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?

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The Volkov Theater (Театр Волкова) is located in Yaroslavl’s downtown, and just so happens to be Russia’s oldest theater! The theater was founded in 1750 by Russian actor Feodor Volkov. Since its founding, performers such as the world-renowned Constantin Stanislavski–whose name leaves every actor today trembling in admiration–and revered Russian singer Leonid Sobinov have graced its stage.

The inside of the theater is even more beautiful than the outside, featuring marble staircases, statues, sculpted ceilings, and exhibits. One of my favorite exhibits is on the second floor, hidden in a little nook in the wall: it’s a desk and mirror set up with old photos and odds and ends just lying about–you feel like you’re peering through time into an actress’s dressing room! Other exhibits include photographs from past productions, as well as miniature displays of past sets. It’s a theater lover’s paradise!

I have now seen two Chekhov plays at the Volkov: Three Sisters and Untitled (also known as Platanov). I would particularly recommend Three Sisters. It was a masterful, emotional show with spectacular acting and sincerely phenomenal technical backing. Untitled was a good show as well, but I would recommend it more for those with a serious interest in Chekhov and higher level Russian skills, as it definitely is a bit slower. I also had the fortune of seeing Hanuma (Ханума), a play written by Avksenti Tsagareli in 1882 that feels like it was written yesterday. If you’re looking for something, comedic, colorful, and musical, definitely see this production!

Naturally, all shows are in Russian! If you’re worried about your language skills, try reading a plot summary of the play you’re going to see beforehand. If you are here as a tourist with no Russian at all, I would recommend going to one of the concerts that are frequently put on at the theater. This way, you can experience the Volkov theater’s atmosphere without a language barrier.

Performance Schedule

You Want to Go? Not Surprised!

To buy tickets, I would recommend that you simply go to the box office. Enter the front door of the theater and you’ll find the ticket касса on your right. The cashier will help you pick your seats, make your payment, and get your tickets right on the spot. Make sure to show your student ID! With it, you can see a show for as little as 5 USD whenever you’d like. Floor, balcony, and box seats are all available for varying prices.

The cashier’s area is the only inner part of the theater visible if you’re not buying tickets, but it’s still worth a peek. You’ll find a list of shows and performance dates for the current month as well as the next, and there is a video on repeat showing teasers from current and up-coming productions.

Useful Information:

Address:
150000 Ярославль пл. Волкова, д.1
Building 1, Volkov Square, Yaroslavl, Russia 150000

To visit the theater’s bilingual English/Russian website, click here!
People who enjoyed this post may also enjoy Hillary’s posts on her time at the Moscow Bolshoi in Tickets, Tickets, Tickets, Hillary Goes to the Theater, and Bread, Beer, and a Bolshoi Ballet.

Wistfully counting down my hours left in Yaroslavl,
Sarah

I grew up knowing that walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, or having a black cat cross your path were supposed to bring bad luck. While admittedly I might meander around a ladder instead of diving beneath it when given an option, I hardly believed any of those things were true!

Living with my host mother Galya, I’ve encountered a laundry list of new superstitions. It was definitely a surprise, however, when I realized how seriously she took them! For the purpose of entertainment as well as education, here are five solid ways to ward off bad luck, evil spirits, death, etc.–all according to a Russian babushka!

1: Say, “Hello, Sarah!”
If you forget something (say, your cell phone or wallet) and have to return to your house, be sure to greet your reflection. The first time I had to return home for forgotten goods, Galya instructed me to look in the mirror. I had thought I must have have something on my face. I looked in the mirror and then at Galya, confused, then continued my search for my misplaced phone. Galya came over and patiently led me by the arm back to the mirror. “Скажи: привет, Сара!” “Say ‘Hello, Sarah!'” she instructed, sternly, still holding my arm. I looked at Galya, then the mirror, back to Galya, and then, hesitantly, to the mirror: “Привет… Сара?” Contented, Galya let me resume my search.

2: Cold drinks
Indulging in cold drinks will make you sick. When I came down with the flu last semester, I had the misfortune of being spotted with a bottle of water the night before. “You shouldn’t drink that cold water! No wonder you’re sick. Нельзя! Never again,” Galya scolded, concerned. I’ve since read that having cold drinks can in fact be detrimental to your health, but supposedly that’s only if you eat a lot of greasy, fatty foods. It shouldn’t give you the flu, though (she says, stealthily sipping cold water in her room…).

