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.
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.
The day before yesterday I bought a frying pan at one of the shops just off the local subway station, Yugo Zapadnaya (South West). It marked an informal start to my new life down here. I have had to rebuild my life, you see. From scratch.
I’m afraid I will be another person when I return to Norway. Just yesterday I was thinking I was going to miss life here terribly when I return. That’s why it’s important to try to make my life as similar to Norway as possible.
Up until yesterday I had almost eaten out every day here (except last Sunday, when I borrowed a frying pan that happened to be in the kitchen). It’s quite possible on a Norwegian budget, but it isn’t healthy, in the long run.
Me, in front of a giant statue of Peter I
Apropos health: Today was the first day I worked out here. I haven’t done it in about two and a half months and it felt incredibly wonderful.
Last week was the first week of studies. On Monday I had only one lecture, but on Tuesday and Wednesday I had lectures until 20 and 21. On Thursday I had lectures until 13:30.
I’m not used to having lectures run into the evening, but because I live right at the campus, it means that at least I don’t have to move much after the lectures. It helps.
In addition, lectures in the evening are only about the Russian language and I love having five lectures with it per week. Now we seem to have even more so that we get 18 ECTS in total for Russian only. It’s amazing, as it means I don’t have to take so many of the other subjects.
Right now, life in Moscow feels a bit like a mix of vacation and university. It’s a good feeling.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has a joke he likes to tell;
A man arrives at Lubyanka (KGB headquarters) saying: – I’m a spy, I want to surrender.
He is asked: – Who’s do you work for?
He answers: – I’m an American spy. – Well, then you have to go to room number 5.
He goes to room number 5: – I’m an American spy, I wish to surrender .. – Do you have weapons? – Yes. – Please go to room number 7.
He goes to room number 7: – I’m a spy, I want to surrender and have weapons. – Please go to room number 10.
He goes to room number 10: – I’m a spy, I have weapons, and I want to surrender. – Do you have communication equipment? – Yes. – Please go to room 20.
He goes to room 20: – I’m a spy, I have weapons and communication equipment, and want to surrender.
He is asked: – Do you have a mission? – Yes. – Well, go and do it. Stop disturbing people when they’re trying to work!
This is obviously an old joke from the Soviet era, but it goes right to the heart of Russia’s bureaucracy . A bureaucracy that is still very healthy and strong.
When I shared this joke with the exchange students who are here with me at MGIMO, many responded instinctively: “This is MGIMO’s international office,” they said.
Being an exchange student – or “international student”, as it is called here – at MGIMO isn’t easy. The first thing you have to do is deliver your passport to an office for them to copy. Then you must bring your passport, health insurance, negative HIV test and vaccination card to MGIMO’s International Office, where all documents are copied.
Moscow by night
Once this is done, you’re handed a contract with about ten pages that you have to sign, sign and sign again. All this takes about twenty minutes. When you come back after a day, you get a bill that you have to bring to another office to pay for your accomodation. Also, do not forget to go through a fourth office to take a photo. Images must be taken to the international office anyway, but the picture to be used on MGIMO’s access card must of course be taken by MGIMO!
Apropos admission cards: Oh my God, how wonderful it will be to receive admission cards! Both the dorms and the university have their own security guards who have nothing to do but check the identity of those who go in and out through the barrier at the entrance. At the entrance to the dormitory, it is sufficient to show an admission card issued on arrival. At the university, on the other hand, one has to show his or her passport. And it must be checked – manually – against a list. If more than three students are going through at the same time-well, you can imagine.
Back to the dorms: they’re … OK. The rooms are in a building that is obviously a survivalist from the Soviet era. But it has been refurbished inside. There are rumors on campus that these dorms are the best throughout Russia. I do not quite know what to say – at least they are minimalist. Each room is approx. 15 square meters, including the bathroom. It contains two beds – fortunately, I still live alone – cupboards, and shelves. The bathroom has a toilet and a bathtub, and that’s it. Wifi isn’t available, but fortunately I have access to Moscow’s public internet from my room.
Me, in front of a building which housed Lenin and his secretary during the soviet times.
The dorms are five minutes walk from MGIMO. It would have been nice, but MGIMO isn’t exactly centrally located. It takes five minutes by bus and twenty minutes by metro to get to the city center. Fortunately, there are several shopping malls around the local metro station, Юго-Западная (literally: Southwest), so you can get most of what you need without having to go all the way to the city center.
Nevertheless, the distance to the center means that one way or another you always have to use Russian somewhere on your way back or forth. And for someone who loves this difficult, strange, but beautiful language, the language of Pushkin and Tolstoy, which many English speakers regard as “butch,” and the Russians themselves merely refer to as “очень сложный,” very complicated, that isn’t exactly a disadvantage.
So yesterday I got tired of the internet not working on my floor, and I investigated the issue using the Russian I knew and had learned here in Tallinn.
I also learned a new word from the receptionist: уже. It means “yet”, and I used it to ask why the internet wasn’t working yet (after she’d restarted the routers), as in: Вопрос: почему интернет уже не работа? The result was a kind of long winded answer that I didn’t fully comprehend, except for the part about tomorrow. The hotel I’m staying at (Center Hotel Tallinn) is a technological marvel – you should absolutely stay there if you care about an internet connection that works half the time!
Anyway, I digress.
When I came to this city, what I knew of Russian was mostly word soup; my grammar was non-existant. Before the end of my second week, I’m able to form simple sentences with confidence and make myself understood. And along the way I’ve had great experiences and made new friends from around the globe. Here are a few images:
A small glimpse into the things I’ve seen and done at Tallin Summer School 2015.
All in all, if you were to ask me; “Should I go to Tallinn Summer School”, my answer would most definitely be “yes!”