What Goes Around Comes Back Around

The End of the Semester, Again.

15/05/15

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(End of the semester boat ride)

I would like to say that when I started writing this blog, I did not really know where I was going with it. I like to write and knew that some people close to me said they wanted to read about my travels, but I also knew that when I write I often give a lot of detail. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. A good thing in that those who choose to read my blog get a better picture of what see, or can better understand what I am experiencing, but bad in that each post ends up being a little longer, and then I don’t get around to writing some other posts because I run out of time. That has definitely happened since I started writing this blog, and despite my attempts to try to stay caught up, I still fall behind and have to jump to the next part because I can never catch up. So here I am again, skipping over months of my experience abroad and jumping to the next part of my blog.

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(They fed us little appetizers and champagne)

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(Smolnii in the distance)

My second semester abroad ended on May 15th, but today is actually May 31st. I wanted to write about my last few days in Russia going into my summer travels. Although I have spent most of my time in Russia this year, I have not written a lot about Russia, because that is when I am in class, and tired and out of time.

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(Peter and Paul’s fortress in the distance)

I think first I will give a little bit of background on what I did this last semester in Russia concerning academics, since that is the reason I am abroad in the first place, to study. This last semester in Russia I took five classes again. Usually in the program that I chose to participate in, people only take four classes their second semester in Russia.  I don’t know why my program is set up like that, but I suppose they have their reasons.

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(Inside the boat)

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(Coming to an end)

Before I realized the situation I was in this semester, I decided to pursue that fifth class because the idea of taking any less than 16 credits in one semester seems kind of ridiculous to me (with four classes I would have only been taking 14 credits), but more importantly I thought that more class time exposure to the language would help me in the long run. So, as the semester started I sought out approval from both my study abroad office back home as well as my study abroad program.

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(It is tradition to let all of the balloons go)

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(Even though it is not so great for the creatures of the earth)

At the beginning of the semester, on the first day, we took a placement test so that we could enter into our proper level of Russian. Here is where the situation that I mentioned I had been in, really started. The previous semester about 75 students participated in the program, while this semester only about 30-35 students did due to ongoing troubles between the governments of the United States and Russia that cause American parents to be over protective of their adult children, but that is their call and not mine. The larger program meant that the previous semester there were more levels available for the wider range of students. This second semester the level I should have been placed in, no longer existed, and I was the only one stuck in such a situation. It is true that the capabilities of each student in a class were much more widespread than they had been the previous semester, but they were not really inconvenienced by this. My placement test score fell directly between two levels, so at first I was placed in the lower level because they did not know what to do with me. I tried this out for a week as they instructed us to do if we were unsure of our placement, but the class was too easy for me, because I had already learned this information, so I decided to try out the upper level class. Although it was manageable, it was obvious that my grasp of the Russian language was lower than everyone else in the class. My vocabulary was obviously much weaker than the rest of the class, and my understanding  and ability to use some of the grammar was not as complete. Regardless of these inconveniences, I knew that I could learn something new in this class, which is what I was looking for, so I stuck with it. This meant that on top of having pursued the fifth class and being approved to take it, I was also in a level of Russian that was higher than where I should have been.

The classes I took were Russian Grammar and Conversation, like I had done the previous semester, as well as Advanced Translation, 20th Century Russian Literature, and Russian Civilization. Second semester students took Translation instead of Phonetics, since we had already completed that course the previous semester. Of all the courses, Translation was the hardest. No matter how hard I tried, I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I definitely improved, but the class progressed as well.

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After climbing St. Issac’s Cathedral)

On the last day of class – the 15th of May – I had two exams; one in Translation and one in Conversation. I had woken up at about 6 that morning because I couldn’t sleep, and I wanted to study. After the exams we had our closing ceremony, and then our program took us on a boat ride around the rivers that run through St. Petersburg. Boat rides are a very popular tourist attraction in St. Petersburg, and after having spent so long there, I still had not been on one, so it was good to go on one the last opportunity I had. By the time the boat ride was over I was exhausted. I had stressed myself out worrying about the test, which makes me tired, in addition to waking up early when I don’t usually go to bed at a reasonable time during the school year as it is. I returned home (to my homestay, which was really like a home to me) and really just wanted to nap, but because the semester was almost over I decided to spend time with my host mom since I did not know when I would see her again.

My host dad had been gone for quite a while towards the end of the semester because he has to travel for work, and unfortunately could not make it back before I left, so instead of a goodbye dinner with both of them, I had one with just my host mom. It was nice, but also very sad. I had lived with her for so long, that it was really like leaving home and not knowing if and when you could come back, whereas when I left the US it was kind of terrifying, but at the same time I had an end date, a date I would be coming home. (Of course, this date has changed since I was initially supposed to return to the United States after my program ended, but plans change).