3: Tfu tfu tfu!
Spitting over your shoulder (or, a little more hygienic, just saying “tfu tfu tfu!”) is the equivalent of knocking on wood. Galya and I have had moments when, simultaneously, I knocked on the kitchen table and she went “Tfu tfu tfu”! Hey, no one wants to get jinxed–regardless of their cultural upbringing!

4: Even numbers of flowers
Bringing a bouquet when someone invites you to dinner is a splendid idea, just make sure that there’s either an odd or uncountable number. In Russia, even numbers of flowers are for funerals, and bringing them to someone for any other reason will bring them bad luck. When I gave Galya flowers for Women’s Day, I counted the roses twice!

5: The cold, hard ground
If a girl here sits on concrete, people will be alarmed. They’re just concerned for her health–the cold ground will freeze her ovaries! And don’t even think of getting caught in the house without slippers. If Galya catches me snagging a midnight snack barefoot, she’ll go into a panic and run off to find my slippers so I don’t get sick. When I wanted to lie out and take a nap outside at the dacha, Galya was shell-shocked that I was going to sleep on a towel. She then surprised me by setting up a cot so that I wasn’t on the “cold earth”!

Good luck, and Happy Mother’s Day!
Sarah

Hooray! It’s almost the weekend! What do you want to do? No matter what it is, I’ll bet Yaroslavl has it for you. A lot of friends who’ve visited Yaroslavl have been really surprised about just how active our nightlife here can be. Okay, we’re no Moscow or Petersburg, but Yaroslavl still holds its own when it comes to bars and clubs, especially if you know where to go. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the expenses or intensive face control that the bigger cities have, so in some ways, I’d argue that it’s even better!

Мед
“Myohd”, “Honey”
Dancing, drinks, restaurant, unique location

This award-winning club is located literally on the Volga! It’s a floating club that has a fantastic dance floor and good music.  Look up and you’ll see dancers on pedestals and on platforms suspended from the ceiling! There’s a restaurant as well as a bar here, for those who are feeling hungry after hours of dancing. This is definitely a place you shouldn’t dress down to go. Мед is only open on Fridays and Saturdays.

Король Королью
“Korol Korolyu”, “King of Kings”
Dancing, drinks, wild decor

This is one of the most fun places to come on a weekend night. This two-story club has been decorated like the inside of a cave–every last inch of it! Walk down to the bottom floor and you’ll find a dance floor centered around a stage with a wrap-around bar.  This stage hosts dancers dancing to the music with you, and occasionally full-on dance performances.

Тобаско
“Tobasco”
Drinks, hookah, snacks

Тобаско has a cozy atmosphere and lots of recurring customers. It’s a great place to relax with friends or to meet new people. The hookah is especially good here!

Коктейл
“Cocktail”
Drinks, food, hookah, dance floor

Cocktail is another great local hang out. The walls and ceiling are decorated beautifully with a cream-colored mosaic. Dancing is on the second floor, though bars can be found on both floors. The sushi here is particularly tasty and well-priced. Cocktail is open during the day as a restaurant as well and has a full menu of decent food.

Бристол
“Bristol”
Drinks, dance floor, food

Right across the street from Cocktail is Bristol. Bristol is a quieter spot, with more secluded places away from the dance floor for large and small groups to sit, talk, and eat. The dance floor is decent, though it’s not my first choice  if I were planning on dancing. Bristol is open during the day as a restaurant.

Расстагаев
“Rastagayev”
Drinks, food, hookah

This is just a great spot in general. You won’t find any dancing here, but this restaurant has really tasty food, drinks, and hookah for unbeatable prices. To top it off, it’s clean and pretty enough to bring a date! If you stop by, try the blinchiki. They’re 2 USD and absolutely heavenly with chocolate sauce, condensed milk, or a variety of other toppings! It’s also open during the day as a restaurant, and I would highly recommend it during that time as well.

Your Бар
“Your Bar”
Drinks, dancing, food

If you want to come here on a weekend night, you might want to reserve a table! Your Bar just opened up about a year ago and is booming with business. Thursday Flirt Nights are especially entertaining, with the waiters wandering around dressed as cupids delivering anonymous messages from table to table. Good drinks, fun dance floor, and great atmosphere!

