February 18, 2013
I am now living with my second host family in a duplex house in the city centre. My family is really kind and welcoming to me, always treating me like family. My host mother and I get along really well. Just the two of us went for a trip to St. Petersburg for two days, and we are going again tomorrow for 4 days.
Already I have traveled around Finland, Southern Russia, and Moscow region. In March my family and I are going to Prague and Vienna!
I have 3 host siblings: Sasha who is 17 and lives in Petersburg, Vlad and Nastia are twins in the 7th grade. Since being with this family, I have joined art school which I go to on the weekdays. On the weekends, Sasha comes home and we do some activity and have a lunch on Sundays.
I attend a small private school with about 200 students. School is for 6 days a week from 9:00 until usually 2:10, each class lasts 40 minutes with 20 minute breaks in between. At this time students can do homework, talk with friends, walk around, play outside, or eat in the cafeteria.
The weather is very predictable here: cold with grey skies.
When I first arrived here in September, I was wearing shorts for two weeks, and one day I woke up to discover that winter had begun with a foot of snow on the ground. Now, winter is long, and most days cold. Anything above 10 F is considered warm. Most days are with grey skies, and only 8 hours of day light. Despite this, the occasional days of sun and frost are some of the most beautiful days I have ever seen!
• When entering the house, you must immediately remove your shoes (there is usually a special hallway for this) and put on house slippers
• Russians drink hot tea called chai. This was hard to get adjusted to (I was told that is traditionally 5 times a day), but now I always enjoy green tea with milk!
• They use the metric system. Although I now feel temperature in Celsius rather than Fahrenheit, I still can't understand distance.
• People are really reserved and prefer to keep to themselves, and to the people they already know.
• People don't have sleepovers. Friends are for in school, and for after school walks around town/going to cafes. In my 2 months with my second host family, not once have they had friends over at the house.
• The food here is very different in a very small way. Everything is heavier, but soup (which is eaten everyday, usually for lunch, or directly after school) is very watery, with a few vegetables.
• Juice here is delicious! You can find it in any flavor of any fruit! My favorites are Peach, Mango, and Apple with Pumpkin.
• Smetana is the sour cream of Russia. Russians love it and are proud of it and believe that it only exists in Russia. They put this on everything! Soup, cake, meat, sweets, bread, and just by the spoonful!
• 'Salad' to a Russian means something entirely different from my idea of salad. There are countless various kinds of salads, all consisting of small diced vegetables, small diced meat or fish, mixed together with mayonnaise or smetana. Similar to a potato salad, with more vegetables.
School goes up to 11th grade and there is school on Saturday
• In school, they use notebooks of graph paper, rather than lined paper
• People dress more formally for school, girls often wear high heels
• In USA it is expected that you be on time, you should be 15 minutes early. Here being on time is being 15 minutes late.
• Roads are in very poor conditions, often there are holes, cracks, and uneven or unflattened sections of the road.
• Almost everybody lives in apartment buildings which most often look plain and run down on the outside, but clean, small and modern on the inside
• Probably the first thing I noticed, is that almost always, the stairs start out tall, and gradually decrease in size as you ascend up a stairwell. Or vice versa. I have still not adjusted to this, and I frequently fall up and down the stairs!
• Houses have colored, scented toilet paper
• A public bathroom you may have to pay 10-20 rubles to use. You'll be lucky if the public (or school!) bathroom has a toilet seat, you'll be even luckier if they have toilet paper!
• There are larek at every bus stop and corner. Lareks are little huts that sell pirozhki, or individual baked pies of meat, vegetable or sweet.
• Clothes dryers don't exist, everyone hangs their clothes on a clothes rack in the house which can can many days to dry.
Rotary did I really great job of preparing us for exchange! I am so grateful to Rotary to have given me this opportunity to live my dreams and explore another culture!