My first semester in Saint Petersburg had many ups and downs. It is an opportunity I will forever be grateful for, but it was honestly a rough semester. Originally, I had not planned on coming home between semesters; however, I decided it was best for my mental health to do so. This was an amazing decision. Being home gave my brain the mental “reset” it needed to prepare for my second semester in Saint Petersburg. I was able to spend lots of quality time with family and friends, which was much-needed after my time in Russia. Sometimes, you need a break — and that’s okay. Homesickness and struggling is to be expected when abroad, so in hindsight I don’t feel bad for going home over Christmas break. When I made the decision to do so, however, I felt like a complete and total failure. Now I am back in Petersburg and doing well, so my time here has obviously not been a failure. Sometimes, it’s all about perspective.
In all of the shocking and alarming news of this past year, one thing that really stuck out to me was an announcement about climate change. According to UN scientists, we only have about 12 years before we can no longer stop or control the effects of climate change. What’s even more shocking about this is that it was only in the news for maybe a week before people stopped talking about it. This is serious. We are on course to destroy our planet beyond repair and we barely have a decade to fix it. It may feel like this is too overwhelming to deal with on a personal level, and like it’s too far out of your control, but there are things you can do that can make a difference no matter how small they are.
Even though larger entities such as corporations, governments, etc. contribute a majority of the emissions causing climate change, it is the lifestyle of consumers and everyday people that allow these entities to continue their practice and keep the cycle going.
Here are some things that you can do to live a more sustainable lifestyle and prove that it is possible.
- Vote in officials that believe in and care about climate change.
- Recycle- Not just paper, bottles, boxes, but look into how you can recycle things like batteries, crayons, and cell phones
- Cut down on use of or completely cut out use of single use plastics- buy reusable bags for groceries, bring a washable container for your lunch, buy reusable straws, take a reusable cup to starbucks
- Limit meat and dairy consumption
- Plant trees
- Walk, bike, take public transportation, carpool
- Petition companies to change their practices/ Don’t buy from companies with unsustainable practices
- Make your own household cleaners
This is just a small example of little things you can do to make a difference. It may not seem like much, but if enough people made these changes, we could see a significant change.
I have been preparing all semester to study abroad at the University of Hertfordshire in England this Spring but it didn’t feel real to me until my Pre-Departure Orientation in October. What is pre-departure orientation you ask? Well it is a ton of information preparing students to study abroad crammed into 2.5 straight hours. Sounds a little intense right?
I, however, found this meeting to be so interesting and informational and I loved every second of it. I have been doing so much research on my own this semester to prepare myself that some of the information wasn’t new to me, but it was nice to hear the things I found repeated by someone with first-hand knowledge of the area I’m traveling to.
Some things were new to me, and I thought I’d share them here for any other students looking to study abroad.
- studentuniverse.com is the best site to find affordable international flights
- You can find an affordable converter/adapter combo for your electronics on amazon. This is really important for charging laptops or other things that use a lot of electricity- you don’t want to ruin it or take out the electricity in your building.
- maps.me lets you download maps for when you’re away from wifi and get lost- which is more likely to happen than you may think
- If you can, talk to students from the university you are going to or other students on your home campus that have been there. There were a couple University of Hertfordshire exchange students at the orientation that I was able to talk to and it was so nice to hear first hand what I could expect from the University. I have also been in contact with OU students since the orientation that have been to UH and they have given me tips that you can’t necessarily find on pinterest blogs or google.
I’ll try to update this if I remember more tips, but these were the most useful to me and I hope they will be for any other students wanting to study abroad!
