This is difficult.
I knew it would be. Russian is a difficult language. I decided to study it because I wanted to be challenged, and I have not been disappointed.
Before coming here, I loved the idea of Russia. I studied the literature, watched the films, listened to the music – but nothing prepares you for the reality. Nothing is quite how I imagined it would be. Some things are better (Russians aren’t as scary as I thought!), some things worse (parts of the city are really quite run-down) – or so it seems to me, now, not really understanding the country or the people and very little of the language. According to Winston Churchill, ‘Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’. So far, I would agree.
Just over one week here completed, a success in itself. The first few days have involved a lot of Russian, various sights and museums (we must have walked miles) and some top quality people: I came to St Petersburg with Saul and Iona, and we have since joined Arthur, Alex, Nat and Kamila, all fellow students at Durham.
I am living with a lady called Svetlana, in a small flat near the centre of the city. She has grey hair, false teeth and lives in hospitable if a little unhygienic chaos. Over breakfast and dinner, she mainly talks (in Russian, of course) and I mainly listen, which suits me well – I am just happy she wants to talk to me, even though she often has to repeat herself or explain words I don’t understand. I don’t always know what I am agreeing to eat, or whether it is still in date, but on the whole the food is good.
Vova (short for Vladimir) is the sixteen-year-old host brother of Saul and is our part-time translator-cum-photographer. Although four years younger than us, he takes his responsibility of host very seriously, especially in terms of looking after members of the female species. Quote: ‘I man – I must’ (think suitcase at airport, not sitting down, enduring the rain). This attitude towards women seems to be a national trait – one that verges towards the possessive.
There are constant ups and downs, from the lessons in the morning to the intense conversations over dinner in the evenings. One moment I feel positive (yes, I can do this, I can communicate!), the next I feel as if I am blindfolded somewhere in the maze that is Russian. It is going to take a while until I feel comfortable here.
Thankfully, I have a while…