Monday, 16 September 2013

'Life is either a great adventure or nothing.' : week one!

In the words of Helen Keller, 'Life is either a great adventure or nothing'. Never is this statement truer than when you move to a new place: either you run with it or you crumble.The last week has been full of new experiences; ones that we've all had to embrace. It's hard to know how to document all of these things without boring you all to tears, but I'll do my best! As its all so new, I'm going to do an account of each day - don't get used to it though! It will only be highlights from here on in!


Day 1. Sunday 08/09/13

On the platform of the station, we were greeted by Alexandra, a representative of the university. She introduced each of us to our land ladies and, once we had decided on a time to meet for a tour, they took us our separate ways to what is now home for the next 3 months. My landlady is called Galina, she has a very kind face and is really sweet, though its often hard to understand her. When we arrived at the flat (a two minute walk from the central square), she showed me to my room (pictured) and left me to unpack.

She soon called me in for breakfast which was enough to feed a small army - porridge with jam, bread, butter, cheese, a chocolate bar, tea!! It was soon evident that if you leave something untouched it is assumed you don't like it - in the end my 'I'm full' sign language attempts registered, and it was taken away!

After a shower and quick change, Galina took me to the meeting point, from which Alexandra took us to sort out the basics: registration photographs, buying toiletries and sim cards. On the way she pointed out useful places like the English department and also the visa office, both of which we would visit the next day. After our walk round, we went to the local shopping centre to meet Catherine and Isobel and the students that they were living with.

Going home to a nap was the most welcome thing ever!! Dinner soon arrived, in much the same quantities as breakfast - Galina is obviously trying to provide me with an extra layer of insulation for when winter comes. I was also really happy to find that we had WiFi in the house which meant I could speak to my family and later on to Richard and tell them about my day and my journey.

I won't lie, I did have a bit of a wobbly/teary moment speaking to Rich when I was telling him how little I could understand or say. It was nice to have a pep talk to remind me that:
1. It was my first day.
2. I was knackered from the journey.
AND 3. I am here to learn - perfection won't come straight away!

After a long and tiring few days, I'd survived day one.

Day 2. 09/09/13

After yesterdays wobbly moment, I took everything I understood (i.e. a hell of a lot more than yesterday) at breakfast as a mini-triumph! I managed to walk to the visa office for registration from memory - obviously I'd absorbed more in my tired state yesterday than I thought I had.

After meeting Katya from the university (who we'd conversed with by e-mail from England), we handed in our documents and, as we had some time to kill whilst we waited for our migration cards, she showed us the Russian department (pictured) where we'd have our classes.

After collecting our migration cards, we had some free time on our hands before we had to meet the dean of the English department, Luba. Luba was so lovely, welcoming us to Voronezh and making sure we were all doing ok. We were all crammed in to her little office whilst she talking about the opportunities we'd have to help out the English department with teaching and a proof reading project, which I'm quite excited about.

Over dinner, Galina told me about all the activities on offer here in Voronezh like the circus, the ballet theatre and the puppet theatre - she said that the visiting students never get bored as there is lots to do! We have all vowed to do as much as we can. The evening was spent writing an article for the wonderful Scriptoeris magazine (which you should all be reading at *shameless plug :P*).

Day 3. 10/09/13

Over breakfast, Galina put cartoons on for me. This is probably because she thinks I have the mental capacity of a five year old - judging by the fact I enjoyed them, this is probably true!

When we got to uni, we were ushered in to the staff room (which was full of unsmiling women drinking tea) where the director of studies explained about the department. As he wanted to hear how well we spoke, we went around the room telling him things about ourselves, which I did very hesitantly, stuttering like a fool! This was also followed by a torturous 100 question grammar exam, most of which I guessed! I figured that from this point the only way is up.

After our mini assessments, freedom was ours and we decided that it would be a good idea to try a famed 'business lunch' (the cheap fixed menu lunch option). Why we though this was a good idea is beyond me: the portions were huge and we then spent a good few hours avoiding going home to the prospect of yet MORE FOOD! Lesson well and truly learnt!

