One year on

I’ve realised that people are still reading this blog, even after I’d long abandoned it, which I really appreciate. I hope that it has helped people going on their year abroad 🙂

It’s now been over a year since I returned from my year abroad in Russia, which is hard to believe. I’ve now graduated with a 2:1 degree in Russian, and am looking for a job.

My last few weeks in Russia were not the best time I’ve ever had. I was feeling quite lonely and struggled to keep myself motivated. However, I survived, helped by the fact that my family were able to visit me for a few days.

My last day in Russia was absolutely horrendous, and (through no fault of my own whatsoever, I must add), I ended up in a Russian police station with no clue what was going on, wondering if I would ever get my belongings back as we were locked out of the apartment. Luckily I’d had the sense to grab my passport and phone before we were forced from the flat by some very frightening people, and I was able to keep calm thanks to the woman I spoke to at the British Embassy. This was a terrifying experience that I don’t like to remember, and I was so so glad to be on that plane and travelling back to safety.

Having said all of that, my year abroad was an amazing and eye opening experience. I came back so much more confident, with better Russian, and a belief in myself that others could see as well. I gained experience working for a tourist magazine, and 5000 roubles payment, as my boss was impressed with how I’d worked, which was great to hear. I also finally bought myself a Fabergé egg, which I’d wanted ever since I saw one of my first trip to Russia back in 2007!

While I was there, I realised that it wasn’t that I was homesick for my home specifically, but actually for my country. Just the ability to go into a food shop and know exactly what it is that you’re buying is something that you take for granted until you can’t do it any more!

There are many things I miss about my time there, for example being surrounded by amazing culture, and buildings, such as the Winter Palace, and the white nights (although not having sunset was quite annoying at the time), the food (particularly the blinis at Teremok and the raspberry Lipton Ice Tea which you can’t get here), and their metro system, which is much better than the London Underground.

A year abroad is a great experience. I had been dreading mine since I applied for university back in 2010, and it seems so silly now that I wasted so much time worrying about it. Yes, stepping on that plane and travelling far far away from all you know is scary, but it’s definitely worth it and I’m glad I stuck it through, because I think that I am a better person for it 🙂

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Losing my way…

Apologies for not updating my blog in a while – I don’t really have an excuse. I started three different posts and haven’t been able to finish any of them because I lost my way (yes, even on the one titled ‘Finding Yourself’ – brilliant!) and I couldn’t see where they were going.

I also started a post yesterday that was going to be all about how I was feeling… which was rubbish. I mean, I was feeling rubbish, not that the post was rubbish (although it probably was). Originally I was going to hide my low feelings, but since this is a blog about travelling, I should probably be truthful!

I felt so bad yesterday I started looking up plane tickets home. Yep. I don’t know what it was, maybe a combination of the intense heat (it’s now +30 degrees every day and I don’t handle heat well), and the fact that I’ve been here for what feels like ages, but there is still so long to go. I looked up homesickness on Google,  hoping it would help, but it had the complete opposite effect and actually made me feel worse. Also, as soon as I get home, I have to say goodbye to one of my best friends for a whole year, which is sad (although I am very excited for you!!), and I wish I had more than a few hours to say it!

When I arrived at work yesterday, I’d got myself into a foul mood, which was not helped by the guy who has to let me in the building giving me an absolutely filthy look, like I just spat on him or something, when all I wanted was a smile!

Anyway, I’m feeling more optimistic today. I got some messages from friends coincidentally yesterday – they didn’t know I was feeling like this so having spontaneous messages was very uplifting!

Furthermore, I emailed the Third Year Abroad website to ask if they would feature this blog on their site, which they not only agreed to, but asked if I would write a piece for them as a St Petersburg ‘mole’! So that brightened up my day as well.

Tomorrow will mark half way through my time here, and it’s been my milestone to look forward to for a very long time now, so I’m glad it’s finally almost here! The second half of my time here should be better – my uncle is visiting with his school for 10 days next week, so I should be able to meet up with him, and then my parents are coming for 2 days in early August! They are currently applying for their visas, and I think they are having to eat humble pie – they used to think I was so silly for getting so worked up about visa applications, but now they understand just how ridiculous the whole process is!

