Troika’s Last Post

May 21, 2012

Today is a day to celebrate! Since our first posts in August 2011, Troika has accomplished an impressive amount. We…

  • Created 100 posts
  • Gained over 11,111 hits
  • Entertained over 40 official subscribers
  • And reached out to readers in over 45 countries

Most crucially, however, we did our best to create a blog that would be sincerely useful for our audience. We hope that Troika creates an opportunity for future students to arrive in Russia better prepared and excited for their year abroad, for people from around the globe to peek into the Russian world through a window we’ve provided, and perhaps for our Russian friends to have a good chuckle over their seemingly strange (though steadily learning) American friends.

Thank you, truly, for your readership. It’s been a pleasure writing for you!

Your Team at Troika,
Sarah, Nate, and Hillary

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It’s been a great year on the blog – but, like all good things, it has come to an end.

Here are some final reflections on studying abroad in Moscow: the good, the bad and the simply excellent.

The best part about living in Moscow: is a toss up between the metro and being a 20-minute walk from the Bolshoi. In short, quick and easy access to operas, museums, soccer games, café hangouts with friends… There are always a dozen things going on – new art exhibits, theatre festivals, you name it!

A favorite memory: A week before I left Moscow, my best friend from the soccer team called me up. I was in a noisy café, and I couldn’t really hear or understand exactly what she was saying, but I understood that she was proposing meeting that evening before soccer practice to do something. Do what, I didn’t know until I showed up at MGU for a guided tour of the main building – the highlight? The best view of Moscow from the twenty-eighth floor. Most people, Russians and tourists alike, don’t get the chance to enjoy this, since you need an MGU student ID to get in. Good thing Masha has a short, blonde friend willing to lend me her ID… I was so touched that my friend wanted to show me around and share this experience with me.

In a nutshell…

The best parts of studying abroad this year include:

  • Playing soccer (and not playing soccer) with some wonderful new Russian friends;
  • Celebrating one evening at a soccer friend’s house in Domodedovo;
  • Gaining confidence and noticing my progress in speaking, reading, writing, and understanding Russian over this past year;
  • Travelling to the Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia, Istanbul and St. Petersburg in my free time;
  • Eating way too much Georgian food, and learning how to properly eat khinkali;
  • Enjoying the real Russian banya experience;
  • Perfecting homemade pizza crust in my missing-home-food periods and trying Kim’s Korean food in her missing-home-food periods;
  • Seeing Swan Lake and The Magic Flute at the Bolshoi;
  • Reading Master and Margarita and Dostoevsky’s Idiot in the original.

The worst parts of studying abroad this year were, thankfully, few…

  • Russian winters really are long – so despite all the resistance I’ve built up in Vermont over the years, I had a hard time staying positive and energetic when I hadn’t seen the sun in several weeks. Be prepared for this, and make sure you plan some trips, theatre outings and other adventures to get yourself out of the apartment.
  • Missing a year with my friends at Midd – but since most of my friends also spent at least a semester abroad, this is certainly not a reason not to go abroad. And thankfully, there’s always skype!

If I could go back in time, I would still choose to come to Moscow, without question. A full year in Moscow has meant that I’ve gotten really close with my soccer friends, but a semester is plenty of time to sample the museums, theatres and other adventures Moscow has to offer. I’ll wait and see how Nate and Sarah felt about their respective years in Irkutsk and Yaroslavl before saying which I would pick, but if I chose again I would go to a different city for the first semester and then come to Moscow. If you can get to know two different cities, why not?

The only (and best) advice I would give to students studying abroad in Moscow applies to students studying abroad anywhere – find a club, a sports team, or a poetry group and make friends with Russians and find a fun way to spend your time. You’ll feel more at home in your new city (especially in a city as big as Moscow), you’ll have new friends in a new place, and your language skills will improve in leaps and bounds. Moscow-specific: See a ballet at the Bolshoi, check out the Mayakovsky Museum, sneak into MGU and check out the view of Moscow from the top floor, walk around Sparrow Hills in the spring, try чача and хачапури, and get a вишневый пирог (cherry pastry) at one of the Братя Караваевых cafes.

Last words – Thanks so much for reading Troika this year! It’s been great to have a motivation to record my adventures, and I’ve really enjoyed being able to share Nate’s and Sarah’s experiences as well. I hope it’s been an interesting ride, and that our musings will be helpful to future students planning to study in Russia or tourists planning to visit!

Last Words: Yaroslavl

May 19, 2012

What was the best part of living in Yaroslavl?

