Friday, August 26, 2016

One Year Anniversary in Russia

I Love "Ufa" in Bashkir
It's been a year! I've lived in Russia a year! The date really snuck up on me and had I thought of it sooner I would have written a way better post! Sometimes it feels like just yesterday I was stuck in customs for three hours because I had too much baggage while other times it feels like I've been living here my whole life. The hardest part was dealing with culture shock and having to get through American holidays abroad. I decided to write a post looking back at all that has happened while I've been here and adding comments of what I hope happens in my next year in Russia!
My first photo in Russia

Russian Holidays

Since living in Russia I've experienced different Russian holidays. Kurban Bayram was the first holiday I "celebrated" meaning I got the day off of work. It's not a national holiday, but Bashkortostan has a large Muslim population so it's our Republics holiday. I also experienced the overwhelming holiday of Women's Day, which is supposedly celebrated in the USA but nothing like how it's celebrated in Russia. It's the Valentine's Day of Russia. While Valentine's Day is celebrated in Russia, I think Women's Day is more popular. Finally, I saw the end of the Labor Day parades in Moscow. This coming year I would definitely love to see a Russian New Year and the Victory Day parades. 
Labor Day Parade

Russian Food

Of course I ate lots of lots of Russian, and Bashkir, food. My diet here has consisted of potatoes and cabbage. Unfortunately, I still can't cook, but I'm actively looking for someone to teach me. I wrote this post about five specific foods I tried, but some of my other favorites are borscht, blini, and kvass. I also drank lots of Georgian and Crimean wine, but I don't think that counts. This coming year I definitely want to try Russian vodka. Is it a travesty that I've been here one year and still haven't tried it?
Assortment of Russian food


I did so much traveling this past year that sometimes I think I've been to more Russian airports than American. It actually may be true, but I haven't counted. I've been to five different Russian cities and one different country! I'm trying to save money by exploring as much of Russia as I can before I leave. 
I went to Madrid, Spain for the first time to spend New Years with my cousin and her husband. Spain was my first Western European city.

The Russian cities I've visited are Ufa (of course)...

and St. Petersburg...

and Kazan (three times)...

and Moscow (twice)...

and, finally, Irkutsk and Lake Baikal.

I have so many other Russian cities on my list including Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, and Sochi. I would also like to see more of Bashkortostan and go to a Russian village at some point. I found out the other day Anton has never been to St. Petersburg, so I'd like to go back with him but not in the winter. I don't want hypothermia again. Unfortunately, this coming year I'll be pinching pennies so we'll see how much I will be able to see.

The Terrifying

I did something in Russia I never thought I'd do again. I rode a Ferris Wheel. I'm terrified of Ferris wheels, and I don't know what I was thinking when I went onto it. I guess I wasn't really thinking. I experienced so much anxiety that I ended up having a dream that night that I saw the devil, and I woke up to my first experience of sleep paralysis. It was actually my first "date" with Anton, and I keep telling him we'll ride another Ferris wheel, but I don't know if I can do it.
The wheel of death

The Offbeat

If you follow my Instagram at all you'll notice I like weird things. I love finding those hidden gems in a city, and it actually makes living in Ufa a lot more exciting. Russia is full of cool, and especially abandoned, things. I've been to an abandoned observatory, an abandoned sanatorium, and an abandoned town. I've seen some really cool street art in all of the cities I've visited. I went to some really cool museums that I totally recommend. The Forest Museum in Ufa, Museum of Soviet Life and Museum of Illusions in Kazan, and the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow were definitely worth seeing and I would highly suggest all of them. I also recommend visiting Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow - blog post to come! 
The movie theater at Green Cape Sanatorium.


The last thing I did this year was start a new tradition and hashtag. I have taken pictures with every Vladimir Lenin statue I have seen and posted them under the hashtag #selfiewithvlad on Instagram. I wrote this post in June, but since then I visited three more bringing my one year total to 13! My goal for next year is to visit at least one new statue. Since I don't have a lot of money I'm not sure how often I'll be traveling which means I don't know how often I will come across a new statue.

I absolutely love Russia and although their are times when I wish I was back in America I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. The friends I made here, both Russian and foreign, have been great and have really helped me love my time here. A few more things I'd like to do in the next year are improve my Russian, learn how to cook blini and borscht, visit more abandoned places, go to a banya and dacha, and continue writing more blog posts that will convince you to come visit!

Bonus! While there aren't many great Russian musicians I have really come to appreciate Dolphin, and I recommend you listen to some of his music. I hope to go to one of his concerts before I leave.

What kind of blog posts are you hoping to see in the next year?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Hike to Vvedenskaya Sloboda

There really isn't much to do at Innopolis. Like there is one grocery store and that's it. If you want to do something other than work out or hang out on campus you either have you make sure you are able to find a seat on the bus to Kazan, pay an outrageous amount for a taxi which may not even come, or find some other alternative like hiking through nature. On our way to Innopolis from the airport we drove over the Volga River and from the bridge you could see sands and people laying on the beach. Elmira decided at that moment that she wanted to go to the beach. Unfortunately, we didn't know how to get there. Then, Zach told us he knew a way to another beach, we convinced Elmira to go through nature, and then on our day off we headed down to the river.
Can you see the Volga River in the distance?

