Today I took my final exams–our program is over! We celebrated with a пироги feast with our teachers–a perfect way to celebrate the semester we spent together!
It’s all very surreal, and hard to belief that this journey is coming to a close. For the past year I’ve been so focused on achieving this goal of studying abroad in Russia, learning about the culture, and improving my language skills. The past 6 months of living under the Middlebury Language Pledge (first in the summer program, and then in Russia) have been particularly intense. It’s strange to think that it’s all over–it doesn’t seem possible that tomorrow is my last day in Yaroslavl.
Of course, while the program is over, I know the impact of my time in Russia will continue on. I probably won’t even realize all the ways it has influenced me until I step back and have some time to reflect and think. I’m guessing returning back home will be quite enlightening–it will be interesting to see if I experience any “reverse” culture shock.
I know I will miss aspects of life here, though right now it’s hard to say exactly what. I’m currently struck by the bittersweetness of it all–I don’t know if I’ll ever return here and it’s hard to imagine that all these sights I’ve grown accustomed to over the past few months are soon going to be memories.
Yaroslavl is currently decked out in lights for Новый год (New Years)–it’s a magical sight, especially when it’s snowing!
Tomorrow, I’m going to try and soak it all in as much as possible. I’ve finished all exams/other academic responsibilities, so I have the day free to finish packing and then spend time saying good bye to friends–and to the city! Then late tomorrow night I’ll catch my ride to Moscow, where I fly out early Saturday morning–I’m going to try to stay awake as much as possible so I can sleep on the flight from Amsterdam to Seattle and adjust to the time-zone difference (of 11 hours!) But it’s going to be a long period of transit.
I’m curious at what point it will hit me that I’m leaving–or that I can speak English without guilt! I don’t think I’ll be able to switch my language settings on my phone and computer until I’m on the plane–it’d seem wrong to have them in English while I’m still in Russia! I’m guessing the next several days will be spent in a state of disbelief–as in, did that really happen, or did I imagine that I did all that?
As I’ve already said, I think I will be reflecting a lot on my experience here in the first few days/weeks that I’m home, so it’s possible (or even likely) that I’ll write another post or two on the blog. But while this is probably not my last post, but is IS the last time I can say I’m writing From Russia with Love–next time I’ll be back home in the states!
Thank you so much to all of you for taking the time to follow along with my adventures! I have a lot of people to thank for helping me along on this journey, and that includes everyone back home–you all have been so incredibly supportive, and I thank you for letting me share my stories with you! I hope I will get to share them in person with many of you soon.
I’m spending the evening getting some work done and preparing for my first final, which is tomorrow! My last 10 days in Yaroslavl are going to be jam-packed: in addition to my test tomorrow, I have four finals next week–yikes! But I’ll also be trying to find balance, and fit in as many enjoyable activities as I can in my last days here–meeting up with friends for the last time, going to all my favorite places in Yaroslavl, and trying to fit in some last “Russian” experiences (i.e., currently planning a visit to the баня (Russian spa)…I’ll let you guys you know how that one goes!)
Anyway, as a study break (read: procrastination), I wanted to write up a quick post about my weekend in Вологда (Vologda).
Last Saturday afternoon I left Yaroslavl for Vologda, a small(ish) town of 300,000, located about 3 hours north of Yaroslavl. One of my friends here is from Vologda, and she invited me to come stay with her, since she was going back for a family event.
It was such a great weekend, and a perfect last weekend trip to end the semester on. After we arrived, I spent Saturday evening getting the “local” experience. My friend Миля was busy all evening at her family gathering, so I spent my Saturday getting to know her friends. They were all so lovely and welcoming! We walked around town–it’s so pretty at night, especially along the river!–and then went to some of their favorite cafes.
One of my excellent “guides”
A bench celebrating the letter “o”–people from Vologda have a special dialect, and their “o” sounds are a bit more pronounced.
The photos don’t do it justice!
Trying to master the Russian soft smile with my new friends.
A statue of a dog peeing on a pole. Oh yes.
It was really interesting to get to learn about all of them, but more than anything it was really fun to get to have a “girls’ night”. And a cross-cultural one at that–we spoke a mix of English and Russian (they all wanted to practice their English), and helped each other out with new words/slang. I, for instance, taught them the word “vibes.” Sometimes people just click, and that’s how I felt with the people I met in Vologda–we were out until 5 am because we didn’t want the night to end (as most of you know that is WAY past my bedtime!)
Anyway, we had a late start to our Sunday. Миля’s mom made us homemade блины (Russian pancakes), and then we headed to Семенкова museum, just outside of town. It’s a complex modeled after Russian villages from 100+ years ago–it was so cool! We toured the different buildings, which were filled with traditional Russian art/products, as well as historical objects.
All in a days work…
An old box for caramels
Traditional Russian dolls
Weaving–the museum complex holds master classes, so people continue to make traditional products to this day!
