Thursday, August 29, 2013

Language barriers, cars, and cigarettes

Goodness, where do I start? Being here is amazing. I still can't believe I'm here.

It wasn't as huge of a culture shock as I thought. Things are definitely different here, but the Russian people are just that--people. My host family and host grandparents are very, very nice. They are always making sure that I'm comfy, and always trying to feed me (eventually I have to say "Nyet" and motion that I'm full.)

In that past few days I have learned how to get around my neighborhood. It is very nice. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the head teachers apartment or my host family's house. The neighborhood/area I live in is mostly apartments, parks, and a few stores. It isn't very "picturesque"; it is mostly older apartment buildings that are very rough looking on the outside. That's how most buildings in Russia seem to be. They seem run down but inside are quite decent.

Kind of like the people. On the outside they are reserved, may seem rough, ect. But today, as it is my birthday morning, my host grandma greeted me hugs and kisses on the cheek, and gave me a Russian sweets box, perfume, and some candy. So nice! They are very nice to me, and were from the start.

My host grandparents don't speak an ounce of English. It was definitely tough at first, and we're still working on improving our charade games (I also am using all the Russian I know.) Despite this, last night we were all sitting together trying to discuss the news on the TV, and they showed me family pictures (even some back from the 40-50's!)

Adjusting to life here was hard the first night. The language barrier, new surroundings, and lack of knowledge of the area and where to go was tough. Although it is getting lots better. I miss my family a ton, but I'm enjoying my time here so far.

Here are some things I've learned about St Petersburg.

A ton of people smoke.
Walking down the streets, especially in popular areas, you'll find people standing outside smoking. The air quality is great here, unless you're passing by a smoker (cough cough.) Both my host dad and grandpa smoke, but haven't done it inside the house or around me which is nice.

Russian driving is insane and quite hilarious.
They are all over the road. Staying directly in one lane isn't of importance, and when they are making turns I swear there is going to be an accident. Parking their cars as well is definitely different from the US. They will literally drive up on the curb and park. Or they will just move their entire car onto the sidewalk, grass, or park right in the middle of a small street. It makes me laugh.

Anyway. Here are some pictures to enjoy! I will have cooler ones later when we get the chance to go visit awesome sites.

My "house slippers" my host grandma gave me.
Russians don't walk around barefoot in their house.

Me in my bedroom window

Contemplating life

My kitchen

Went out to eat last night. We ate some sort of meal (we literally
pointed at a few item on the menu and hoped it would taste good) with
meat, bread, parsley/other greens, sauce, ect.

Happy Birthday from my host grandma! Russian
chocolates, candy, and perfume

For breakfast I had meat/sour
cream/something else. Definitely different from
"sweet" American breakfasts. This is me drinking
some tea on my birthday morning.
My fellow teachers threw me a surprise birthday.
They got me streamers, balloons, cake, flowers, and a card!
Alla our director got me flowers as well. :)

My Russian bday cake. So good! It had several different
 layers...almost like regular cake, caramel, and angel cake.
It was way good but not too sweet!

Flowers (pink for friendship), cake, and my birthday card
Love you all.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Hi everyone! I've made it.

I don't have a lot of time to write, but I just wanted to let you know I've made it safe and sound. My luggage came through with no problem, and I've been set up with a host family. Although, they don't have room in their apartment so I'm staying with their grandparents, who live a few blocks away.

Today I was able to see a little bit of the city, including going on the metro and walking down Nevsky Prospect. I will start teaching on Monday.

Here are some pics!

 Flying out of Vegas
 Arriving in Chicago
The view from my bedroom window. We are on the 14th floor.

My bedroom, with the grandparents I'm staying with.
Before I'm guessing this was a office/living room.

 Other side of my room. My bed is a pull-out couch.
It is actually comfy.
The window in my room

Sunday, August 25, 2013

My life in a suitcase

Tuesday morning is when I started packing, and it started out with me throwing almost all of my closet onto my bed in different piles, and trying to sort through and use the process of elimination to lighten the mounds. I needed to focus on what was essential and would be most beneficial. Like clothes that can mix-and-match.

