“Nothing is going to be easy.” Jon, the Moscow Resident Director for American Councils, my study abroad program in Russia, imparted these words of wisdom to us just minutes into our pre-departure orientation in Washington, DC. “Lower your expectations. In fact, get rid of them entirely.” While these were not the words of encouragement my nervous psyche was looking for, they’ve so far rung true. I know, I know, that sounds terrible. Lower my expectations? Study abroad is supposed to be a magical experience and everything I’ve ever dreamed of, of course I’ll have expectations! However, his words have made perfect sense so far and although this past week in Russia has been exhausting, it’s also already been wildly rewarding.
It’s still odd to me that it’s been over a week since I arrived, groggy, disoriented, and several hours later than I was supposed to, at Domodedevo Airport in Moscow, Russia. Due to flight cancellations and an unexpected detour through Zurich, my trip was already an adventure before I even set foot in the Russian Federation. I departed from Washington, DC late last Thursday afternoon and had an uneventful first leg of my journey. However, I was informed in Geneva that my flight to Moscow had been cancelled and that Swiss Air was re-routing me through Zurich and on to Moscow from there. Great. Not being overwhelmingly fantastic at sleeping on airplanes, it took my addled brain a minute to process this information. The extra time spent waiting in Geneva and then connecting in Zurich would not put me in to Moscow until 6 pm–roughly three hours later than my designated arrival time. I frantically emailed Jon to tell him that I would not be able to meet the group flight in baggage claim after all, and that I would be going through customs by myself and connecting with everyone back at the dormitory. Thankfully, my Swiss Air flights were not only blissfully brief, clean, and efficient, I made it through Russian Passport Control without a hitch and even managed to buy myself a train ticket from the airport with ease. Hungry and tired, I arrived at the university dormitory, my suitcase covered in slush, and collapsed into bed.
The next few days went by in a blur of in-country orientation, language placement testing, and doing a bit of exploring before classes began. Tuesday, January 27th, I officially began language and culture courses at the International University in Moscow (In Russian: международный университет в Москве or Mezhdunarodniy Universitet v Moskve). All my classes are completely in Russian. There might be the occasional English word to further explanations here and there, but every single class is taught by a Russian professor in Russian. Jon was right, it’s not easy. Surprisingly, I can understand most of what they’re saying, but my speaking skills lag behind. I never noticed before how many little words and phrases are essential to every day life, but simply not taught in the classroom. How do you say, “What’s the difference between _____ and _____?”? What’s the word for “Actually”? And really, most importantly, is there a Russian equivalent of the phrase, “My brain hurts”? Because at the moment, my brain hurts.
It hasn’t all been classes and exhaustion, however. There are also piles of snow! I say that in wake of the snowstorm that hammered the northeastern US, but as far as anyone’s told me, only left Pennsylvania a little chillier. The snow here is actually quite pretty. There has not been a single day so far that it hasn’t snowed at least a tad, but I think it’s in the realm of how I imagine Seattle–a little precipitation every day, but no huge storms or main events. It’s part of life, and everyone wraps their шарф (scarf) a little tighter and goes on with their day. The slush on the roads makes me eternally grateful for the waterproof, insulated boots that I purchased for myself for Christmas since when I imagine roaming the streets of Moscow in Converse sneakers, a little part of me gets frostbite.
Though it’s only been a week and nothing has been easy, I could talk at length about my wonderful host family, my professors, the friends I’ve made here, both Russian and American, and the beauty of the city in general. And I will. But now, it’s time to engage in that long-standing and most wonderful of Russian traditions, drinking tea. This country may be cold, but as far as I can tell, the people are warm and the “enigma” that is Russia? Well, I might just get to see beyond that.