a tour of famous Dostoevsky sights throughout the city. Highlights include, the house where Raskolnikov and the Pawnbroker lived from Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”. As well as the area of 7 bridges where Dostoevsky’s “White Nights” begins. We also went to the Dostoevsky Museum again. This apartment museum was where Dostoevsky wrote his most famous work “The Brother’s Kamamazov”. This time we had a tour guide who gave us an insight into the life of Dostoevsky. How we worked and interacted with his family and his visitors. Saturday was also Dostoevsky Day in Saint Petersburg, so we went back to the Dostoevsky museum to watch some plays and festivities on the streets. It was incredible to see how many Russians revere and love the work of Dostoevsky. Mike and I went to the market that Dostoevsky’s wife would go to, and I bought a freshly pickled cucumber, YUM!

4th of July:
Saturday was also our 4th of July celebration. Our program all met at the Field of Mars and spent the afternoon relaxing, eating, and talking to one another in Russian. It was a great way to get to know the people in our program better, practice our russian, and the food and drinks were delicious!

Gulf of Finland:
On Sunday Craig, Mike, and I decided to make a trip up to the Gulf of Finland. We rode the metro almost to the end of the line, took a communal cab, and walked to the beach. The beach was very nice. The sand was not as fine as beaches in America, but it was still very nice to lay out in the sun and read some Sorokin. The gulf was very cold, but I braved it out and enjoyed the day.

I spent a lot of time going to new cafes this week, and realized that I am completely comfortable ordering food at this point. The only trouble that I have is understanding exactly what is in my food (so I can decide whether I want it or not) but even this is getting better all the time.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

First Thoughts:
This week went by super quickly because of our trip to Moscow. Classes went very well this week. We are starting a new phase in our class where we spend time in class reading and translating real news articles. I have already found this to be incredibly helpful in picking up new vocabulary, as well as seeing how ‘modern’ Russians speak.

We left for Moscow late Wednesday night and rode the overnight train. I really liked the train despite the fact that it was crowded and hot. I love riding on trains and I was able to sleep through the entire night. When I finally woke up, I was in Moscow. It didn’t really hit me though until we took the metro to Red Square. Red Square was a lot bigger than I imagined. The Kremlin was massive. Saint Basil’s Cathedral with its impressive colored onion domes did not disappoint either. My favorite part of Red Square has to be GUM, which is a massive department store mall complex across from the Kremlin. The building was absolutely gorgeous. The roof of the building was made almost entirely of glass, there were fountains, and little bridges connecting the upper floors together. GUM also had more flowers in it than any other mall I had ever seen.

After exploring the Kremlin, we checked into our hostel which was surprisingly nice, and had free water, tea, and coffee. I then went on my own to see the Bulgakov Museum. Bulgakov is my favorite Russian Writer. I have wanted to visit his famous apartment at 302 bis Bolshaya Sadovaya ever since I read my favorite book “The Master and Margarita”. The tour of his house was incredible. There were a bunch of statues of Begemoth and Professor Woland all over the house, and I learned even more about the man behind my favorite book. After the museum I walked to the nearby Patriarch Ponds, which also play an important role in the novel. This is where the Devil first meets Ivan Homeless and Berlioz.

After the ponds, I met back up with Craig and Mike and we went out to a fantastic restaurant called Китежъ. Before we got there we explored a number of beautiful metro stations including the Dostoevsky and Mayakovsky stations. The Dostoevsky station was my favorite. Some of the walls were inlaid with marble and depicted famous scenes and characters from many of Dostoevsky’s works. The restaurant did not disappoint. The menu was written in old russian, the servers wore traditional peasant outfits, and the food was fantastic.

Friday morning we walked along “Stary Arbat” or Old Arbat Street. This was probably my favorite part of the Moscow trip. The Arbat was once the arts district of Moscow. Many famous writers, artists, and actors have lived there. The street was incredibly beautiful and was lined with shops and small booksellers. I bought a copy of Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk – Бедные Люди in Russian. We then took the metro to Gorky Park. Gorky Park was massive. It reminded me of Central Park in New York because of how big it was, but it was very different as well. The park had numerous activities in it, and we eventually walked along the Moscow River towards the Kremlin. We crossed a beautiful yellow pedestrian bridge, and got to see the financial district of Moscow for the first time. We also passed the famous Red October factory on our way.

Saturday morning Mike and I went to the Izmailovsky market. This market was staggering. They had all kinds of russian souvenirs matreshka dolls, samovars, etc. I bought a lot of souvenirs for my family, and I cannot wait until they see what I got them! The train ride back home was also a lot of fun. We shared a compartment with an elderly russian couple. They spoke almost no English, so we talked to them the entire time in Russian. We also played chess for a couple of hours with the older gentleman. I slept well on the train, and when I woke up we were home in Saint Petersburg. It was a weird feeling coming back to Petersburg and realizing that it is my home. This was the first time that I felt like I lived here and I was not just a tourist.


