Checking in After One Week in Russia

St. Isaac's Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

This will be a bit different from my typical blog post as I wanted to do a brief update now that I have been in Russia for a week but you haven’t seen any posts since before I reached Estonia.

I have a lot to share about Estonia and those posts are coming very soon – I will try to spread them out over the next week or so. I have also been working with a designer for a re-design of my web site, so it may experience some downtime but I promise it will be worth it.

Now, a little more about Russia and St. Petersburg so far.

I arrived in Russia on Monday, September 12, after a six hour bus ride from Tallinn. Nearly two hours of that was just going through immigration and customs at the border. I was quite nervous and became even more so when the border police questioned two men ahead of me for several minutes. I was afraid I had not completed my migration card correctly or that they would find a problem with my visa but, luckily, I made it right through without any questions.

I arrived in St. Petersburg having signed up for a volunteer program in which I would live with a Russian family and tutor them in English for one month.  To say the least, things have not exactly played out as I expected.  Those of you who follow me Twitter or Facebook are aware of some of the issues, but I am going to wait until later to elaborate further.

Since I have been here:


I spent a day in a Russian school observing and participating in an English class.

I figured out the St. Petersburg Metro system and bought myself a multi-use “Smart Card” for the month.

I have been eaten alive by black flies, which are apparently immune to the effects of even the strongest bug spray. With at least 7 bites on my face alone, I look like a teenager going through puberty again.

According to my Kindle, I have made it 27% through War & Peace. I swear, it goes faster reading it on a Kindle. I feel like they must have left parts out.

I broke down crying and got a big hug from a British guy I just met at the language school I am attending.

I drank a lot of red wine with my host mom.

I found the only gluten free store in St. Petersburg (possibly in all of Russia) and stocked up on some gluten free bread and cookies (which I never eat at home, but desperate times call for desperate measures).

I came down with a cold and cough and managed to buy cold medicine from the pharmacy by myself using Russian.

I accidentally bought a $5.00 bag of M&Ms after confusing the conversion rate between dollars and rubles (but it was sooooo worth it!).

I visited St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood and the Russian Museum of Ethnography and strolled along Nevsky Prospekt.

And I have gotten used to the idea of not showering every day, wearing the same socks 2 days in a row and wearing the same pair of jeans for nearly an entire week.  I feel like my Western concepts of hygiene are being thrown out the window.

Now that I have started Russian classes, I have access to wi-fi at the language school during the day, Monday through Friday, so I should be able to get back to posting more regularly. But in the meantime, if you aren’t already, please follow me on Twitter and “like” my Facebook page for real-time updates.


18 thoughts on “Checking in After One Week in Russia”

  1. Actually, there is no definitive English translation for WAR & PEACE for Kindle yet (reviews of the numerous translations are highly mixed), so I’m sure some parts were cut out. Your trip sounds amazing, Katie – keep the updates coming!

    1. Haha, good to know! Yeah, there are definitely parts where the English translation seemed a little off. But I like that I just keep “flipping” pages with the Kindle, it makes it feel like I’m making more progress. 🙂

  2. I look forward to the updates on Estonia. It was the first country I ever visited back in 1995. I am sure things have changed a lot but I’ve done a lot of writing and soul searching as a result of that trip many years ago. I look forward to seeing how things look now and what your impression of the country was.

  3. I love that you accidentally bought a $5 bag of M&M! Im sorry you are having alot of ups & downs but I guess welcome to travel all over again… its how it goes. It looks like though you are doing a good job at settling in. Im sure the next few weeks will get better.

  4. Katie,
    After a weekend of being sick and not running my 20 miler and a crazy schedule day with my students, it is nice to read your blog. I know you have many challenges, but good or bad, many of us are living through you and your travels, challenges, unexpected surprises, etc. It is good to hear that despite the hardships you are staying positive. I love the stories, keep them coming! You are amazing, can’t wait for the next update!

    1. Hi Mindy! Sorry to hear you’ve been sick and had to bail on the 20 miler. You are so well trained though, I am sure you will do great! I’ll be thinking of you!

      Thanks for reading and for all your supportive words – it means so much!

  5. Hey! My name is Taryn and I’m Maureen’s daughter. My email address is if you need any advice or just want to complain to somebody who’s been to Russia. 🙂 I’d be totally happy to help if I can. Also, I seem to recall seeing somewhere that you were thinking of going to Ekaterinburg – I can recommend a little hostel there owned by a really friendly young Russian woman who speaks English if you need a place to stay.

    Also, if you’re looking for English speakers in Piter, I might be able to point you in the right direction. Good luck! 🙂 Russia is a wonderful place, but it can be frustrating sometimes.

    1. Hi Taryn! Thanks for the comment and I will definitely shoot you an email! Just to be clear, there is a lot I love about St Pete from what I’ve seen of it and I have studied Russian language and history and just started language classes. As I mentioned to your mom, it’s really just the volunteering and homestay experience that has been sour.

      I would love to pick your brain on other places to check out. I was already planning to spend time taking the Trans Siberian (will definitely check out that hostel in Ekaterinburg!) and now I am looking at some other places to visit since I have decided not to do the same volunteer program in Moscow. Will be in touch soon!

  6. Good to see that you’re settling in, even if your homestay hasn’t been what you expected. It certainly seems like you’re out and about exploring and discovering St. Petersburg. Totally jealous and yes, home-style hygiene just doesn’t happen while traveling. Embrace it! 🙂

    1. I don’t think I’d mind the hygiene as much if I wasn’t going to class every day with people who live in normal apartments where they can showed every day and wash clothes when they need to. I don’t mind feeling disgusting when I’m on my own. 🙂

      I’ve only managed to get into St. Pete twice, it’s tough because I live so far out. Hoping I will get to explore more, it seems like an awesome city.

  7. Feel free to ask my daughter for advice. She’s been to Russia 4 times, interned at the Hermitage, her Russian is pretty good, she’s travelled on the Trans Siberian by herself. Socks at two days made me giggle, how about two weeks, lol. You can ask her anything, maybe go to her latest blog At Home Among Strangers, if you like. She loves Russia and wants others to as well, but realizes it’s quite a culture shock.

    1. Thanks Maureen, I appreciate it! Don’t get me wrong, I love St. Petersburg itself, from what I have seen of it. I have just ended up in a homestay and volunteering situation that has not been at all what I expected and I am so far out of the city that it has been tough to really experience much.

      1. Oh no,that’s a shame you are so far out, makes things difficult for sure. I was in “Leningrad” in 1975, but with my parents. I know it’s changed a lot but it has always had a real beauty to it. Hang in there! :-))

  8. I’m glad to see you’re able to post on your blog again. The details you’ve mentioned about your living situation sound awful but it’ll only make you stronger…or some crap like that, right? Hang in there, and email me if you ever need to vent!

    1. Thanks Ali! I soooo appreciate you and Andy’s support! And yes, hopefully this will all make me stronger. 🙂

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