I’ve also had some of my reviews posted on the In Your Pocket website! Here is my review for my new favourite place ‘Lemonade’: http://www.inyourpocket.com/russia/st-petersburg/Restaurants-in-St-Petersburg/vegetarian/Lemonade_117320v, as well as the CoCoCo restaurant: http://www.inyourpocket.com/russia/st-petersburg/Restaurants-in-St-Petersburg/Russian-and-Ukrainian/Cococo_117319v. I also wrote an article about Raketa, the oldest factory in Russia: http://www.inyourpocket.com/russia/Raketa,-the-oldest-factory-in-Russia_73143f.

I’ve also been updating some of the sections on their website that were missing information. It’s nice to see the results of my work!

So anyway, to try and drag some kind of theme out of this post, here’s some tips to try and get out of feeling homesick:

– Try and contact home, or friends – remember that someone somewhere cares about you!

– Watch some of your favourite TV shows, listen to music, or read a book, escapism is a great way to focus on something else!

– Go for a walk – fresh air always seems to help me a little (also, it reminds you that people are actually friendly in your new surroundings!)

– Eat/drink something comforting (I brought lots of my favourite tea from home and drink it with milk, much to the Russians’ confusion!)

– Try and keep busy. I find that work is a good distraction.

– Write it down (in blog or diary form). That way you can look back and remember how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved.

I’m feeling much more motivated, and I have a day off tomorrow, so I’ll get working on those posts that are waiting in my drafts!

And something to keep in mind:

‘When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable’.
– Clinton Fadiman

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Thank you!

So a few days ago I wrote a post with some quotes I found and liked about being alone (https://vickystravellerdiaries.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/some-quotes-about-being-alone/).

I liked one in particular because it really spoke to me; I felt like I completely understood it and it applied to me in my current situation. This is the quote:

“Real travel is not about the highlights with which you dazzle your friends once you’re home. It’s about the loneliness, the solitude, the evenings spent by yourself, pining to be somewhere else. Those are the moments of true value. You feel half proud of them and half ashamed and you hold them to your heart.”– Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights.

I hadn’t heard of Tahir Shah before, but as I said, I really liked the quote. Anyway, a few days later, I came across his facebook page, and found this:

“Some Quotes About Being Alone. Many thanks for the mention!”

Unbelievably, the author actually found this little blog, and then shared the address on facebook and twitter! Suddenly I’m getting views from all over the world and it’s amazing!

So this is a post to say thank you, it was very much appreciated! (And I still can’t believe it happened!)

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Just a quick update…

I just want to say thanks for all the follows and likes I’ve had over the past few days! It means a lot, so thank you.

I have started my internship at the In Your Pocket magazine. My first day did not go well… but then does anyone’s first day at a new job goes well? I did a few things wrong, and I couldn’t get any lunch because I didn’t have a pass card for the door. So I had to stand and look through the glass door into the cafe at the people who were allowed to go in, which was a bit depressing if I’m honest. Oh well.

I’ve also moved into my new apartment, which is nice, but very far from the metro station (it takes me about an hour to get into work). I also now have to cook for myself, so I ventured into a Russian ‘supermarket’ yesterday, only to come back with some bananas, a very cheap bag of pasta, and some tomato puree. Hmm. It wasn’t exactly well-stocked! So today I am going after work to try to find a better supermarket to buy some vegetables at least! I also haven’t seen my flat mate yet, which is strange, since I’ve now been there for 3 days, so I’ve had to figure things out for myself, such as the hob.

But things are looking slightly up – I managed to finally buy some milk (not proper English milk, but then I expected that), and made myself a cup of tea with the chai teabags I’d brought from home. My previous host kept laughing at me and saying that I was a very strange English girl because I didn’t drink much tea, but that was only because they don’t put milk in tea here, so I didn’t drink as much as I would at home. Anyway, I was feeling (I’ll admit it), absolutely rubbish and homesick yesterday, so the comforting tea helped a bit. Also, my dad kept me entertained by performing magic tricks over Skype!

