Minggu, 20 Desember 2009

When it hits -26, then you know it’s time to go home.

I now have 3 days left in Moscow before I return home for 6 whole weeks over Christmas! I can’t actually describe how much I want to go home! I’ve think I’ve been ready for the last 4 weeks (definitely had to restrain myself from packing my suitcase home at the beginning of December).

Over the last two weeks I really feel like I’ve just been existing, waiting to go home rather than really doing anything! The weather has turned completely crazy. It went from being around +5 to -15 overnight. A major shock to the system!! The coldest it’s been is -27. I’ve never been so cold in my life… walking to the metro felt like I was being hit repeatedly in the face! It’s a weird feeling because obviously everyone dresses warm (my standard outfit is tights, jeans, thick socks, 2 t-shirts, jumper, hoodie, coat, scarf, hat, gloves, boots) and so my body is never cold – it’s just my face! I really wish a balaclava was an acceptable accessory.

Here's what my street has looked like for the past 2 weeks:

Because it’s been so cold we’ve all just been going home after school and staying in all night. This has helped my Gossip Girl addiction (nearly up to date with the UK!) but not really made these last few weeks any easier. I’ve just kinda been sat at home really REALLY missing my friends and family. I totally understand Mariah now in that song All I want for Christmas is you. I don’t care about any of the rubbish surrounding Christmas – presents, decorations, massive meals... blahblahblah. I just want to see my friends and family more than anything else. I’m slightly concerned I’m gonna cry my eyes out when I meet them at Heathrow (in fact let’s face it, I totally am). I am however going to LOVE the fact that I will be doing a Love Actually style arrival. Hopefully Colin Firth will be there.

I’m a little worried that I will get too comfy at home and find it really difficult to come back to Russia. Fortunately my friend is coming back with me for a bit of Russian style travelling at the beginning of my term… so I will HAVE to come back! But as I look back over my blogs from my first term here I remember how much fun I have had here, how living abroad is helping me to grow up, have amazing experiences and probably most importantly trust God more than I ever have done before. So even though it is hard right now I think it’s just because I’m homesick. 6 weeks at home should refresh me to face Russia again in February!

Huddersfield, prepare the red carpet. Brier is coming back.

Selasa, 08 Desember 2009

Stories from the metro…

As you all know I love the metro. It seems so simple yet so effective (yes I know it obviously isn’t that simple but to my naïve eyes it just all seems to run so smoothly). I spend at least 1 and a half hours on the metro everyday just getting to school and back. From this have developed my new favourite hobby: people watching.

Now I don’t do this in a stalker-ish way. I just love looking at people and making up their life stories based on what I see. Some may call this judging. I call it observing. For examples on Sunday I was sat opposite an old woman who was completely covered in fur. Her hat, coat, scarf, gloves and even her boots were made of fur. Over the half an hour journey I saw her whole life (well my version of it at least). I decided that she was born into a rich family and so could afford fur coats, but then at some point her family had lost money and so now she had to take the metro with everyone else but she had still held onto her fur clothes so as not to completely lose her past. This could be the influence of Gossip Girl. But it’s a fun game… try it!

On the metro you see all walks of life. Moscow is a huge, vibrant city full of different kinds of people and everyday all those people use the metro. This means travelling on the metro makes you witness all kinds of events. Sometimes I see things that break my heart, and other times I see things that fill me with joy…

Recently a man was on my metro in a wheelchair. The Moscow metro is NOT wheelchair friendly. Too many steps and escalators and no ramps. This man had some friends with him who carried him up the stairs but he was obviously uncomfortable. People were staring and even pointing. It made me so angry. Then I started thinking about all those people who don’t have friends to help them through the metro and it made me so sad. There must be people all over Moscow stuck in their homes just because the main mode of transport in this city is not wheelchair friendly.

But through generations things like this could change. A few days ago I saw something that completely filled me with joy…

I saw a little boy pestering and pestering his mum. He obviously wanted something bad. I thought perhaps he wanted sweets or toys, he had the same look I gave (ok give!) my mum when we walk down the sweetie isle in Sainsburys! He was not giving up until he got what he wanted… so the pestering continued. When she realised he wasn’t going to stop she reached into her pocket and gave him 10 rubles (20p). I watched him carry it to a homeless woman who was begging. He gave it to her, smiled and ran back to his mum. All that pestering was because he had wanted to help someone who he realised needed something more than him.

We could all learn from this little boy. Unless WE pester those who appear wiser and more powerful than us then none of the injustices in the world will change. I will end with such a cliché of a quote, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Children are the future. That fills me with hope.

Senin, 30 November 2009

I feel like a celebrity. Get me out of here?

I’ve always wanted to be famous. I don’t deny that I love being the centre of attention! I don’t want to be ridiculously famous, I think just being friends with famous people would suit me fine. But here in Moscow I’ve been experiencing what the celebrity life must be like…

As English speakers wherever my friends and I go we immediately become the most interesting people of the moment. We get stared at, pointed at and talked about everywhere. When we’re in a bar people want to talk to us. When we’re on the metro people stare at us. When we walk down the street people point at us.

If I’m fed up and having a bad day I do NOT like this attention. I just want to go about my daily business without being stared at like I’m some kind of alien. But sometimes I love it! Being the centre of attention just because of who you are is always fun!

One of my favourite places in Moscow is a café/bar called FAQ. It’s made up of four small, cosy rooms and you have to walk through these little tunnel things to get to the next room. I’ve had two ‘celebrity’ moments in there: one bad, one good.

The first time we were sat in a room that is basically one massive sofa that goes all around the room. Me and my friend were just talking away in English and suddenly realised that everyone in the room had stopped talking and were all listening to our conversation. Someone said ‘Are you from America?’ (Standard. Everyone thinks America before England) When we said we were from England everyone started asking us all about England and we talked to them for at least an hour. I felt like I was being interviewed in a press conference. Loved it!

The second time was less fun. I was with two friends, one who I haven’t seen since June and I just wanted to talk and catch up. The guy next to us asked if we were English, we said yes but carried on our conversation. He then said to my friend (who fortunately is a boy – and so can protect us from any danger. Maybe.) ‘These girls are so beautiful. Do they have boyfriends?’ Sigh. Apparently not only did he think we were beautiful but that we were also deaf. We knew we weren’t going to get away from him no matter how much we lied. Even after telling him three times that we had boyfriends in England (major lie – but I’m getting to know my imaginary boyfriend very well. Russian guys really don’t give up) we realised that he wasn’t going to leave us and we just ended up leaving the bar. The trials of being a celebrity…

Still totally want to be famous though.

Jumat, 27 November 2009

Media Queen vs. Intellectual Scene

Before I decided to study Russian I always wanted to be a journalist. I decided this after I realised that my dream of one day being a member of Steps was just never going to happen, but that I’d quite like to be the person that got to interview them! All through school and college everything I did pointed towards me being a journalist – all my GCSE’s and A-Level choices I made with this in mind and I even wrote a couple of articles for the local newspaper. Then I went to Russia and made the crazy decision to do Russian instead. But my journalistic side never went away and over the last couple of years it has come back with almighty force! Being in Russia is making me think hard about what I want after university. Do I want to move back here? Do I want to do more Russian? Or do I want to go and explore journalism properly, that I didn’t let myself do at university?
I remember before I came to Russia and I was looking at all the journalism courses at universities. This is what I had dreamed of doing for so long but none of them were right for me! I remember looking at the other girls who were applying for them – they were all so fashionable, so pretty and so girly. That was just not me. I think I was scared that I would never fit into that world and was put off so many courses. Then the whole Russia thing happened and that made more sense to me at the time. It’s taken me two years and actually moving to Russia to realise all this! I’m not trying to say that Russian was wrong for me at all, I think Russian is definitely what I needed to do. I needed to experience doing something that I was scared of. I needed to experience not being the best in the class. I needed to experience life in another country. I needed to realise my love of journalism without doing a course in it. But most of all I needed to grow up and get the confidence I needed to be able to take the media by storm!
Being in Russia has been one of the things that has shown me just how much I love journalism and the media. One of the things I miss the most is being involved in the student paper and doing a student radio show with my friend! I also realised that the biggest things I’m interested in from Russian culture is their celebrities, television programmes, magazines, radio stations and music scene. Most people are more interested in the history and politics of Russia. I’m just not and never have been really. People assume that I know a lot about the history and politics of Russia, and most of the time I can fool them into thinking I am actually knowledgeable on these subjects, but the truth is I scrape through in that side of my degree every year. At the beginning of this term we had to tell our teachers what we wanted to learn about from Russian culture, I was saying things like cinema, music, celebrities and the others in my class were all a lot more interested in the academic side of Russian culture. I like the idea of being an intellectual, academic girl who can debate on topics like Russian Foreign Policy. But alas, the best I can do is debate whether How To Look Good Naked is better in Russia or the UK.
I’m trying to figure out how I can incorporate this into my degree and then hopefully be a lot more interested and get a lot better mark! I’m thinking of writing my dissertation on the differences between the media in Russia and the UK. I’ve bought tons of magazines in Russian and every time I read them I know I’m comparing them to their British counterparts!
And then we’ll see what happens after university. Russia? The media? Both?