Day 4. 11/09/13

Phonetics class was a cheerful start to the day. The crazy teacher, Anatoli, explained (in Russian!) how phonetics and different sound types formed the basis of spoken language. He soon had us repeating words and sounds in chorus- both funny and useful. We were then split down in to separate groups (ones that we will now have all of our classes in) for speaking practice. It was pretty terrifying having questions fired at us but we found ourselves answering in vaguely passable, if broken Russian. Highlights of the lesson included: 1. Isobel, in blind panic, saying that she wanted to be a housewife as her profession, then having nothing to say when Irina asked her why because it was all a lie! 2. Jenny making things difficult for herself by trying to explain to principles of supply chain management!

As we were going out in the evening, I spent a lot of time deliberating what to wear - no one wants to stick out like a sore thumb for being to under or over dressed! It was really nice of Sveta (Catherine's house mate) to invite us round for pre-drinks. It was fab to be around Russians (even if they did speak amazing English!) as we found ourselves exchanging phrases in conversation, and even playing drinking games in both languages! Bar Duck was an interesting sort of place! On our way in, all of us were given wristbands. All of us had green apart from Catherine and Sveta who were both wearing engagement rings and had red bands! What is this?? Green for 'go on lads'?! As it was free champagne for girls, it was heaving! People were dancing on the tables and smoking and at one point I even got pulled in to a bar-wide conga line! The night ended with my first vodka shot since being in Russia - ICK! Only day 4 and already partying with the Russians :)

Day 5. 12/09/13

After a late night, waking up was a seriously unwelcome event!

First lesson of the day was verb class, with the strangest member of staff I have come across since we arrived. He has his own very special brand of humour but all his jokes and ridiculous questions are aimed to get you speaking. We concluded that though he was strange, we liked him a lot - though I'm not sure I'll be using the verb for 'to drive cattle' any time soon! The grammar class that followed was less horrific than anticipated, and we left with a stack of homework to help us pass the time over the weekend.

Lunch today took the form of a traditional Russian buffet - I wasn't amazingly hungry but after stupidly following the counter process I still ended up with 5 plates of food! It was tasty but with the amount I'm being fed at home, completely unnecessary! Catherine also got chatted up by an amazingly persistent Russian, who continued to try his luck even after she flashed her engagement ring - to witness, it was comedy gold.

On the way home, we popped in the central library and were served by a woman on the counter who had a full set of gold teeth #onlyinRussia.

Day 6. 13/09/13

Though no one had chosen to do the film option at uni, we decided, as it was on our timetable for the morning, to go and check it out! After sitting for a while, it was evident that the teacher had not turned up (probably because no one had elected her option!). Peach juice at a cafe it was then!! The girls were faced with a 30 minute wait when they gave the waitress their food order, so decided to pass. Mysteriously a table of Russian men who arrived and ordered after us had been served a full table of food and their drinks before ours were bought to us - favouritism much ;)

Culture class was awesome yet, like a lot of our classes, bizarre! After getting us to write down our interests and what we'd like to learn about (so that she can start planning trips out!), she started to explain some of the history of the area. She tried to tell us a story about some bones that had been found in the river nearby, which she decided to illustrate with a mini show complete with ribbon river and dinosaur figures - crazy woman!!

On the way home, we decided to cross and take a closer look at a very tall, soviet looking monument that we'd walked past for days! It turned out that we had found ourselves in the memorial park, which will be a good starting point for my dissertation on historical memory of WWII in Russia.

In the evening we met up with some of the american students also studying at ВГУ (воронежскии государствении университет,don't you know ;) ). It was interesting to get a different perspective on life as a foreigner here in Voronezh and also to hear about their university (Baylor in Texas). £1.80 a pint makes beer drinking til 2am a cheap night out!

Days 7 and 8. THE WEEKEND!

After a busy week, the weekend ended up as a lazy wash out - very little was done or achieved and therefore nothing was noteworthy enough to warrant wasting words on it.. apart from the beer of course ;)

ALL IN ALL...after a couple of little wobbles, I am having a great time! People are friendly, classes are informative and fun! Week one: a great adventure with much more still to come!

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