As my time in Russia is coming to a close far too quickly, there are some things that I just can’t wait to get back to. However, the more I think about them, the more I miss them, which really just means that I’m spending less time enjoying this beautiful and exciting land.
Therefore, I made a promise to myself to go more Zen and just forget about a couple of the things that really bother me, and I’ve been so much more relaxed because of it.
1. Food from Home
This might not be such a big deal depending on where you study, but here in Russia, the food is awful. It’s not so much the food itself that bothers me, because there are a variety of tasty Russian dishes, but the lack of choice can be frustrating. In America, we have all types of cuisine at our fingertips for relatively cheap, but many other countries only have local cuisine readily available.
There are usually some ethnic restaurants around, but they are often outside the budget of a college student, which is disappointing. Even McDonald’s is considered almost fine dining in some places. For example, I was just in Israel on my spring break, and there a Big Mac and a large fry without a drink cost almost $13.
To combat this, my group of friends decided to make Worldly Wednesdays, where we go to a different ethnic restaurant every Wednesday. We just couldn’t stand eating only Russian food all the time and talking about all the vegetables we miss.
Sometimes eating out can be expensive, but you really need to treat yourself every once in a while. Being abroad is stressful enough without you adding pressures and restrictions on yourself all the time. If you don’t loosen up every now and then, it just starts to feel like you’re in prison waiting for your parole to come through, so go out and split a meal with a friend so you can get the taste you need at a price you won’t choke on!
2. Personal Space
It seems that this is a very Western concept. Depending on where you study, this might not be a problem, but I came to Russia thinking that it was more or less similar to the US in that personal space would be understood. I was dead wrong.
People push and shove to get on the metro and cut in front of you in line. People will just barrel through the street and not apologize because to them that’s just a normal happening. However, after the first week or so, you just become numb to it. In fact, it’s almost strange when people aren’t pressed up against you.
While I was in Israel, some of the men there are not allowed to touch women at all for religious reasons, so personal space is a big deal. However, after being in Russia for two months, I was rather uncomfortable when people weren’t pushing me onto the trains and buses because that’s what my gut reaction was to do to them. I managed to refrain from shoving any old babushkas out of the way like so many people in Russia do, but I was still shocked by how quickly I adapted to what was in the beginning a rather uncomfortable problem.
As for the lack of non-physical personal space, having people come up to you on the street or in the grocery store and interrupt your conversation is a normal occurrence. At first, you just want to shove people away and yell at them for being so rude, but this is just another one of those things that you have to brush off.
I’ve had to accept the fact that I am an American, and therefore I’m slightly exotic, so people want to chat with me. They mean nothing by it, but at the same time they just don’t understand how invasive their simple questions can be sometimes. Then again, I did come to a country whose language does not have a word for privacy, so I guess I should have expected this!
The only thing I can really say to people who want to study abroad or who are abroad now is that the experience is what you make it. If you’re unhappy, then do something about it! It’s true you can’t change the culture of where you are, but there are always good things to focus on, so take whatever joy you can and run with it because it will be the experience of a lifetime if only you let it!
About Julia Byrd: Julia is a junior at The George Washington University who is currently studying abroad at St. Petersburg State University in Russia. She is double majoring in Russian Language and Literature and Environmental Studies and plans to go to graduate school, though she is unsure what kind. Her interests include yoga, movies, and finding warm places to travel to whenever possible.
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