Rabu, 18 November 2009

Recycling SADS

The topic of discussion this week between me and my friends in Moscow has been that of recycling. We have debates in one of our classes and this week the theme has been ‘the environment’. I realised pretty early on that recycling was going to be virtually impossible here. When I asked my landlady where I should put my glass and plastic bottles she laughed and said ‘You’re in Russia now’ and pointed to the bin. When I put paper, plastic and glass all into the bin with the other rubbish I die a little bit on the inside and can hear a voice in my head saying ‘It is YOU that is killing the planet.’ I’ve even considered saving all my plastic bottles and instead of taking clothes home, packing my suitcase full of bottles to recycle in England. But I think that might be a bit mad. There are machines on most streets where you can deposit your plastic bottles for ‘recycling’ but I’m not really sure where they get taken to! And so far I have seen no evidence of recycling bins anywhere. It scares me when I think of how big Russia is and how much waste it creates and therefore how much harm this is doing to the world. I’m not saying England has all the answers – but at least it has recycling bins in every home!

Another thing I’ve noticed the past week is that we have all suddenly at the same time become so depressed! In my Moscow guide book it says, ‘You don’t have to believe in SADS (Seasonally Affected Disorder Syndrome) to feel its effect during the long Russian winter. Anyone staying more than a month can easily get run-down owing to a lack of vitamins, and depressed by the darkness and ice.’ When I read this I laughed and thought how such a silly thing like the weather can affect people so much. But it really does! Now it gets dark so quick in the day, I haven’t seen the sun for weeks and everyday I risk falling over through the slush on the way to school. It is depressing. We’re definitely all feeling it and there have been a lot more tears and fed up faces over the past week. Sometimes it is completely uncontrollable – I was just talking to Anabelle about two of my friends who I miss so much and tears just started rolling down my face! I wasn’t even sad! I tried to stop it but I think we’ve all got to the point where we just need a really really good cry! Truthfully I am quite sad at the moment and so ready for a few weeks at home. But SADS will not defeat me! I am a strong, independent woman – nothing can hold me back! (Hmm. I still think I’m Beyonce) I’ve got exactly 5 weeks left which are going to go so fast – so the best thing to do is to enjoy them. Easier said than done; especially now everyone is running out of money so we can’t go out anymore. But with my new found addiction to Gossip Girl the weeks will fly by!

Kamis, 12 November 2009

Are we nearly there yet?

Remember when you were a child and going on a big journey and would constantly ask your parents, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ I myself was an expert of this, I think my best one was probably when I was about 6 and we were going to France. We drove down my street, turned the corner and I said ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ Bet my parents LOVED that journey. Children only seem to do this on journeys when they are really, really excited about the destination. I feel like that at the moment I’m really really looking forward to getting to my next destination.

Yes the inevitable has happened. I’ve managed to hold it off for almost three months but the time has come... I MISS ENGLAND. I am so ready to come home now. It’s not like anything bad has happened here, I’ve just been here too long now and I’m starting to miss things a lot more than before.

I miss:
• Being able to get a taxi home at 3am alone without fearing for my life.
• Being understood by everyone.
• Being able to go to my friends’ houses anytime I wanted.
• Being able to invite people to my house without having to ask first.
• Being able to actually find what I want in shops.
• My phone contract. I HATE having to be on pay as you go here.
• Being able to watch TV without having to use my brain.
• Being able to make friends easily.
• Aldi
• Birmingham places: Subway City, Nightingales and Pizza Planet (!), Selly Oak!
• Huddersfield places: The Parish, Coffee Ev, Camel, Matt’s shop
• B1

Obviously the last point is the hardest right now. The other day I was so fed up and I just needed my mum and dad so much. I rung mum and cried at her for like an hour which I HATE doing because I don’t want her to worry. (So mother if you’re reading this DON’T WORRY – I’m fine!)
And I miss my friends so much. Of course I have friends here (who happen to be lovely and amazing) but I’m missing all those in the UK so so so much. Facebook chat is doing some overtime right now but it always crashes or people go offline or won’t send my messages properly. And it’s not real life. I want to hear people laugh when we’re having a funny conversation, writing ‘lol’ just isn’t the same!

I keep thinking about everything I’ve got to look forward to at home. I knew this would probably happen after the Beyonce concert! I was looking forward to that so much that I didn’t ever think about missing home… now everything exciting I had planned in Moscow has happened so the next exciting thing is coming home!!

I hope this post hasn’t sounded like one massive moan. That’s not what I wanted! I just want to be completely honest about my experiences and right now I’ve hit ‘missing home’ point.

The countdown has begun… 1 month 11 days. Just in time for Santa.

Jumat, 06 November 2009

The deliciously deceiving Reading Week – I haven’t read anything.

This week is reading week which fills me with giddy excitement as I’ve never had a reading week before (apparently studying Russian we have no need to read). But as everyone knows contrary to its title no-one actually reads on a reading week. It’s just half term. So I’ve always felt a little bit of anger that I don’t get this treat every term. But this term I do and so to celebrate we began our reading week in style… We went to St Petersburg.

Me and two of my friends suddenly realised everyone else was being super cool and going travelling in reading week. I don’t like being the odd one out so we decided last Tuesday to go to St Petersburg and to depart two days later. After a mad run to the train station, a 2 hour long queue and a very difficult Russian conversation we were the proud owners of train tickets. Next was an internet stop and we had booked a hostel. We were ready.

On Thursday evening we left Moscow at 8pm and realised that the train tickets we had booked were clearly the last rubbish ones left. Basically in the cheap section of a Russian train there are corridors full of beds – 6 in little compartments and then 2 facing them. We had managed to book the top bunk of 3 beds in a row… so were nowhere near each other AND had to figure out how exactly to get onto the top bunk (we’re in Russia, of course there isn’t a ladder). As we were the first stop on the train we just decided to steal all the bottom bunks and hope that no-one else got on. So obviously at 1am we were rudely awakened by some HUGE men asking us to get out of their beds. Oops. But here is where I got mad. It is polite on these trains for men to sacrifice their bed if they have the bottom bunk for any women who have been stuck with the top bunk. But they didn’t which annoyed me. If I am going to live in a patriarchy I want to take advantage of it!!!!! Apparently it is only a patriarchy here when it pleases the men (obviously). I’ve gotten used to having doors opened for me, my bag carried for me and just being treated more like a girl than I am by boys in the UK. Maybe it’s bad that I now get annoyed when men do not treat me like a woman? Patriarchy vs Independent women-ness. Not sure which is my favourite yet. ANYWAY. Rant over. So I actually managed (very unattractively) to launch myself into the top bunk. Probably my proudest moment of the whole trip.

We arrived in St Pete at 5am. Nice. The metro doesn’t open till 6am so we went and drank coffee then got the metro and managed to locate the hostel. When we saw our hostel our first thought was. ‘Oh crap.’ It didn’t appear to have any windows… they were all burnt out. But there was a corner of it that was painted pink and did have a few windows still in place. We went in that door and sure enough it was the hostel. Inside was quite nice to be fair. And the beds were comfy. Bonus.