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(The Stairs. There were quite a few).

I had a couple good friends this semester, so my friend Grisha (Gregory), our friend Nastya (who is from St. Petersburg), Max and I decided to spend that evening together climbing to the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral (where I also had not yet been), because it has a really good view. Afterward, we went up with Max’s friend Dasha and went to a bar for a drink. We talked about staying out all night, (staying at the bars or clubs in St. Petersburg after midnight tend to become an all-night endeavor because the bridges to the islands open at a certain time to let ships pass through, and since many of us lived on islands, we would not have been able to return home) but I had stuff I needed to do in the morning, and they weren’t willing to commit to the whole night – which I had to do if I stayed out past midnight because I lived on an island. After that decision was made, I left the bar in a rush so that I could catch one of the last buses home, almost forgetting that I would not see these friends again for a long time.

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One part of a day can define the memory of that day…

07/11/14   

It is interesting that the definition of a crowded bus in Russia changes between a big city like St. Petersburg and a smaller city like Vladimir.

I will explain this, but let me tell my story first.

As an introduction, at the beginning of the program during orientation we were told that Russians don’t have the same sense of personal space as people from the United States, and this has proven to be very true. Even when each person is pushed up against the person next to them, more people will try to enter the bus because they don’t want to wait for the next one.

Now I will get to the story.

It was Friday, our second to last day traveling before we returned to our host city. We had planned a trip to a neighboring city called Suzdal’ for the day (which is only about an hour bus ride), but both of us felt ill that morning and changed our plans as we were waiting at the bus stop.

We went back into the center of Vladimir instead and had a calm day first visiting the inside of a church we had gone to the night before, only to discover that it was a poorly put together museum.

We took more pictures of the church with the spire that hid itself in the fog the day before as the air was more clear, and noticed a gathering of people near the church. The people carried red flags with yellow writing and symbols (think the colors of the flag of the Soviet Union). The flags read the initials КПРФ, which I believe stands for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, one of the very active political parties in Russia. Christina didn’t notice them, so I was glad I did, that way we avoided any unwanted attention from them.

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(A clearer picture of this church)

We moved on to a nearby cafe to rest a little because although we hadn’t done much, we still both weren’t feeling ourselves. I ordered a coffee and a macaroon, while Christina ordered something I had never heard of. It looked like dry oatmeal oats that she simply poured milk over, but I am not sure that this is actually what it was.

As we sat at the cafe I continue to feel worse and more exhausted, so eventually we left and went back to the hostel. We both took a two or three hour nap and I woke up feeling much better, but rather hungry.

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(My coffee was pretty)

We decided to go out of the hostel and look for a place to eat instead of eating the food we had. The map had showed us that there was an Italian place nearby, however the map to this restaurant didn’t take into account the gates and fences that barred our ability to get there. We walked around for about 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get there and after we finally did find the restaurant, it turned out to be closed. We decided to look for another place since the map had shown other restaurants near enough to us, but as we were walking, the street started to look empty. Christina insisted that we keep going because other people were walking on this street so it must lead somewhere. I had a guess of where it lead because of the direction we were headed in, but I wasn’t sure. We ended up on a very dark sidewalk set back from the road next to a bunch of trees in an area that looked like it had a river or a creek, but it was too dark to tell. The only comfort was that it was beautiful, but there were also quite a few pedestrians walking on the same sidewalk.

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(They always seem to arrange napkins in this flowery formation in cafes and restaurants in Russia)

We ended up where I had expected we would, in the city center which we normally took the trolleybus to get to. As we walked along the street looking for a place to eat, we passed the Golden Gate again and saw that it lit up at night. Shortly after that we found a restaurant that looked popular because it had many people inside, so we decided to try it. For me, one way to judge a restaurant on whether the food is good and if it is reasonably priced is by the amount of people in it.

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(The Golden Gate lit up)

The restaurant was split into a few separate areas instead of being one large open room like many restaurants in the United States tend to be. After we had sat down and ordered our food and a glass of wine to accompany it, a young man showed up and was seated near us. He was obviously already intoxicated, and all he ordered was vodka and what looked like a chaser of some sort. A little while later he stumbled over to us uninvited pulled up a chair at our table and promptly sat down. Apparently he became interested because he heard us speaking English. He asked the waitress for a bottle of champagne for us, which I tried to signal her that we did not want it, but he was a big drunk man and we couldn’t really do anything.

