Thursday, December 16, 2010

This last crazy month! Part 1

Well I’m back guys! And I must start this blog the way that I feel I am always starting my blog posts: With an apology for not having written sooner, but I do have a good explanation.

So this blog update will be in 3 parts: Vacation, Family less, and New Family.

So I guess I shall begin my story with the first part: Vacation: November 8 – November 18th

Our vacation started with all of the kids from Uglich heading off to Yaroslavl so that we could get to Moscow. Let me tell you getting up at 6 am when it’s still dark to go and get on a COLD bus is not an easy thing to do! The trip all the way to Yaroslavl was pretty uneventful and when we got there we had to wait for all of the other kids to show up which wasn’t for about an hour. Once everyone arrived we got on our train to MOSCOW!!

That train ride wasn’t very fun. It lasted about 4 hours and the train was really low quality and the seats were sooo uncomfortable! But hey we were going to Moscow then down south so I couldn't complain too much. But, then when we got to Moscow it was raining! And it was cold! So we made our way into the famous Moscow metro, and let me tell you folks it’s just as beautiful as everyone says it is! But, the escalator is HUGE! I swear it was really steep and when you were on the top you couldn't even see the bottom of it! I was scared to ride on it! When we finally got to the other train station we had about 6 hours to wait until our train to Karinofsk (a small town in the Krasnodar region of Russia). In the airport Jenia, Bettina (another American) and I walked around and we got SUBWAY! It tasted good! It had been so long since I had eaten any “American” food!

When it was finally time for our train to Karinofsk we got on the train and took our seats and realized… these are definitely not first class tickets. The train ride took a total of about 30 hours. It was 2 full nights and one full day. Not that we were really able to sleep much because the beds consisted of hard slabs with an old mattress on top of it and a sheet that came in a package. Okay so about the train. They do not serve food on the train so if you want food you’re expected to bring it all with you when you get on or buy it when the train stops at the little stores that are at the train stations. Luckily we had been warned so we bought tea, sugar, coffee cups, some food, and other stuff to eat at the train station in Moscow. Pretty much for 2 days we lived off of tea and cookies (sorry mom: yes we had cookies for breakfast!) But we quickly realized that there was one HUGE fault in living off of tea… It makes you have to go to the bathroom A LOT! Which is not normally a problem until you realize that the bathrooms on these trains…are probably the most disgusting bathrooms that I’ve ever seen in my life, including port-a-potties! We were told that we were not allowed to use the bathroom for one hour outside of Moscow and when we asked why we were given probably one of the nastiest answers I’ve ever been given in my entire life.. when you flush the toilet.. it just.. goes out side of the train!!! Long story short, Jenia and me avoided that bathroom like it was the plague (because honestly it probably could have given us the plague!) and went as few times as we possibly could in that time we were there.

So we arrived in Karinofsk it was about 5 in the morning and our host families were they’re waiting for us at the train station. In my host family there, there was a brother, sister, mom and a dad. They were such a nice family! I still keep in contact with them even though it has been nearly a month since I have been back! Anyways the first day that we were in Karinofsk we were told that we would be attending (and participating in) a “Pushkin Ball” (for those of you who don’t know, Pushkin is a Russian poet). SO all the girls were fitted for dresses (they were dresses that I assume that girls in past years had worn) that looked a lot like REALLY fancy prom dresses. We spent the next two days there preparing for the ball, which for us meant that we had to learn 2 dances. They weren’t particularly difficult dances but the kids that would also be dancing with us had been practicing them for months! Finally the day before the ball we had our final rehearsal, and it was a disaster! None of us knew what we were doing but everyone seemed to think it was funny so it all worked out in the end.

The day of the ball! So my host family there had arranged for me to get my hair done so I did that then I went home and got into my dress! Which they were all convinced was beautiful and I thought it was a disaster but so was everyone else’s so it was okay! Once we got there all of us (14 in all) realized the extent of this ball! These kids take this ball more seriously then we take prom in the USA! There were professional photographers, everyone was in gorgeous dresses, everyone was very serious about their dances and what not. And the 14 of us were still a little confused as to what was going on.

They called us to start the dance and most of it was a haze for me but we did manage to do our dances (even if we did mess up … a lot!) and sit down and stand up when we were supposed to and while it was a really cool thing to be apart of listening to people read poetry in Russian and do classical dances for 3 hours gets a little long so I was very glad when I got to go home and take off that dress and SLEEP!

The next day all of us boarded a train to go to Krasnodar, which is the capital of the region of the south. It was just a 2 hour trip and then we went sight seeing in the city. The city was really beautiful and I know I’m going to sound like a typical teenager when I say this but the best part was….THE MALL!! They had a real mall there!! Like it looked like an American mall (if not nicer!). That night we got on yet another train to go to Sochi, Russia! And again for those of you who don’t know Sochi is where the 2014 winter Olympics will be!!