Inside a traditional Russian home from 100+ years ago…here you can see what Russian stoves looked like, as well as the left (top left corner), where the whole family would sleep together (not too different from old American log cabins!)
Then we headed back into town, where I went to the Museum of Lacemaking. Vologda is known throughout Russia for being the best at two things: making lace, and making dairy products. The lace pieces are incredible–I can’t even imagine the amount of time that goes into making even a small decorative detail for a dress, let alone a whole tablecloth!
You can’t tell from this picture, but this table cloth stretches from floor to ceiling!
A lace image of Lenin’s mausoleum–because why not?
For the record, I also tried some dairy products: кефир (a Russian dairy drink, most similar to drinkable yogurt, but a bit more bitter?) and сырок (a little dessert bar, almost like a thicker version of cheesecake, and usually covered in chocolate?) (PS the descriptions I gave are kind of terrible. Please just try these items if you ever get the chance). I can confirm that Vologda has quality dairy.
Vologda dairy: the best of the best.
Kremlin walls and the cathedral–Tsar Ivan the III (The “Terrible”–though this translation is slightly misleading…that’s a different story…) originally wanted Vologda to serve as the capital of Kievan Rus’ (ancient Russia) but changed his mind because it was too far north.
Pretty soon after that, it was time to head back! The weekend went by too fast, but I’m so grateful that I got to fit in another trip, and that it went so well. I’ve traveled quite a bit by myself this semester, so it was a really special experience to get to meet up and hang out with people. I am totally in debt to Миля, her friends, and family for showing me such a great time! As I told all of them, now they have to come to the States so I can return the favor!
This trip also once again confirmed my love for small(er) towns. It seems no matter what country I go to, my favorite places are the quieter, less touristy locations. I feel like you can get a more genuine feel for the cultural, and what life is like when you’re not constantly surrounded by crowds or people taking selfies. And the local people tend to be a lot more welcoming too–they aren’t sick to death of tourists!
Seriously, if you ever get the chance to visit Russia, my number one piece of advice would to check out historical cities: i.e. make sure you get outside of Moscow and Petersburg! Of course they are worth a visit, but the fact is that they are huge, international destinations. In my opinion, the “real” Russia is found elsewhere! (Though I’m sure there are plenty of people who would beg to differ!)
Bonus: Here’s a photo from today’s “excursion” for my Politics class.We went to meet with Игорь Алексеевич Ямщиков, one of the leaders of Yaroslavl’s branch of the Общероссийский народный фронт–or All-Russia People’s Front, a social organization that works to bring awareness to, and find solutions, to various problems, ranging from ecological to cultural to ethical.
Игорь Алексеевич was so incredibly open and it was a great to hear his perspective. He’s involved in many different projects, and clearly cares a lot about Russia, and helping his fellow citizens!
He served in Afghanistan, and wore his uniform to meet with us–a sign of respect for us visitors!
This was our 7th (and last) excursion for my politics class. Our professor has taken us all over town–we’ve met with representatives and leaders from the local government, the regional senate, various political parties (including the communist party), the regional union organization (“профсоюз”), youth centers, and more. This has definitely been a benefit to being in Yaroslavl–it’s the capital of the область (what regional governments are called here–the Russian equivalent of “states” in the U.S.), so there’s a lot going on politically. But people are really welcoming and kind–they are so open to answering questions, and I’ve been grateful that all of these very busy people have given up some of their time to talk with us! I’m also really grateful to my professor for organizing all these little trips for us–it’s given us some really interesting experiences!
And one more Russian tradition before I sign off tonight. Since it’s finals season, I thought I’d share a pre-test tradition in Russia. I first learned about this last September, before taking my very first Russian test at Wellesley–now I can’t take a test without thinking of it!
Person A: “ни пуха, ни пера” [phonetically: nee poohah, nee peyrah(?)] (“Neither down nor feather”)
Person B: “к черту!” [quh chyort-ty](“To the devil” /[To hell!]”)
This phrase was originally said to hunters before they left on trips. It’s the Russian equivalent of telling an actor to “break a leg”–in saying that they hoped hunters would find neither down nor feathers, the belief was that the exact opposite would happen. The “to hell” part was included because of the believe that evil spirits were always present, and needed to be told off (to go back to hell).
But most people don’t think about this background when using this phrase today–as I said, it’s the same as “break a leg.” And of course, you can always just wish someone “Удачи!” (“luck”) if you want something simpler!
And on that note, удачи всем with whatever you’re currently dealing with–finals or otherwise!
I hope everyone is having a lovely Thursday–I know I am! Since I don’t have class on Fridays, reaching Thursday afternoon is always a reason to celebrate–it means the weekend is here!
This evening has been particularly nice. I went to a yoga class, and am now giving myself the rest of the evening “off”–instead of trying to force myself to get some work in, I am watching an old Soviet comedy (Операция “Ы”, or Operation “Ы” [ы is a letter that doesn’t exist in English, so you can’t really translate it!]). Watching Russian films is a not only a great way to practice the language, but also an important aspect of understanding the culture.
