A Travellerspoint blog

Coming home

I'm in Moscow right now and it's almost time to head home. It's been an amazing six weeks in Russia and I'm really sad that I have to leave. The last week and a half have been pretty crazy. We finished school with a final test to see how well we know Russian. There re 150 questions and you answered as many as you could in 30 minutes. You had to get 34 correct answers to pass elementary Russian and I passed! After finishing school in Kirov, my host sister took me to her uncles banya about an hour outside of the city. It was an extremely large house entirely dedicated to the banya. Her uncle is also the coach for the Russian Olympic cross country skiing team, so it was really cool to meet him. We had dinner, went to the banya, and swam in their pool for a little bit. On Sunday, we woke up at 4:30 in the morning to take a bus to Kazan. It's about a 6-8 hour trip. We dropped our stuff at another youth hostel and went on a tour around the city. It's quite nice and the churches and mosques were beautiful. We also got to see the nice/rich part of Kazan where they built houses for politicians and other important figures. It was unbelievable! I hope we get to spend more time there another time. That night, we went on a driving tour of the city. I wasn't feeling great so I slept through most of the tour, but it looked beautiful with all the lights! The next day we drove three hours to another city in the Tatar region and walked around there for a day. We went into lots of churches and other old buildings. It was really nice as well! Our final day in Kazan, we went to one more monastery just outside the city and then to a water park. It was kind of small but still really fun. That night we took a late train to Moscow and got there this morning. We just spent the day walking around red square, arbat street, and other amazing sights. We also went on a boat tour of the Moscow river. After all of our touring was done, we went back to repack and relax for a little bit. We have to get up early tomorrow for our flights! This has been a really amazing trip and I'm so lucky that I was able to participate on it. I can't wait to come back to Russia again!!

Posted by kwood24 12:59 Comments (3)

Host Family

I am officially living with a host family! I have a sister, Tanya, who is my age and her parents and we are living in their apartment. It's actually quite nice, with a kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom. I am sharing a room with Tanya. Everyday, we have to take the bus to school at 9 and we have classes until 4. We play games, go to Russian class, and work on building our "Dream City". We were each put into groups of around 8 people (4 Russians and 4 American siblings) and we were assigned to create our dream city. We put whatever we wanted in it, like movie theaters, stadiums, hostpitals, resturants, houses, etc and then we buy the actually buildings with coins that we earn in class for correct answers and participation. The "Dream City" is the theme of the extra two weeks that we are going to school. It's kind of a bummer that we have to go to school even while we are with our host families and this is a new set up that they are trying this year. It's okay though, it just gives us less time to explore the city and see some of the sights. After school, we just have some free time to spend with our host siblings. I have been to lots of cute little cafes, the mall, movies, and parks. It's very fun to see some places that Russian teens hang out in their free time.

Yesterday I got the chance to go to Slobodskoy! Galina and Sveta picked me up and we all drove together to the orphanage. It was about an hour drive from Tanya's apartment. We arrived around 1 PM and had a quick lunch. After, we toured the orphanage and Galina showed us all of the repairs that are happing now. There was a fire in one of the kids rooms in early summer and the affected rooms are being redesigned. She also was very proud of the new plastic window frames that were put in after the fire. No one was hurt at all in the fire and the kids are just sleeping in different rooms for the time being. 25 of the 36 kids that were at the orphanage at the time left after lunch for a music festival called Greenland. We would be meeting them a day later. Once our tour was over, we went to the grocery store to pick up food for dinner and breakfast. Natasha came with us because Galina sometimes takes one of the kids home with her to teach them basic skills like gardening, cooking, and taking care of a house and pets. We bought tons of food and headed to Galina's house. It was about a 10 minute drive from downtown Slobodskoy, so not too far at all!

Galina's house was beautiful! It was very spacious and the furniture was all well kept and very pretty. They are in the midst of redoing some of the rooms, like the living room and kitchen, so those had some construction materials in them. We cooked blini, smoothies, berry yogurt, and salad for dinner and more blini, berries, sausages, cheese, bread, cake, and a cottage cheese, sour cream, and sugar mixture that turned out to be quite good. I was very well fed and quite full when I left! We also got the opportunity to skype with my parents, sister, and grandparents. It was really fun and Sveta, Galina, and Natasha were all quite glad to see them. Galina gave us the tour around her house too, with her flower and vegetable garden, cows, pigs, cats, dogs, and then showed us around their little village. We went to the store and bought ice cream just a block from her house. It was around 10 at night, the store was about to close, and Galina had forgotten money. They just gave her the ice cream anyways and she promised to pay them back later:). I thought it was very sweet of them! We went back to her house and cooked some sausages on a fire as a late night treat. We went to bed soon after because it had been a long and very tiring day.

