Home, sweet home


I haven’t had a chance to blog since my return to the States, but boy, am I glad to be home.  The 10.5 hour plane ride from Moscow to Chicago was grueling, but at least I was lucky enough to have no one in the seat next to me and no screaming kids in the vicinity.  My parents met me at the STL airport, I had breakfast with N the next morning, then a walk with E, then finally saw my sibs when my grandparents dropped them off.  Then a baseball game followed by ice cream outing, lunch with K, and t-ball game the next day.  Pair that with my little sister (affectionately known as my clone shadow since she’s always nearby and looks exactly like me) and I’ve been pretty busy.

I knew I missed home, but I didn’t realize how much until I got here.  NYC is amazing.  I love it; the people, my job, even my school.  But it can’t compare to where I grew up.  I went to Walmart for the first time in 7 months, and felt like I had died and gone to heaven 🙂  I’m hitting up all my favorite food joints that don’t exist in NY, and taking advantage of the serene bike trail near my house.  People in NYC can’t seem to move fast enough, but here we mellow out and slow down a bit.  It’s so nice to greet strangers be greeted with a friendly ‘hello’ and to chat a bit with the waiter or check out girl.  E’ville’s not a small town where everyone knows each other–as my NYC coworkers seem to think (and no, most of us don’t live on farms)– but it’s still got that Midwestern hospitality mindset.

I’ll never regret moving to New York.  It really helped me to become independent and realize what I want out of life.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to the day when I move back to good ol’ Illinois and am near my family once again.

Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here

Well, I’m down to my last 24 hours in Russia, and I can’t wait to get home.  As the title says, Russia is a nice enough place to visit.  St. Petersburg is very beautiful, Moscow isn’t half bad, and once you get past the culture shock and get used to everywhere being a little dirty and being about 20 years in the technological past, it’s alright.

I’m so glad I came to Russia.  Not only did I meet some amazing people, but I think that to really appreciate what you have, you have to leave it behind for a while.  Moving to NYC made me realize how much my family, friends, and hometown actually mean to me and how lucky I am to have them.  Visiting Russia made me realize how much I love America and how lucky I was to be born there.  Our government may not be perfect, but compared to the corruption in Russia, everyone in Washington should have a little halo over their heads.  Our water is clean in most parts of the country, and we have good–if expensive–healthcare.  We’re technologically spoiled, and also spoiled in terms of freedom; what we do, what we say, and how we live our lives.

I’m sure I’ll come back one day, when I speak a bit more Russian, and will explore other parts of the country.  But for now, I’m happy as a clam to sit back and anxiously count down the hours until my flight takes off and I head home to be with my family again.

This time it’s live from Moscow!

As stated in my previous post, I took the night train on Tuesday from St. Petersburg to Moscow.  It left at 12:40am and arrived at 10:15am.  Overall, it was pretty uneventful.  I was in a 4-person cabin with 2 middle aged women and 1 in her 20s, but as soon as the train left we all made up our bunkbeds and slept most of the way.  Nope, not very exciting.

After I arrived in Moscow, I navigated the subway and found the hostel with little trouble.  The hostel is alright, nothing too special.  There’s a common room with a computer for internet and a tv, and two rooms lined with bunk beds, like an army barrack.  I’ve seen worse, but I’m definitely already looking forward to sleeping in my own bed this Saturday night.

After getting settled in, I did some sightseeing.  I walked down Tverskaya road (the main road in Moscow), saw Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, GYM–the largest department store in Moscow, and also the most luxurious (one word to describe it: damn!), some famous theaters, churches, and lots of other well-known buildings.  Tomorrow it’s off to a museum, then more walking around.  So far, I must say that Moscow is not quite as nice as St. Petersburg, but I think that’s because Moscow is a city for business whereas St. Petersburg is supposed to be the “beautiful cultural capital.”  I’m mildly impressed so far, and I guess I’ll just have to see if tomorrow will change my attitude.

Goodbye St. Petersburg….

Yesterday was my last day in St. Petersburg.  I finished my last exam for the summer school, and the group went to a little reception at a nearby restaurant.  I had to leave early so I could pack for the night train to Moscow, and as I was leaving, the most unexpected thing happened:  I felt my eyes welling up.

There were 30 of us in the program.  We were all acquaintances by chance and some of us became genuine friends by choice.  Even though I only knew them for 2 weeks, it felt like much longer.  I guess that’s what happens when you’re around the same people all the time: you bond much more quickly than normal.  Add in the fact that none of us was very good in Russian and we were in a Russian-speaking country, and the bonding was even faster, from a survival standpoint if nothing else.

The program itself was not all of what I expected, but the city and the people were great, and it was an experience I’m glad I didn’t miss.  Hopefully some of us can keep in touch via email and facebook, because I highly doubt our paths will cross again.  In 10 years, it’s not going to be the boring lectures I remember, it’s going to be the experiences I had with the people I was lucky enough to meet (and, of course, the experiences with the people I could have done without meeting, lol)

Superiority Syndrome

“Superiority syndrome” was a phrase that my professors in St. Petersburg liked to use to describe foreigners who come into Russia and decide to “teach” them how to live, do business, etc.  According to them, that is a very, very bad thing.  Then some random person who apparently is very bitter commented “I’ve read a few of your blogs.  You seem like the typical spoiled American.  You’ll make a perfect middle manager at Starbucks.”  Which lead me to ask myself: “Hmm, am I a spoiled American with a superiority complex?”  Damn right I am.  And I (obviously) don’t think it’s a bad thing.

As far as being spoiled:  is it my fault I was born and raised in a first world country where hygeine, security, and freedom are considered necessities, not luxuries?  Where people generally make enough money to have comfortable lives?  Where we can drink tap water, have one stop shopping, and live in relatively clean areas with a government that doesn’t blatantly try to control every aspect of our lives?

And the superiority complex thing:  is it really a “complex” if your standard of living really is better, and the way you do business benefits more than just a few oligarchs?  I don’t think so.

One thing this trip to Russia has made me realize is just how lucky I am to be an American.  If non-Americans think that makes me automatically spoiled and a know-it-all, well, everyone’s entitled to their own opinions.

Food of the Gods

Taking a bite out of a blini from Teremok made me forget everything bad I’ve said about Russia.   This stuff is like crack.  Blini is basically a stuffed pancake.  You can put anything you want inside.  And I mean ANYTHING.  The top sellers are banana&chocolate and my personal favorite, caramelized apples and pecans.  So sweet, so bad for you, but so delicious!

Summarization is your friend

In life, you generally come across three types of lecturers.  The ones who move through the slides so rapidly you feel like you have whiplash, the ones who balance time and material very well, and the ones who drone on and on and on and on and on….

I’ve been fairly lucky in the course of my studies to have a variety of professors from all three of these areas.  The ones who give you whiplash balance out the monotone droners, and the ones who get it just right are your favorites.  In Russia, however, there seems to be only one kind of lecturer:  the droner.

Apparently one thing Soviet Russia did not teach these people was summarization.  There is really no need to read every word on the slide, then repeat it two more times using slightly different wording.  Seriously.  We got the point the first time.  And there’s certainly no need to inject two slides stating the same thing into later portions of your presentation.  All that does is make us want to stab ourselves in the eye with our pens.

But the best method is when the material that you’re droning on and on about has absolutely NOTHING to do with the course or the information on our handouts.  Yes, we love to waste our time learning meaningless facts only to get the exam and realize that you never quite got to the material on it because you were too busy telling us about the revolution in Kazakhstan five years ago.  Yes, that is certainly the best way to ensure that you receive high marks on your professor evalution….