Some time right around my arrival to CSU, I caught the bug. The ‘travel bug’ is a term commonly used among the population who consider themselves worldly and like to live out of a backpack. Well, at least it wasn’t Meningitis. But, nonetheless, I had a sickness and it led me right to the study abroad office. I have been taking Russian for two years at CSU, so naturally, Russia seemed like the place to go for my study abroad year. I know the hub of the former Soviet Union seems like a bizarre choice, but I guess I wanted to be different – just like everybody else.
My Russian professor at CSU found me a super cheap program in the south of Russia. To live and study for the year it would cost me less than a tenth of what I have to pay to study in the States, so it seemed to good to be true. (mind the possible foreshadowing…)
The Visa situation and all of the preparation to get to the Motherland was pretty hairy, but I persevered. My flight arrived into Russia on September 1st and thus my story begins.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE: Episode 1
I finally made it to Russia. A few days before my flight, there was a Russian plane crash, which left absolutely no survivors, Aeroflot (commonly referred to as AeroFLOP) got me there safe and sound. Right as my plane landed, all of the passengers applauded the crew, and the theme song to the “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” boomed over the speakers. That situation was only slightly odd to wake up to after a seemingly never-ending flight, but I guess things started off with a bang.
I am in a city called Krasnodar a.k.a…. the surface of the SUN! It’s depressingly hot during the day and freezing at night, but at least it’s not Siberia. I am living in the dorms in the “American section.” The “American section” consists of me (the only actual American student), two Christian missionaries from Colorado, an old man whom I only see once a week or so, two Belgians, and a couple of guys whose nationalities are a mystery to all of us. Also, I recently acquired another set of neighbors: two Turkish men in their mid 50’s getting their doctorate degrees.
So dorm life is kinda crazy. Our shower, sans hot water, is just a cement hole pretty much and the toilets are completely confusing. I’ve lived there nearly a month and it’s still awkward to use the bathroom. Where’s the flusher? Do I flush the toilet paper?… WAS that toilet paper? Why is this Ziploc bag on top of the tank? Yeah, it’s all for real, but at least they’re free. I swear before the end of the year, I’ll have spent at least $50 using public toilets. So that’s that.
The dorm’s security is pretty interesting. Their ‘high tech’ way of keeping out intruders is quite entertaining. First they put a babushka (Russian word for grandmother, but can be used to refer to any little old lady apparently) at the door 24/7. She basically just yells at everyone that walks in the door asking for their last name. If she doesn’t recognize it, then you don’t live there. I have found you can get her to like you by buying her flowers, talking about her grandchildren, or singing old Russian songs. Then they have another full-time babushka that runs the whole building. My building manager is absolutely terrifying. Her name is Tamara, and according to other Russian students, “she has nothing to live for except the stray cats on the street.” She also gives massages for a small fee on the second floor.
It was very difficult the first couple of days getting around because communication wasn’t really an option. I thought my Russian was OK, but I was a little rusty after the summer. I made a friend who can speak some English now, so she is helping me get around, find the Internet, tell me what I should eat and what I shouldn’t, etc. Olga assists me with my broken language skills and feeds me her mother’s pickled eggplant, while I introduce her to American cinema and drawn out tales of Wal-Mart.
In recent happenings: They just paved the streets here, but they do the entire street in one fowl swoop. So you can’t really cross the street anywhere safely. A babushka fell down in the tar and I tried to rescue her (being the American heroine that I am) and ended up basically doing more harm than help. Now, I have tar on pretty much everything I own and an old babushka will eternally hate me.
There’s the long introduction to a long year abroad.
/ Hailey starts class. (Five hours of Russian a day, five hours a week.kill me)
/ The joys of public transportation and ignorance of antiperspirant
/ Russian street vendors… it’s probably not real/legal.
Hailey McDonald can be reached at email@example.com.