The next morning we got up a little late, around 10 AM. We had originally planned to leave at 10, but that got changed because we all slept in. We had a large breakfast and finally hit the road at noon. The orphanage driver was not very happy that we left two hours late and he was waiting outside of Galina's house the whole time. But he got over it when Galina bought him an ice cream bar too. We made a quick stop by the orphanage to pick up some logs and blankets to take with us to a concert because it was a cold night. We ran out of room so we ended up sitting on about 20 blankets in the back of the car. It was about a two hour drive to the concert and we got there around 3 PM (3 hours behind schedule). Once we got there, there was a problem getting the car close to where the kids' tents were. Galina had been given verbal permission for entering, but the police wanted written permission. It took another hour to figure out the permission issue and we finally got through!

The concert was much bigger than I imagined. There were 3 stages all playing music and a lot of people in tents. I have no idea how many people were actually there, but I would guess around 10,000. The kids were all a little bored because there weren't any structured activities going on, but still having fun! I don't think I've ever heard them laugh that much before! We hung out with the kids for an hour and had a semi-private concert by a music club from Slobodskoy. Sadly we couldn't stay for long because I had to be back by 7 and it was a 1 hour bus ride back to town. We left at 5 and a group of kids walked us to the bus stop. It was sad to leave them again.

Once back in Kirov, we got changed and went ice skating. It was pretty different from American ice skating, because they took a deposit of 1000 rubles and your passport when you rented skates. Apparently, that's something that Russia does when they rent things. You got it all back when your skates were returned safely. The rink closed soon after we arrived so we were only there for 30 minutes or so. After, we went on a walk around theater square and went home early because we had to wake up early today for church.

This morning, we went to a 7 AM service in a Russian orthodox church. We came a little late but it's not as structured as our churches so it was okay. The inside of the church was beautiful! There were tons of ancient icons all around and a choir singing beautiful songs. We stayed for about 40 minutes and then headed home. Today, I have some homework to do and then we are going to hopefully see a movie and maybe go to a resort. I hope to blog again before I leave next Sunday for Kazan. Overall, it's been a crazy but very fun week!

Posted by kwood24 23:00 Archived in Russia Comments (2)

Life at the youth hostel

Sorry it's been so long since I've blogged!! It's hard to find a time that I can actually sit and write a whole post. A lot has happened since I last blogged. We have gone on lots of excursions that have been really fun! We went to a ballet, Cinderella. That was really neat and the dancers were really talented. We also went to Slobodskoy to tour the Bakulev museum and look at the churchs in the center of the town. It was really cool to see the town without all the snow and return to the Bakulev museum. I also got the change to see Misha in Slobodskoy. We almost got to go the orphanage, but we didn't have enough time and didn't have the right permission to take everyone. It was tough to be so close to the orphanage but not visit. Hopefully I will be able to work out visiting when I'm with my host family. Saturday of the first week was really rainy, so our boat trip was rescheduled. We went to watch the movie "Pay It Forward" at our teacher Anna's school. It was really good, even though it was pretty sad. The message they were trying to tell us was that we should all try to make a difference and even young people can make one. On Sunday we went to Camp Luch. It's a summer camp for young kids that they attend for around 2 weeks. They range in ages from 8 to around 17. We played games with them and attempted to communicate with our limited knowledge of Russian. I was with the youngest group of kids and it was really interesting to talk with them. It was a good time! 

Last week we went on some more fun excursions. We went to a matryoshka factory and watched the whole process of making matryoshkas. It's amazing how much work goes into making them. They have professional artists come and paint the dolls. I loved all of the colors and designs that were on them. The next day we introduced ourselves to the new Russians that arrived. They all were really nice, though a little quiet at first. The next day we went to a diorama museum and to an amusement park. The museum was really interesting and the diorama was so realistic. I also got to see where the diorama is now and it was really realistic in the painting. The attraction park was also fun. We went on a ferris wheel and some pretty sketchy rides. They didn't buckle all the way and wouldn't have really passed any inspections. We were all okay though and didn't go on any of the super dangerous rides. It was also the 4th of July so we taught the Russians about our traditions and tried of celebrate a little. There was a flash flood so it was pretty hard, but it was still fun! We went to the Dymkovo toy factory the next day. We made little clay figures and are going back to paint them sometime soon. I made a duck with my clay! The next day we had a "Russian customs and traditions workshop". We all acted out fairy tales that were in both Russian and English. My group acted out little red riding hood. The next day we had some Russian women come teach us about ancient Russian traditions. We played games and sang songs. It was fun to see all of their history and culture and I enjoyed it a lot! Later that day we said goodbye to the Russians and went to camp Luch for the day. One of the girls I really liked from the previous week wasn't there, but it was nice to see other familiar faces. We went through stations of games with the kids and had a disco as our parting ceremony. The next day we memorized some Russian songs in the morning and then went on a boat tour of the Vyatka river. The boat tour was really neat and the weather was perfect for it. 