Reflective Journal # 7

First Thoughts:
My time here is rapidly approaching an end. I cannot believe that I only have one more week in Russia this summer. This entire week I made sure that I spent a lot of time outside exploring the city and seeing new things. I can honestly say that this was probably my best week in Russia so far.

Nabokov Museum:
On Tuesday I decided to go check out the Nabokov museum. I recently finished Nabokov’s “Invitation to a Beheading” which was fantastic, and I had hoped to see the museum before leaving Saint Petersburg. I walked along the Moika canal to get to the museum. I knew I was on the block where the museum was, but as I started to walk down the block I saw a security guard standing in front of a different building. I knew the Nabokov Museum was coming up soon, but I decided to ask the man in Russian if he knew where the museum was. His face lit up, and he responded “Yes, I know. But first let me show you something!” He then proceeded to show me around the building that he was a guard for, which happened to be a museum/ music hall of famous russian composers. The guard told me that after the war Dmitri Shostakovich came here and was chairman of the composers union. We chatted for about 10 minutes about where I go to school, where I am studying in Saint Petersburg, what instruments I play, etc. He told me that if I come back in the fall there are a number of free concerts here for students, and that he would remember me. This was an awesome conversation entirely in Russian. A conversation which I am probably the most proud of. I decided to go out of my way and speak just for the sake of speaking, and what do you know I got to know an Armenian man, and practice my Russian.

After we talked he took me back outside and showed me where the Nabokov Museum was (it was two buildings down). The Nabokov Museum was awesome. I did not know that Nabokov was such an avid butterfly collector. They had hundreds of preserved butterflies that he had caught, and many of them were the most incredible colors. I also learned that Nabokov, like myself, loved chess. I also was able to see two of his typewriters, and a bunch of his books in first edition. The museum was cool to look around, but not as informative because everything was in Russian. I took pictures of things that looked interesting and ended up translating the words I didn’t know when I got back to my dorm.

After the museum I continued along the Moika to see the New Holland island. This triangular island has no bridges connecting to it, and must be reached by boat. The island was once a factory that built boats and other naval equipment. Today however, they are converting the island into a park for the people of Saint Petersburg. Unfortunately because of the construction I was not able to take a boat tour into the island, but I walked all around it, and it was awesome. I cannot wait to visit Saint Petersburg one day, and take a tour of the island!

Baltika Tour
On Thursday we took a tour of the Baltika factory. Baltika is the most widely distributed brewery in Russia. Its beers are everywhere. As a class we went to the factory and took a tour of their facilities. The tour was relatively informative. I am interested in brewing so I already knew all the steps in making beer, but I was incredibly surprised by the sheer size of the brewery. The tanks were absolutely massive. The bottling process was very impressive as well. The bottles flew down the line. And of course the tasting was quite nice as well.

Peterhof Palace
On Friday we took an excursion to the Peterhof Palace. However, on the way we stopped for a few minutes to pay our respects at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. This cemetery was erected on the outskirts of town during World War II to bury all those lost during the 900 day siege of Leningrad. This burial site is the largest mass grave in the world. It was an incredibly moving site. There were hundreds of raised mounds, filled with hundreds of bodies. There have been numerous reminders and memorials of the siege throughout the city. None were as powerful as this one. This burial site really drove home how awful the conditions were in the city, and truly exposed the costs of war. There was also an incredibly powerful statue of Rodina Mat’ – Mother Russia as well.

The fountains of Peterhof were truly a sight to behold. we arrived just before the fountains of the main cascade turned on. The fountains turned on in sync with some beautiful music, and one by one start spewing water as high as 25 feet in the air. More impressive is the fact that none of the fountains use pumps. Only gravity is used to power the pumps. It was a perfect sunny day to enjoy the beautiful golden fountains, and enjoy the many trick fountains throughout the grounds. Peter the Great made a number of trick fountains at his palace to entertain and punish his guests. There were fake trees, trick cobblestones, and many other trick fountains that children loved to play in. The view of the Gulf of Finland was also impressive. The water was so clear and smooth it was beautiful. And despite it being a little foggy we were able to see Saint Petersburg across the gulf.

Peterhof is easily the most beautiful part of Saint Petersburg. It has some canals, and fountains from all over the world. The opulence of it all reminds me of Versailles. But it seems more functional nowadays. It is almost like a water park for little children. Children played in all the fountains everywhere.

This week I noticed a number of times how my language proficiency has improved drastically. We had a conversation in class about health insurance which was fantastic. I was shocked at how well our conversation went. We compared the insurance system in America to that of Russia, and talked about the unique problems of each system. In terms of understanding and speaking, this conversation was probably the best that I have had in Russian. The conversation with the security guard was also incredible. I am so glad that I randomly decided to talk to him. They tell you to practice your Russian every chance you get, and I think I accomplished this that day. He also complimented me a number of times on my Russian speaking, so that was also very nice!