I’m starting to build up a list of “must-see” Russian films. Unfortunately, I’m not the best film watcher–i.e. I rarely do it. This isn’t just the case for Russian films–I doubt I’ll ever make it through my list of English-language films I intend to watch. Same goes for TV shows. I have a hard time just sitting and watching–so I usually end up multitasking (like I’m doing now, by writing this post), or just not watching anything at all. The only time I can actually watch a movie is when I’m with other people–I think it’s much more interesting to watch something when it’s a shared experience, and you can discuss it afterwards.
With foreign language films, multitasking is harder, because you have to be paying a lot more attention to the movie in order to keep up with the action–this is especially true when there aren’t subtitles, which is the case with the movies I’ve watched in Russia.
But while this is only the second night that I’ve watched a film at home on the computer (like an actual college student!), I’ve been out to the movies several times, including earlier this week! On Monday I went to a one-night-only screening of “Плацкарт,” a documentary about the Trans-Siberian Railroad. It’s the longest rail line in the world, stretching all the way across Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok–the journey takes almost 7 days! Though I have not ridden on the Trans-Siberian line, I have seen it’s end point in Vladivostok! And when I went to Petersburg I had the experience of riding overnight in the плацкарт, which is the most public of train compartments (as opposed to a private compartments/rooms). It was a good experience, but I can’t imagine being on the train for a whole week!
The train station in Vladivostok
Monument marking the end point of the Trans-Siberian Railroad–9288 km (~5770 miles) from Moscow!
Inside of a плацкарт–all of the blue you seating benches double as beds, and there are 6 sleeping areas in each row–you definitely get up close and personal with other passengers!
One of the top bunks, where I slept–there’s not much room up there!
The film wasn’t really about the rail line itself, but about the people on it. The director–who was at the screening–said he wanted to capture the true spirit of Russian people. So most of the film was interviews, and observational shots of how people interacted on the train. As someone who enjoys both documentary films and people watching (I have my dad to thank for passing down both of those interests), watching the film was a good way to spend an evening!
And this week, I not only went to the movie theater, but to the “theater” theater [theatre? theater? I think I’ll just use both spellings intermittently…try not to let it confuse you!]–I finally saw a play at the Волковский! I may have mentioned this before, but the Волковский theatre is famous for being the very first professional theatre in all of Russian–and it’s located right here in Yaroslavl! I walk by it every day on the way to class, so I was excited to finally see a performance there.
The theater is named after Фёодор Волков, who founded it in 1750. By the way, when I say it was the first “theatre” in Russian, I mean first professional theatre group. The Russian school of theatre is reparatory, meaning that the same group of actors perform from a set of plays, as opposed to different groups using the building to perform shows for a several day or several week “run.” The actual theatre building you see in the pictures is not the original building of Волковский theatre–but since it was built in 1911, it’s still historical (though when you have an over-thousand-year-long history like Yaroslavl, being 106 years old is practically nothing!).
Lights above the audience
An gallery room in the upper level of the theatre. There was an opera singer performing before the show!
Posing in front of the stage…there are normally curtains there but I suppose this wall is much more fitting for the play we watched!
Anyway, I went on Tuesday night with Emmett and our Literature professor to watch Чайка (“The Seagull”), a play by А.П. Чехов (Anton Pavlovich Chekov), arguably the most famous of Russian playwrights. Chekov was also a talented short-story writer (though he was a doctor by profession!). We’ve spent our semester reading his stories, so it was cool to get to see one of his plays on the stage. (By the way, if you haven’t read Chekov, you should check him out. You can find plenty of translations of his stories in English, and he’s quite good!)
I had actually seen a production of Чайка before, because the drama club at the Russian language school performed it at the end of the summer. This time, however, it was completely different. This was a very modern interpretation of Чайка, with all sorts of interesting twists and different effects. It was the first time, for example, that I’ve ever seen a live horse on a stage. And that was just the opening scene.
A lot of people in Yaroslavl don’t like the current director of the Волковский because the think he is far too modernist–many Russians, especially of older generations, prefer the classical style of theater and can get quite offended when they think someone is taking things too far. But I thought it was very interesting, and all three of us agreed that Сhekov would have approved of the creative interpretation of his work (at least we think he would!)
By the way, the pictures I posted of the theatre building above were taken when I first got to Yaroslavl, in September. This is what it actually looked like on my way to the play on Tuesday night:
Approaching the back of the theater
The theatre from across Волковская площадь (Volkov Square)
Though Зина is insisting that this is still not “real” winter, snow has fallen and temperatures are dropping! If this isn’t “real” winter, then I’m glad I’m departing before the legitimate cold arrives!
