Folk Music Concert
2015 has been very kind to me as I was recently accepted into a competitive Master’s program at the University of Montana in Missoula. To celebrate, a friend from the dormitory took me and some friends to a Russian folk music concert. I have never seen such a friendly and joyous crowd of people. The band that played is a local folk group, RealRoadь. The concert was held in a small, nautical themed bar and held about 100 people or so. The first half of the concert was just music. The band members each played a variety of instruments. From small kazoo-like horns to bagpipes, from bass guitars to the piano, from a drum set to a hang drum; they were each exceptionally skilled and created very harmonious music together.
I would consider the second half of the show to be one of the most interesting and fun things I have ever done in my life. The members of the band came down onto the floor, and taught the crowd a specific Russian folk dance. The entire bar would learn the dance, and dance together: men would stay in one space, while women switched partners every verse. There were dancers of every skill level. Some could be professional dancers, others (like me) had two left feet and had a very hard time dancing. The most amazing thing is that nobody cared. If you messed up, you both laughed about it. This is the side of Russia that you never get to see from the outside.
On Tuesdays, I go to School N106 on Serdobolskaya Street and teach conversational and grammatical English to 12-16 year old Russian students. I have always been fond of teaching, and this has been one of the most rewarding experiences here in Saint Petersburg. The students I teach are extremely intelligent and very interested in American culture and my own interests. They often ask me what kind of music I am into, what kind of subjects I like to learn about, and what kind of things are popular in the United States. For about an hour and a half, I converse with these students on a number of topics: music, animals, pets, sports, movies, books, school, family, food, etc. On Thursdays, I go to the same school and teach English to a group of Russian teachers. The conversations are more sophisticated and complex. We talk about things like the Russian and American educationional systems, political situations, cultural perspectives, travel conversation and vocabulary, and laws and customs in both countries. In return for helping with English mastery, they help me with my Russian. Following the lesson is another hour for tea and bread, which involves casual conversation. Again, this is a truly rewarding experience that I suggest everyone try to do wherever they go abroad.
Another extremely fun cultural excursion that everyone should attend if they go to Saint Petersburg is a CKA game. CKA is the Saint Petersburg hockey team, and if you are not used to team spirit and insane chanting, it can be a very surreal (and very cool) experience. The game was against a Latvian team, RIGA. Considering all but 20 seats were CKA fans, it is probably a good thing CKA won.
On each seat were hard sheets of paper with CKA in bright red letters on it, which could be folded into a fan and slapped to make a loud “clap.” There was also an entire section of “professional” fans, complete with two large bass drums. Every time the puck was close to RIGA’s goal, the entire crowd started chanting CKA in unison with the drummers.
The last item is the English Club which is held every Thursday night at a time-café. This is a café where you pay for the time you stay, but all tea, coffee, and cookies are free of charge. About 20 people show up, ranging from Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Finnish, Swedish, and of course, Russian students. For about half an hour, the club plays games designed to get to know each other. This always results in many laughs, some good-hearted embarrassment, and gaining new friends. After these games, a movie is shown, which is then discussed. Sometimes these are on topics like language barriers, love, death, friendship, or life itself. To wrap up the night, the club plays another game and disperses.
Why Study Abroad
The first month here has been very wild. It has been full of learning opportunities and realizations. If you want to go somewhere where there is no language barrier, do not come to Saint Petersburg. If you want to go somewhere easy, do not come to Saint Petersburg.
However, if you want to go somewhere that will force you to grow as a person, emotionally and mentally, come to Saint Petersburg. If you want to go somewhere that is full of history, culture, life, and love, come to Saint Petersburg. If you want to step outside of your comfort zone and really find out who you are, come to Saint Petersburg. Saint Petersburg will change you, like it has changed me. I can honestly say that living here and experiencing the “Venice of the North” has made me into a more honest, strong, kind, and capable person. If you let it, this city will change you too.