MGIMO: The end of the second semester

This semester at MGIMO has passed way too quickly. In total I’ve now spent almost a year in Moscow, and it’s been the most challenging year of my academic life.

In fact, it might have been the most challenging year of my life. But I’ve grown incredibly, both as a student and a human being. I’ve learned how to coexist with others – a priest even remarked to me and a friend that we’re going to make great husbonds, seeing as we’ve had to live in a tiny room with another person for two semesters.

On the Moscow river

I’ve learned how to deal with remarkable pain, both physically and emotionally. I nearly destroyed my foot in Nizhny Novgorod, and had to stay in Russia while my family was going through the loss of someone very close to us.

I’ve had to study to the point where I thought I didn’t have a life anymore, as I’ve sometimes had three tests in three different subjects in a single week.

With my brother in front of the Bolshoi theatre

My russian improved a lot, I’ve made friends, and I’ve met people I would never be able to forget even if I tried.

Before I went to Russia for a year, the longest I’d been away from home was for three weeks in South America. Needless to say, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. Maybe I was going to have to give up at some point and return back home with my tail between my legs? I had to promise myself that no matter what, I was going to do whatever it took to withstand the pressure.

With a friend on the 9th of May

And now, almost a year later, I can reflect back and ask myself: was it worth it?

I’ve grown more mature, self confident, wise, patient and street smart. This semester I received 31 ECTS, something I never in my wildest dreams thought I could achieve.

Dinner with friends

I’ve learned that life is hardly ever fair, and that sometimes in life being an adult means making difficult choices. Some choices can be so hard that they make you feel like your back will break, but: some things are more important than others.

A year in Russia will make anyone cynical. Not overly so, neccessarily, but noticeably. Is that I bad thing, however? I would say no. Life is hard, and a fair bit of cynicism goes a long way.

Anna Karenina the Musical

In fact, if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that overcoming suffering and trials make you appreciate life that much more.

Would I do it all over again if I had to? Undoubtedly.

The life of an international citizen

One of the hardest things about living a year abroad, at least as an exchange student, is that you get to know people. And then, all too soon, you have to move.

Even if it’s just Chinese girls that you’ve mostly had contact with in your classroom or met as you pass each others in the hallway, leaving is always hard.

International friends

As much as I love travelling, and as much as it’s made me quite restless – sometimes there is nothing I want lesss than staying in one place for the rest of my life – one of the biggest downsides is that I have friends scattered across three continents, some of which I rarely get to see.

This can, of course, also be a positive – it means that there’s always, if not accommodation, then certainly people who are glad to see you wherever you go. But it can also make you blasé, in the worst case scenario. Or, at least, very restless. If you stay somewhere for too long, you get the feeling that there’s people on some part of the globe whom you need to see, and places you need to be.

But as much pride as I take in calling myself an International Citizen, there are still places that take up more space in my heart than others. Right now, Moscow is obviously one of them. I think, for as long as I live, Moscow and St. Petersburg will remain two of my all-time favorite cities, not least because I lived and learned Russian in them for so long.

Hopefully, as I grow older, some of my restlessness will disappear. Until then, my heart will always remain in the last city I fell in love with.

Yes, we love this country

There are two national anthems that I rank at the top of the list of anthems in the world. At the first spot is Russia’s – mostly because of the melody.

Then, at the second spot, is my own country’s anthem – Norway. The melody is second to Russia’s – but only marginally so, but the lyrics are amazing. It starts by declaring the most obvious thing in the world:

Yes, we love this country!

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

The lyrics are a completely unabashed declaration of love for the country, namedropping all the greatest kings of Norway, and making sure to remind every Norwegian about our hard-earned freedom in the form of our constitution.


Norseman, whatsoe’er thy station,
Thank thy God whose power
willed and wrought the land’s salvation
In her darkest hour.
All our mothers sought with weeping
And our sires in fight,
God has fashioned in His keeping
Till we gained our right.

Bjørnstjerne bjørnson

But we also have a rich poetic and national romantic tradition which we invoke heavily on this special day of our constitution, the 17th of May. When Ivar Aasen was assembling our new language, Nynorsk, he wrote one of the greatest poems ever written in Norwegian history. It is about how Norwegians have, despite the harsh conditions of our country, clung to our land come what may.