It’s hard to believe it, but I only have about two weeks left in Russia! I’m trying to fit in as much as I can while I’m still here, while balancing school work/finals. So far so good, but the real struggle will be in these final weeks–my first final is a week from today!
That being said, I am looking forward to the rest of this weekend. Tomorrow night my friends are hosting a big party, and then on Saturday I’m traveling to Вологда, a small town not far from Yaroslavl. One of my Russian friends is from there and is going back home for the weekend, so she invited me to come with her. I think she’ll be pretty busy with family stuff, so I might actually spend time with her friends that live there, but either way I will get the local experience.
When I get back, all of the “lasts” will begin–last classes, last club meetings, meeting up with various friends for the last time…though I’m excited to be going home, it will be bittersweet to say goodbye! But I’ve still got 16 days–I’ll fit in a lot before my time here is up! And of course, I’ll do my best to keep the blog updated!
I hope everyone has a great weekend! Всего хорошего!
I hope everyone who celebrated in the States had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It was my first ever Thanksgiving not be at home, which was a bit strange. I’ve been lucky to fly home the past two years, despite living across the country, but crossing the ocean was a bit too far.
I meant to write this post on Thanksgiving, in order to give a shout out to everyone celebrating back home, and to claim that I’d at least done something food-related. But I ended up spending my Thanksgiving evening stuck in a Youtube blackhole, watching bloopers from my favorite TV shows from five years ago, and old late-night talk show interviews of female comedians I love. Nowhere close to the levels of joy I would have felt being with my family, but at least I got some good laughs and a chance to do nothing.
Anyway, I’m finally writing my second installation on Russian food, as promised! (Hopefully my dear readers find this topic as interesting as I do).
In my previous post about Russian food, I mentioned a few traditional Russian foods that I frequently encounter. This time, I’ll talk more about what you can expect to encounter if you travel to Russia, along with some of my general experiences. (Note that I will mostly be writing from my experiences in Yaroslavl–this could definitely differ in various regions and in smaller towns!)
International Food Scene
First off, if you are a Western tourist coming to Russian, you needn’t worry about only being surrounded by unfamiliar foods. If you a in a major city, at least in Western Russian, you will be able to find just about any type of food you’d want to eat, and can often find Western chains. They have it all, along with symbols so you can recognize the restaurant even if its written in cyrillic—Subway, Burger King, McDonald’s, Starbucks…This is particularly true in Moscow–I found one street that had two Krispy Kremes on it…this wouldn’t even happen in America. Actually, in Yaroslavl, the most popular chain isn’t Starbucks or MacDonald’s–it’s KFC. I can think of three in Yaroslavl alone. Insanity. As someone who is not a big fan of American fast food (i.e. I’ve been boycotting McDonald’s since I was 10), I don’t particularly enjoy seeing all these familiar signs, but it is kind of novel seeing the names in Cyrillic. And they are certainly popular amongst Russians.
And this isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of Russian stores–the majority of cafes and restaurants aren’t Western chains. But it’s not hard to find American brands.
Nor is it hard to find other types of international cuisine: burger joints, Italian restaurants, sushi, Indian, etc.. There are even sushi-pizza restaurants (at least two in Yaroslavl)–I have not gone because this combination seems blasphemous.
While Italian and Japanese were popular a few years back, the current international food trend is Georgian food–it’s everywhere, and it’s delicious. Shawarma is also very popular, and you can easily find street stands selling it.
Russian Food–Where to get it?
If you’re looking for Russian food, there are a few main types of establishments, beyond grocery stores/markets:
Cafes (кафе)–this is probably the most common type of place to get food. While we think of cafes in the U.S. as places to get coffee, Russian cafes typically offer sit-down menus–though of course you can always just come in to drink tea or coffee! If you are looking for more of a coffee shop, then you should seek out a “кофейня.” There are cafes literally everywhere, and they differ in price, style, and formality.
Restaurants (ресторан)–if a place is called a restaurant, it’s probably going to be more on the fancier side…it doesn’t always mean that you have to be super dressed up, but there will likely be more of a formal atmosphere and the prices will likely be higher, at least compared to places that label themselves as “cafes”. People tend to go to restaurants to eat a full meal, whereas at a cafe they might just swing by to grab a bite to eat. At least this is what I’ve gathered…I honestly haven’t eaten at many “restaurants” since I usually eat dinner at home!
Out to dinner with a group of friends at Хмель и Гриль, a popular restaurant/bar in Yaroslavl
Столовая— cafeteria style cafes, which are usually very affordable. They became popular during the Soviet-era, and often serve traditional Russian foods. It’s all ready and waiting, so you can eat quickly. But just because it’s a Столовая doesn’t mean the food isn’t good quality. Nowadays you’ll find quite a few very modern, trendy cafes that are set up in the столовая-style. Actually, my favorite place to eat in Yaroslavl is a столовая, (located in a grocery store)–it’s so good, and the amount of choice appeals to my Americanness. Note: most Столовая have a microwave–if you’re food isn’t as warm as you’d like it, warm it up!
