Let us start at the beginning. I remember arriving in St. Petersburg so clearly, sitting on the airplane as it landed at Pulkovo Airport and thinking, “Blin, what have I gotten myself into!” After that, I successfully went through customs and accomplished my first language snafu as I told the officer that I spoke “American.” Classic. The next step involved a group of us being piled into a van to be dropped off at our respective host families. As we sped through city absorbing the sites around us, I remember looking at an intimidating statue of Lenin and thinking: “You idiot, you can’t speak Russian, what were you thinking!” Oh, how palatable the anxiety and self-loathing was! However, from there the only place to go was up (thankfully).
I was the first to be dropped off on a street corner. After waiting for 15 minutes in my state of panic, I saw a short vision of bright red hair approach me. It was love at first sight, seeing my brilliant host mom Raisa. She led me by the hand into her forth floor apartment, tucked me into bed, and told me to rest before waking me up for a late meal of blini. She was such an important person in my life during that six-week adventure. The next morning, after a few false starts due to the never-ending sunshine blaring through my window and destroying my circadian rhythm, my host mom my took my hand and walked with me to my first day of classes.
Since this was a study-abroad trip and not a vacation, classes were a crucial part of my time in the Northern Capital. Each day we would alternate between cultural and grammatical classes—all in Russian, all the time. While the classes demanded a lot of work, especially since they involved sitting for hours at a time drilling new vocabulary and grammar into our brains, I enjoyed them immensely. The classes taught me a great deal. Also they helped boost my confidence in my language skills as well.
In my free time, I teamed up with two friends and we would conquer new parts of the city daily. I loved discovering new restaurants and cafes, while eating my weight in deliciously rich food. Sightseeing was also a popular pastime. It often felt surreal to walk along the Neva River and see iconic buildings like the Winter Palace or St. Isaacs Cathedral in the distance. When I found myself alone, I would ride the metro for hours; people watching, reading, and soaking in everything around me.
Some of my favorite parts of the trip were our excursions with W&M Professor Fred Corney, our shepherd and valiant leader on the trip. By far the best excursion for me was to the Peterhof Palace, the summer residence of the Russian emperors. The golden wonder and home of fountains galore treated us to jaw dropping sights and a truly magical experience. Not only was the tour informative, but I also felt like a child again as I raced through water sprays and explored the underground secrets of the palace.
I also really enjoyed the weeklong trip to Moscow and our stay at Moscow State University (MGU). However, one week was not nearly enough to see that magical and vibrant city. While we managed to hit the major sites, I cannot help but wish we had had more time! There is nothing that I want more than to travel back someday and pick up where I left off.
In conclusion, the William and Mary summer study abroad trip to St. Petersburg was the most fantastic and brilliant experience of my life. The six-week crash course on Russian culture helped me grow so much as a person in a remarkably short period of time. I am grateful for all the opportunities this trip provided for me. I cannot wait to return to the Russian wonderland!