My two friends went off to the tennis (they had come to St Pete purely to watch a tennis tournament. Losers) and I went exploring. I’ve been to St Pete before so I just wandered along the canals and went to see all my favourite places: St Issacs, Kazan Catherdral and The Church of the Spilt Blood. Then I met my friend Greg who is living in St Pete this term. He showed me his school and where he lives. It was nice to see his life there.

The next day me and Greg went to the Winter Palace. I think this is one of my favourite places in the world. Last time I went I was blown away by its beauty. Outside there are people that dress up as the old Tsars and charge tourists to take pictures of them. One of them came up and started dancing with me whilst shouting at Greg to give him 100 rubles (£2) to take a photo. I just told Greg not to take a photo and ran away. I’m not paying £2 to take a photo on MY camera (cheap Yorkshire roots coming through. My dad will be proud.) After I had taken about 2 billion pictures of the Winter Palace we went to get dinner and went out to a super cool club where they celebrate New Years Eve every night. S Novom Godom everyone.

Our final day in St Pete was just spent in cafes chatting and chillaxing before the train journey of doom home. We had a bottom bunk on the way back though so no unattractive launching was necessary. I love St Pete but the weekend there made me realised how glad I am that I chose to stay in Moscow for the whole year. St Pete is beautiful but I think I will always see it as a holiday destination, not somewhere to live. And the Moscow metro is superior to the Pete one by a mile (both in amazing-ness and size).

The next day we met up with some friends from Birmingham who are living in Yaroslavl this term. It was nice to show them around Moscow – although it made me realise I am the worst tour guide ever. I think my moment of glory was ‘There’s a statue of a man. Dunno who it is though.’ Genius. Should probably explore more of Moscow. Was nice to see my friends though.

And finally. Probably the best moment of reading week/Moscow/my life so far. Me and Anabelle went to see BEYONCE.

We were a bit excited. We had good seats but we got a bit annoyed because all the Russians sat around us were clapping politely like they were at tennis or something. No-one was getting up and dancing! We wanted to dance! There was loads of room left in the standing area so we decided to just ask if we could go in there (something that I’ve learnt from Russia is that everything is negotiable – less possible in the UK I think, although maybe I’m just scared of asking there) So we went and asked the woman on the door if we could go into the standing area. She said no. We said please. She said it was a bad view. So I screamed ‘Please! I just want to dance! I don’t care! Please just let me dance!’ in Russian. Badly. She could clearly tell we weren’t Russian. I think she thought that we had flown all the way there just for the concert so she said ‘OK, come with me’ and proceeded to bribe the man giving out the standing wristbands to give us some! Amazing! Me and Anabelle then ran screaming across the stadium and burst into the standing area, dancing our way to the front. Never have I been so excited! We got so close to Queen B. I love her. I want to be her. Forget Russian. I think my calling in life is to be Beyonce.

Rabu, 28 Oktober 2009

Living in a world of stereotypes…

One of the things I love about studying a language is that you meet so many interesting people from so many different countries and cultures. And one of the things I love about studying Russian is that all the people you meet are just a little bit weird. I mean you have to be a bit weird to study Russian!!!

Living in a different country has been teaching me so much to not be scared of other cultures. I HATE it when people think there country is superior to others. Of course Britain has a very special place in my heart but I can accept that Britain has its problems, just like other countries! I love it when I meet people from certain cultures and they completely eradicate all the negative stereotypes I had of that place. However I love it even more when I can see how all the hilarious stereotypes of that country are totally true!!! Let’s face it, there must be some truth in all stereotypes – or they wouldn’t exist!

Take my class for example… (I know they read this so I’m sure they will be thrilled to get a name mention!)

We have Sanna who is from Finland. She’s blond, an exercise freak and super beautiful.

We have Christopher who is from Paris. He loves literature, keeps his secrets well and when he speaks French all the girls swooooon.

We have Herbert who is Dutch. He is very smiley, always happy and really clever (he wrote a scary sounding dissertation about politics in Russia)

We have Kyle who is American. He goes to Harvard, plays football (American style. Not the inferior British ‘soccer’) and is called Kyle. Enough said. (He also taught me that in America a tap is called a ‘faucet’ – never have I heard this before! Crazy Americans)

We have Tom who is from Yorkshire (sigh, yes, I go all the way to Russia and STILL meet people from Yorkshire). He is loud, likes to save his money and needs to learn to think before he speaks!

And then there is me. I am starting to worry that maybe I am a stereotype too :-/

Senin, 26 Oktober 2009

Another week in the life of Sarah (dunno why you’re all still interested really!)

Last week we met the big boss of the company who organise our courses in Russia. It was the first time we’d all met him and we had to have a meeting with him for him to check that we were all ok/alive. I thought this was just going to be a 10-20 minute thing, ‘Oh so you’re all still alive, good.’ The end. It was not. It was a meeting of epic 2 hour long proportions. We had to go through EVERY lesson for EVERY group and discuss it. It was ridiculous because I had to sit and listen to another 3 groups talk about their lessons… why they did not split this meeting into 4 separate ones is beyond me… Anyway so this meeting went on for 2 hours and was basically just one massive moan for all us students (we are British – moaning is what we do best). At the end of it I realised that hardly any positive things had been said. This confused me because I really enjoy my course – obviously I was finding pointless things to moan about. Afterwards everyone was in a massive mood which just amused me even more because we were all happy before the meeting of doom. To be fair we had brought it on ourselves after all that moaning!

After the meeting I went to volunteer for Maria’s Children. A couple of the children asked me if I could teach them some English the last time I went so I taught them the alphabet and a couple of words but I thought they’d get bored after that. How very wrong I was. They turned up with exercise books ready to learn more English!! At first I thought – ‘Oh no, I cannot speak English properly myself never mind attempt to teach it!!’ But then I remembered – that is silly. They want to learn! So the last couple of times I’ve been doing English with a couple of children. They seem to really love it! It made me feel so guilty for moaning and moaning in the meeting I had had just one hour before. I have access to amazing education. I have NOTHING to moan about.

The last few weeks I’ve been coming home really late and not really seeing much of Vika and Tzala, I thought it was because I was actually really busy but when I stopped and realised that I was infact just sitting in restaurants for 5 hours at a time I had to question why! I realised I was scared of going home. Not because Vika and Tzala are mean! But because if I went home I would have to speak Russian!!! This may sound ridiculous as I live in Russia – but speaking Russian still seems to be the scariest thing. So I decided I would make myself go straight home after school. This has made me feel better for two reasons:
1. I’m actually doing my homework properly and therefore am less lost in lessons!
2. I’ve been having some really good chats with Vika. We’ve got into the routine of cooking together in the evenings... because I made sure I was always in the kitchen when she got in from work! I can feel how my Russian is improving so much just by having 30 minute conversations everyday… I just needed to face my fear and launch into conversations with her!

I did some more Moscowy things this week as well… trying to explore more places! I went to a jazz club on Thursday night which was really nice. The musicians were amazing and it was just such a chilled place. I drank peppermint tea and felt cool.
Then on Friday I went to watch the tennis (Kremlin Cup) at the stadium. It was only £4 and it was so much fun! The fact that I enjoyed watching tennis worries me. I’m turning into my parents.

And I will end with a funny moment of this week (just one, I don’t want to write every time I embarrass myself):
Tzala has been asking me for ages to change the sheets on my bed but she always asked when I was leaving the house so I kept forgetting. Yesterday she stormed into my room and said ‘Sarah I don’t understand why you haven’t changed your sheets, do you not understand me?’ I replied, ‘Yes, yes I do understand, you want me to change the sheets. Sorry I forgot. I will do it now.’ To which she said ‘No, you don’t understand me’ and proceeded to give me a half an hour master class in how to change my bed sheets despite me saying, ‘I know how to do it!!’ Dunno if the funniness of the situation has come across in me retelling it but heyho.

Minggu, 18 Oktober 2009

A Weekend of Culture.

Every Monday at school at the beginning of the day we have to share what we've done over the weekend - yes it's like show and tell at primary school, but we only have the language of primary school children! Every week so far I've been like... 'errrrr I saw friends and went to church.' Pretty boring. I live in Moscow. I should be doing things! So this weekend I actually DID some touristy things here.

Firstly I went to Tsaritsyno, one of Catherine the Great's estates. It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in my life! And I went on a scarily sunny day so it was gorgeous! It's like a National Trust park - but Russian. So far I think my favourite place I've found in Moscow. Here's some photos (the first one is me modelling the poetic Russian photo pose)...

