When I wrote this post, it was going on 9:00 at night here, and I had just got back from a lovely evening stroll. Yaroslavl is far enough north that sunset doesn’t set until almost 11:00! It’s definitely messed with my sleeping patterns and productivity levels (I have plenty of time to write this essay! It’s only–oh. Oops…), but at the same time it’s a refreshing change from the short, cold winter days.

After actually managing to finish a final paper on this bright, beautiful day, I decided to take advantage of the surplus sunshine and stretch my legs. I headed to the center and went of my favorite walk, one that starts on bustling downtown streets, winds around cathedrals and memorial statues, rambles through parks, and follows the banks of both the Kotorosl and Volga Rivers.

Here, my friends, is what I saw:

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I hope you get to enjoy this beautiful stroll! It really was one of the most special parts of Yaroslavl to me.




This week our friend Ben has contributed a guest post about getting a haircut in Irkutsk. Enjoy the great story. Thanks Ben!


The place looked pretty harmless from the outside, just a typical Soviet-era concrete one-story building, only painted pink. Sliding gate on the outside, in case anyone wants to rob…a barbershop. After the first door you had two choices: the “men’s side” or the “women’s side”–somewhat like in prisons, I’d imagine. I entered the small men’s salon where two women were standing giving some old guys cuts. The middle chair was free. After standing and looking at myself dumbly in the central mirror for a couple minutes, one of the ladies standing sighed and called tiredly, “Natasha!” into a side room where I could see one lady texting and the other looking at the calculator in her hand. “What do you want?” Natasha asked me.

In Siberia, there are three cuts: “Simple,” “Canadian,” and “Stylish.” Risking the stylish but not wanting to look like a Gulag prisoner, I said, “The Canadian, but not too short, please.” “Come again?” she answered. “But not too short,” I repeated. No answer. Taking a look at my curly head as if it had committed some crime, she grabbed the largest shears out of the disinfecting liquid, which was probably just water. (I should note that only about 0.1 percent of Russians have curly hair, and they are usually Romanian, Latvian, Jewish or in other ways ostracized or come from another at one time marginalized ethnic group.)

After only about a minute of attacking my head, she said angrily, pushing my skull to the left, “hold your head stronger” as if I were a statue that came to life and needed to be put back into my molding. Between bouts of removing enormous chunks of my head, she would zero in on an area as if trying to annihilate all life there. Then came the ears. Most hair-cutters in the free world will delicately snip and buzz around these parts, but Natasha approached my head with the belief that my auditory organs had somehow been placed on the wrong part of my head, or should not be there at all. She sighed and I just about ducked to avoid her lopping off the top half of my right ear. She then brought my head back to with the force of a USSR weight-lifter. It serves to be noted that Russia invented the kettle-bell.

“Straight?” she said. Tempted to say, “Why yes, I am,” I replied, “yes, please,” with reference to my sideburns. She had already begun buzzing. When I looked up to see that I still had bangs hanging down awkwardly at the front, I asked calmly if she could make the cut shorter in the front. “I am not done cutting your hair,” she answered (though with a one-syllable word added here for emphasis. Let’s translated it as “damn it”).

After fulfilling my wish to get rid of those childish bangs all Russian boys under 20 wear, she came to the realization that the shearing was a failure. I could tell from her facial expression hanging in the mirror above me that we would have both been better off had I not even bothered coming in today.

Needless to say, worse 6 dollar haircut ever. This tragedy was reaffirmed by my female track coach, who after asking me what happened, recommended me to a friend of hers, “so that you don’t have to walk around looking like this.” I guess the name is a misnomer then; there aren’t many Canadians in Siberia, but I’m willing to guess that not one of them looks good sporting a Canadian.

Hillary and Sarah on the Red Square

Look! St. Basil’s!

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of visiting Hillary in Moscow for a day. I took the 7:15-11:13 train into the big city and Hillary very kindly met me at the Комсомольская[1] metro, right next to the Ярославский[2] train station.

Within moments, I had my metro card and we were off! We went first to the Red Square (обязательно видеть![3]). Standing in the middle, we could see everything from the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral, to Lenin’s Mausoleum, to the Kremlin, to the world-renowned ГУМ[4]shopping center. After a few quick photos, we scurried into the Государственный Исторический Музей[5].

Shopping Success!

After our fast paced site seeing and museum touring, it was time to relax! We headed over to a wonderful little café that Hillary frequents for some coffee and pastries, then set out on a very important mission: Moscow shopping. It turned out that we couldn’t have picked a better time. While shopping in Moscow is usually quite expensive, we lucked out with the end-of-winter sales. Two stunning, Russian winter jackets for $70? Don’t mind if I do!

We trudged back to the metro, heaving behind us our enormous bags of shopping spoils. That whole “relaxation” thing turned out to be a bigger work-out than we anticipated! By the time we arrived  at Hillary’s apartment, we were getting hungry.