Finally, after packing, making copies of my passport and visa, and working out other small details, I'm done! I've weighed my checked bag and it came to 49lbs, and the limit is 50lbs! Since then I've switched out different things so hopefully it's still alright!

Currently I'm getting ready to head to Vegas, where I'll stay overnight in a hotel with my parents then get to the Vegas airport at 4am tomorrow morning.

Me the day I got my passport back from ILP with a Russian Visa,
and my student travel insurance card

My life in a couple of suitcases
Talk to you all soon.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Iced Tea and Diet Cokes -- A message to my customers

Iced tea and diet coke. These are the drinks that some wonderfully amazing people drink when they come into Bella Marie's.

I don't like to brag to much, but it is true that when they walk in, I am 99.9% right upon guessing what they are going to order. This is the result of me working since November 2011, and them coming in on a regular basis.

When I first started waitressing, I have to admit that I was pretty shy. But being forced to talk and interact with strangers day in and day out changed my ways. Not only did it help me come out of my shell, but it also helped my "people skills." I now enjoy talking with customers.

But there have been some customers who just stick out (you know who you are!), and I will try to talk to for as long as I can. I think I have about 4-5 couples who are adopted grandparents...and it's awesome! Not only does it make my day better at work, but they also have been very, VERY supportive of my trip!

This blog post is dedicated to my customers who have gone above & beyond.

Customer of the Year Award

I want to personally thank you for your generous help which entails: supportive conversation, weekly donations of all amounts, and even knitting me socks and a hat.

You guys are awesome and I couldn't have done this without you! In my fundraising endeavors, you made a huge impact. I can't believe I was able to make it to $3,200. I also can't believe that you guys, in all that time, were still interested in (and not sick of talking about) my upcoming trip. I am very glad that I was able to discuss it and express my feelings about it with you.

I don't know what else to say other than "spasiba!" (thanks), and see you this December!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Leaping animals, rope swings, and my itinerary

A lot of people like to step outside of their comfort zones. In order to pursue goals, and not be a couch potato, it is often necessary.

Stepping outside our comfort zones means pushing ourselves past our personal "bubbles", and in doing so, we are able to experience things we don't normally do. At this moment in time, I feel like I will soon be completely leaping out of my comfort zone, just like the animals in this video.

My favorite animals are at 0:20, 0:26, & 0:56

The people in this video took the whole "leaping out of your comfort zone" seriously.

I love this video!
Okay, so maybe I'm not going to as an extreme level as them (their adrenaline was going pretty good, I bet), but I have to admit: it feels pretty close!

I've already mentioned that yes, I've never been on an international flight (I have, however, been on several flights in the US), never moved away from home, blah, blah, blah. And now I have the chance to explore! I want to see the world! And it's so exciting!

But there is a deep, dark fact (I may have exaggerated just a bit there) always lurking, constantly reminding, that sometimes I am a "homebody". I like the way Urban Dictionary defined it, saying "a person who enjoys the warmth and simple pleasures of being at home." Now don't get me wrong, I love spending a night out on the town; but when it comes down to it all, coming home to my usual surroundings and tucking in at night in my comfy, warm bed is what life is all about. And it's scary to think that I might be sleeping on a dirt floor in a shack somewhere in Russia. (hehehe, just kidding)

My surroundings are definitely going to be different, though. There no doubt will be a shock wave called "culture" that will hit me. And as intimidating and frightening as everything I will have to do is going to be, I am proudly declaring to the world that I'm going to do it. Somehow I'm going to find my way around the airports, navigate the metro system, and exchange currency.

Talking about airports and flights, I thought I'd share my itinerary.

I will be flying out of Vegas, departing at 6AM. My itinerary goes like this: Vegas--Chicago--Frankfurt, Germany--St Pete, Russia. All in all, I will be flying for about 14 1/2 hours, plus spending time doing the necessary steps at airports and trying to pass time during layovers.

Am I a homebody? Check. Am I moving to Russia? Check. Crazy comfort zone maneuvers? Most definitely. (but that's exactly why I have this blog, so I can vent to you all;)

To end this post in an inspirational way, I want to challenge y'all to step out of your bubbles and pursue something that interests you!

Happy Leaping.