On arrival at Pulkovo airport, St. Petersburg, I expected an international environment in which the majority would naturally speak English. Needless to say, I was ignorant for believing in the universality of the English language. Minutes after wandering around the central shopping area of the airport my Russian had already been put to the test multiple times. I failed every time without question. The lack of sleep, the speed and obscurity of native Russian speakers, rubles, low water pressure, and the Metro station at rush hour had quickly left me in a slight culture shock, which would linger for the following days. Rubles are still quite the mystery to me, but I’m beginning to love St. Petersburg
Perhaps the core of an experience is the lack of planning and knowledge. To delve into a new culture is to take public transportation and constantly miss and forget the names of the destinations, to purchase food that one might not enjoy, to walk around for hours without reason but that of familiarizing, and to be repeatedly confused when speaking to strangers who only speak louder when you don’t understand. When looking back to these last three weeks the only thing I can do is smile and look forward to future weeks.
As intern at the Netherlands Institute I continuously meet new people with their own interests and ambitions, and found that the institute is more than “just” an institute. It’s a stronghold for knowledge in every meaning of the word that creates lasting ties and friendships. The combined support and friendliness from the employees at the Netherlands Institute along with the intriguing environment and exquisite cityscape has defined my current semester abroad. I arrived as a tourist and hope to leave as a resident. I wish to understand the heart of Russia and the lives that reside within a country quite distinct in comparison to my own. At the moment I only fear that 3 months is not enough to visit most museums, theaters, hidden bars and shops, parks and gardens and fully experience St. Petersburg, not to mention Moscow. Speaking of which, I suggest watching “Swan Lake” in the Kremlin Ballet Theater. You will not only feel like a high-class citizen, but also gain a higher appreciation for Tchaikovsky and perhaps you might even discover emotions you didn't realize you had.