It’s been about a week and a half since I’ve arrived in Russia, and it already feels like a month. I’ve had to do so much, learn so much, in just this first half of August.
I arrived last Saturday, August 3rd, and perhaps the very first thing I noticed upon leaving the airport was how much cooler the temperature was. Though this may not be all that surprising to some people, it shocked me to learn that St. Petersburg is as far north as Juneau, Alaska. I had learned this prior to leaving for Russia, but it really struck home when we landed in St. Petersburg and the temperature was only in the upper 50s. I had flown out of New York, where the average temperature for the past week was over 90 degrees, and I spent the summer at home in Omaha, Nebraska, where we had weeklong stretches of highs above 100. So to step outside and find that I actually needed my coat? Super strange. I skipped the second half of summer and went straight to autumn.
Since then, it has gotten a little warmer here, but the daily range remains in the 60s and lower 70s. One of my Russian professors told us in class the other day that he considers this weather to be hot! I wonder what he’d think of Oklahoman summers.
The second thing that really struck me was that people actually spoke Russian. I know I sound ridiculous, but it didn’t really hit me that I was in a different country until I was walking behind a family with a toddler, and she spoke in Russian to her parents instead of English. In class at OU, we’re with other teenagers and young adults, and the only fluent speakers we encounter on a daily basis are our professors. Listening to the toddler talk was the first time I had heard a child speaking Russian. Then it occurred to me that she had a better grasp of Russian than I did, and I realized just how far away from the United States I had gone.
There are also families and dogs everywhere. I’m not sure if this was so surprising to me because I’ve lived on OU’s campus for the last two years with thousands of other teenagers and young adults, but here, I see families and people walking their dogs all the time. I go to class, and I see maybe six or seven dog walkers. I come back from class, and I pass five families. It is so out of the normal from what I’m used to in Norman. I wonder if people here perhaps value nature more, or if it’s just because the winters are so cold here that families and pet owners must make the most out of the warm weather while they have it.
The next hardest thing has probably been living with two other people. I am very much an introvert, and I zealously guard whatever alone time I can get after a long day of classes. Freshman year, it wasn’t so difficult, as my roommate and I had very different schedules and rarely saw each other until going to bed at night. Here, my roommates and I go to class at the same time, come home at the same time, and generally spend the whole evening in our room together. It’s a little bit of an adjustment, not getting to come home to an empty house at the end of a long day of classes, but I’m learning to find solitude in other ways, particularly by walking to and from class by myself and going out to explore the campus alone after class.
Figuring out the currency here has also been a little bit of a struggle. In Russia, they use rubles, and the exchange rate of rubles to US dollars is somewhere around 60 to 1. I’m still figuring out how to apply that ratio to my daily purchases though. More often than not, what ends up happening is that I think anything under 500 rubles is a steal, and anything more than 500 rubles is extremely expensive. When I spend 270 rubles on a coffee, I think that it’s way cheaper than in the US, when in reality, I spent about $4.50 which is about the same. On the other hand, I bought a pan that cost maybe 800 rubles, and I thought for sure I had spent a fortune, but it’s a really nice non-stick skillet that actually only really cost about $13. I need to keep working on understanding the value of rubles so that I’m not quite so clueless about how much money I actually spend.
Perhaps the last thing that’s been a real challenge for me since arriving in St. Petersburg is finding the courage to actually speak to the native speakers here. I know a decent amount of Russian, and I can hold conversations pretty easily in class, but when it comes to real-life situations out on the street, I lose my nerve, and I resort back to English or only manage to string together a couple of incoherent words in Russian. My main goal for this study abroad experience is to gain a better understanding of and better fluency in the Russian language, so finding the courage to actually speak is vitally important.
But as it as, I’ve only been here for a week and a half, and I’m only just starting to find my footing. I still have four and a half months to learn all I can before I come home.