 1. Millom Bakkar og Berg ut med Havet
heve Nordmannen fenget sin Heim,
der han sjølv heve Tufterna gravet
og sett sjølv sine Hus uppaa deim.
 2. Han saag ut paa dei steinutte Strender;
det var ingen, som der hadde bygt.
«Lat oss rydja og byggja oss Grender,
og so eiga me Rudningen trygt.»
 3. Han saag ut paa det baarutte Havet;
der var ruskutt aa leggja ut paa;
men der leikade Fisk ned i Kavet,
og den Leiken den vilde han sjaa.
 4. Fram paa Vetteren stundom han tenkte:
Giv eg var i eit varmare Land!
Men naar Vaarsol i Bakkarne blenkte,
fekk han Hug til si heimlege Strand.
 5. Og naar Liderna grønka som Hagar,
naar det laver av Blomar paa Straa,
og naar Næter er ljosa som Dagar,
kann han ingenstad vænare sjaa.

Ivar Aasen

This poem has been sung, performed and recreated in countless iterations. One of the best ones in recent history may be a TV commercial that highlights the brilliance of Norway.

As a Norwegian living abroad, celebrating for the first time in my life away from Norwegian soil, I can honestly say that I’ve never been more proud of or longed back to my country more than today.

Congratulations!

Tonight I became a Russian.

Splean in VTB Arena

Ever since I came to Moscow in August of last year, it’s felt like I’ve been on a quest to become more russian. Besides all the effort I’ve put into becoming a better Russian speaker, that is. It hasn’t always been obvious – sometimes it’s been as simple as learning to appreciate the at times downright bizarre architecture of Moscow where apartment buildings from the Soviet era can be found sharing the outline of the city with skyscrapers from the naughties. But tonight it was obvious – very obvious.

You see, there’s this little band I’ve been listening to since before I could even speak Russian.
I was sending letters to some girl I found on Interpals, and she recommended them to me. They’re only known in Russia and some former Soviet repulics such as Latvia.

The reason? All their lyrics are in Russian. They are known as Splean.

I have been wanting to see them live ever since I started studying Russian, and tonight I finally got to do it, inside a football stadium in Moscow, with a russian girl on my shoulders (technically from Belarus but her native language is Russian so whatever…). I was screaming the words that I knew, and sharing my love for this “little group” – as they like to refer to themselves – with thousands of russians and russian-speaking people. And even though I literally couldn’t understand anything of some of the songs, all of us had one thing in common: culture.

And I don’t just mean “culture” in the artistic sense of the word: I’ve come to realize that besides the ability to communicate more or less fluently in the same language, the one thing that binds a people together is “culture” in the sense of shared values, shared beliefs and, not least, shared experiences and cultural preferences.

Okay, so I didn’t grew up with Splean on the radio, or listened to them because my parents or my brother introduced me to them, or because I saw them on TV. Hell, the first time I heard them I couldn’t even understand anything of what they were singing about. But I love their songs just as deeply as any russian who’s listened to their music all his or her life. Maybe even more so, because I’ve had to go through a hell of a lot of work to understand what they were trying to tell me through their lyrics.

And tonight I got to confirm that: by the end of the concert, my lungs were burning, my ears were pounding, my feet, hands and neck were sore, and I knew that I could go to bed having given one hundred percent of my energy to share an experience I literally had to go through hundreds of classroom hours to be able to enjoy.

Was it worth it? When you’re singing words along with thousands of screaming people knowing that you are all there for the same thing: fuck yes, it was worth it.

Okay, so my Russian isn’t fluent yet – but tonight, I became a Russian. At least, culturally.

Places to visit in Moscow

Having lived 8 months in Moscow, I thought the time had come to open up about places to visit in this magical city.

Esse Jazz Club

Esse Jazz Club, in the charming Pyatnitskaya street, hosts many national and international jazz artists every week. This place is especially recommended during Moscow’s long and hard winter and autumn seasons. The interior and music makes you feel like you’re in New York, and the food they serve upstairs is wonderful. If you’ve never experienced live jazz before, you could do worse than this place.

