Our trip to St. Petersburg came about through my teaching practice. Our partner university is in Russia, so the program was designed so that our second practice would take place there. I found out about this trip at our first program meeting when we got to Finland. It had been a crazy, whirlwind of a week trying to get settled in a new country so I was a little taken aback when I heard about it (and not in a good way). I wasn’t even used to this whole idea that I was going to be living in Finland for the next two years and you’re sending me to Russia?? Needless to say, it was just my overwhelmed, irrational self that freaked out a bit in that moment and I soon built up lots of excitement about the trip.
I’m a planner at heart. I love looking forward and making plans about what we’re going to do, where we’re going to go and how we’re going to do it. Checking things off my to-do lists - yep, it’s the best. I realize that sometimes I do this to a fault and this was one of those times that I was forced to learn that lesson the hard way. I was ready to start checking things off my list in January (and we weren’t going until October), but some of the other people, the ones that could make things happen, did not seem to share my urgency. In fact, they had quite the opposite plans. They were going to wait until the very last minute to issue all the paperwork so we could apply for our visas. It stresses me out just thinking about it again.
So there we were, a little over a month away from our trip, applying for our visas in Helsinki. And we were prepared. From previous experience with visa applications we knew that we needed to double and triple check all the required documents so that everything would go smoothly, and we did. We’re standing there, in the application office, in front of the woman carefully checking all of our stuff, holding our breath. Then it came - ok, everything is ready, your visas will be sent to you be next week. What WHAT!! We left the office, fist pumping the air and high fiving like we had just won the lottery. We did it, we’re going to Russia!! Then reality quickly set in and I realized that we had left our passports in the office. So we casually knocked on the door and informed the lady that we had accidentally left our passports with her. Yes, and I will send them back to your next week. Hm. Now that’s going to be a problem. You see, we are leaving tomorrow on a little trip to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, England and Ireland…and I think they’re going to want us to have our passports. And just like that we were walking out, with all of our documents in hand, and told to come back when we could leave our passports. All our hard work right down the drain…at least for another month.
Obviously, because I am writing about our trip, we were successful in finally getting our visas and everything else slowly but surely fell into place. The three weeks we spent in St. Petersburg were full of all kinds of confusing, unfamiliar, and unforgettable moments, but my favorite one of all was eating with babushka. One Sunday afternoon one of the girls in my program took us to her grandparents flat outside of St. Petersburg for a traditional Russian meal. I was pretty pumped about the whole thing because I love trying local cuisine, especially when it’s home-cooked. On our bus ride there, we were warned that her grandparents didn’t speak any English. The only words I knew in Russian were hello, thank you and goodbye, which wasn’t going to get us very far. When we walked into the very small, modest flat, we were immediately greeted by a huge smile and lots of words that we didn’t understand. She ushered us into the living room which clearly had been set up with a nice table setting just for us. The conversation started slow, with introductions and basic questions you ask when meeting someone new, and my new friend translating everything we said to each other. And then came the food, and with that a flood of conversation and laughter around the table. Babushka (Russian for grandmother) led the conversation and instigated fits of laughter with everything she said. At one point she asked Scott what he did for a living and he responded, not going into detail, that he worked with computers for a U.S. company. Soooo, you’re a spy?! she asked, with a sly smile on her face. Babushka!! - my friend immediately scolded her and we all had a good laugh. By the end of our time there we had accumulated hand knit socks, a traditional Gzhel ceramic horse and one of her beloved postcards of Russian art. It was so special. I will never forget how warm and generous she was, inviting strangers into her home and spoiling us with delicious food and showering us with gifts. And I will always think of her when I am curled up on the couch in my multi-colored socks.
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