I really loved that Yaroslavl gave me a chance to experience city living without the intensity of Moscow or Petersburg. Not having lived in a city before, it was nice to ease into this second, unexpected culture shock. Plus, Yaroslavl’s so close to Moscow that you can really pop down whenever you want for a day trip. At this point, I know the Moscow metro as well as the Yaroslavl маршрутки (bus system)! On top of that, Yaroslavl is definitely a very “Russian” city. It isn’t very international. This means you get a healthy dosage of Russian language and culture from people who, very frequently, have never met an American before.

What’s your favorite memory from your year abroad?

My favorite memory is probably my first Friday night in Russia. That was the first time I bonded with so many of my new friends, whose friendship I’ll cherish long after this year is done. The night started with a gaggle of awkward American students sitting at a table in the bar, and ended with us having bonded with each other and everyone else who was there! When the DJ found out we were Americans, he stopped the music and announced through his microphone. We ended up getting drinks on the house and drinks from people who were just excited to meet Americans. It seemed like everyone was excited to talk to us, and we were just as eager to speak to them! Dancing, jabbering in Rugglish, people on the bar (Oh, you know who you are! ;))…That was a night to remember!  Study abroad is at least as much about the people you meet as the places you go, and I’m so grateful to to all the people who made this year so memorably wonderful.

In a nutshell, what were the best and worst parts of the Middlebury program?

The best parts were that as a student in this program, I felt very well supported in my culture shock and learning by both my professors and my coordinator (Thanks, Anya!). The program allowed us enough time to explore and pursue extra-curricular interests, but at the same time provided interesting classes in politics, culture, and language. The worst part… leaving?

If you could go back in time, would you still go to Yaroslavl?

Yes!! And if I could go back in time, I would tell my sophomore self that she has no idea what a wild ride she’s in for. While there will be challenges, she’s going to come home so much stronger, with a newfound ability to just laugh and move on when things don’t go as planned and an understanding that she’s a really, really lucky girl (tfu tfu tfu!)

If you could give one piece of advice to the students coming to Yaroslavl next year, what would it be?

Buy Skylink internet. Do it the first week. You will never have internet problems for the rest of the year if you just do this. See the comments in my post on “How to Get Internet in Russia” for details. Trust me, it will save you so much frustration and stress. It will help you with every part of living in Russia, from culture shock (you can get English books/shows online when you’re desperate) to language (you can google any word or grammar point whenever you want). Also, ask your coordinator  Anya to take you or direct you to Globus the first week to get any and all the little things you need. They’re essentially a Russian Walmart.

Any last words?

To all the people who followed our blog this year, thank you so much! It was an honor and a privilege to write for a global audience, and your readership gave me the encouragement I needed to follow through with my goals and experience this year to its fullest. I hope that you one day have the chance to see Yaroslavl–whether under snow or under sunshine, it really is a wonderful city.

Off to the next adventure!

Sarah

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.

Sincerely,

Sarah

A Word of Advice

May 18, 2012

For all you students coming to Yaroslavl next September or in semesters to come, here’s some advice from a девушка who just finished Middlebury’s Yaroslavl program today! These are based off of personal experience and observation during this long, lovely year abroad. Sorry, boys–a bit of this is lady-specific, but there’s plenty in there for you, too!