Beautiful, da (yes)?

Then yesterday I went to see Lenin in his mausoleum as I’ve never actually seen him. There are many skeptics as to whether he’s actually real or whether he’s just a waxwork. Hmmm. It’s hard to tell. You have to literally go into the room where he is, walk round without stopping and walk back out. So kinda hard to get a good look! My thoughts are he probably is at least a bit real but all that preserving him has made him into a bit of a waxwork! All the ‘Soviet Heroes’ grave’s are behind Lenin’s mausoleum as well so I saw where Stalin is buried as well (and resisted jumping on it. Just.). Obviously I don’t have any photos as cameras are STRICTLY forbidden, but it was interesting. Worth going to if you go to Moscow!

And I’ll end this blog with two more Moscow observations...

Remember fruit flavoured chewing gum? Either that doesn’t exist in the UK anymore or I’ve ignored it for years because I haven’t seen it for ages. There’s loads here… At the moment I’m enjoying strawberry flavour.

Also it dawned on me today that I haven’t seen one chav in the whole 7 weeks I’ve been here. Another point to Russia.

Rabu, 14 Oktober 2009

Finally it has come: this is the longest I’ve ever been in Russia!

Yes as of tomorrow this will be the longest I’ve ever spent in Russia! How exciting! It’s weird because I feel like I’ve only just moved here. But at the same time I feel like I’ve been here forever! On my journey to school now I don’t have to pay attention anymore – my body seems to know when to stand up to exit now. Weird.

I don’t feel like a Muscovite just yet though! I’m still stared at most days. It’s so weird. People just seem to KNOW I’m British… I’m yet to find the sticker that is clearly on me that says ‘I AM FROM BRITAIN’. Apparently in Russia it’s not rude to full on stare at people. Before I realised this I was so paranoid that there was something majorly wrong with my appearance. Or that I’d left the house without my skirt on (seriously one day I got Anabelle to check that I was in fact fully dressed). But I’m used to it now. I just stare back… Or sometimes I scare them with a smile. That’s always fun. :D

So this week the major news is that I’ve started volunteering with a charity. They are called Maria’s Children and run creative arts programs for disadvantaged children. Their studio centre is right behind my school – I’ve walked past it everyday for the last 6 weeks and not realised what it was! Every day children from a different orphanage go to the studio and get to do art and music. I’m definitely going to be helping out there on Fridays and Saturdays (my days off school) and maybe other weekdays. It’s so near to school it will be so easy for me to pop in whenever! I’m so happy that I’ve found something to get involved with in Moscow. :)

Winter is definitely a coming. It’s getting colder now but at the moment it is the RAIN that is the problem. It’s so wet! I’m from Huddersfield, I KNOW how to handle the rain, but seriously the other day was ridiculous. I arrived home and looked like I’d been swimming! Still not had any snow though. The coldest it’s been so far was around 3°. One of my major stresses of the moment is deciding how many layers to wear in the morning and how thick they should be! No matter how cold it is outside it is still BOILING in the metro, so I get in and literally strip down to my t-shirt. However for some reason Russian’s do not appear to feel the heat and all manage to stay in their huge winter coats. I don’t understand – do they not sweat?!?! Maybe this is why they stare at me?

On the subject of the cold this week I decided it was time to buy some winter boots. I found two beautiful pairs with one crucial difference: one pair had heels, one did not. I was then faced with the biggest dilemma of Moscow so far – to buy heels or not to buy heels? That was the BIG question. I didn’t know what to do, should I try and fit in with the beautiful Russian girls and wear heels? Or should I face the fact that I have never and will never be able to walk in heels? After a whole day of thinking I went for the flats. I am not Glamorous Grace and Trendy Trudy. I will always be Sensible Sarah.

Selasa, 06 Oktober 2009

September turns to October: Winter is a coming.

I haven’t done anything massively interesting in the last week (the only interesting bit of news is that is has turned COLD – literally one day it was 20° and the next it was 5°. Weird.). I guess we’re all used to living here now. The ‘ohmygoodness we’re in MOSCOW’ feeling has worn off a bit. I can now walk past Red Square without feeling the need to take 20 photos from every corner of it. I think because we’re all used to living here now a lot of people have started to count down the weeks until we go home for Christmas. I can completely understand why – obviously everyone misses home but I’m trying really really hard to not get sucked into thinking that we are just temporarily here and that I should be counting down the days until I leave. Obviously I miss things from home, they are all pretty silly though... here’s a few of them:

1. I miss being called Sarah. In Russian my name is pronounced Sara. It’s just not my name!
2. I miss live music. I was thinking the other day how when I was in Birmingham I could go and see bands whenever I wanted but here I just don’t know where to go! And no matter how much internet research I do I just can’t seem to find the Moscow version of the Carling Academy.
3. I miss Redbrick (the student newspaper at Birmingham). I loved being the TV editor last year and I’m really missing it! This blog is the only way to satisfy my inner journalist.
4. I miss being able to just hang out with my friends at home. None of us actually have our own houses – we all live with landladies so now if we want friends over we have to ask permission and we always have to tell them where we’re going and what time we’ll be home. No more running round the street at 3am to see my friends. And this means that every time we wanna hang out we need to go to a café/bar/restaurant which means spending money. Annoying.
5. (A less stupid one) I miss my friends!!!! Obviously this is natural but I fear it has made me even more addicted to facebook. I’m now stalking most of my friends every night and annoying them by forcing them to chat to me whenever they are on facebook chat. I should probably stop before I annoy them all so much that they desert me when I touch down in the UK.

OK so that sounded like a bit of a moan – I didn’t want it to! I just want to be honest about what I’m feeling here, or this blog is pretty pointless. Anyway over the past few days I have started to develop a new feeling, it is a ‘Wow. I actually DO live in Moscow’ feeling. I was thinking last night about how when I started my Russian course the year abroad seemed so far away and I don’t think I actually believed it would ever come (and I was terrified every time I thought about the fact that I would have to live in Russia for a year). But it is here. And I’m ok. I must have grown up so much in the last two years! When I started university I didn’t cope well at all. I wasn’t settled and I missed my home so much. It took me about a year and a half to really enjoy living in Birmingham. I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle moving to another new place and having to do it all over again, but actually… I really am fine! It has just seemed so natural for me to move here and every time things are a bit hard (as they inevitably are going to be in a foreign country) I can always find reasons to remind myself why I’m here. I’ve been given such a great opportunity to live and study abroad for a year that I really hope I’m making the most of it!

I’ll end this blog with some of the reasons I love Moscow! I’m trying to convince one of my friends to come and visit me so here is the list I gave him as to why he should come. I hope it convinces more of you to come visit me!!! - then the problem of missing my friends will disappear ;)

1. Moscow, Tokyo, London, New York, Paris = best cities in world. Come here and you’ve got 1 down.
2. You can see a dead man (Lenin)
3. There are 2 men that dress up as Lenin and Stalin and stand on red square (HILARIOUS – how could you not want to see that?)
4. So much culture, so little time.
5. Cafes/bars/clubs are beyond amazing.
6. Sushi is cheap.
7. The metro (enough said)
8. The potatoes (ditto)
9. The honesty – some people call it rude but I’m beginning to love the bluntness of Russian culture. In the UK I can never tell if people really mean what they say… here they are (brutally) honest!
10. The people – Russian people are the most generous, honest, loving people. They may seem rude in the street but once you make friends with them you have got a real friend. I love that.

Selasa, 29 September 2009

I’ve been caught in the rain without an umbrella.

I’ve just got in from having to run the 20 minute walk home as it was THROWING it down with rain. Boo. I think this is also a metaphor for how I’m feeling right now. It’s gonna be difficult for me to write this blog without sounding like I’m moaning, but I’ll try…

Basically I’m feeling a bit down and useless at the moment. I almost feel bad for not having a good time. I feel like because I’m on my year abroad I should be having fun all the time AND I really hate the thought that other people are having more fun than me in other places so I feel like to justify me being here I should be happy happy happy all the time. But I am only human. And sometimes human’s just feel a bit ‘meh’.