Tips for Going Out:

  • If you’re planning on being out late, get a cab ride back to your hotel or apartment. Always settle the price of the ride before getting into the cab.
  • If Yaroslavl is unfamiliar territory to you, as with any new place it would be wise to watch your drink intake more than usual.
  • Dress up. While you may find this silly, you and your friends are more likely to be let in if you look like people who have enough money to spend on drinks. Also, the locals will all be dressed to the nines.
  • Women usually get in everywhere for free. This is not always the case for men.
  • It shouldn’t cost a thing to  just get in the door. If a bouncer tells you otherwise, he wants a bribe. You can argue with him, but that’s admittedly a much easier task if you’re a girl.
  • Brace yourself for a cloud of cigarette smoke. The idea of a smoking “area” doesn’t exist in any of these clubs or bars.
  • Especially if you’re a girl, bring friends with you when you go out. It doesn’t hurt to be safe.
  • If you want to check out any of these places for yourself, just google the addresses. You can get to them by foot from most Yaroslavl hotels, but again, it’s best to take a cab home.

Have fun!

Sarah

Happy Victory Day to one and all from Troika!

Today was a day full of parades, dancing, and celebration from the Red Square in Moscow to every corner of the Russian nation! May 9th is Victory Day for the Russians and marks the end of World War II, known here as the Great Patriotic War. This day is used to celebrate surviving veterans of the war, as well as to remember the millions of casualties from Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union. On Victory Day many Russians attend local festivities, watch the Red Square parade on TV or in person, or go to their dachas with friends and family.

С праздником, наши друзья!

Troika

Taking a quick break from “Things To See in Yaroslavl,” I’d like to address an issue that I think a lot of people have faced during their time abroad in Russia. This is the issue of not only being polite in a way that’s understood cross-culturally, but also interpreting (or misinterpreting) well-intended speech and actions directed at you.

If you were to translate certain things you said in Russian directly into English, you could risk sounding pretty rude:

Дай мне ручку.     —     Give me pen.
Закройте дверь.     —     Close door.

Even with a пожалуйста[1] at the end of the phrase and articles successfully added, the intonation that Russian speakers tend to use comes off as quite curt in English. The thing to remember when speaking with Russian speakers is that this is not rude in Russian, so try not to take it that way! If you were to directly translate your English into Russian or to use English intonations in Russian, you would sound silly at best and not understandable at worst. When you’re speaking with Russian classmates and someone says Дай мне ручку, they’re really asking quite nicely Could you pass the pen? When your teacher says Закройте дверь, they’re asking Could you close the door? And most of the time, you will hear a “please” from these two groups!

Studying in Russia, there are a number of things that people from Western cultures often interpret as rude that really are just normal here. Take for example:

  • Instead of asking for you to move aside on the bus, a бабушка[2] will actually move you aside so she can get through to the door. Woops! There goes Granny!
  • People won’t smile without a reason. They’re not scowling at you or angry, it’s just that overt smiles in public when you’re alone reflect a person being stupid, mentally unstable, or foreign. It makes it wonderful when you do get a smile—you know it’s sincere and special.
  • A man will frequently open a door for a woman, carry her bag for her, compliment her looks, etc. He’s not trying to be sexist and he’s probably not trying to run off with your bag—it’s just that old-fashioned chivalry that’s still very alive here.
  • People will comment on your weight. Coming home on a train from Ukraine, a passport control officer commented to me that I’d lost weight since my passport photo was taken—my face was a lot fatter in the picture. I laughed. Thanks, officer!
  • People will ask intimate questions about religion and money. Meeting strangers, I have been asked, “What religion are you?” “How much do you earn?” “How much do your parents earn?” and so on. While I still find it hard to not feel uncomfortable talking about money (that cultural quirk of mine has been drilled in hard), I can appreciate that for them, it’s normal–and they’re just trying to have polite conversation with me!

Invest time during your semester or year abroad to just observe the dynamics of the people around you. How is that person speaking to the other person? How is the other person reacting? Try to step into the shoes of the people you’re living with. Imagine you’re acting out a role in a play and sit on the bus and scowl like the best of them! You’re not changing yourself as an individual, you’re experimenting and experiencing study-abroad to its fullest. But don’t take this as an excuse to try to drink vodka like a Russian. There are some things foreigners should leave to the pros!

One final parting note: it’s also very worth while considering how you come across to the Russians you’re with. Beaming at the woman who collects the tickets on the bus might leave her feeling like you were making fun of her. Not finishing the food that your host mother made–even if it was practically a six-course affair–might leave her feeling like she doesn’t cook well enough for you. Be sensitive to these things. You can start out by being polite to people in the way that you know best, and after some time abroad you may be able to show people in their way that you care.

Still learning,

Sarah


[1] Thank you

[2] Grandmother or simply elderly woman