Senin, 17 Mei 2010

Real Life in Real Russia.

Throughout the year many second years on my Russian course in Birmingham have been emailing me with questions about the year abroad. So I thought I’d write a blog where I would answer as many of them as possible. I’m sure the teachers at university are doing their best to scare you about your year abroad. I hope this will put your minds at rest!

And if you’re not going to do a year abroad in Russia I hope you will find this blog about normal Russian life mildly interesting!

The Cold and Clothes.
To state the obvious: in Russia from around mid October to March it is cold. Very very cold (- but on the plus side from around May onwards it’s boiling! Summer is here!) So how do you deal with the cold? LAYERS. My biggest piece of advice is to buy some good boots (I bought mine from New Look in Moscow), a good coat and good hats, gloves and socks. But the most important things to pack are layers!! For the girls my advice is to go to Dorothy Perkins/ New Look/ Topshop (basically any clothes shop) and stock up on all those ‘3 t shirts for a tenner’ offers. Works a treat AND my ‘colourful layered’ style was complimented on more than one occasion. Win win. Oh and for the period when it is getting cold but the metro is still boiling I recommend zip up hoodies/jackets under your coat (easier to strip off in the metro).

Living with a hoz (landlady).
Only those who have lived with a hoz before can truly understand what this is like! It’s a very Russian thing to live with a (normally old and crazy!) landlady instead of finding your own flat. At first it is annoying and feels like you’ve moved back in with your parents again but I would advise everyone to see your hoz as a GREAT way to practise your Russian! Yes they might have some crazy Russian traditions that they want to make you take part in but just see it as all part of the experience! Think about the stories you will be able to scare the first years with when you get back ;)

Mobile sim cards.
You can buy Russian sim cards for around 150 rubles and you top them up using top up machines on the street. Easy peasy. I’d advise you to all take an old unlocked phone to use in Russia, you can take a nice phone if you really want but my beautiful Blackberry is at home (… and I miss it so!)

The internet.
To us students, unlimited access to facebook is important. For those of you who are living in Moscow or St Pete do not fear! You SHALL have the internet! (Said the facebook fairy godmother). Fortunately my flat already had wifi in it. If you are not as lucky then I recommend Yota internet – it’s a usb stick that you plug into your laptop so you can have the internet everywhere! You top it up every month using the top up machines on the street like your mobile. Also near the school in Moscow there is an internet cafĂ©, Macdonalds with free wifi and apparently a library with free internet nearby (but I’ve never found it!)
For those going to Yaroslavl… I hear there’s a nice Chinese restaurant that has free wifi….

What to do when you get there!
When you get to Russia you will most likely be picked up from the airport and taken to your flats (well that’s what they did with us this year). In Moscow (and I assume in all the other places) you go to school the very next day. I think this is good because you’re busy straight away and can start adjusting to living in this crazy country!

Well I hope all that helps! My biggest piece of advice though is to just ENJOY IT! The year abroad is hard and you WILL have low points. I try to always remember what an amazing opportunity it is to be able to study in a foreign country… that normally stops me moaning for about 5 minutes! I also can’t stress enough how important it is to try and find Russian friends (something I have to say I have been pretty rubbish at.) Speaking Russian with people you feel comfortable around is the best way to improve – I’m fortunate enough to have a lovely flatmate who helps me improve my Russian so much! So if you’re not as fortunate as me go out and meet some friends… bars are a good place to start, after a couple of drinks your Russian will be ‘amazing’. To you at least.

Senin, 03 Mei 2010

A Confession from an Emotional Wreck.

All those who know me know that I am at times, slightly overemotional. Something I don’t apologise for because emotions are only natural! Over the past few weeks my emotions have however overtaken me and it is time to publish them to the whole world (well, whoever reads this). Sorry it’s taken so long for me to write recently, I just needed to make sure I was in a place where I could write exactly what I was feeling!

So. A warning. This blog IS going to contain my emotions and will probably be a bit more serious than recent blogs. So stop reading now if that is going to annoy you.

The last few weeks have centred around two main things: The Marie Claire Incident and Writing my Project. So I’ll explain them both and then explain how they got me where I am now…

The Marie Claire Incident.
As I have written about before in my blog I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I was about 10 years old. Being in Russia made me realise how much I missed being involved in the student newspaper at Birmingham and this made me want to go for this dream even more.

Over Christmas I applied for loads of internships at magazines all over the UK and a few weeks ago I got an email from Marie Claire offering me an interview for a one month internship. I don’t think my landlady has ever heard me scream so loud! But then a problem arose: the internship started 3 weeks before my course in Russia ended. ARGH. As this course doesn’t count towards my actual degree I didn’t think it would be much of a problem to leave just 3 weeks early (especially as I am came back to Russia 2 weeks early and I’m coming back for 2 weeks over the summer!) However after a major discussion between me and my university in Birmingham I was told that I couldn’t leave early because I do single honours Russian… and I had to say no to Marie Claire.

This was probably the lowest I’ve felt so far in Russia. I was so upset that yet again Russia was getting in the way of me doing something I love. As I think I’ve said before I’ve always had a huge feeling that in my life I have to choose between Russia (and charity work) and journalism. People always point out to me that I can do both but I’m not sure that I can. This whole incident made me believe that more and I just felt like giving up on the whole Russian thing and instead doing something that I love and something that I think I am actually good at!

However, I am just not enough of a rebel to ever drop out of university so I just carried on going to school here but hating every day of it. Then I had to continue…

Writing my Project.
This year the only way I am assessed by Birmingham University is by writing a 6,000 word project. In Russian… aka my worst nightmare.

My project is about orphanages in Russia and whether conditions in them have improved over the last 10 years, something that was obviously a passion of mine when I started my degree. But throughout this year I’ve been concentrating more and more on how I want to become a journalist and less and less on why I started studying Russian: to help orphans in Russia. So writing this project has become even harder.

As I started reading and researching for this project the magnitude of the problem with orphanages in Russia came back to me. I don’t want to write it all out here but in the most basic terms: It is believed there are 4 million orphans in Russia. Around 800,000-1,000,000 are in orphanages and the rest… who knows where they are. Obviously growing up in institutions is no way for a child to be brought up so foster care or adoption would be a much better option. There are hardly any foster care or adoption schemes in Russia therefore most orphans can only hope to be adopted from abroad and if you’ve been reading the news recently you will have seen that Russia has suspended adoption from America (and potentially other countries). So basically: it’s a big mess.

Many times whilst I was reading or watching videos I was brought to tears. I defy anyone to YouTube ‘Russian orphans’ and not cry. It started me thinking about whether journalism was the right route for me or whether I should start thinking seriously again about charity work.

So after these 2 events my head kind of exploded and I had a mini meltdown trying to figure out just who I am. When I was younger I wanted to be a journalist because I thought by the time I was 21 I would be this glamorous woman. Well, yesterday I tried to walk in heels for 2 hours and my feet started bleeding. I am not glamorous.
But what I do know about myself is that I know how to care and I know how to love. The media industry is not based on care and love. So is this where I really want to be? Should I be spending my whole summer trying to get experience in the media industry or should I be trying to get my Russian to a level that is acceptable for final year? I still think my Russian is terrible.

And this is probably where I should end this blog. Living in Russia has really made me think so hard about who I really am and what I should really be doing with my life. If you can help please send your answers on a postcard to: Sarah, Moscow. Thanks. I guess living abroad for a year anywhere forces you to try and put your life back home into perspective: be warned second years!