I know why I feel like this though, it’s because uni term has now started in the UK. Facebook is full of albums called ‘Freshers in 3rd year!’, ‘Back to uni!’ and ‘Everyone in the UK is having more fun than Sarah because we can speak the same language as the country we’re in’. OK. I may have made up the last one. I keep getting invited to parties in Birmingham. I keep getting invited to Birmingham uni events. And I hate to say it but... I MISS BIRMINGHAM. I never thought I’d say that. It took me two years to get settled there! And the worst part is that when I go back next year it’s all going to be different because none of my friends will be there. Sigh. I think I expected Birmingham uni to just skip this year as I wasn’t going to be present. Clearly ridiculous, but this is my head.

I’m also super tired because I haven’t been sleeping well at all recently. The genius that designed this bed decided to put a bar down the middle of it. No position is comfy. And everything just seems bad when you are awake in the middle of the night – I turn into a crazed, emotional girl.

And then today it rained and rained and RAINED. So now I’m tired and soaking. GAH.

OK moan over. Here’s what I’ve been up to the past couple of days:

I met up with Alex and Jacqui, the directors of Love Russia over the weekend on one of their trips to Moscow. We visited a centre that teaches young people with learning disability’s vocational skills in order to help them get jobs. The director of the centre was a great man who provided us with cake, sandwiches and of course, vodka. The work that they do there is really great. I chatted with some of the young people and they told me how much they loved it there.

On Friday night we went to a concert put on by Emma Marie, who lives here in Moscow running a music programme in a young people’s prison. The work she is doing is awesome. She’s so hard working! She’s lived in Russia two years now and her Russian is beyond amazing. I hope I manage to get that good too!

I want to investigate other charities in Moscow as well. I found a long list of all the charities here and spent ages last night emailing them all. I had no replies today though, a little disheartening. I really want to get involved with some projects in Moscow but I’m finding it really difficult to do.

After the huge moan at the beginning of this blog I have to say I am OK though! I’m really enjoying school here! In the UK I thought nothing of skipping classes if I hadn’t had enough sleep but here I’m still going in even after only 3 hours sleep. My Russian is getting so much better!

My mum said on the phone the other day that she thought I sounded a lot happier here than I ever did in Birmingham, and Alex and Jacqui said the same when they visited Moscow over the weekend. I thought this was really weird because I felt like I was actually missing the UK tons and just trying to fool everyone (badly – I’m a rubbish liar) that I was having so much fun... blahblahblah. But then I got thinking about it and when I’m in Russia it does just feel right. I can’t explain it because obviously I have days (like today) when I am ready to run to the airport and fly straight back home and forget I ever went to Russia, never mind studied the language. But something is keeping me here. I just want to know what it is!!! I want to get involved with something here and feel like I’m making a difference. That is after all the whole reason I decided to study Russian.

So this was a bit of a moan but I’ll leave you with this positive. I’m off to watch a lot of X Factor on youtube. I can’t let X Factor go yet. I’m not ready to be that Russian.

Rabu, 23 September 2009

A couple of thoughts about the Metro, Potatoes, Sushi and Fashion.

So on Sunday we went to the Space museum with our new Russian friends. It was so much fun! We had a guide show us round the museum and even though I didn’t understand much (it was obviously in Russian) it was still pretty interesting. Then we went to a café and the fair with them. The space museum is next to this huge park with a fair. It is COOL. I really enjoyed it and every time I actually manage to pull off a whole conversation of Russian I am filled with a warm fuzzy feeling.

We haven’t done anything major this week. Just school, school and more school. My Russian is definitely getting better. I need to do more reading through what we’ve done in class though so I don’t forget it immediately.

As I haven’t really got anything interesting to tell I thought I’d share some thoughts of Moscow instead:

Thought no 1: The Metro.
I have a crush on the metro. It’s just such an AMAZING idea. I can get anywhere so fast. The Moscow metro is so much nicer than the London underground as well. Every station is so amazingly decorated. And the escalators literally go on forever. I keep being late meeting people because I forget that the time I arrive at a station is not the same time as the time I will be out of the station, I have to remember to add the 10 minutes necessary for standing on an escalator.
I love the way Russians act on the metro. Literally everyday I see people jump over the barriers to travel for free (unlike in London you don’t have to show your card when you get OFF the metro as well – once you’re in you’re in – I think this must make it easier for people to jump the barriers and RUN in) and the security guards never really seem to do anything. I wouldn’t recommend doing this though!
Also I love the way that people don’t have the whole ‘personal space’ thing that we have in the UK. Everyone will just crush each other onto the metro. Many times I have ended up with my face way too close to a complete stranger. People don’t think anything of pushing, shoving and throwing people out of the way when they need to get somewhere fast. At first I found it mega rude but I have to say now I join in and have pushed in front of people on many occasions. Queuing is a thing of the past for me – now, just like the Muscovites I think, ‘whoever pushes the hardest will get to the front first’.
I am still perfecting my Metro Face. I can’t seem to stop a slight smile when I catch someone else’s eye. The Russians must think I am mad.

Thought no 2: Potatoes and Sushi.
Russian potatoes are SO GOOD. I can literally not describe how tasty they are. I don’t know why they are so superior to potatoes in the UK, but they just are.
Continuing on the food theme: I have found there are lots of sushi restaurants in Moscow and they’re all pretty cheap. I had forgotten how good sushi is. I am literally addicted to it. Can’t stop eating it.

Thought no 3: Fashion.
Russian girls wear the kind of clothes to work that I would wear for a night out. I found this massively weird (and felt like I was always very underdressed) so asked Vika about it. She said that everyone wears things like that so they can go straight from work to their night out – whether it be in a restaurant, bar or club, without having to go home. Makes sense really. I don’t fancy walking round in heels all day though - I can’t even cope with them on nights out (always take flats in your bag.)

And finally…

Obviously I make mistakes in Russian, sometimes it’s embarrassing but sometimes it’s hilarious, here are two funny examples:

In the post office I asked for a carrot instead of a stamp, carrot = markov, stamp = marka. The woman wasn’t impressed but me and my friend found it hilarious.

At home I asked Vika if we had a fly in the cupboard. I wanted to know if we had flour in the cupboard, fly = mykha, flour = myka. We literally could not stop laughing.

Sabtu, 19 September 2009

A souper week in which I learnt: Don’t go near the dogs!

This week we started our actual lessons with a proper timetable and everything! I have SO MUCH grammar. I hate grammar; in fact I couldn’t spell it for the whole of first year (grammEr) as I hated it so much – although maybe this shows how much I need it. I admit my Russian grammar is terrible… but so is my English! I know it’s going to do so much good but at the moment I wish we didn’t have so much! We’ve also started translating from English to Russian. It’s a lot harder than from Russian to English as you have to know every word and the grammar for it. It’s really difficult but I can tell I’m being pushed so it will probably do me good!

In one of our lessons this week we went to a café with some Russian students from a university nearby and had to ‘get to know them’. It felt like we were being sent on a blind date by our teachers. But it ended up being really fun and we managed to have a conversation with them for over an hour. We’re meeting up with them again tomorrow so hopefully this will give us our longed for Russian friends!

Yesterday we had to go to the British embassy for a ‘Health and Security Briefing’. Two weeks into our time here. Surely if this is so necessary we needed this when we arrived? As we expected it was completely ridiculous and they basically told us everything we already knew, ie. ‘Don’t get into an unlicensed taxi that already has people in it. Don’t get drunk and talk to the police. Don’t walk alone at night in dodgy places.’ Who would be stupid enough to do these? Sometimes I feel like we’re being treated like we’re idiots. We had a health talk about things like the safety of drinking tap water and stuff. Hilariously after all these talks the biggest information we found out was DON’T GO NEAR DOGS. Apparently dogs are our biggest enemy because if they bite us we will surely die. Well. They didn’t exactly say that but they did keep going on and on about rabies. I keep seeing stray dogs now and fearing for my life.

Some of the people in my group loved the British embassy a bit too much! I know lots of people are missing Britain but I feel like we should be trying to enjoy our time here as much as possible and enjoying what an amazing privilege we have to live in Russia for a whole year, not think about everything that we miss from Britain! I have to admit right now I want some TOAST more than anything in the world (no toaster, grill doesn’t work) but I have learnt to let it go and instead enjoy my dill covered bread.

