a big beautiful mess

Spurlock in Russian is ShporaZamok.

It’s 35°F here in Archangel, and everyone is talking about how warm it is.

I’ve been here over a full week now, and I can no longer avoid making my first blog post from the other side! There has been a lot to adjust to, and it’s been a little overwhelming. I arrived around 8:30 pm last Monday night, to be collected by my wonderful contact and host Elena, and another young English teacher from the department. Standing outside the airport terminal, waiting for the luggage to be delivered from the plane, in the autumn evening chill, they talked about how horrible it is to wait for your luggage in the winter.

On my first full day here, Elena whisked me all over the university and the neighborhood where I live, and we bought groceries, explored the shopping center near my dorm, bought a cell phone (it was the cheapest one in the store, and Elena told me that it’s a cell phone for grandmothers). We went and met half the English department, ate in the cafeteria next door, applied for an ID card to get into the main university building, sent my passport off to be registered, and all before dinner time.

On my second day, I was already going to classes. So far, I’ve been to classes with four different English teachers. I’ve been helping out in varying capacities, from sitting quietly as an observer mainly, to practically leading a class planned by the main teacher. And, on my third day, I conducted an entire class on intercultural communication entirely on my own, and entirely in Russian. I could not have done it without the help and occasional translation of a few enthusiastic and extremely well-prepared students. I mainly introduced myself and answered their questions, which ranged from “Do you have a boyfriend?” and “Do you drink alcohol?” to “What do you think of your president?” and “Were you affected by the financial crisis?” They were also very interested to see my drivers’ license.

My regular classes, I now know, will begin on October 24, but I will continue to visit other classes, as well as having drop-in hours for students to come for help, and maybe organize an American Club of some sort? As I keep telling people, I don’t know my schedule yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know.

On the home front, I am recovering from some serious homesickness, but getting better every day. I’ve figured out where the ATMs and grocery stores and home living stores are, started to make friends with the front desk people at the dorm/hotel where I live, and yesterday I bought myself a pair of proper Russian boots that don’t look like I’m getting ready for the Iditarod–boots which cost more than my monthly rent of $45!

All of this in just a few days, and already, I’m supposed to be getting ready to fly off to Moscow for the weekend on Thursday! It’s been quite a whirlwind, but I think that once I get back from Moscow, things will start to settle into a more regular routine. Now, if only I can figure out how to do laundry before the trip…

As a quick introduction to my new life, I’ll go back to old-school Montenegro style, and do a first-impression comparison of Archangel with Greensburg.

Things you’ll find in Archangel that you won’t find in Greensburg, PA:

  • wooden sidewalks — lumber is one of the main industries of Archangel
  • girls walking around in stiletto-heeled winter boots
  • children being carried around like packages in big puffy snowsuits
  • cars of the brand Volga
  • ragu! Not the familiar brand of spaghetti sauce, but a delicious stew of boiled potatoes, carrots, and cabbage.
  • the stolovaya, a cafeteria where I can get a heaping plate of food, a bowl of soup, and birch tree juice for lunch, all for less than $5
  • one of the last statues to Lenin ever built, erected in Archangel’s central square in 1989
  • a puppet theater that’s not just for kids!
  • electronics stores that also sell frying pans and bakeware
Things in Greensburg that you won’t find in Archangel:
  • Hummers
  • grocery store cashiers who automatically give you a plastic bag (you have to pay for them here)
  • peanut butter, marshmallows (I haven’t looked too hard, but I’m not optimistic)
  • 26-year-old girls who aren’t married
  • drinking fountains — BUT! they do have bubblers, for you Massachusetts folks


  1. Jefe B Jefe B
    11 October 2011    

    I would venture the guess that in Arkhangelsk, friends who meet on the street kiss each other. We’re still not doing that in Greensburg.

  2. 11 October 2011    

    Sounds like you’re keeping quite busy over there. I’m glad it’s going well though, and that ragu sounds AMAZING. Send me some, okay? And I’ll send you some gumbo! :) And absolutely, things will definitely start to settle down once you have a routine! They are life-savers! I love you!

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