This week, we started out with going to a bread factory just down the street from the youth hostel. You can smell the fresh bread cooking from the street and it smells amazing. We got to see them making marshmallows, bread, chocolates, and other sweets. The large quantities that they were making really amazed me. On Tuesday we got acquainted with the new Russians that came. They all seem really nice and we got to see their presentations about their home towns. It was really interesting! Today we went on a quest around the city. We took pictures and videos all around Kirov. I think we walked close to 10 miles and saw lots of new places. We had a theme that we had to follow and put together a story about when we got back to the hostel. Our theme was drama and it ended up having a lot of our characters dying.... It was pretty interesting and funny. 

Classes have gotten much harder and we have got to some of the things that I found difficult on my online class. I have grammar with Anna first and we are starting understand the cases more and more. We have worked our way though a 27 page grammar packet and I have lots of useful tools to take home with me. After a little break in between classes, I go to Larisa for two hours. She focuses on pronunciation and speaking. We practice a lot of listening and talking in that class. It can be pretty intimidating at times. 

Tomorrow is our last day of classes! Time has really flown by and I'm actually sad to be leaving the hostel. This weekend, we are going to another summer camp for kids closer to our ages called "Trampleen". We are going to be sleeping in tents and just playing games and relaxing with the kids. After the camp ends on Sunday for us, our host families are going to pick us up and take us home to live with them. I have met my host sister and she seems great! I'm really excited to experience Russia with her. We still have classes for some amount of time while we are with our host families, but it isn't clear how long. It may be around 4 hours each day. I wish we could just spend time with our host families, but it's okay! It will still be fun. I also will be visiting Slobodskoy again with some of our amazing translators from previous years to visit the orphanage next weekend. Galina, the director, is going to come pick me up next Friday morning and I will be spending the night in Slobodskoy. I'm very excited to see the kids again! We leave our host families on the 29th for Kazan and will spend two days there. From Kazan, we travel to Moscow, spend the night, then leave for the US. I think I will have Internet access at my host sisters house so I will try to continue to blog and keep in touch. Also, sorry about any typos, I typed this on my iPad.

Posted by kwood24 12:49 Archived in Russia Comments (6)

Safe in Russia!

I have safely arrived in Kirov! It was a pretty crazy journey to get here. First, I went to orientation in Long Island University in New York. I got a lot of information from past participants from last year. It was really interesting to hear about their trip and what sort of advice they had for our group. After two days of orientation, the 15 of us got on a plane headed to Moscow! There were some really bad storms in NY so our flight sat on the runway for around 4 hours before they let us deplane. Our flight was supposed to take off at 4:10 PM and we ended up leaving at around 2 AM the next day. There were other problems other than weather and some luggage got misplaced, but we eventually got there! After arriving in Moscow at 8 PM (we were supposed to arrive at 10 AM and tour around the city all day) we had to sprint to the train station in order to make the 10 PM train to Kirov. We took a train from Moscow to the subway, then sprinted to the station that our train was departing from. There were too many flights of stairs that we had to lug our stuff over to count! We were really lucky that our train was running late because we wouldn't have made it otherwise. 

It was a huge relief to make our train even though we had to give up a day in Moscow. We won't have to be behind on our language learning at all! After spending 14 hours on the final leg to Kirov, we finally arrived! We were greeted by our two teachers for the summer, Larisa and Anna. They are very nice and friendly. They took us back to the youth hostel were we will be staying  for the next 3 weeks. The rooms are actually quite nice and the location is prefect and right downtown.  

Once we got to the hostel and had lunch, Anna told us about all of the activities that we are going to be doing this summer. We are going to a ballet, historic Slobodskoy, matryoshka factory, summer camps for little kids, and lots of other fun adventures! We are going to be staying at the hostel for 3 weeks, then living with our host families for the last two weeks. A lovely surprise was that we are going to Kazan for three days at the end of our trip! From there we will all go to Moscow then back home. 

Today was the first language lesson with out teachers, Anna and Larisa. It was mostly just the alphabet and simple greetings, so a lot of review for me. I still learned a couple new phrases! School goes from around 9 to 1 with two hours with each teacher. 

At lunch, we met the Russian students that are going to be studying at the school at the same time as us in the English program. They are all very pleasant and it was fun to get to know them. We eat all of our meals together and have time after activities to socialize and get to know each other. There will be three groups that come throughout our time in the hostel and each group stays for one week. 

We also go on excursions every evening. Today we went on a bus tour of Kirov and saw lots of historical landmarks. It was really neat to see and I saw lots of places I had never explored before. 

Overall, this trip has been pretty exhausting, but worth it! I am really looking forward to the coming weeks at school and meeting my host family!

Posted by kwood24 12:02 Archived in Russia Comments (8)

Leaving tomorrow!

I'm about to leave! My flight takes off at 8:45 tomorrow morning for LaGuardia where I will be spending two days at a Pre-Departure Orientation. It's a chance to meet the other people I am going to Russia with, prepare for culture shock, and reminders to stay safe. I have been packing like crazy for the last week and saying good-bye to friends and family. I think I have everything I need packed and my suitcase weighs about the airline limit. It's going to be hard to make it through Moscow, but I'll manage!

Posted by kwood24 16:59 Comments (8)

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