He asked us our names, so I told him my name was Masha and that Christina’s was Krysta because it was the first name I thought of. I did most of the talking since Christina didn’t understand much, but we both wanted to get out of there. Christina’s food had already come, but she wasn’t eating it. Her choosing not to eat it wasn’t going to help us get out of there, but she seemed too distressed. After my food came, I told her to eat because I wanted to get the check and leave as soon as we could.

The champagne came and the guy (I never asked his name) made us stand up to toast. After we sat, he proceeded to ask us about American politics since the midterm elections had just happened and Republicans had gained the majority in both houses. I have no interest in getting into a discussion about American politics with a Russian much less a drunken Russian man, so I told him that we were more interested in international politics and didn’t know much about what’s going on in the United States since we were not there, so we can’t say anything about it. He kept trying to ask, but it was lucky in this instance that he was intoxicated because I didn’t have to say much to get off of the subject. After some time he wanted to have a cigarette break with us, but neither of us smoke or have ever smoked. We had to tell him this over and over again because he kept trying to get us to come with him even to keep him company, but apart from not liking cigarette smoke, we had no interest in going out of the crowded restaurant with him. As he was getting up to leave, he asked one of the people at another table in the room if they wanted to smoke with him, but they declined as well. His presence was making everyone’s experience unpleasant.

Finally he left and as soon as he did we asked for the check. Christina was still eating, but we wanted to ask for it at a time when the guy wasn’t in the room. I also moved his chair back to the proper table, but it didn’t do much to prevent him from joining us again.

When he returned, he picked up my glass of champagne and drank it in one gulp. The champagne wasn’t bad, but I didn’t want it so I didn’t really care. He pulled his chair back up and brought his vodka with him this time. He was already very drunk, having knocked over one of the champagne glasses, but I guess he wanted to take more shots. I kept having to move the glasses and the bottle further and further back from him as he became drunker and started having less precise motor control of his movements.

He was very caught up on my name because I had told him it was Masha. He didn’t understand why I had a Russian name and wasn’t Russian. He kept asking me to explain it, but I just asked him why I shouldn’t have a Russian name.

When he got tired of asking about my name, he picked up Christina’s hand and kissed it, at which point she told him she had a boyfriend. He took this as information that both of us had boyfriends, which I don’t, but he proceeded to ask their names. Christina’s boyfriend’s name is very American and he could not understand it, so he moved on to me. I scrambled around for a guy’s name and told him that my boyfriend’s name is Tyler, which was the name of my first boyfriend. I made sure to say the name in a very American way, instead of Russianizing it. Luckily with how drunk he was he didn’t notice my delay as I tried to think of a name.

After Christina scrambled to finish her dinner, I told him we were going to use the bathroom. We did go to the bathroom, but there we talked about what our next plan of action should be. Christina had been messaging her boyfriend, who said that we should either take a taxi back to the hostel so he couldn’t follow us, or we could tell the waitress or manager he made us uncomfortable. I thought this would be great advice for the United States, but we were in another country where things don’t work quite the same. The chances of a taxi being nearby were not very high and I thought that it would be unnecessary to take a taxi. As to the advice about telling the manager or waitress, I don’t know the word for manager in Russian, although I do know how to tell them that he scared us. I had also been measuring their physical states in my head. The guy who had been talking to us obviously had some muscle on him; he was not a small man and just because he was drunk did not mean that that muscle wouldn’t be used. The only male staff member I had seen in the restaurant was very scrawny and the rest were small females. I decided our best option would be to get our coats from the coat check and slip out.

We did just that and it worked. We speed walked to the bus stop, but there was no sign of him following us. Even though we didn’t see him we wanted to get out of the area. Even if he had followed us I don’t know if he would have been able to keep up because he was so drunk that he was knocking things over and stumbling around, however I know that a really determined drunk person can accomplish a lot so it was good that we didn’t have to take any chances. As we got on the bus, I realized that it was more crowded then I had seen a bus in one of these smaller cities, but compared to crowded busses in St. Petersburg, there was definitely enough room on it for 10 or 15 more people. We got on the bus, but it seemed that other people who had been waiting for the same bus decided it was too crowded, so they continued to wait.

When we got back to the hostel I told Christina that I thought he had been married and was probably a relatively new husband who isn’t enjoying marriage. He was wearing a gold band on his ring finger on his right hand. I think I have mentioned before that Russian’s wear wedding rings on their right hand because there is an artery or vein or something that runs from your heart to that finger.

We were both very disappointed about this experience because it could have been a very good meal and an enjoyable dinner, but instead it had all been ruined by a drunk man.