A typical “cold” case in the cafeteria, where you can find all the infamous Russian salads!
The set up at Cafe 73, my favorite столовая in Yaroslavl.
Other things about eating in Russia:
You can get a lot of bang for your buck--I probably spend an average of $3 on lunch every day. Food in general tends to be very affordable, at least in comparison to American and European prices. This is particular true during the weekdays, when many cafes and restaurants will offer business lunches (бизнес-ланч). This means that you can get a lot of items (soup, main, drink, bread) for what would normally just get you a main dish–though it’s worth noting that the menu is fixed, so you don’t always have a lot of options. NOTE: in comparison to food dishes, fancy coffee drinks and alcohol tend to cost more, just like in the West. I.e., you can still find $4 lattes–somethings don’t change!
If you’re coming from the states, the portions might seem small at first. Probably because they are actually rational portion sizes, instead of what we get in U.S. restaurants, which is often twice as much as people should be eating. That being said, most Russian menus will list the amount of food in each dish (in grams), so you can see in advance how much you’re ordering. Another thing to keep in mind–Russian food tends to be a lot richer than what we typically eat in the west, so you often need to eat less of it to feel full.
When people do sit down to a full meal, it traditionally involves закуски (appetizers), суп (soup), some form of animal (standard options are meat/мясо, chicken/курицы, and fish/рыба), and some kind of “garnish”–it could be potatoes, a salad (in the Russian style–veggies, usually tossed in some sort of oil or mayonnaise), or гручка (cooked buckwheat). This is then followed by tea or coffee with some kind of pastry or other dessert–though the most popular tea time is usually in the afternoon, at least around Yaroslavl. But I feel like eating all of this at once is typically reserved for special occasions or holidays. In every day life, lunch or dinner probably involves some mixture of these components, or small servings of all of them!
Though it’s becoming more popular, vegetarianism in Russia is still a challenge. This is something a lot of people mention when talking about eating in Russia, and though I think it’s becoming easier, vegetarian diets still pose some challenges in Russia. Though I am not a vegetarian, I often eat like one when I back home, so I definitely have been taking note on the possibility of vegetarianism in Russia. If you’re in Moscow or Petersburg, I think you would be totally fine–there seem to be plenty of places there that cater to vegetarians, just like in the States. But when you get into other parts of Russia, it becomes increasingly challenging. In a larger city like Yaroslavl, you can find restaurants and cafes with vegetarian options, but I imagine in smaller cities it’s got to be pretty hard. It’s not that every single dish has meat in it–but a lot of them do, and it would be hard to only subsist on those without… it’d be a lot of cabbage, beets, and bread. But while I think vegetarians could survive in larger cities, I think Veganism would be almost impossible–there’s just too much dairy in everything. Of course, Veganism seems pretty tough no matter where you are!
My food experience in Yaroslavl
Besides providing a roof to live under and a bed to sleep in, my host Зина does a lot for me. Perhaps her biggest assistance comes in the form of meals–as part of my housing agreement, she provides me with breakfast and dinner during the week, and all three meals on the weekends (though a lot of the time I end up being gone during lunch). Though it’s sometimes a bit strange not to plan my own meals, I’ve really enjoyed getting the authentic culinary experience–as I told her, I want to eat like a Russian while I’m here!
Breakfast is usually some kind of каша (porridge) with yogurt, or sometimes eggs. Dinner is usually some kind of meat (these meatball kind of things she makes, chicken, sausage) or fish, and either potatoes or veggies. I also occasionally get блины с мясом (Russian pancakes with meat). There’s always tea, and usually some kind of сок (juice) or компот (compote), which she makes at home! She makes a lot of stuff–her fridge is filled with mason jars with all sorts of homemade concoctions–jams, a salsa-like tomato mixture, pickled vegetables…you name it, she’s probably made it! This is even more impressive because she grows a lot of the fruits and vegetables she uses herself (at the garden at her дача (dacha)–a type of cottage that many Russian families have!). This also means that she is very picky about the quality of produce (and generally everything) in stores. She told me that she hates to buy tomatoes, apples, cucumbers (or anything that she could grow better herself), especially in the winter, because they are a “tasteless”–and that when she does have to buy produce, she always make sure she knows where it comes from. As you can tell, I have been in very principled hands!
Her homemade jams–strawberry and raspberry
Блины с мясом (Russian pancakes with meat)
Homemade Пирожок (piroshky)
A small sampling of meals/foods Зина has made for me over the past three months. I’m hoping she can give me some of her recipes so I’ll be able to make some Russian food when I’m back home–though I’m sure I won’t be able to do it justice!
Some of you may be wondering if I’ve eaten anything “weird” since I’ve gotten here. In all honestly, though the food is a bit different from back home, most of the ingredients are things that we have back in the states. I’d say the most “exotic” things I’ve eaten are tongue (I think from a cow, but I’m not sure) and a liver “cake” (again, not sure where that liver came from, but oh well).