The best part of this week has been that I have found a church that I LOVE. My friend travelled around Russia a lot last year and he told me about this church in Moscow. I looked it up on the internet and went to check it out this evening (they have services on Saturday evenings as well as Sunday mornings and afternoons – this is perfect because I can decide whether I want to get up early or have a lie in on Sundays!). So me and Anabelle went armed with only a small map. We managed to find the street and I expected it to be quite small so we looked in all the smaller buildings around where it should be but couldn’t find it. I prayed. We turned round and I saw a huge building that we’d completely ignored thinking that couldn’t be it. We walked up to it. There was a cross inside. Potentially we had found it. We walked into a small dark room and my heart sank thinking this couldn’t be it then a man told us to go through and we walked into a massive church service in a modern church building. I am continually learning in Russia not to judge a book by its cover! The service was exactly what I wanted from a church. We sang songs in Russian but with the English words on the screen as well. I understood some of the sermon (apparently some of the services are translated into English so maybe I’ll go to one of them). We sang ‘How Great is our God’ in Russian and I just thought, ‘Wow, I’m singing praise to God in a different language. He really IS great.’ The church reminded me of Community Church in Huddersfield and St John’s in Birmingham. It was really big but I think that’s what I want from a church in Russia. Normally I prefer small churches but I think I need a big one so I can take my time understanding everything. I felt so at peace and I think I cried through the whole service (happy tears!). It was Anabelle’s first time at church so I had to explain that I was crying because I felt so at home… not because I hated it! God is reminding me again that he IS everywhere.

On a final note I made some TASTY soup this week… fry 1 onion, add 2 chopped potatoes, 1 chopped carrot and a tablespoon of flour, add water and stock, boil, leave to simmer for 20 mins, add chopped cucumber and spring onion, stir, serve. SOUPER.

Minggu, 13 September 2009

Events of the week: The return of the Landlady and the VIP night out.

Another eventful week. The first big event was the return of the Landlady from her holiday. After being so worried about meeting her it was, of course, fine. She is however completely mental. I LOVE her. Lol. Basically I got home on Thursday and started to unlock the door and she suddenly pulled it open and shouted 'SARAH?' in my face. I was like... 'da?!' Then she pulled me into the house and said 'Have you listened to my cd's?' (She's a Christian singer) I was like 'errrrrrrr yessss' (minor lie) So she said, 'ah we will listen to it and sing' then marched me to the kitchen and made me sing along to her cd with her. Total madness. Then she took me round the house showing me everything - even though I've been here a week and so have managed to locate the toilet myself. She also keeps barging into my room without knocking and just chattering at me then leaving. Crazy. She’s really nice though, just very VERY chatty. A lot of the time I’m not sure whether she is actually talking to me or just chattering to herself! I do however keep getting my own private concerts from her in our kitchen. I think these may get less delightful over time…

The other main event of this week was our first night out sampling the delights of Moscow’s clubbing scene. We got off to a bad start when the first place we went to refused to let us in for no reason (they use face control in the clubs in Moscow – ie. If you’re not a supermodel you’re not getting in). So after a ridiculous run to the metro before it shut for the night we went to a different club called Solyanka that actually let us in! Woop! It was very cool – more of a cocktails rather than a Malibu and coke kinda place! The music was pretty random at first but I didn’t care, I was in need of a good DANCE! But then two English guys started DJing. They played all the choons that we wanted – Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, Snap (Rhythm is a dancer!). It was sooo good. I danced, danced, danced and DANCED. We got chatting to the DJ’s when they realized we were from the UK and they invited us to an after party at one of the most exclusive clubs in Moscow! After putting us on the guest list as their ‘make up artists’ we got straight in. It was crazy! Clearly all the super rich kids of Moscow were there. We were actually partying with the ‘new rich’ in Moscow! We got there at like 5am and the party carried on until past 9am, but we needed to leave then – we’d been out since 11.30pm the night before! So, exhausted, we had to walk to get the metro home. I arrived home at 10am. Just another night in Moskva…

Jumat, 11 September 2009

When you did it to one of the least of these.

In Matthew 25 in the Bible it says,

Then the King will say to those on his right. ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

I’ve been thinking about this passage over the past couple of days. In Moscow there is a lot of poverty. It’s an expensive city and I think a lot of people here find it hard to be able to live here. Everyday I see people begging outside the metro, many of them holding up signs saying things like ‘Help me to buy medicine.’ ‘Help me to eat tonight.’ The most heart wrenching one so far was one held up by a girl who looked a couple of years younger than me: ‘Help me, my parents have died.’ It broke my heart.

Before I go on I want to point out that I KNOW that Moscow is not the only place with poverty. I know there are homeless people in the UK just as much as here. I know a lot of people can’t understand why I want to help people in Russia and not in the UK. That’s not the case! I want to be able to help people everywhere but I can’t save the world! To those who criticise me for working with the poor in Russia and not in the UK I challenge YOU to help those suffering in the UK.

Anyway, over the week I’ve been here I’ve been noticing these people who need help more and more and two days ago I suddenly realised that I always just walked past them. I may have noticed them but I didn’t do anything. When I see a homeless person I always think, ‘Oh I shouldn’t give them money because they’ll probably only spend it on drugs or alcohol’ or ‘I bet that sign they’re holding is a lie. They’re just trying to get my money for alcohol.’

But who am I to judge these people? How do I know they’re going to spend it on alcohol? Maybe they really do need money for medicine or food. If they were that desperate for money that they would stand outside a metro station holding a sign begging for money then they are clearly suffering.

I had been praying that God would show me how I could be of use in Moscow and two days ago when I had this realisation I then walked straight past a woman holding a sign saying ‘Help me eat tonight’ and suddenly heard ‘When you did it to one of the least of these’. I knew God wanted me to give some money to this person. But I was scared. What if giving money to the homeless was frowned upon in Russia? What if someone shouted at me for doing it? Then I looked around and noticed that there was no-one around (I was walking through a subway). It was just me and this woman. I stopped and gave her what was in my pocket, 10r (20p), she looked amazed and shouted thank you to me as I carried on walking. I didn’t want any glory for giving her that money. I wanted her to know it was from God. As I walked away I prayed and prayed and prayed that she would use that money for something she needed and not alcohol or drugs.

In the UK I have a money box that I put all my loose change in and then I give it to charity. Here I’ve started carrying it in my pocket, so I can give it to those I see who are in need. I don’t know what they are going to do with it; I can only pray that they will use it for good.

Selasa, 08 September 2009

Lenin, Stalin and Marx in one day.

Yesterday has got to have been the most ridiculous day so far. After class me and three friends decided to explore around the main street in Moscow – Tverskaya ulitsa. We looked around the shops a bit and then walked down to Red Square (which is STILL shut. It’s so annoying. I’ve been in Moscow nearly a week and we’re STILL not allowed on there.) Anyway, we were wandering around Red Square and who should we see – Lenin and Stalin. No word of a lie. There are two men who dress up as Lenin and Stalin and wander around near Red Square giving speeches that Lenin and Stalin once gave and posing for pictures with tourists. Total madness. I love Russia. Then we walked on for a bit and found the statue of Marx. Lenin, Stalin and Marx in one day. A productive day.

Today we had one class then we had to go and ‘put our new skills into practise.’ We had been learning how to ask for directions and how to talk about the metro – the teachers seem to have forgotten that we have in fact been in Moscow for nearly a week and so have already learnt pretty quickly how to use the metro and how to ask for directions! Anyway. They gave us all a piece of paper that had the name of a place written on it and the metro station it was next to. We had to get the metro there and then ask a person for directions and meet others from our group at the place. A bit of a silly exercise because there were signs for everything everywhere and it was obvious that groups of us were all going to the same place so we just went there together and followed the signs! A bit pointless but better than being in class.

Today I have had a breakthrough in my struggle with Russian though! A little old lady asked me for directions to the chemist and not only did I understand her but I also gave her the correct directions!!!! She said thank you to me, commented on my ‘funny accent’ and then gave me a hug! I was so proud of myself! Maybe I am actually going to get better at this language…

Senin, 07 September 2009

Church: Russkii style.