Toppings are fair game for snacking until the pizza’s made

Hillary and I did some quick food shopping for fresh ingredients. After that, we (and by we, I mean Hillary!) set to work making a pizza from scratch. Around 10:00, it was time for me to catch the train home. That was, without a doubt, the most productive day of my semester so far!

Hillary, thank you so much! You were such a wonderful guide and hostess, and I had a blast touring Moscow with you. I can’t wait for you to come visit Yaroslavl!

[1] Komsomolskaya

[2] Yaroslavsky

[3] Must-see!

[4] GUM: The Harrod’s of Moscow

[5] State Historic Museum

Upon request, today’s post is going to be about an informal study I conducted last semester for my sociology class. The study was a comparison of two groups: the first, a group of ten female Russian students from Yaroslavl State Pedagogical University, and the second, a group of ten female American students from Middlebury College.

Each group was asked, “What does it mean to be a woman?” I analyzed the responses by looking at each one individually and categorizing the themes that were mentioned. Here’s what I found:

Russian and American Concepts of Womanhood Since it’s a bit hard to read that tiny print, here are the most popular themes from left to right: motherhood, housework, social role, family, sexism, looks, strength, fluidity, comparison to men, and gender. The themes, again from left to right, are ordered from the greatest difference to the smallest difference of how many times the group mentions a theme. You can see from the graph that the Russian students brought up motherhood and housework far more than the American students, and that the Americans brought up  sexism and looks far more than the Russians. An interesting note to make that isn’t a “theme” per-se is that the Russian students tended to talk about what a woman “should” be doing, whereas the American students generally talked about what they observed their peers doing.

I came up with this study to answer questions I’d had about the people around me. I saw that Russian women did all the same work Russian men did, but on top of that they ran homes, raised children, grew and preserved the food at the dacha, and all the while remained made-up and dressed to the nines. Don’t believe me? There are high-heeled slippers for sale here. At first I interpreted this as attesting to the incredible strength of Russian women (and I still do), but I also came to realize that a lot of what the women did was out of necessity and adherence to a long-cultivated social role. There seemed to be a very formulaic timeline laid out for women: school, college, marriage, and family–maybe a job if you can juggle it all, but family first!

Hearing my peers talk about how they were worried about not finding husbands (they’re 20 years old; the clock is ticking!) or even about how they were already married presented a huge contrast to small talk amongst girls at my home college. I began to wonder: what does being a woman mean to a Russian woman? Is it really all about being stunningly beautiful, snagging a good guy, and raising a family? How might this all differ from an American conception of womanhood? Would it?

If you want to learn more about my study, feel free to ask questions in the comments box. I’m happy to send the study to anyone who might want a peek, however I feel obligated to warn you that it’s 36 pages in Russian!  The study includes more graphs, a much deeper analysis, and the anonymous student responses.

Staring at my half-unpacked suitcase at home in California, I can’t help but look back on the shoulda-woulda-coulda’s of this last semester. Most of them have to do with packing. Remind me why I brought so many short-sleeved shirts to Russia…?

To all you future study abroad students, here are some things you’ll want to take and others you should probably leave behind:

Take It:

  • A pocket dictionary
  • Sweaters, sweaters, sweaters
  • Shirts that are comfortable under sweaters, but also look nice without the sweater on top
  • 2-3 pairs of heavy jeans
  • 1-2 dressier outfits to wear out on the weekends. Ladies, think LBD.
  • Black pumps: You will wear them, and nice shoes can be pretty expensive in Russia.
  • Your favorite book in your native language: It will help in the culture-shock transition.
  • Your laptop: Middlebury told us we wouldn’t need one, but in Yaroslavl we all brought them anyways. Thank goodness! I can’t tell you how many powerpoints and papers we had. University computers are not readily available.

Leave It:

  • Long underwear: It is so much cheaper in Russia than in the US. Buy a pair at the market for 250 rubles (about 8 USD).
  • Any summer clothes: Shorts, sandals, open-toed shoes, shirts that you can’t comfortably wear under sweaters…. Don’t bother. I brought one pair of shorts and a few little peep-toed heels. I haven’t worn them since September.
  • Boots: Bring them from home if you want, but there’s  lot of opportunity to pick up a pair at the market or around town. Be careful of where you buy them, as price and quality will vary greatly, but talk to your RC and he/she should be able to guide you to a good spot.
  • A large dictionary: It takes up space, it’s heavy, and you can get some early Russian interaction by buying one at your host city.
  • Shampoo and conditioner: It’s like bringing a large dictionary, only they can explode in your suitcase.

If you have any questions about packing for Russia,  write them in the comments and I’d be happy to answer them for you. Happy packing!

First Snow in Irkutsk

November 7, 2011


Well, it’s finally starting to feel like Siberia. This week we had our first heavy snowfall, and for what it’s worth, the Soviet-era concrete structures that I earlier made note of as ugly, gray behemoths acquire the winter charm of thick sweaters and hot chocolate when dressed in white. Walking the city streets after the sky had cleared, I felt as though I were strolling through a Mosfilm classic. Here are a few photos I snapped in the central market in the afternoon. As is easily apparent, locals aren’t fazed by a few flakes.

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