The wind whips around the edges of my hair as I shiver in the January cold, wrapping my coat more tightly around myself. After spending my holidays back home in the warmth of the South American summer, arriving in Boston to visit my boyfriend and friends is a frosty reminder of the frigid weeks I will soon experience. My term abroad in Saint Petersburg, Russia, draws ever closer, and the recent orders of warm gloves and thick socks in my Amazon order history reflect this. I spend my time pondering how I will go about successfully squeezing my many coats and too few shoes in my suitcases, which are already stuffed to the brim. I have never been a particularly successful packer.
Last year I spent a balmy summer in the seaside city, studying during the day ensconced in the gentle pastel blue of Saint Petersburg State University’s Smolny campus and exploring the cobbled streets of the historic city in the evenings. I learned all manner of things not included in the syllabus of Russian language courses I had previously taken, such as that the word “shawarma” is pronounced differently in Saint Petersburg and in Moscow. I admired the gilded shops on Nevsky Prospect, (barely) endured the loss of my national team to Germany during the Confederations Cup, and willed myself to sleep despite the sun only setting around 1-2 am, due to the summer “White Nights” phenomenon. I returned to Georgetown’s campus with a suitcase full of Russian detective novels and a stubborn determination to return.
My upcoming semester promises to be packed with excitement and rich learning opportunities: the iconic celebration of Maslenitsa (look up “Russia Pancake Week”) and March presidential elections are two such events I am fortunate to soon observe in person. This time around, I am aware of some of the idiosyncrasies of life in the city, such as the need to buy bottled water with a frequency bordering on obsession as drinking the tap water is discouraged, and the acceptance that the tips of my toes may be perenially damp due to the sudden, drenching rains (rain boots do not seem to be part of a local’s shoe collection).
Tomorrow I embark upon what can only be described as a particularly arduous series of flights to Saint Petersburg, during which I look forward to exploring the unique delicacies that airplane food has to offer. I will undoubtedly arrive at the daunting entrance to Russian immigration looking extraordinarily disheveled. Nonetheless, despite this airborne odessy, I am ecstatic to be returning to this beautiful city, now enveloped in snow. Soon I will face my first big challenge: the infamous Russian winter…
Let’s see how it goes!