Honestly, a lot of the time I don’t know exactly what I’m eating. Though I now know the names of a lot of basic foods, this doesn’t always lend itself to understanding menus all that well. So most of the time I’m just thankful that I’m an adventurous eater with no allergies or dietary restrictions, and I give it a go! I love trying new foods, so it works out well.
You also might be wondering if I miss any foods from back home. Far and away the thing I miss most is spinach. Just plain, raw spinach. Not even kidding. I probably eat it once or twice every day when I’m home or at school, because I frequently eat “salads” (really just a mound of randomly assorted veggies). The food here tends to be a lot richer than what I usually eat, so I miss the simplicity! I’m looking forward to getting to create my veggie concoctions again when I’m back home!
Anyway, though Russia is not known for its food, you should definitely give it a try sometime if you have the chance! I thought it would be something that I suffered through in my time here, but it’s actually quite good and has turned out to be [another] positive aspect of my experience here!
Alrighty, that’s all I’ve got for now! I hope everyone is enjoying the rest of their weekend!
Though this week is halfway-over, I want to quickly tell you all about how I spent last week–participating in Yaroslavl’s Model UN Conference!
For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Model UN is an academic/extra-curriculur activity, in which students create a simulation of the United Nations by playing the role of delegates and other officials, holding debates, and passing resolutions. The first Model UN conference was held in the late 1940s, not long after the creation of the actual UN, and there are now Model UN clubs and conferences around the world.
I first found out about Model UN when I was in high school, because several of my friends were in charge of my high school’s Model UN club. It always seemed like a really cool thing to be a part of, but I was always kept busy with my sports/band commitments and never found the time to participate.
So, when one of my Russian friends told me there was going to be a Model UN conference in Yaroslavl, I was highly intrigued. And terrified–the General Assembly part of the conference would be taking place entirely in Russian. Researching issues, debating policies, making speeches, all while using formal political speech and terms–IN RUSSIAN? The task seemed almost impossible.
But I love a good challenge, and something being “almost” impossible means that you still have a shot, so I decided to give it a go!
If you read the end of my last post, you might have sensed that I was a bit stressed going into the conference–I felt intimidated and not-in-the-least-bit prepared! But from the very first day, that stress minimized, and I ended up having a great time!
Power posing with Маша–we were acting as the delegates of France and Israel, respectively!
Action shot during resolution discussions–I was ready to take notes, as always!
All smiles during a break in the action!
The conference lasted three days. During the day we would do the simulation–giving “country positions” in the formal debate, drafting resolutions, and voting on these resolutions. Then at night, there were different cultural programs, including a “quest” around Yaroslavl, a music trivia game, and a banquet/dance at the end of the conference.
It was a really great way to meet new people. There were not only students from Yaroslavl, but from Moscow and Volgograd, in addition to foreign students studying in Russia. I was the only American, but I also met students from England, Germany, France, and Syria.
My group during the “Quest” around Yaroslavl
The whole group of students participating in the conference
With some Russian students from Moscow–plus my friend Маша
It was also a very informative experience. Not only was it very good practice for my Russian, but in the process of preparing for and participating in the conference I learned a lot about current events in the world, and difference policy issues. Overall, it was a great experience, and I’m very glad I had the chance to take part in it!
My voting card…at the end of the conference, all the delegates sign each others’–it’s a nice keepsake and reminder of all the students I worked with during the conference!
Anyway, now that the conference is over, I’ve been able to get back into more of a normal routine in Yaroslavl, as well as to fit in some fun, random activities. In the past several days I watched a movie (Матильда, about the affair between a ballerina and Tsar Nikolai II–seen without subtitles!), went for a run along the Volga, tried out some new coffee shops, practiced yoga, caught up on Skype with friends and family back home, and met up with some new Russian friends for tea. It’s amazing all the things you can do when you have a free time in your calendar (though with me it never stays that way long!).
I hope for many more such adventures in my remaining time here–it’s hard to believe I will be departing one month from today! Though it’s also time to start buckling down and getting some work done on my final projects–we only have three weeks of classes left and I have two big papers to write and a final presentation to prepare, in addition to tests to study for…and editing the papers is going to take even longer than normal, since I’ll likely be sorting through all sorts of grammar mistakes–I think writing is complicated no matter what, but that only intensifies in a foreign language!
Here’s to striking a balance between socializing and studying in my last month!
I arrived back in Yaroslavl this morning, after spending three days in Saint Petersburg!
So….what did I think???
It was fine.
I know, entirely underwhelming. But in writing this blog, I want to give an honest portrayal of my time abroad. So often when we talk about travels, we tend to exaggerate how amazing/wonderful/life-changing everything is, but of course that is not always the case.
And honestly, I didn’t enjoy Peter as much as I thought I would.