  • Don’t bring: ski gloves (unless you’re actually going skiing), long underwear (buy it at the market here for 5-10 USD per pair), open-toed shoes (you’ll only wear them for a cumulative month, and that’s if you stay all year), school supplies (you can get them here at least as inexpensively as in the States), shampoo/conditioner/hairspray/etc (it’s just more stuff that’ll explode in your suitcase and you can buy it here), shorts, a hairdryer
  • Do bring: an adaptor or two (they’re hard to find here and VERY important!), your laptop (despite what the handbook says, you’ll need it for papers and powerpoints), a host gift (something from your hometown is always nice!), little gifts for future friends (small tourist paraphernalia from your hometown are great New Year’s/Birthday gifts here) a pocket dictionary, pajamas (another thing that’s just sort of important ;)) tops that you can comfortably wear by themselves and under layers, lots of sweaters (you’ll wear them every day inside the university in winter), a pair of black pumps, one nice outfit for going out at night, close-toed and maybe heeled shoes or boots (you’ll wear them all fall and spring), wool socks, your make-up (it’s a bit pricey here), your vitamins, standard medicine (Tylenol, cold medicine, etc), and a sense of humor! This isn’t a complete packing list, but it covers the essentials
  • Looking stylish and being warm are not considered mutually exclusive in Russia. If something doesn’t look “put together”, expect to stand out. If it isn’t very warm, don’t expect to wear it in the winter.
  • If you’re planning on splurging on a winter jacket or pair of boots before coming to Russia, stop! Don’t do it. Use the money in Russia to buy something that’s actually fully suited for the weather and that will help you to look less foreign. If you already have something, then bring it. There’s no point in spending more than you have to! And on that spending note, remember that when shopping, you can spend money, or you can spend time looking for something that costs less.
  • Be very careful of crossing streets here. You’re just as safe jaywalking as crossing legally–though jaywalking might actually be safer because you’re more likely to pay attention to cars.
  • Watch out for potholes. I mean it! They’re often sunken in, unattached, breaking, or not there. Don’t become the front page of your school paper because you weren’t looking where you were going.
  • Be polite but honest with your host family. If you can’t possibly eat another bite yet they present you with plate upon plate of food, praise their cooking and emphasize how well they fed you when you turn down round 8 of your babushka’s pelmeni!
  • Remember that you’re not abroad to preach the American way to the Russians. You’re there to study and learn about them. While this will be hard during the culture shock phase, keep things in perspective and keep an open mind. You don’t have to agree with everything people say, but at least give them a chance to say it.
  • Anticipate that people may have a different sense of personal space, idea of polite topics of conversation, and meaning of ‘privacy’. Respect their culture, but do still make sure that you’re comfortable. Assuming that everyone will just start doing everything your way (because it’s obviously better, right?!) is how you become “That American”. That isn’t a good thing.
  • Stay active! If you’re doing some sort of exercise, you’ll be happier and healthier. I loved my dance classes here, and they presented a great opportunity to meet people.
  • Stay busy! It’s harder to be homesick if you’re too busy to remember to be homesick. You can meet people, volunteer, do an internship, explore with friends…. There’s no limit to how busy you can be!
  • Get internet asap. I would recommend skylink. For details, check my post on How to Get Internet in Russia. I have instructions on how to get skylink written in the comments.
  • Just roll with it. It’ll all be good!

Enjoy the city!
Sarah

Nate

As the school year comes to an end and Troika begins to shut down operations, I’m finding it hard to believe that my study abroad experience is just about finished. It certainly doesn’t feel that way. There is no luggage standing in the corner of my bedroom, packed long ago in preparation for departure, as was the case in August on my way here. There is no sudden shift in my daily schedule, as usually accompanies the onset of summer vacation. There is no one saying goodbye, not yet at least. But alas, it is true: the program is done.

As things wind down, I can’t help but remember the daydreams I used to have in the library back at school about studying abroad. I had tentatively decided on Irkutsk as a freshman, and when I couldn’t take another minute of grammar rules or vocabulary lists, I’d close my book, lean my elbow on the carrel and my head on my hand, and think about what life might be like in Siberia. In those moments I envisioned myself—taller, fully built and bearded—leaning against a bookshelf reading Pushkin in Russian and watching the snow float to the street in the window. A quiet, intellectual life on the edge of the earth.

It’s funny to think about that now. Knowing I was off to Siberia, not one of the images in my mind involved other people. As though I subconsciously assumed they didn’t exist in large numbers, or wouldn’t be an essential part of my experience here. In the end, I’ve done just about all I daydreamed except for gaining any physical height or girth, and have found myself, especially in the second semester, spending the majority of my time with Russian people who I have come to love, be it sitting over tea at home with my hostess, looking at Jupiter through a telescope with friends from synagogue, or visiting kids from class at their apartments spread all over the city. Just as it’s true in American colleges, the place itself leaves less of an imprint in your memories than the people who inhabit it with you, and having met such great friends, I have no doubt that I made the right choice in spending my time here.

For those of you thinking of coming to Irkutsk in the near future to study: don’t let Siberia scare you. Middlebury students frequently rule out Irkutsk as an option because they know nothing about it. As is true all over Russia, the unknown is often the best part of an experience, and is often where you find the most fulfilling memories. Don’t fret about the cold: out here, they say they cold can’t keep you grumbling for more than two days, and unfortunately, if you’re trying to escape a frigid time abroad, then you should probably pick a different country altogether.

Your experience will undoubtedly differ from mine, but what I can tell you is that the richness of this part of the world is as deep as the land is vast, and if you want to see the Russia that doesn’t make it into our textbooks—Asiatic Russia, poor Russia, Buddhist Russia, life in the taiga and tundra—what you will find here will astound you. We at Midd are very lucky, for few institutions are brave enough to venture out this far, and what a shame it is that so much space is so often overlooked. Don’t make the same mistake by writing off Siberia. It can be a tough little oyster, but the strength of its maw is the shelter to the pearl inside.

Thank you all for keeping up with us this whole year, we have been continually inspired by your encouragement and responses coming from all over the globe. You all are greatly appreciated, and have made my experience with Troika worthwhile many times over. I am humbled by your dedication to us and to the blog. We simply can’t thank you enough.

And so the troika hurls on! Русь! Теперь куда ж несемся мы?