So I went to church with Vika yesterday. Before we got there I was so scared it was going to be some crazy Russian orthodox church where I would have to go to confession and cover my head (I’d put a scarf in my bag just in case!) Fortunately it turned out to be a Baptist church. Less scary, but still very different to my church. It was really traditional – we had to stand up whenever someone read from the bible, prayed, moved… I noticed that of course there were no women in positions of leadership – I wonder what they would have thought if I’d told them that I was on the leadership team of a church in England? Probably that England was a very crazy country!

Of course I didn’t understand anything that the pastor said and I didn’t know any of the songs. So I think Vika was a bit worried I was bored. But I wasn’t, I was fascinated by the people there. I looked around the church and realised me and Vika were the youngest there by a long way! I can see why this kind of church doesn’t appeal at all to young people. We sung two very traditional songs, then listened to a choir and then we had to listen to not one but TWO sermons. I can’t keep attention for longer than 20mins on a sermon so it didn’t really matter that I didn’t understand it as I’m pretty sure I would’ve switched off after 20mins anyway! I’d really like to go and see if there are any more lively churches in Moscow with younger people there.

Behind the place the pastor stood (I don’t even know what this is called?! Clearly I don’t go to ‘traditional’ churches in the UK) was a huge stained glass window that said ‘Бог есть любов’ (God is Love). The fact that I understood this and could relate to it really moved me and I realised how I was worshipping God in such a different way and in such a different place, but it was still possible. He really is God of the whole world.

Sabtu, 05 September 2009

Day 3. Forgetting how to smile.

On Friday I had my first lesson at the school I will be studying at. We had to talk about ourselves, kind of like a ‘getting to know you’ session. My teacher is nice. Although she made us watch a video about ‘meeting new people on the street’. It was basically a video of a guy hitting on a girl in the street. Then she said our next lesson would be on the street. This is when I began to worry. WHAT was she gonna make us do? Fortunately she was just showing us around the area! I felt a bit more confident in my Russian afterwards because I did actually understand what was going on in my lesson. But then we were let loose out in the big, scary world of actual Russia again and I remembered I am not capable of doing ANYTHING.

Everyone keeps saying ‘don’t worry, your Russian is gonna improve so much this year!’ But at the moment I don’t see how. I guess it’s only the third day. Me and my friend are going to find out about an English Club. They are places where young people go to improve their English by talking to British people. Obviously we will speak English there but it will be such a good way to meet RUSSIAN young people. One major failing of my school is that it is a school for foreign people, so it’s quite hard to meet Russians. Having Russian friends will make my Russian a to the mazing. I hope.

The past few days have mostly been spent wandering around trying to find our way around Moscow. We’ve been to many shopping malls. But bought nothing as it is so ridiculously expensive. Boo. Red Square has been shut as tomorrow is ‘City day’ – the birthday of Moscow. There’s a huge party on Red Square but it’s been so frustrating not actually being able to go on it yet!

The biggest success of the past day is that I have found a supermarket near my school!!!! It was a happy day. I now have pasta SAUCE and cheese. An actual meal.

However I now have a new worry. Here it is: I still haven’t met the woman who will be my landlady. She’s on holiday and I have NO idea when she’s coming home. She’s blatantly just gonna walk in one day and I’m gonna have to make conversation with her. Then she’ll probably tell me off for putting stuff in the wrong place or something. :S And I need to pay her. But I dunno a.how much she’s gonna charge me and b.when I should give it to her. I know this should not be a worry. But I am so scared of when she comes back. What if she doesn’t like me? What if she gets annoyed that my Russian is so bad? There’s probably nothing to worry about. But I always need to worry about something and at the moment this is it.

Final thought of today. I am truly turning into a Muscovite as I have noticed I now have a ‘Russian face’ that I use on the metro. You know how on public transport in the UK if you catch someone’s eye you give them a grin, even if you don’t know them? That does NOT happen in Russia. Everyone looks at each other like they want to kill each other. And now I am doing it too. My smile is fading. It makes me sad. But also kinda makes me giggle at how quickly I am turning into a Russian!!


Just after I wrote all this Vika my flatmate came home. We sat and chatted in the kitchen with her friend Zoya for 2 hours. It made me feel a LOT better about my ability in Russian and about living in this flat. Even if my landlady is scary at least I have a friend here! She and her friend are Christians (as is my landlady – there are huge pictures of Jesus EVERYWHERE in our flat, kinda scary.) and they invited me to church tomorrow! Am a bit worried I may have to go to confession in Russian but other than that I’m excited to see what a Russian church is like! Apparently I need to wear a dress. Clearly it is going to be very different to the churches I go to!

God is looking after me. Everything’s gonna be alright.

Kamis, 03 September 2009

The day of the Tomato Paste Pasta

I made it!!! YayYayYay!! The journey was ok. Apart from the fact that they played ‘17 Again’ on the plane. Potentially the worst film ever made. But I survived it.

When I got to the airport my friend Sasha who works for Love Russia picked me up from the airport and took me to my flat. I felt a bit bad because I was so unbelievably tired (4 hours sleep) and still felt pretty gross from all the travelling that I wasn’t really talking much. He put the radio on. I think he sensed my uncommunicativeness (is that a word? if not I christen it a word).

It took about 50 minutes to get to my flat – the airport is nowhere near ANYTHING in Moscow. I made Sasha go and ask upstairs for the key, fortunately they had it. I was stressing that they wouldn’t be in and I’d have to wait for my flatmate to get home 2 hours later :-/

My flat is cool. More Russian than the last one – I have a rug on my wall. My room is big, bigger than any I’ve ever had at uni. Everything in the flat seems to be a little bit broken, so there is a trick to working everything. I like that. Once I’ve got it all down it'll be grand.

I live near Ploshad Illicha metro – if anyone wants to stalk me on google earth. It’s a good location – only about 4 stops from my school and 40 mins walk to Red Square. Pretty sweeeeeeeeeeet.

My biggest stress last night was that I couldn’t get the internet to work. Gah. But after a quick skype chat with the girl who lived here last year we got it sorted :)

Today I’ve been into the school where I will be studying. We had a TEST. I’m pretty sure I failed it. Epicly. Half of it was a speaking test and I didn’t understand the first question they asked me. Not a good start. I’ve totally forgotten all my Russian :( When I came in the summer I was mainly with people who can’t speak Russian so I felt like mine wasn’t so bad. Now I’m surrounded by people who are actually really good at it and I’ve remembered just how bad mine is. That got me down a bit today. I remembered that I am going to spend the majority of this year being laughed at/feeling stupid. Sigh.

Ah well. I went to Red Square with Anabelle and Sana (two friends from Birmingham uni) in the afternoon. That was cool. It’s cool that I can visit Red Square every day. Very cool.

The biggest worry of my day has been the dreaded FOOD SHOPPING. Yesterday I forgot that I would need to somehow feed myself and so had no food. I made do with the biscuits I had bought in England and just skipped breakfast this morning. But on the way home food shopping had to be done… or I would have to have more biscuits for dinner. I got the metro home (an adventure in itself as I got lost – to get to the metro station I need you have to walk through from another station. I did not know this and got VERY lost) and began to look for a shop. I couldn’t find one so just went to a fruit stall and bought some bananas and apples. After deciding this would have to be my dinner I finally saw a little corner shop! Success! Almost. Now the thing about corner shops in Russia is that everything is behind a counter. I had forgotten this and when I walked in was shouted at by a quite scary Russian woman. After realising she was just asking me what I wanted I just said pasta and then pointed at something that looked tomato sauce like. It was tomato paste. And not nice. So tonight I had a dinner of pasta and tomato paste. It was not nice.

And tomorrow is yet another adventure… in which I need to find a hairdryer…

Selasa, 01 September 2009

3 hours until I exit The Hudd.

So, in 3 hours I will begin my Russian adventure. My dad’s driving me down to Heathrow for a lovely early 9.30am flight. Urgh. We have to set off at 2am. Mega urgh. I’m not even going to attempt to sleep.

Over the past few days I have been asked the question ‘How are you feeling?’ followed quickly by ‘Are you scared?’ A LOT. This makes me think I should be scared, but for some miraculous reason I am not. Yes I’m nervous but I wouldn’t say how I’m feeling is scared. I’ve just got that nervous ‘new thing’ feeling, not that ‘I am so scared I am going to vomit’ feeling. This, I see, as a positive.