This semester, I tried for the third time to participate in OU Cousins. I made sure to sign up on time this year, but was unable to participate in the official matching ceremony because of class conflicts. Because there were a disproportionate number of international students to OU students, this left me unmatched and without a cousin once again. However, this did not deter me from getting involved in the group. Even though I didn’t have an OU Cousin of my own, I was still able to attend the OU Cousins Thanksgiving dinner. My sister and I went together and we sat with a couple other OU students that hadn’t gotten matched as well as an exchange student Sarah, who was from Malaysia and wasn’t able to attend with her own cousin. Before we ate, we watched a quick video that gave a more accurate depiction of the history of Thanksgiving, which I think is extremely important. Of course I have nothing against the idea of Thanksgiving being a time where family and friends come together and spend time reflecting on what they are thankful for, but I think it’s important to also recognize how glossed over some aspects of US history can be. The food was delicious, we had a traditional meal of Turkey, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pie, etc. It was so nice to share such a heartwarming occasion with new friends and talk about what traditions each of us have this time of year and how important it is to take the time to remember what we are thankful for.
Because I love the movie Coco so much, I decided to go to OU’s Day of the Dead festival at the Lloyd Noble Center. The experience I had was very similar to the feeling I get when watching the film. There was an aura of community and family at the festival. There were people from different walks of life that were able to come together and celebrate family past and present. In such divisive times, I think it’s so important to hold on to moments like this when people are able to come together with a common purpose.
The festival itself was so much fun. There was live music, rides, and amazing food. I waited an hour for street tacos, but they were the best darn tacos I have ever eaten. I don’t regret a thing. There were booths selling a multitude of things, but one of my favorites was a booth selling skull keychains made of recycled records. Most important though was the ofrenda. I loved that they had a place for photos of loved ones lost so that the community could come together and support each other during this holiday.
One of the best experiences I have had here in Russia has been going to see Eugene Onegin at the Marinskii Theater here in Saint Petersburg. Eugene Onegin is an over 4-hour long opera by Tchaikovsky based on the novel in verse by Pushkin. The Marinskii Theater is absolutely gorgeous and the opera was beautiful.
One thing I have noticed about living abroad is that small negative experiences affect you far more than they would at home. The first night I was here in Saint Petersburg, one such experience happened. I went to the grocery store next to my apartment to stock my pantry. Everything went well and my Russian was far more functional than I expected it to be. However, when I went to check out, the experience got much worse. In Russia, plastic bags are not free and you have to buy bags to use when buying groceries. This is the same in France and Spain, so I did not expect to have any problems. I picked up the bags I wanted and placed them with my groceries, exchanged niceties with the woman scanning my groceries, and waited. When she got to the bags, she said something in rapid-fire Russian that I did not quite understand. I understood enough to know that there was some sort of problem with the bags, so I got more and placed them on the counter. This did not solve the problem, and she raised her voice angrily and said something about the bags I yet again did not understand. I asked her to repeat herself a bit more slowly and she made a snide comment about stupid foreigners not understanding Russian. Luckily, at this point, one of the store’s security guards had noticed the cashier’s anger and come over to help. I asked her what the problem was and she explained, in slow Russian that I could understand, that I was not allowed to purchase the large plastic bags, as the cashier did not think I had enough groceries to warrant buying 2 large ones. Instead, she explained, I should buy 4 small bags. I was baffled that the cashier would have gotten that upset over something so small, and by the apologetic manner of the security guard, she was also confused by the clerk’s anger. After this experience, it took me a week to go back to that grocery store. Every time since has gone perfectly well, but that first negative interaction really affected me.
Looking back, one of my favorite experiences so far here in Saint Petersburg was being stuck in an elevator. I decided to rent an apartment here instead of staying at the dorms, and I’ve appreciated myself more than I can express for making that decision. I love the independence of living alone in a city as wonderful as Petersburg. One of the many reasons I appreciate having an apartment here is that I have been able to host several верчеринки, small get-togethers, at my apartment. This has allowed me to really get to know other students here. After one of these nights, I was walking my guests out and we took the elevator down. My apartment is on the 18th floor, so stairs are not really an option. The elevator is made for 2-3 people, max, and we fit 5 of us in it. We got down to the second floor when the elevator stopped between the first and second floors. We could open the door a little bit, but not enough to get out. It was sometime between 1 and 2 am, so there was no one in the lobby of my apartment complex. I ended up having to call the Russian equivalent of 911 and the fire department came and got us out of the elevator. The 5 of us were crammed in there for about 45 minutes. We really got to know each other and have had similar gatherings several times since then.