St. Petersburg has a large body of international students, and attending the various Welcome Week events with them has been a highlight of my time here so far. It is quite difficult for me to even process how many different people I have met from all corners of the planet, including Norway, America, Finland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Ukraine. Of course I am here to study Russian and meet Russian people, but I have been careful not to completely dedicate my time to them at these early stages; there is still so much to learn about other cultures and different languages from the people living along my own dormitory corridor! Whether it is at a very competitive ‘Board Games Evening’, or visiting Soviet-style Cafés, it has been a pleasure to get to know so many different people and bond over our shared interest for Russian language and culture.
The culmination of these events was the International Cuisine evening, where we presented our national cuisine (we’d had a very busy week and no working oven…) and watched videos made by students around St Petersburg with their Russian Buddies. Finishing the evening with some traditional Russian dancing, which of course culminated in utter chaos and hysterics, was a brilliant way to round off these events.
St. Petersburg is proving not only to be a meeting point between Russia and the rest of the world, but also brings a strong Cambridge contingent. St. Petersburg is a very popular option for Russian students compared to smaller cities such as Kazan and Nizhnii Novgorod, and so it was inevitable that I would be crossing paths with more English-speaking students. It has been nice to have a bit of familiarity in this city, and to take a break from forging new friendships and studying in favour of relaxing with old friends. The other week we had a fun time out ice-skating, as well as heading to a Georgian restaurant for some kachapuri aka. the most delicious cheesy eggy bread.
Nonetheless, I have been throwing myself headfirst into the world of language tandems. I have met up with about 5 different Russian students, keen to practise their English with me. It feels a bit like going on a blind date each time – I have no idea what the other person will be like, or sometimes even what they look like! It has been a great opportunity to meet some native speakers, but I hope over the next few weeks I’ll be able to establish some more genuine friendships rather than meeting up with simply anyone randomly allotted to me. However, that might be a bit tricky with native English speakers always been in high demand here. Still, there has been some progress; we met up with Karina to go around Erata, the modern art gallery in St. Petersburg. It was an incredible place with so many exhibitions to explore – I think I need to go back again soon, to see what else they have there!
But to end on an international note, I think it is worth recounting the dangers of socialising too much in a Russian student dormitory… One Saturday there was a party in the flat above ours, but after some persuasion the party moved down to our (slightly bigger) flat. The loud music, the presence of alcohol (which, in theory, is banned in our apartment block) and guests to the dormitory who had stayed longer than the permitted 11pm deadline brought one of the babushkas, who keep watch downstairs, up to our front door. Everyone promptly put their glasses behind their back, shut off the music and sheepishly run away. The babushka looked around with suspicious eyes, before retreating. Thinking we had got away with it, we turned the music back on and the party went on until the early hours. However the next morning our doorbell rang, which is unusual since anyone coming into our flat has normally already been invited and can just come straight in. Being the only one awake, I went to the front door in my pyjamas and found a man clutching an official looking paper. He asked to come in and began to quiz me (in Russian) about the events of the night before. He then explained that the babushkas had lodged a complaint against our flat and that tomorrow we would be visited by the ‘Sheriff’ (his phrasing, not mine). However, in a typically Russian turn of events, he told us that we should simply tell the Sheriff that there was no alcohol and that we had simply been drinking tea with some friends and things got a bit noisy. Basically, it seemed that despite complaining about us, the people in charge of the building didn’t want to have to deal with the fuss of formally punishing us! All the same, this mysterious ‘Sheriff’ never appeared and we never heard about it again.