I am in the midst of the second week of semester classes at the Polytech Institute in St. Petersbrug, and it has certainly been an adventure.
My courses this semester are Russian Language, the History of the Russian Language, History & Culture of St. Petersburg, and Lexicology. History of the Russian Language and Lexicology aren’t scheduled to start until next month, so as of right now, my only two classes are Russian Language and History & Culture of St. Petersburg.
Only two classes? Why, that sounds like a breeze, you say.
Don’t be deceived.
Our Russian Language course has 12 hours of class time a week. We are in class from 10:00 to 1:30 Monday through Thursday, with a half hour break in the middle. That’s enough class time to constitute a full time schedule at OU. The class is also taught completely in Russian, which has been a lot to adjust to.
Some of the students in our class have been studying Russian for three or four years. I’ve only been studying Russian for two. Suffice to say, there’s a little bit of a disparity between language abilities, and as I am (currently) on the lower end of the class language spectrum, the homework we get every night generally keeps me busy for three hours or so, depending on the nature of the work.
We’re only a second week in, but I’ve come to realize that this semester may be one of the most challenging I will have during my college career. But while I know it’s going to be a lot of work (and believe me, it already is), I have already begun to learn so much. My roommate Callie has managed to make friends with a couple of native Russian speakers here, and we’ve gotten to hang out with them and practice our Russian on several occasions. Going to the store, ordering food at restaurants, and understanding the class lectures are all gradually becoming easier. And the knowledge I’ve been acquiring isn’t constituted solely of language either. Every time I ride the metro, every time I explore a new part of the city, every time I try a new Russian food, I’m learning a little bit more about the culture and the mindsets of the people who live here.
With such long hours in class wherein we only speak Russian with classmates who know so much more than I do, contributing to the classwork and discussions is a daunting task. But when I think about the extraordinary opportunity that has been afforded me — the fact that if I work hard, if I make an effort to speak the language, if I keep my head above the water, if I truly do my best to learn — I see how much I could improve my language abilities over the semester. Being here in St. Petersburg where Russian is spoken everywhere and by everyone, the amount I learn is limited only by how much work I’m willing to put in.
When I think about these things, I get the same giddy feeling that I did when I first started entertaining the idea of studying in St. Petersburg.