But I’ve tried to give myself a stern talking to. Yes, there are times when I would do anything to be back home instead of this strange country that doesn’t understand me when I am too tired to speak properly, and that doesn’t have simple things like tinned tomatoes or fresh milk, but then I remember that firstly, there is an end to this, secondly, this is a great experience, and thirdly, there’s so much to see and do here it’s amazing. As I read somewhere, you make your own happiness. Little things like drinking some warming tea, re-watching The Vampire Diaries (don’t judge me), and watching anime with my best friend over the internet keep me happy, or at least not a crying mess, and that’s enough for now!

I’ve worked out that I get homesick when I lose control over a situation. I was incredibly homesick during my first week at university because it was so disorganised and out of my control, it was terrifying. Then I was homesick my first night here because I had no control over what the following weeks would bring, and then these past few days because I had no idea what to expect from my new job. So, hopefully, once I settle in and have some sort of schedule, it should get better. That’s the plan, anyway.

Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, I can’t access my blog, or anyone else’s blog on WordPress for that matter, in my new apartment (I’m writing this at work). I’ve looked at the support information but nothing seems to work. So I will type up my posts and then email them to either myself to upload at work, or to my sister to post for me! Hopefully this will be sorted soon (if anyone knows how to possibly fix this, please leave a comment below, I would be very grateful!).

I have lots of ideas for other blog posts, but I’ll keep this to just an update for now, and hopefully I’ll be able to post new blogs whenever I’m at work! Thanks for reading!

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Some quotes about being alone

“I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.” – Audrey Hepburn

“I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.” – Oscar Wilde

“If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself.” – Paulo Coelho

“Real travel is not about the highlights with which you dazzle your friends once you’re home. It’s about the loneliness, the solitude, the evenings spent by yourself, pining to be somewhere else. Those are the moments of true value. You feel half proud of them and half ashamed and you hold them to your heart.”– Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights. (It’s how you deal with the solitude, and the homesickness, that helps you find out more about yourself.)

And one about writing:

“Writing is something you do alone. Its a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.”

– John Green.

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Going native…

Obviously the main reason for the year abroad is to improve your language skills; to learn how to speak like the natives do, in natural settings rather than stuffy classrooms and lecture halls.

I’m struggling with this a bit. Sometimes I think that I’m definitely improving, and then I’ll feel as if I’m back in year eight again when I first started learning Russian. (Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean!)

So far, I’ve been told by two Russians that I actually look Russian, not English, so as long as I put on my grumpiest face (and boy is that depressing to do everyday), and try not to smile at people who happen to catch my eye, as I would normally do at home, I can get by as a native.

However, little things when I speak mark me out as being English, or at least foreign at any rate, such as the amount of times I say thank you – once, if at all, is enough here! I thought I was doing okay today in Teremok (blini restaurant), until right at the end when he said “enjoy your meals” (either his English was slightly wrong, or he was implying that I was eating too much… I’m going with the first one!).

On the other hand, I did have a very long (very annoying) conversation with an incredibly persistent man named Slava (seriously, he forced me to take his number, kept stroking my face, and tried to kiss me… and this was in the middle of the afternoon in the Summer Gardens!), and I was able to speak naturally without thinking about what I was trying to say first, so that was quite good. Although I would have happily not had that conversation, but never mind!

Last August I met this man when I was with my family in Middlesbrough (in the north of England), and we just had a conversation about different things. It wasn’t until the conversation was nearly over that he mentioned that he was Belgian. We were completely shocked; firstly because his English was so good, with the right accent, and even our particular ways of speaking and expressing things, secondly, his in depth knowledge of northern England architecture, and thirdly that he was even in Middlesbrough at all, since it’s not exactly a tourist hotspot!

So that would be a goal to set myself; to become as completely native as to fool actual natives, the way this guy managed to! Although that does feel a long way off at the moment.

Today I bought three films in Russian, and I am hoping to buy a good grammar exercise book in Дом Книги (House of Books – love that name!).

Tomorrow is my last day of school – I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone, on Sunday I will have been here for a month already! I am moving to my new apartment near the Marinsky Theatre on Sunday, which I am very happy about. I’ve tried really hard not to complain about my host family, but little things that they constantly do begin to grate! A few examples…

– Constantly coming into my room when I’m not here (I know they do this because they move my things around!)