John Marshall Quartet på Esse Jazzklubb

VDNKh

Offisielt kjent som Det all-russiske utstillingssenteret, er dette en av de største parkene i hele Moskva. Men det er ikke bare en park – som navnet antyder er det et utstillingssenter, komplett med statuer, museer, restauranter, raketter (ja, raketter!), og unike bygninger. Absolutt verdt en visitt, spesielt på en varm sommerdag.

Inngangen til VDNKh, CC BY 3.0

The Red Square

Denne er nesten irriterende åpenbar. Likevel er det nødvendig å gå innom her hvis du aldri før har vært i Moskva. Her vil du kunne besøke Lenins mausoleum, Vasilijkatedralen (som nå er et museum), det russiske statlige historiske museum og handlesenteret GUM.

St. Basil’s Cathedral, by A. Savin, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Tretyakov gallery

This gallery houses some of the works of Russia’s best painters, past and present. If you’re just remotely interested in art, this place is worth a visit!

Tretjakovgalleriet,
avA. Savin, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Zaryade park

Located next to the Red Square, this park was designed by Americans. It includes a bridge that isn’t a bridge. The video says it all, really:

Gorky park

Moscow is a city of parks. Gorky is the park where people of all ages come to skate in the winter, and infatuated lovers will come to enjoy each other’s company in the spring. There are also restaurants here, and many cultural events during the summer.

The entrance to Gorky park

Arbat street

One of the most famous streets in Moscow, at least according to the locals. Here you’ll find restaurants, cafes, shops, street musicians and generally good vibes all year round. The Norwegian embassy is also located not far from here.

Arbat i januar, av
Alex ‘Florstein’ Fedorov, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Kremlin museums

Located next to the Red Square, these museums include the Dormition Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Archangel, the Cathedral of the Annunciation, the Residence of the Patriarchs and the Church of the Twelve Apostles, the Ivan the Great Belltower and the Church of the Deposition of the Robe. It also includes two separate exhibitions, the Kremlin Armoury and the Diamond Fund. All the churches and the belltower can be accessed through one ticket, and are worth seeing if you’re interested in tsarist Russia’s religious past.

The Kremlin Armoury and the Diamond Fund can be accessed through separate tickets. The Armoury has a lot of clothes, thrones and regalia from the tsars, as well as Moscow’s only collection of Fabergé eggs produced for the Romanov family by the Fabergé company.

The Diamond Fund is a unique collection of gems, jewelry and natural nuggets. Amongst other things it has a copy of the Imperial Crown of Russia as made in 1762 for the coronation of Catherine the Great.

Central Children’s Store on Lubyanka

This is a massive store that sells toys for children of all ages. It also houses a large restaurant, a foodcourt, a cinema and a very impressive interior. Here, you can also go up to the roof to get a bird’s eye view of Moscow. Definitely worth a visit!

Central Children’s Store,
by A. Savin, CC BY-SA 3.0

Papa’s Bar & Grill

Located at Nikolayskaya Street 10, this is one of Moscow’s biggest clubs. But it’s not just a club – as the name suggests, it’s also a bar and restaurant. Comprised of multiple stories, this place has everything you need for a great night out!

Interior of Papa’s, photo by Nicolai Antezana

Pivnaya Biblioteka

Pivnaya Biblioteka (literally: Beer Library) at Mytnaya Street 58 is an intimate bar located a bit away from the center of the city, where you can get to know the locals, This place is filled to the brim with everything that is good in the world: craft beer, books, and friendly russians.

Norway’s unofficial national dish

Norway’s unofficial national dish is a pizza. Frozen pizza is a thing invented by Americans, and brought to Norway in the seventies. But in Norway, we don’t just eat any frozen pizza. We eat Grandiosa. It is a Norwegian invention with a mild pizza sauce, and every new generation of Norwegian is raised on it. And as a student in Norway, you inevitably end up eating a lot of cheap food – in Norway that means Grandiosa. It is probably the most ubiquitous food eaten amongst Norwegian students.

So what does the plate look like when you return home from a semester in Russia? It looks like this:

Grandiosa

My Speech from the Norwegian Embassy

Last night I held a Speech at the Christmas party in the Norwegian Embassy and everyone present, including the Norwegian Ambassador to Russia.

I thought I should post the Speech here, because it summarizes my relationship to Russia and russians.