I have one more week. I am so grateful for this wonderful opportunity. I don’t think I even fully understand at this point how much this experience has helped me in learning Russian. I look forward to my last week in Russia. I will make it count!


Reflective Journal # 8

First Thoughts:
As my final week here in Saint Petersburg comes to an end, I can honestly say that this summer has been a life changing experience. I spent this week trying to re-see as much of Saint Petersburg as possible, and what a fantastic week it was.

On Sunday Mike and I decided to go to a Russian Banya. We had seen and heard about the russian banya experience from russian movies, and really wanted to go before I had to leave. We found a Banya online and went. It was unlike anything I have ever done. You go into an incredibly hot sauna for about 5 minutes. At the end of the five minutes you beat yourself with birch twigs to get your blood flowing. You then go into a different room and jump into a freezing cold water bath, and then you repeat the process. The sauna had three levels to it, and the higher you went up the hotter it was. By the end of our time, Mike and I were climbing to the top of the sauna and melting! I had never done anything like this in my life, and I admit I felt terrific after I left. This also opened my eyes to how important saunas are to Russians and other Scandinavian countries.

Working and Living in Russia Dinner:
On Wednesday our group had dinner at a Georgian restaurant, and heard from a number of patriots working in Russia. This was a fantastic opportunity to hear stories of how people made their way to Russia, as well as a unique marketing opportunity. I learned about a number of different jobs that ex-pats can do in Saint Petersburg, and had some incredible food. Georgian cuisine is kind of like Russian and kind of Armenian, but totally delicious!

Museums One Final Round:
I wanted to make sure that I made it back to the Hermitage and the Russian Museum before I left. I spent a day at each of the museums this weekend in order to take more pictures, see more of their incredible collections, and learn more about russian art and culture. I was able to see all the major highlights in the Hermitage again, and even had time to see the impressionism collection which I had not yet seen. I love Degas and Monet, so this was an incredible chance to see their work. At the Russian Museum I focused my time on the modern russian art. My favorite Russian artist is Wassily Kandinsky, and so I spent a lot of time looking at his works in the museum. While in the museum I also fell in love with the incredibly interesting work of Pavel Filonov. His works were very striking. Needless to say I spent a lot of time in the Russian Museum.

Church of Savior on Spilled Blood:
Or “Спас на Крови” is one of the most beautiful structures in Saint Petersburg. You can see this impressive church from almost anywhere in the center of Saint Petersburg (including when you walk out of our university). I see this church daily, like the Kazan Cathedral, but this was the first time that I went inside. The Church was erected on the site of the assassination of Alexander II. The inside of the church was almost as impressive as the onion domes on the outside. The walls were covered completely by mosaics. In each of the domes was the face of a member of the holy family. The mosaics were simply stunning. Also incredibly you can see the exact spot that Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. They have the original cobblestone road. This was just incredible to see. It was cool to see what the roads used to look like in Saint Petersburg, but it was incredible to be so close to such an important place in the history of Russia.

Amusement Park and Lake:
To celebrate my last week here in Saint Petersburg we made our way to Divo Ostrov, and amusement park that looked eerily like Disney World. The rides were a lot of fun. We went on a roller coaster, a catapult, and a ride that was like a spinning top. The amusement park was a lot of fun despite the long lines, and a great way to conclude my time in Saint Petersburg. We also took a trip up to a public lake, and spent some time sun bathing and swimming. I could not have asked for a better last week in Russia.


I think at this point in my language journey I have the unique opportunity to reflect on how much improvement I have made. When I first came to Saint Petersburg I was afraid to talk to people because I was afraid that I would not be able to understand them. Going out to restaurants was horrifying because it was difficult to order food, and I found myself avoiding people. Now I actively seek conversations with people on the street. I go out of my way to ask for directions even when I know where I am going. I feel completely confident buying food and ordering at restaurants without having to resort to English. I have noticed that I unconsciously decline words, putting them in the correct case without thinking about it. I think this is because I have heard the words in their different forms so many times now that I hear the beginning of a word or phrase and then just finish the whole sentence off. I catch myself thinking in Russian A LOT now. When I realize I need to ask someone something I automatically start thinking in Russian. When I first came to Russia I thought in English and then translated. Now I begin with Russian and build from there. I am a lot better now at speaking around things I don’t know how to say. This huge because I have a long way to go still with learning vocabulary. But I surprise myself at how good I am at working my way around vocabulary I do not know. I notice that when I walk down the street I am actually able to hear words that people say. At first all the Russian around me seemed like a jumbled mess. But I am now able to slow things down somehow. I am incredibly grateful for this incredible experience, but this is really just the beginning. This experience this summer has given me the tools to excel and continue working towards fluency in Russian.



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: