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Notes from Abroad: Russia

Notes from Abroad: Russia

By Emma Specter

Emma Specter ’15 has found herself living in a hostel in St. Petersburg, Russia for her semester abroad. Though this is far from the comfort of Kenyon, a day spent in the life of Specter sounds more ordinary than one may think. Specter shares a vignette of a day surrounded by faces in babushkas and learning about Russian folk characters.

8:35 a.m. ラ The alarm on my Russian cellphone, a brick-sized Nokia manufactured roughly around the fall of the Soviet Union, sounds. Time to get up.

9:35 a.m. ラ I’m up, with a solid 25 minutes until my “Grammatika” class. This is fine. This is good. Just enough time to smash a fistful of “Kellogg ??? ???” cereal into my face and run out the door.

9:40 a.m. ラ Kostya, the front-desk clerk at my hostel, waves and shouts after me in Russian, “Did you remember your room key this time?” (He’s used to me.)

9:45 a.m. ラ I shove my way through a throng of scarf-clad babushkas and onto the school-bound trolley bus. Scarf-clad babushkas register displeasure with my overeagerness, the run in my tights and my existence in general. Onward.

9:55 a.m. ラ I jump off the packed bus and out into the chilly gray morning. The disgustingly picturesque domes of Smolny College loom in the distance.

11:20 a.m. ラ “Grammatika” class is over. Today, we studied verbs of motion, and I learned that verbs of motion are the worst. On the upside, my professor called me “Emmutchka” and my heart exploded with joy.

1:00 p.m. ラ Lunchtime. I opt for coffee and a bag of crab-flavored Lays chips from the vending machine, because what’s study abroad for if not slowly draining all vestiges of health from your body? (Oh, and yeah ラ crab-flavored Lays. There’s also a “Red Caviar” flavor. I’m collecting the bags to bring back to Kenyon.)

2:30 p.m. ラ More class. This one, “Russian Fairy Tales,” is taught in English. Today we’re discussing the seminal Russian folk character Baba Yaga, who likes to shove people into ovens and eat their bones.

5:00 p.m. ラ The school day is over and it’s time for happy hour at “Pirate Bar,” a watering hole favored by American Smolny students for its proximity to campus, three-liter specials on honey mead and willingness to tolerate us.

7:30 p.m. ラ Full of good cheer and honey mead, I catch the homeward-bound trolley bus ラ it’s less packed this time, but there are still plenty of babushkas to disapprove of me. Luckily, I live just off Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main drag, so it’s a quick ride.

9:00 p.m. ラ My hostel doesn’t provide meals, but I’m near lots of good, cheap food. Tonight I hit up Teremok, a “traditional” Russian fast-food joint, for “pelmeni,” which are weird little Russian dumplings with smiley faces etched on them. I eat them while eavesdropping on a supermodel dressed in stilettos and a parka who is screaming at her extremely sullen boyfriend ラ young Russian love at its finest.

10:00 p.m. ラ Back at my hostel. All attempts to do homework are abandoned in favor of watching the sixth Harry Potter movie in Russian.

1:30 a.m. ラ Okay, time to buckle down ラ I have a composition about “my favorite Russian novel” due at 10 a.m. tomorrow, and I need to get down to the serious business of pretending I’ve read Anna Karenina.

2:00 a.m. ラ I am snacking on “suzhki” (Russian pretzels) in the kitchen when an elderly man stumbles in, mumbles something incomprehensible in rapid, inebriated Russian and ends up making the sign of the cross at me. I wish I could say this was a rare occurrence. Hostels are weird.

2:30 a.m. ラ Bedtime! I don my elegant Russian nighttime-warmth attire, which I call the “Snoodie” a hybrid Snuggie/hoodie, consisting of one sweatshirt wrapped around my torso and another worn on my legs), cue up Russia’s Toughest Prisons on Netflix and drift off. ?? ??????, Petersburg.

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