Within five minutes my feet were already covered in dirt from the pile we had to climb over to get to the grass. The grass we walked through was up to my waist and I was continually covered in burrs. We had to watch our for holes and dead animals. I even experienced krapiva, the Russian name for stinging nettle. I don't think we have nettles in Ohio, if we do then we care more about poison ivy. All Russians know krapiva. It's not as horrific as poison ivy but it definitely leaves your skin with a burning sensation that lasts about 15 minutes. Are you familiar with Indian Rug Burns? When you twists the skin on someones arm to make it burn? Surely you did it to someone as a child. Well, in Russia they don't call it Indian rug burns they call it krapiva.
Zach had walked the path before so he kept pointing out landmarks he remembered last year when him and a group of guys decided to walk to the river after a fire drill. We came upon a dried up stream that he said had water in it last year. This summer has been HOT! Both in Kazan and Ufa it's been in the upper 80s to 90s, and it'll rain once every 2 weeks. I'd rather take this heat over Cleveland's though because there is a lot less humidity. My hair and humidity don't get along.

After the river we continued walking and eventually made it to a path made by car wheels. The path led us to a little village where we saw some chickens and you could even see Innopolis in the distance. We weren't exactly sure where to go from there so Elmira stopped to ask a boy directions to the river. He told us where to go, so naturally we took the complete opposite direction because Zach didn't want to walk on the asphalt.

We eventually made it to the road and took the road the rest of the way. In case you plan on walking on the road in Russia (which I don't recommend) you need to walk on the side of the road as the oncoming traffic. It's Russian law, just so you know. We met a goat along the way and I took way too many pictures of it because it was so cute and friendly. We stopped in a little store where we got some ice cream to give us energy and cool us down. Right before we got to the beach we walked past a natural spring where you could fill up your water bottles for free. I wish I had taken pictures of the building because it was pretty neat. It reminded me of this spring my mom used to take us to to fill up jugs of water for our water cooler until chemicals were found in the water and the stopped people from doing that.

Does that island in the picture below look familiar? Yep, that is Sviyazhsk Isand. It's pretty cool that the island is so close. There is also a ship near the island digging up sand from the river and it sounds like something out of Jurassic Park. I would not have been surprised if I saw a Tyrannosaurus Rex break out of the ship. When we settled down Elmira lay out in the sun while Zach and I stayed in the shade to relax. Elmira didn't understand why we walked all that way to act like we wanted to go back but we said the adventure was the best part! I enjoyed watching all the children swimming and reading my book. I didn't want to go in the water though because it seemed kind of dangerous to me, but I spent a lot of time at Lake Erie and I don't think it can get much worse than that.

We wanted to hitch hike back since we were all tired and hangry but our attempts to do so were unsuccessful. Eventually a taxi driver drove past us and Elmira flagged him down. He was kind of a jerk overcharging us when we were actually doing him a favor, but Elmira talked him down 50 rubles. The ride was still overpriced but split three ways it was definitely worth it. There is a way to the river that is much easier, but I'm kind of glad we took the path less traveled because I haven't experienced much Russian nature since being here almost a year! Has there been a time where you took the path less traveled either physically or metaphorically? How was it?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Day at Innopolis Boot Camp

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Innopolis, but I didn't go into much detail about what I was doing there. Let me tell you, it was a lot. I worked at a bootcamp that prepared incoming students for the school year at Innopolis. Since Innopolis is built on the American university model many of the Russian students weren't prepared for how the university would function. Also, all classes are taught in English, so it was important that they practiced their English skills. I'm not really sure how the day functioned for the students but I know they were busy from 9-9. I'll just focus on what the bootcamp English teachers did.

Since I was still on Ufa time (2 hours ahead of Moscow time) I tried waking up around 7:00 am every day. I'm one of those people who feels really productive if I start my day early even though I like sleeping in until about 10. I'd go to breakfast around 8-8:15. Afterwards, I'd go to my dorm room and either hang out for a little bit or go right up to my classroom where I'd prepare what I needed for the day. We got our first groups from 11:50-1:20. We had an hour break for lunch and some of the English teachers would meet together for lunch in one of the university canteens. Then we got our second groups from 2:20-3:50. We would see the same two groups for one week then switch groups with our local Russian teachers for the second week. Twice a week the native teachers were required to teach a workshop which usually lasted from 4-5:30. Then the rest of the night was ours to hang out, go to the gym, or travel to Kazan.

The native teachers were told to focus on reading and speaking and the local teachers focused on listening and note-taking. Since Innopolis is an IT school we were supposed to focus on IT and technology. It was the first time I got to feel like a real teacher and I loved it. At my job in Ufa I only focus on speaking and it's so hard especially when you feel like a substitute. I finally got to put into practice what I learned back in Cincinnati. We did 4 corner debates, socratic seminars, jigsaw activities, presentations, and we even played Jeopardy the second week. Of course we did other things like learn how to annotate notes and summarize articles, but it was great being about to make lessons that scaffold off one another and feel like I had some real responsibility.

As I mentioned earlier twice a week the native teachers ran different workshops based on different themes. I didn't really know what to do, so I focused on American TV shows. I made a worksheet with previewing, viewing, and post-viewing questions. I had three shows prepared, but the discussions took more time than I thought so we really only focused on two shows. I chose The Office because I feel like it is a good example of American humor and because it isn't very popular in Russia. Russians love Friends, but I hate Friends, so I showed How I Met Your Mother because I love that show and I feel like it was a good alternative to Friends. Finally, I had an episode of The Simpson's entitle Simpson's Tide which I chose based solely on the fact that there is a scene where the United Nations realizes the Soviet Union never broke up. You can watch the clip here.

What are your favorite television shows?
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