“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”– Cesare Pavese
Sharing weekly schedules for the work and school week has become a tradition at my home-stay since my arrival. So, last week, when I overslept (through about three alarms, I should add), my хойязка was at my door half an hour before I needed to leave for class, calling my name in hopes that I would manage to have some bit of breakfast before running out to catch the first bus toward the institute.
Later that day, after struggling through a few hours of Russian language class half-asleep, I was thinking about what lessons could be gained from that morning’s struggles. In Russia, I’ve found that I need at least 30 percent more sleep each night in order to function at the most basic level, which really just means getting through classes and walking home from the institute. In complete honesty, I was very much a zombie during my first two weeks here. I’ve only now, finally, come to terms with how difficult living abroad can be on your body, your mind and your spirit. Everything about my accommodations here is foreign. In Russia, the food is different, the beds are different, I’m walking everywhere, and I even spend more time in class this summer than I ever have during the school year at Brown. And, on top of all of this, my head is constantly clouded by attempts to communicate only through Russian language.
I’ve slowly discovered the inevitability of reminiscing about family and friends you’ve left behind in the US. After a particularly difficult day, I’ve even returned to my room and wanted nothing more in the world than to return to New Jersey and, very literally, hide in my bedroom. In my opinion, studying abroad is difficult because it combines foreign travel — a taxing endeavor in itself — with schoolwork and language acquisition. My Russian classes at Brown could never compare in difficulty to the language course I am taking in St. Petersburg. This being said, it’s important to add that I can already sense that this summer has been one of the most formative I’ve experienced in my life. It’s true that sometimes I wake up in the morning and regret that I’m not in my own room, miss my family and wish I could see my friends. But I’m also convinced that when I return to my life in Jersey, I’ll be yearning for all that St. Petersburg now represents for me: difficulty and adventure, light and depth, reticence and growth — the various contradictions of my Russian life.