Maybe it’s because my expectations were too high. I had heard so much about Peter–that it’s magical; that’s it’s a place of artists and romantics; that it’s historical and hip all at the same time. And I oft heard the theory that there are two types of Russians: those who like Moscow, and those who like Peter (or as one girl I met put it: “People go to Moscow for money, and to Peter–for love”). Obviously, I am neither type of Russian, since I come from the U. S., but I nevertheless thought I would fall into the category of those who prefer Peter. I thought I would arrive to the city and instantly fall in love.
It didn’t happen that way.
Having taken the overnight train from Yaroslavl, I arrived onto Невский Проспект (Nevsky Prospect, arguably the most famous street in Russia) ready to be dazzled. Instead, it was crowded and noisy, and everything seemed a bit tired and dreary, even the pastel-colored facades of the building. Of course, my impression was inevitably colored by the fact that I had not eaten for 16+ hours and was wandering around with all my luggage….but still: it was not the magical love-at-first-sight I was expecting.
I eventually warmed up to Peter, and had some really great experiences: I took in a ballet at the Mariinsky theatre, watched the sun set over the city from the colonnade of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, and ate some really delicious street food; I spent hours exploring the Hermitage, probably spending more time gawking at the extravagance of the Winter Palace than looking at the paintings; I wandered through the maze that is the Loft Project–a collection of shops housed in a old warehouse, where around every corner awaits a surprise: maybe retro clothes, maybe a book store; maybe coffee, maybe art, maybe leather goods. Or maybe a hooka bar–a hit or miss kind of a place, but fun to explore nevertheless. (A note on the hooka–it is literally everywhere in Russia, even in Yaroslavl. I feel like I’m constantly running into the caterpillar from Alice and Wonderland. I suppose it’s better than all the cigarette smokers on the streets but still–gross.)
Part of the exhibit on the Russian Revolution
So it wasn’t that there isn’t plenty to like about Peter–there is. I just didn’t connect with it as I thought I would.
Maybe it’s because it feels so different from the rest of Russia. Petersburg is sometimes called the “window to Europe,” and it certainly has a different vibe to it. But in the end, it is only a window–and I felt a bit stuck in the middle–not quite in Europe, but not truly in Russia either. Maybe because of this it felt a bit unnatural or forced. After all, the city was planned out by Peter the First, and many foreign architects and artists–its development was anything but natural, occurring only with the deaths of thousands of serfs who constructed it. As the capital of imperial Russia from 1713-1728 and again from 1932-1918, it was a cultural and political center, but also a symbol of tsarist wealth and opulence. It is obviously a city of great importance, both historically and in the present, but it also has a sense of otherness from the rest of Russia. For some this is what attracts them to Peter, but I suppose I prefer the authenticity of a place like Yaroslavl.
Part of Лофт проект этажи (Loft Project)–a fascinating collection of shops!
Church of the Savior on Blood
Before the start of the light show, projected onto the General Staff building of the Hermitage.
Or maybe I didn’t connect because I didn’t come at the right time of year. It was an interesting weekend because this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and there were several events going on, including a fascinating exhibit at the Hermitage, and a light show reception the events of 1917. But in general, late fall/early winter is not the best time to be there. Everyone in Russia always talks about how terrible the climate is in Peter, and when I said I was coming in November, they made it sound like there would be flood warnings from the rain. I think I must have lucked out since I stayed relatively dry, but I think there must be an entirely different feel to the city in the summer.
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, illuminated.
At the top of the Colonnade! It was windy up there, but well-worth the view.
Maybe one day I’ll return for “White Nights,” the period in May/June when the sun never sets (it’s a very Northern city!) I think Peter is at its best at night (though I have to admit I didn’t stay out late either night, which maybe was part of the problem). Everything is illuminated by lights, and it seems like the city comes alive. Anyway, I’ve heard this is even more true during White Nights–everyone is out all night, walking around and dropping in and out of restaurants and bars. Plus it’s warm outside, which can’t hurt.
Anyway, for now I’m happy to be back in Yaroslavl. Another inevitable factor in my response to Peter is the fact that this is now the fourth weekend in a row that I’ve been gone from Yaroslavl–and I’m a bit burned out. Traveling has been wonderful, but it’s exhausting. Studying abroad is not the same thing as taking one big vacation–I have classes and responsibilities in Yaroslavl, and having to jump right back into the swing of things during the week has been tough. Probably because there is no “swing”–any sense of routine I developed in my first month here has been completely disrupted!
And though I have no more travel plans in the foreseeable future (i.e. my remaining six weeks in Russia!), the disruption is going to continue for at least this next week, because I will be participating at a Model U.N. conference, hosted by one of the local universities in Yaroslavl.
The conference is tasking place over Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so I will not be in my normal classes. Even though it means that I will be doing extra homework and assignments to make up for lost class time, and I think the conference will be an excellent opportunity. And a real challenge–it’s going to be all in Russian, and I will likely be one of a few, if not the only, participant who is not a native speaker. Yikes.