Naturally I have a few worries. These are all obviously ridiculous, but I shall share them with you all anyway...

1. What if the person at the check in desk will not let me on the plane with my bag that is 2kg too heavy? (no matter how many times I re-packed I could NOT shift that 2kg!)

2. What if I have for some unknown reason brought the wrong plane ticket, or the wrong piece of paper and they will not let me on the plane?

3. What if my friend in Moscow forgets to pick me up at the airport?

4. What if the neighbour who has the keys for my flat is not in and I am stranded outside my flat? (My landlady is not in Moscow for the first week I am there, so I have to ask the neighbour for the key – clearly I will make my friend who is giving me a lift there do that)


5. What if I can’t get the internet to work? How will I ever get to FACEBOOK?

So those are my worries. All pretty silly. Right now instead of sleep I’m gonna spend my last couple of hours in the UK on facebook. Woop.

Goodbye dear Huddersfield, how I will miss it!

Next blog coming at yer from Moskva!!!!

Senin, 31 Agustus 2009


Over the summer I spent some time in an orphanage in a place called Yerlatma, helping with a summer camp for the children there.

One of the things that really struck me when I arrived in Russia was how I am no longer fazed by being in Russia – I just felt like I’d returned to another home… like how I feel when I move back to Birmingham. Definitely a good thing seen as I’m about to move there!

I’ve been to Yerlatma two years ago and lots of the children recognised me from before. I didn’t speak any Russian then so when I started speaking Russian to them they were really surprised!! It was such a joy to be able to talk to the children without an interpreter (don’t get me wrong – the interpreters do an AMAZING job, without them we wouldn’t get anything done!). But I felt this year I really got to know the children better than I had before.

This year I spent a lot of time teaching English. I had a little group of 5 children – two of the older boys and three younger children. They wanted to learn how to read so I thought we should start with the alphabet. I made them an ‘alphabet guide’ – I wrote out all the English letters and then wrote how to pronounce the letters using letters from the Russian alphabet. From this I wrote out some phonetic words in English that the children could read. Has anyone ever tried to find phonetic words in English?? There are NONE. Our language is too hard! Massive respect to anyone who has learnt English!

The day after I’d taught them the alphabet one of the younger girls came running up to me first thing in the morning and showed me the English sheets I had given her the day before. She had spent all night learning the words and had written them all out in English herself! She’d also written her name in English using an alphabet guide! I was so proud and nearly burst into tears! That evening I talked to one of the older boys in my English group, he’d been really struggling and was embarrassed to be behind the younger children so I did some mini tutorials with him. He was trying so hard and refusing to give up. He told me how all he wanted was to learn English but there was no-one in the village that could teach him. It dawned on me that the children here are craving education more than anything and when they are given the opportunity to learn they grab hold of it. I am blessed with an opportunity to study at university and I completely take it for granted. It really made me think about how I need to make the most of my degree as it is an opportunity that only a minority of people in the world are given.

By the end of the week my little English group knew the English alphabet, could read simple words and had learnt numbers, colours and body parts in English. That was with just one week of English teaching! I was overwhelmed by their willingness to learn and how hard they studied. Remember, these are children who are viewed as being unable to be educated. At the end of the week when I had to say goodbye to my group I remember seeing such sadness in their eyes that their English lessons were over. They kept asking and asking if I would come back to teach them English. I don’t know how easy it will be to do that but I really hope that sometime I have the opportunity to!

Throughout the week I also got to know the youngest girl, Nastya, in the orphanage. She had just moved up from the Dietskidom (a home for toddlers) and was at the bottom of the hierarchy of the children and was clearly being badly bullied by the other children. She was terrified of the team and for the first few days would sit in the corner on her own. One day I asked her if she would help me make a flower mobile in one of the craft sessions. I’d noticed that the children never let her use the stickers that we had given them so I gave her a piece of card and a whole pack of stickers. Her face just lit up! She covered that piece of card with every sticker she had!

The next day we had a princess party, something that we do just for the girls. I did a presentation about how all of the girls were beautiful and special and then we gave them all a tiara to remind them that they ARE beautiful princesses. Nastya really came out of her shell that afternoon. She was dragging me round everywhere making me take photos of her and at the end of the afternoon we listened to a story and she jumped onto my knee and cuddled all the way through, it was lovely to see her begin to trust the team and by the end of the week she was hugging everyone!

The children at Yerlatma are intelligent, talented and loving children. I always find it so hard to leave them. They deserve to have the best opportunities in life and it saddens me that they aren’t given them. I hope I get to visit them again. I hope I get to teach English there again. And I hope that one day they will get the opportunities they deserve.

Senin, 13 Juli 2009

7 weeks, 2 days and 16 hours to go. I think.

Yes. It's actually happening. I'm moving to Russia in 7 weeks, 2 days and 16 hours. I worked that out myself, so potentially the hours are wrong, but even so, this is SOON.
It's not like I didn't know it was going to happen (I did sign up to do a course where I would have to spend a year in Russia!) but now it has come so soon I'm not sure I am altogether ready for it.

If you're reading this then I'm guessing that you know how I ended up studying Russian and letting Russia take over my life, but for the few of you who have missed out on the story here's a quick version:
When I was 17 I got involved with the charity in Russia. I spent a week working in an orphanage in a place called Kostino and the experience pretty much changed my whole life. For a start I became a Christian, after seeing the amazing way people in the charity shared the love of God with the children in Russia and how God was really working through them all my questions about God were answered - but this is another story (contact me if you want to know the full version!). I also felt that I wanted to do something else for the children in Russia. I couldn't spend a week there and then forget about them, I needed to do more. So after much thought I decided to apply to do Russian at university. Not an altogether wise decision at the time, mainly because not only had I never studied Russian, I also didn't study a foreign language at A-level, so in the words of my form tutor 'you have pretty much no chance of getting on any of these courses'. Excellent. But she was wrong. I got accepted onto all the courses I applied for (I'm pretty sure God had a big hand in this!). I chose Birmingham and have been studying Russian for two years, still visiting orphanages in Russia every summer with the charity. But now is a bigger challenge, I'm going for a whole year…

I'm going to be living in Moscow and studying at Moscow Language Link, a kind of university for foreign students. My main project for the year will be writing a dissertation style project in Russian on orphanages. I'm excited to be doing this as it will give me an opportunity to visit projects that I haven't been able to see before.

I'd love to say that I'm relaxed, chilled out and excited about the challenge ahead. But this is a lie. I'm certainly excited but I am also TERRIFIED! Most nights instead of sleeping I have started playing a game called ‘Let’s think of all the bad things that could happen in Russia’ I do not choose to play this game. My brain seems to force it upon me no matter how many times I try to count sheep. Some of my favorites from the game are: What if I can't get to my flat from the airport and I'm left stranded? What if I don't understand the woman I live with? What if I can't get the internet to work? (Facebook as ever will be essential to have as soon as I land. I can never feel fully right as a student unless I spend at least an hour a day wasting time/stalking people.)
However I feel the main worry is: What if I've forgotten all my Russian? To try and combat this I'm reading Bridget Jones in Russian. Not the most effective way to learn Russian (according to my teachers), but I don't think my brain could handle grammar exercises over the summer.

I feel like my Russian adventure has already begun to some extent. After many tearful goodbyes I've left my life in Birmingham for a whole year… It took me 2 years to settle in and now I'm gone! Sigh, all this moving around is really going to take its toll on my emotions.

At the moment I feel like I'm stuck in the departure lounge at the airport, waiting to go... except the departure lounge is Huddersfield and I've got another 7 weeks of waiting to do. That’s another 7 weeks of thinking of everything that can possibly go wrong. Oh dear.

In the meantime I'm going to Russia on 1st August for a week. I'll be working in an orphanage in a place called Yerlatma. It will be good to have an opportunity to practice some Russian before I go! This will be my 4th visit to Russia and for the first time I'm not feeling nervous about it. I trust that God is preparing this trip and although it will be stressful and emotionally tiring, it's also going to be a great week where so many children’s lives are going to be impacted for the better.

Anyway, enough ramblings for now.