Hello… It’s me!
It’s been a while since I’ve wrote, but so much has been happening, I’ve been losing track of time. As the days go by, I can feel myself falling into step with Moscow life. Everyday has become a similar occurrence: wake up, go to class, explore a new hidden treasure; however, I continue to get this overwhelming feeling of awe when I realize I am surrounding by so much history and tradition. Compared to Russia, the US seems so young. In a way, although you understand that the rest of the world has more history than we do, you don’t really feel the difference until you actually step foot in another country.
I felt this feeling most prominently in St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral:
This very cathedral houses the remains of almost all the Russian emperors and empresses from Peter the Great to Nicholas II and his family. To know that at that very moment I was standing amongst all of Russia’s royals is a feeling that I couldn’t describe even if I wanted to.
Some other major differences I’ve come face-to-face with are:
- Social Behavior: Americans are very expressive and loud. This may seem a bit harsh from an American’s perspective, but hear me out. While in America it is acceptable to express oneself in whichever way one deems is best (even in public places), in Russia, people are more reserved in public places. Don’t get me wrong, perhaps in their homes, surrounded by family and friends, Russian’s are quite expressive; however, I never once had to strain to hear my neighbor nor myself during a conversation while walking down a busy street or eating at a restaurant filled to capacity. After the first couple weeks you become much more aware of your own voice, how loud you talk and what kind of language you use when surrounded by friends. I have developed a new appreciation for this kind social atmosphere. It’s very pleasant.
- Language Barriers: When I first got here, I was worried that my Russian wasn’t going to be good enough. Although I was a heritage speaker, I still feared the possibility of being singled out as not knowing Russian well enough; after all, the language did come easier to me than for those students who were studying the language for the first time as a second language. However, when I got here, I was pleasantly surprised that many Russian’s were surprised themselves, that I knew the language so well, being born in the US. I can somewhat understand their surprise, because I know several families in America, that have sons and daughters who are close to my age, who have lost the language or don’t make the effort to keep up with it. After getting over this initial shock, I felt more comfortable, a bit like I felt at home. My new local friends, professors, and program sponsors have been correcting my grammar where need be. I’ve also noticed that since the time I’ve been here, when speaking in Russian, I no longer think about the fact that I am trying to speak another language, but in my mind, I make a “switch.” The best way I could describe this switch is similar to a light switch. The only time I’d have to switch back to “thinking” in English is when I cannot think of a certain Russian word. I’d have to work backwards to the definition, then translate for the person to then give me the Russian equivalent. Overall, I am proud of how far I’ve come with my grammar!
- Religious Beliefs: The most prevalent religion is Russian Orthodox. Personally, I am from the Pentecostal faith, which doesn’t seem too common here. I’ve heard of other Orthodox denominations, but I’ve never known them in detail, so it was interesting to learn how different Russian Orthodox was compared to what I believe in. The main difference is in the way that service is led. In the Russian Orthodox Church, people stand throughout the entire service, pray in front of iconostasis (standing icons in front of the alter), cross themselves with three fingers touching (representing the trinity – God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) and kiss the icons, and light candles. They also have confession and communion every Sunday.
- Fashion: Caution! Everywhere you go, you will see people dressed to the 9’s! Apparently here, every day is a special occasion. I am so used to seeing people dressed in what I’d call “everyday” clothes (comfortable pair of jeans/shorts and a teeshirt) anywhere I went, and when I saw someone dressed up, they were either going to work or a special event. Now that I’m here, I very rarely saw someone dressed in “everyday” clothes. Everyone seems to put in a great effort to look their best, rain or shine, a quick trip to the market or class, you can guarantee they’ll be looking very put-together. It still boggles my mind that people have the time to do so every morning. I’d rather get a few extra hours of sleep.
- The Metro: Where I come from, there is no such thing as a metro, let alone any form of underground transport, that I know of at least. If we did, I guess it’d be called the Submarine Express, because once you dig deep enough, you’d be swimming in water. As for Moscow and other large cities, the metro is the most common form of transport. The first couple of trips were a bit confusing, but once you get the process of changing between metro lanes, it seems to click and afterwards the metro becomes your best friend. Need to get across the city and have no car? Take the metro! It’s affordable and practical, and takes a lot less time, especially if it’s rush hour.
Ekaterina’s Palace Garden: Feeling Content
Although at times I feel as though I’ve seen everything and life here has become normal in a way, the realization that I am here – seeing the things that I am, experiencing the culture I am – never fails to leave me speechless. It still amazes me that I am actually here.
Until next time!
Signing off. ✌