In late June 2015, I set off on my first ever visit to Russia. I study Russian studies in university and I have been desperate to visit the country. Having never spoken Russian before going to university, second year will be a great jump in the language so the goal was to improve my speaking and understanding skills while visiting a country of great personal interest. To make the visit as productive as possible, I also attended a summer school through the Nevsky Institute in St Petersburg.
Russia has been known to be not a tourist friendly country which I was apprehensive about. I was staying there for a month and I would not be able to get off with only going to touristy restaurants and attractions, it would be much more intense than that. I travelled from Edinburgh to London, London to Kiev and Kiev to St Petersburg.
Having an entire month to explore St Petersburg had an overwhelming side to it. I had read my lonely planet guide cover to cover and I truly did not know where to start. I did eventually get in to it and more and more things got added to my list as I went.
The language was a struggle to put it plainly. It was mostly down to my lack of
knowledge of foods in Russian so I was mostly just guessing. Luckily, in Russian restaurants it was common to have photos of the food in the menu. The intensity of summer school brought me on leaps and bounds in the language however. Listening to conversational Russian was also a unique benefit to my language skills. I fell in love with the people and the way of life. Moscow I adored in particular (despite being stuck in a tiny room with 8 other people with one bathroom and shower between 16 of us) but I was only there for a weekend.
There were a few strange things about the country which took some getting used to. For a start, when it rains in St Petersburg, it really does rain. Having an umbrella is essential. Clubbing was also difficult due to ‘face control’. They wouldn’t let you in if you were foreign. But it did also mean that we spent all our time in the gay club. But I think the strangest aspect was the alcohol. Going in to the Russian equivalent of Starbucks, the back wall is lined with alcohol as if it was a bar and when you ordered a beer they ask to sit in on takeaway. Very odd.
Overall the experience taught me a lot and helped me contextualise my subject area. When I go back, I plan to stay in smaller towns to get to know the less cosmopolitan/european side of Russia.