– The whole see-through glass bathroom door issue (and further to that, the toilet door handle is also now broken!)

– The fact that they always watch me when I eat. And also their strange idea of portion sizes; they give me a normal sized dinner plate with a whole load of food (too much in fact), while they eat like sparrows from tiny side plates – and the daughter is pregnant so I really don’t understand! Especially as they always give me a drink, but never seem to drink anything themselves, and it’s been 30 degrees here these past few days.

– Not making me feel particularly welcome. I feel like I’m not allowed to be here, since when I had a bit of a relaxing day in doors on Saturday, she kept coming into my room and asking if everything was okay. So today, I deliberately stayed out until just before dinner time, and even that was wrong! She has a habit of seeming to disapprove of everything I do.

– The fact that I am not allowed to touch the curtains. It’s nearing the White Nights here (a couple of weeks of constant twilight), so the sun isn’t properly setting at the moment. It’s very light at night, and not being allowed to close my curtains means that I am not getting much sleep.

I also live on the 8th floor, and there is no lift, but it’s like a free workout every day (at least, that’s what I tell myself anyway…) And there is one benefit to living so high up – the mosquitoes which plague the city don’t seem to fly this high. I don’t understand why, but whatever the reason, I’m grateful!

Oh well, just three days until moving day!

Thanks for reading 🙂

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“Why are you so quiet?”

(Yes I know, I promised no more of these personal posts, but the reaction to the last one was so lovely, and also I’ve been doing some research and thinking into being an introvert, which firstly confirmed that yes, I definitely am an introvert, and also showed me that there are many others like me who are misunderstood!)

People never get tired of asking me the many variations of “why are you so quiet?”, such as “I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard you speak!”, “why don’t you ever talk?”, or my all time least favourite: “she speaks! It’s a miracle!” after I’ve just made a point.

Do they not understand that this is just plain rude? Firstly, if I don’t know you that well, then I will only speak if I have something to say that will genuinely add to the conversation. This may be because of self-esteem issues, shyness, or the fact that I hate attention and therefore usually actively avoid it.

Secondly, how would they like it if I asked them “why are you so loud?”, or “why don’t you ever stop talking?” Nobody would ever ask these questions, so why ask the opposite?

Apparently only 25-40% of the population are introverts, so I can understand that people don’t understand – I know I don’t really understand extroverts! However, the difference is that I don’t judge people, or make them feel bad, for their choices. But they seem to think it’s okay to judge me for not wanting to do certain things. At uni, I am happy to go clubbing with my close friends (just not that often), but in a foreign country, with people I’ve only met three weeks ago, it’s just not going to happen. I just don’t enjoy it, and I wish people could accept that and let me be, without me feeling guilty all the time for having to make excuses.

Another thing that annoys me is when people see me sitting alone, they assume I must be lonely, and attempt to ‘cheer me up’. I don’t need cheering up, I just need to recharge for a bit! Large gatherings wear me out. For example, yesterday after school I went out with my new boss and  colleagues for the day, followed by drinks in the evening. I knew I was going out this evening, so I’ve decided not to do anything during the day just so I can recharge!

I have been described, amongst other things, as ‘aloof’ by a close family member. I have a large family, mainly made up of people with strong personality types, so it’s difficult for me to fit in and be heard, because I don’t speak loudly enough. I just want to say that I am in no way ‘aloof’, I just think more than I say things!

I’m not broken, it’s just that society is now focused around extroverts and there doesn’t seem to be much room for introverts. Employees nowadays look for ‘people skills’, and expect people to contribute during brainstorms etc, so I have literally no idea how I will survive in that world in the coming years!

However, in some ways it’s good to be an introverted traveller. I can go places without needing to find someone to come with me, and I am happy to stay in alone with a film, or catch up on some TV. Yeah, maybe people will tell me that I’ve ‘missed out’, and should have partied more, but really, it’s MY year abroad, so I can spend it how I choose!

I’m not going to apologise, as I normally would, for ranting, because I’ve been wanting to say this for years.

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