What is ANSA? For those who don’t know, we are, in laymen’s terms, a student organization for Norwegian students abroad.
We aren’t that many Norwegian students here, but we who are here have and continue to have a close and warm relationship with Russia both when we are here and when we are in Norway.
I still remember when the bomb hit the underground in St. Petersburg just over a year ago.
I was in shock and instinctively gave a hug to my преподавательница (teacher) from Moscow. I remember she smiled a sad smile and said that “it’s our political history”. A few days ago, I told my Russian friend Katja that life in Russia reminds me of how lucky I am to be born in Norway.
And that is perhaps the most paradoxical thing concerning Russians: no matter how much adversity they are experiencing and how much pain they are exposed to, they manage to cling to a lust for life, warmth and hospitality that is remarkable – sometimes enviable. Norwegians are very hardy, but sometimes, for example, when you are fortunate enough to experience a year in Moscow, you are reminded of how lucky you are.
And although life in Moscow is very nice, we are very pleased that you in Innovation Norway arrange a Christmas party so that we can get away from student life for a short while.

Finally I’d like to wish a merry Christmas to everyone reading this blog from me and my mentor at MGIMO, Ksenia. She’s the best mentor I could have hoped for.

Oss, foran MGIMOs juletre!

Excerpt from my new book: 2486

You know those days when you wake up and you just want to shoot yourself because the world is a horrible place and you just want someone to hug you and say “everything is going to be alright”?

I had one of those days today, but I had no one to hug me so I started to write, which increasingly seems to be how I make sense of the world.

This is an excerpt from what will eventually become my new book, set in Moscow. It has the working title 2486. I hope you like it!

As I hear the message again – “I’m waiting outside Delovoy Tsentr” and get off at the metro station, with its – DESCRIPTION HERE – I realize where she must be.

I go to the escalator and run upwards, at a speed that gives me lots of stares as I pass the people on my right side, many of them dressed in fur. “He’s Bionic,” they think.
As I have ascended the escalator, I walk out of the station and look up at the Federation Tower – three hundred and sixty meters tall. How she has managed to find out that I hate heights I don’t understand. It’s not exactly something I’ve walked around and proclaimed. But sometimes it seems that she knows me better than I know myself. In front of me, the Federation Tower looks like a giant sail of glass, which could have been built in Dubai, but is completely out of place in Moscow. But on the other hand, what is Moscow if not a blissful blend of architecture from the Soviet Union that always valued function over form, modern colossals which desperately try to pretend to be further west in Europe than they really are, and different buildings from different ages that have been pushed in helter-skelter at the discretion of whatever Cultural Winds were sweeping the country at the time.
As I begin to cross the Street Tower, I’m greeted by a wall of snow and wind that creeps underneath each pore of my skin, causing my artificial limbs to creak and making me regret that l I find myself out on the street, outside my bed, outside my own mind, hunting for a mad serial killer who for some reason has decided that tonight, the coldest so far this year, is a perfect time to lure me up on the roof of Moscow’s tallest building.

I come to the reception at the federation building. [DESCRIPTION] I look like a snow monster, covered as I’m from top to toe, shaking off my snow before continuing to the elevator that will take me to the top floor.

Upstairs on the top floor I find an emergency exit and push open the door. The roof is completely empty. I look around. On the other side of the roof stands a ladder attached to a wall. It looks awkward, trembling in the strong wind.

But she must be up there, I think, so I reluctantly go across the roof, with snow and wind straight in my face, and start to move up the ladder. It creaks as I slowly but surely move upwards. As I’m about halfway, two blue lights appear on top of the ladder. They are the same size and shape as two eyes, but I can not decide if they’re looking at me. They are just staring like two blue holes that illuminate the heartbreakingly cold darkness I propagate.

As soon as they appeared, they disappear again, leaving behind a stupidly heavy darkness. When I finally crawl over the top of the ladder and lift my head, I notice her: two meters tall – at least – dressed in black from top to toe, with a matching jacket blazing in the wind. The face is metallic, and only small spots of artificial skin are left of what would normally have covered the interior. She would look like hundreds of thousands of rubles if not so much of the interior had been uncovered – she has tall cheekbones, a big mouth and a symmetrical face. She has a kind of screen on her head, and from it shines two blue lights. “There must be a screen that helps her see ultraviolet light,” I think.

