Wednesday, 16 May 2012

On having survived a year in Russia

It is almost 1am on the 16th May. I'm leaving to go back to (not so) sunny old England later today. My flight leaves at 4.55pm and Viktor has booked me a taxi at 2pm. He said he would come with me to help with the cases (I had to buy another in the end to fit it all in) and check me in, but I told him that was far too much effort and I would be fine on my own. I'm all packed but not quite emotionally ready to say goodbye to St Petersburg and the people here. I would never have believed it when I was in Yaroslavl, but you do become so attached to the place in the end that it's hard to leave. The weather has transformed recently and it's so much easier to appreciate the parks and buildings, going outside is infinitely easier (and quicker) since the ice has melted away and I have enjoyed standing on the embankment of the Fontanka outside my house in the evenings in progressively lighter night skies. I'm going to just miss the best of the white nights but at least I've seen them before.

I can't quite believe that my year abroad is over. I'm so glad I kept this blog because I've been looking back at my early posts from before I'd even got to Yaroslavl and contrasting where I was to where I am now. Ok, I still can't speak brilliantly, but my listening and comprehension skills have rocketed, as has my confidence in so many new situations. At one point in Yaroslavl, Hannah and I were too scared to buy cake from the counter because of needing to talk and not having quite the right vocabulary. We did it once, and that was it, easy. Kind of regretted it in the end, given the amount of cake we subsequently got through, but now the same kind of situation doesn't phase me. I can work my way around situations without specific vocabulary knowledge without panicking and be understood. I can function in society, that's good enough for me. I do occasionally mess up- at TGIs I asked for a large coke and ended up with a pitcher and 4 glasses, for example, but you learn to not be scared about checking your orders and being up front with your mistakes.
I need to come back to work on the fear of making a complete idiot of myself in front of several Russians, for example in queues, but I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I started back in August.

There have been some serious ups and downs throughout this year, some situations in which I was kicked violently out of my comfort zone and others in which I wish I had been bolder.
I should have made more conversation with Firdaus, but I took an easy option out much of the time, partly because of lack of confidence and partly because of the situation and Russian Step Dad scaring me, but I know I would perform better after this term. Probably also should have gone to more of the cultural events she put on, but a definite highlight of my memories (although one I still can't quite fathom) is the trip to Uglich with the children we thought were future teen mums but turned out to be a dance group acting out some kind of story with goats, being attacked by frogs, interviewed (and failing at being interviewed) by Russian tv, the insane open air lunch with drunk Russians and fish heads in soup, and the (then stressful, now funny) journey home, not really knowing where we lived.
Frequent trips to Globus for decent spaghetti bolognaise, factoring in time to de-dill the food, insane babushki on the shuttle buses there and back, our Moscow trip, the Indian restaurant and my panic over seeing a doctor all stand out to me.
In St Petersburg I suppose the obvious memory is Loony Lyudmila, George and the cockroaches. Yes, this whole episode was...unpleasant, but I was so fortunate to have met some great people out of the experience that the negative side is overshadowed by the good. I obviously came to Petersburg alone, and initially yes I was nervous, but it turned out to be the absolute best thing I could have done. I've made great friends because I've been forced to be more sociable and haven't taken the easy option of sticking with what I know. I have laugh out loud memories of movie nights in the hostel, staying up until 4am and standing on a chair outside the bathroom waiting to scare someone who when they came out, and especially fond memories of Danny jumping into the corridor, brandishing a limp baguette and yelling 'Avada Kedavra' at me.

I have even finally met someone in person who I have been talking to and who has been an enormous help to me for many years, which may well not have happened if it were not for me being here.
My health was always a concern to everyone involved in sending me to Russia-justified, clearly, but I am certain that, despite the last minute panic and hospitalisation, I have done better in this regard thanks to being happy here than I ever would have if I'd gone along with recommendations to go to Moscow instead. I did briefly consider switching to Moscow for the second semester because of fears of being alone here, but that would have been a huge mistake. I have wanted to spend my year abroad in Piter since I spent a weekend here back in the first year-I fell in love with everything about the place, despite the extreme case of blistered feet and exhaustion from touring the city (again, I'd spent a week in hospital just prior to this!) and it's been great to be able to do that.

Viktor, Larissa and Aleksey have been amazing hosts, even if the lamp routine became a little trying after a while, and the location of my flat is equally amazing -the location so close to school, the metro, a 20 minute walk to Nevsky along the river-it has been perfect. This family genuinely care about the well being of their students, which isn't always easy to find in homestays, and the satisfaction of their many guests is all recorded in guest books with hundreds of messages from past visitors, my own just added too.

I can't believe how quickly it's gone. Arriving in Yaroslavl, the overnight train from Moscow when I couldn't get over the fact that I was in Russia, on a sleeper train, by Russia, the final arrival at Firdaus' place-that seems like it never even happened. The arrival here, after a plane journey during which I sat hunched against the window cursing Russia and everything about it, convinced I'd hate the experience and walking up to and introducing myself to a random group of girls in the airport with our group, who turned out to be truly lovely - it all seems like forever ago. Everything was so stressful and scary at the time, but the dynamic slipped and shifted so quickly I didn't even realise I was having fun. Dare I even say it, I think this year abroad has made me grow up-not that you'd ever know it from observing my behaviour and that of those I spend time with, but I think it has. I think I feel more mature...or...independent....or something. How strange.

I could just go on and on. But it seems that I have actually survived my year in Russia, and that would suggest that this blog has run its course, which is a little sad for me. I find writing therapeutic and generally it comes so easily that I enjoy logging my experiences for future review and nostalgic purposes. It helps me order my own current thoughts too. I remember deciding to start it up at some silly time in the early hours, thinking it was unlikely I'd continue with it. Lucky I did, every entry brings back floods of memories and emotions and has, on occasion, helped me through some tough moments. It would be sad to abandon it. Plus I'm not all that mature just yet. Perhaps I'll have to come back to Russia and fill it up some more.

That is, of course, if airport security let me out in the first place without a migration card. 3 months of keeping it safe and the day before I fly I lose it. Well done me. Fingers crossed. Need to be let out to be let back in.

До встречи!

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