32 hours later…
It was a typical Tuesday morning. I crawled out of bed at 8:00, stumbled my way toward coffee, ate a banana and walked toward my car. This morning, however, I picked up more than just my backpack on my way out the door. With more than a few yelps and groans, I managed to get a 50 pound suitcase and 30 pound carry-on down the stairs and into the trunk of my car without falling flat on my face or breaking any toes. For the third time in a single year, I packed up my life and headed to the airport, not for a month of Spanish camp or a semester in France, but a six week stint in Kirov, Russia.
Fortunately, it only took a 45 minute puddle-jumper flight to get me to my orientation in New York, but this was only the first leg of what would prove to be an exhausting travel journey. When I arrived at the orientation, I knew what to expect. I met my first group of friends at the airport, where I was instantly labeled “the one not from the Southwest”.
Our orientation was as all orientations are– a friendship factory meant to ally us before we were shipped off to our final destination, safety packets and pre-departure language guides in hand.
After two days of various seminars and history lessons, we headed to the airport to board a 10 hour red-eye to Moscow. As per usual, I didn’t sleep a wink, but I was smart enough to pack a toothbrush, cleanser, and concealer in my backpack, so I looked more, “Post-airplane Tousled” as opposed to “Exhausted, Caffeine-deprived Zombie”. From the airport we dived straight into the city, plopping down right in the center of Red Square. Seeing something that amazing surely shakes the sleep from your eyes, let me tell you that. From Red Square we headed to a small restaurant/buffet where we ate our first dose of Russian cuisine and experienced our first involuntary photo-op from a pack of confused strangers.
I supposed that Moscow would be similar to Paris, underwhelming at first and filled to the brim with tourists, but surprisingly, a group of rowdy Americans stuck out like a sore thumb. Anywhere I walk with my friends in Russia, native’s stares cling to our cameras and loud voices. It definitely didn’t help that we decided to do “morning energizers” at the park in front of the Kremlin. On the bright side, some of the guards started laughing at us and waved, so… win? Somehow, the constant walking tours and 3rd grade activities kept all of us at least partially awake, so we were able to appreciate our first day in Russia in its most recognizable city.
Flash forward 14 hours and voilá! Our train arrives in Kirov– home for the next six weeks. Sleep-deprived and somewhat wilted, I once again dragged my boulder of a suitcase up the hostel’s two flights of stairs to the suite I’ll share with three other girls, some of the best friends I’ve made so far. These suites consist of two bedrooms connected to a small, dimly lit common area with a bathroom, toilet, and a fridge– the best part of any room for every study abroad student. The rooms are adorable with window seats, armchairs, a table for tea, and two comfortable beds for those rare occasions on program when you actually get to sleep.
If there is one thing that NSLI-Y lacks, it’s time to rest. Classes fill the morning hours until 1:15, excursions run until about 5, followed by culture classes, meetings with our local coordinator (also known as tea-time therapy hour), and activities with Russian peers until 10:00. As you may be able to imagine, the homework load for a language program this intense is enormous and takes about 3-4 hours to complete (with tea and rice cake breaks as needed). That puts bedtime at around 2:00 in the morning allowing for five hours of sleep on a good day. Whether it’s memorizing vocab lists for the following day’s spelling test, grammar exercises, memorizing presentations and dialogues, or reviewing the day’s lessons and looking up words you want to know, there’s always plenty of work to be done.
Because of all of this work, it’s hard to appreciate all of the excursions and activities that fill up our schedules.
I find myself dreading anything that inhibits my study time, but fortunately for my sanity, I wind up enjoying myself 90% of the time.
So far, we’ve taken walking tours around the city, visited a museum dedicated to a famous Russian heart surgeon from Kirov region, and spent a day line dancing to entertain kids at a Summer camp. With each step I take in this city, I appreciate this program ten times more. Kirov is beautiful, full of stunning landmarks, open squares, ice cream carts, and, most importantly, and Adidas store. Where else would people buy their matching track suits?
All in all, my first week in Russia has been quite an experience; I feel like I’ve been here for a month, though I know that I’ve only dipped my toes into this country’s language and culture. I’ll keep plowing through the verb conjugations and continue adding cards to my Anki deck and continue taking as many pictures as humanly possible.
Rice cakes with peanut butter and Nutella await…