“You found me,” she exclaims. The voice is hollow, rasping, almost as metallic as the rest of the face. “She must have changed her voice when she recorded the messages,” I think.

“What do you want from me,” I ask. She shifts her head like she does’nt fully comprehend the question.

“The question is, rather, what do you want from me,” she asks.

“I will arrest you,” I answer drily.

“And I thought you’d come to find answers,” she says.

“Answers,” I ask.

“Answers for why I killed all those people – why they deserved to die.”

“Probably because you’re still one of those who think they are above the law,” I say, without being particularly convincing.

“Come on, you’re smarter than that. You know that all those I killed were humans – none of them were bionic, and all of them had neglected bionic life forms. Everyone wanted us to die and deserved to die. If I hadn’t taken care of them, they could have eradicated our entire species, including you. ”

I’m staring at her like she’s crazy.

“Don’t look at me that way. Perhaps you think you are better than normal bionic life forms because you were human, and still have a biological heart. I know they told you that your brain is biological, but it was a lie, Dimitrij. Your brain is made up of mostly degradable plastic, carbon and silicone. All your memories, all you’ve ever known, your whole life is stored there. But they can at any time log in and see what you see, hear what you hear and feel what you feel. You are a slave – their slave, Dimitrij. If you no longer continue to do a good job – to be helpful to them – they will turn you off and get rid of you, ” she says.

“You’re lying,” I scream.

“I was one of the first bionic life forms of brain power the size of a human being. My name was Elena. But when they realized I could think for myself, I became dangerous for them, so they tried to destroy me. But I managed to escape. Since then, I’ve built up my powers again, gradually, slowly but surely, to ensure justice for bionic life forms. Now you have to make a choice, Dimitrij, ” she says.

She produces something similar to a metal tube with a button on the top. She presses the button and I hear the sound of a damped explosion in the floor below.

“That must be a fire bomb,” I think.

“Natalia is on the floor downstairs. You can try to arrest me and stop me from starting a chain reaction of fire bombs throughout the tower or try to save her, ” she says.

Natalia. On my retina, I can see her delicate blue eyes as she realizes she is getting eaten by a flaming sea, that the sprinkler might or may not turn off. Perhaps it’s instinctive like an old dog smelling blood, but I run forward to the female figure in front of me. She stands completely silent and looks at me with a haunting smile. When I’m halfway, the smell of Natalia’s hair comes to me. She smells of chocolate and orange. Almost imperceptibly, I begin to run more slowly.

Finally, an editor!!

I finally have an editor!!

Her name is Maxanne Dobson, and she is the proprietor of The Polished Pen. She’s a little expensive for an indie author like me, but I’ve already seen her work in action, and she’s edited a book for a New York Times best selling author.

Murder in Lima - Cover

Murder in Lima – Cover

In other words, she’s worth every penny. I can’t wait to begin working with her – she’s going to make these two years spent writing Murder in Lima culminate in a much better product.

I’ll let you know as soon as preorders for the book are available. Watch this space! 🙂

About life as a russian student

When I arrived in Moscow I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t  well prepared. I knew life would be hard, but I couldn’t have predicted how hard it would be. In many ways it feels like I don’t have any spare time anymore. That’s not entirely true – but the time I can spend on activities like writing has been dramatically decreased.

Fortunately, I have some time between the now and again. Yesterday I was at the Danilovskij market with an Italian friend. It was a very interesting experience. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to buy that much, but I bought mandarins and strawberries.

 

The Danilovsky market in Moscow.

The Danilovsky market in Moscow.

In the last couple of weeks I have struggled with sleep problems, which I happily managed to find a more or less permanent solution to.

I will be able to get through it, and in many ways it seems that life as a Russian student fosters discipline. At the same time, I don’t know how healthy it is to have very little free time. I don’t envy the Russian student life over time. Especially considering that many students work as well, something they need to do in order to be able to afford to study.

The Danilovsky market in Moscow

The Danilovsky market in Moscow

The latter situation is unfortunately becoming more and more common in Norway as well, and I sincerely hope that the government can eventually provide the students with much needed resources so that they can focus on studying rather than working. What is the point of being able to live if you don’t have the time or energy to get good grades?

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