Because of this, I’m a bit nervous. I’ve never done Model UN, so I’m not entirely sure of how it will go. Plus, I have not had much time to prepare. Which means I’m going to be spending my day today cramming as much as I can. Thank goodness it’s a federal holiday and I don’t have classes!
Speaking of preparation, I’ve got to get going on that! I’ll write about the conference when it’s all said and done!
I hope everyone had a happy Halloween yesterday, for those who are in places that celebrate Halloween! Mine was uneventful, beyond the fact that it was my first “white” Halloween–can’t say I’ve ever seen snow on October 31st before, but there’s a first time for everything I suppose!
I’m still playing catch-up after a busy weekend in Moscow, so I haven’t a lot of time to write a post this week. That being said, I want to breach a topic very near-and-dear to my heart: food.
As some of you know, I am a bit of a food enthusiast. Whenever I am in a new place, one of my favorite things to do is explore the local culinary scene–restaurants, cafes, markets bakeries, whatever!
That being said, I wasn’t sure what to expect food-wise coming to Russia. I had been exposed a little bit to Russian cuisine through the (amazing) Russian Department at Wellesley, which hosts “Friday Feasts” every week where we can try traditional Russian foods. I had also attended a traditional Russian dinner last fall, hosted by one of my professors.
But despite liking the food I tried at these events, I was skeptical that I would be a big fan of the food in actual Russia. I thought I’d probably survive for 3 months, and it’d be fine.
But to my surprise, I’ve quite enjoyed the food here! It’s pretty different from what I typically eat back home, but getting to experience “different” is exactly why I came here!
“Food” is a pretty big topic, and I could write a lot about it–and probably will (hence, this is only “Part I”). But I thought I’d start off by listing off a few traditional Russian dishes, since I know I sure as heck didn’t know what “Russian” food consisted of before I started studying the language!
It’s also a bit complicated to say what “Russian” food is, because it’s so tied in with food from other slavic cultures–particularly Ukraine and Belarus. Борщ, for example–a popular soup in Russia–is technically Ukrainian. But I’m not going to pay attention here to those nuances.
So, without further ado, here are a couple popular Russian dishes, all of which I have frequently encountered during my time here. I’ll write their names in Russian and English, plus their (probably inaccurate) phonetic pronunciation in italics.
Блины (Blini: Bleen–ee)–the Russian equivalent of crepes– but the batter is not quite as sweet and is slightly thicker. The fillings can be sweet (jam, baked fruit, etc.) or savory (e.g. some form of meat) and they can be eaten at all times of the day! Зина (my hostess) has made me блины for dinner several times now and they are delicious! While блины are served year-round, the most traditional time to eat them is at Маслиница, which is the Russian equivalent of Mardi Gras.
Пироги (pirogee) and Порожки piroshkee)–these are basically like pies, though the dough is a bit “bread-ier”. Пироги are larger–you can buy a slice or a whole пироги in shops. Пирожки are hand-pies–there extremely common in shops/stands–it is probably impossible to be in Russia and not see them. They are very convenient, because you can take them to go and eat them anywhere. Not to mention that they are delicious. Both types of pies can be sweet or savory. Common savory fillings include meat, potatoes, onions and eggs. If you have ever been to Pike Place Market in Seattle, you may have tried a порожок at “Piroshky Piroshky” bakery.
Пироги–with onions/mushrooms on the left, and meet on the right
Slice of пирог–with a meat filling.
Pictured above: slices of пироги, as opposed to пирожки, which are hand-pies.
Пельмени (pelmeni: pelmeanee)–Russian dumplings, usually filled with some kind of meat, and served with a sauce. Sour cream is the most popular, but there are lots of options!
Борщ (borscht: borshhh): beetroot soup. It can be vegetarian, but often has meat in it. Almost always served with sour cream!
Шащлик (Shashlik: shashleek): meat kabobs. But on a sword. Yes. A sword.
Каша (kasha)–porridge, mostly commonly eaten for breakfast. There are different types of каша made from different grains, including buckwheat (aka гречка), rice, and oats.
One type of каша–it may not look too appetizing, but I swear it is!
In the center: гречка, or buckwheat porridge
Селёдка под шубой (“Herring under a fur coat”)–yes, that’s really what it’s called in English. This very bright “salad” is really a layering of pickled herring, potatoes, carrots, beats, and of course–lots o’ mayonnaise. It sounds kind of weird, but it’s actually quite good!
Okay, this is far from an extensive list, but I’ve got to start somewhere. I will add more in my next “Food” post, sometime in the next few weeks. It will be sure to include more of my super professional-looking iPhone pictures…
For now, I’m off to bed–I’ve got a busy day tomorrow, at the end of which I’ll be boarding the night train to Peter (the common nickname for St. Petersburg)!