Folks this train ride, was the train ride FROM HELL!! First off when we first got on we noticed that the train wasn’t exactly the cleanest thing in the world (worse then the first train) and then we realized where we were sitting! Jenia's, Bettina’s and my car was right in the middle of a bunch of drunken old men! (Apparently in Russia its normal to be drunk on trains.. what else is there to do? ) Anyways at first we didn’t think it would be a problem because the first train there were also drunk men but they were a “we will stay in our car if you do” type..these ones were not! They kept coming over and trying to talk to us! For the first few hours we just kept pretending that we didn’t speak Russian when they came over so that they would get discouraged and not try to talk to us. About 3 hours in they figured out that we did speak Russian so they kept trying to talk to us! And they kept trying to grab our feet when we lay in our bunks thinking that it was funny. It wasn’t funny! Who wants to touch someone’s gross feet? We were very very glad when the train pulled into Sochi and we were finally able to get off that train! We were tired of having to use the buddy system just to go to the bathroom!

We stepped out in Sochi and it was like a different world! It looks less like Russia and more like Florida! Everything is bright blue, there are palm trees, the beautiful black sea (which is VERY blue actually!), we were all very surprised when we saw it. I never thought that I would see palm trees in Russia!

In Sochi the weather was so nice the 3 days that we were there! We got to see the sea while we were there and let me tell you it’s gorgeous!! I loved the black sea! Unfortunately it was too cold to swim (it was November after all)! We again stayed in families while we were there and went to the school almost every day! Their school was sooo nice! It was nicer then my high school in the states! Basically while we were in Sochi we relaxed, stayed with our host families, went to a few museums, saw the sea and just enjoyed the nice weather! It was really sad when they told us that it was time for us to go home and to get on that horrible train again!

But we got a good surprise! The train that they booked for the way back was REALLY nice! Or at least really nice compared to the trains that we had been on! Mostly the 14 of us hung out and slept but mostly ate the entire way back. I think all I did on that train was eat, and eat, and eat some more! We finally got to Moscow at like 3 am and we transferred to the other train station to wait the 5 hours for our trip back to Yaroslavl! Me and a few other’s ventured out to get some breakfast…we ate PIZZA! It was good pizza too!

So on the train back from Moscow to Yaroslavl is when the “familyless” part of my story starts. But I’ll leave that for Part 2 (coming VERY soon)

I’d again like to apologize for having this so late! I’ve had some problems (see part 2) with Internet and families and such. So I’ll get it updated really soon! And i'll try to do some pictures as well! Love and miss you all!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Russian Dentist

So, It's been a while since i've updated. That's partially because i've been busy and well quite honestly partially because I'm a little lazy about updating my blog, so i apologize for the laziness but in return i'll tell you about my experience with the russian dentist!

So last week i was on the computer and i realized something! i realized that i had chipped a tooth. It wasn't one of my front teeth (thank gosh!) it was allllll the way in the back, one of the last molars in my mouth! but still it was hurting me and it was a definite chip (well i thought so at least, i've never actually chipped a tooth before). So the next day when i got to school I told my school contact (she is also my russian teacher) that I chipped my tooth and that i would need to see the dentist here in russia. what i didn't tell her was that i was scared out of my mind to go to the dentist in russia! I mean i don't LOVE the dentist in the usa but in russia, well i was just a little more then scared.

The next day at school she told me that she had talked to AFS and they said that yes i would in fact need to go to the dentist because if you don't fix a chip that it would only continue to get worse and that they would find me a good dentist here in Uglich. Then I started playing the waiting game until they told me when my appointment was. They finally told me on friday that i had an appointment for the next morning with the dentist in uglich who does all the bankers teeth. This made me happy because i mean that means she has to be a good dentist, right? Well i was still really nervous because i mean its still the dentist! She also told me that i would need to take about 3000 rubles (90 dollars) with me because that would be the maximum that it would cost her to fix my tooth.

I was in AWE!!! you cant get anything done at the dentist for 90 US dollars! but i believed her and i went to the bank and got out the money. and nervously awaited the next morning. Well when i woke up on saturday i walked to meet Anastasia (an afs volunteer who speaks english) so that she could take me to the dentists office. Surprisingly it was only about a 5 minute walk from my house, which was good because it was raining like crazy!

So when we got there, we opened the door and i was immediately put at ease! it looked just like an american dentist! the room was white and guess what...there was even a fish tank! so she took me back in the back room AFTER she made us put on these little plastic booties over our shoes! it was the weirdest thing! well we went back and it looked just like my dentist in the usa. I sat down and she looked at my tooth and was jabbering on in really fast russian and i didn't fully understand (or rather nothing) what she was doing to me until she pulled out the "orange light gun" used for fillings! then i knew what she was doing.

Over all it was a really quick procedure it only took about 30 minutes. thats when i got an amazing surprise, when she told me how much i owed her she only said 1000 rubles (30 dollars) i was amazed!

So i walked out of the russian dentist with a fixed tooth and a still full wallet! it wasn't traumatic in the least! and now my smile is all fixed!

Love and miss you all!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I know that I just updated yesterday (so read that one too!) but I thought that you would be interested in knowing that...


Yes it is only October 13th and it is already snowing here in Russia! I think that it is going to be a VERY long year for me! wish me luck and send me warm thoughts you guys! I think I'm going to need it!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Russian Bath

So first of all I’d like to apologize that this blog has taken me so long to write but I’ve been submersed in reading the Hunger Game series of books (which if you have not read, you need to! They are amazing) and for the last 3 or 4 days I have been doing nothing but reading those books. My host sister thinks I’m crazy but, like I told her “Ksenia, I’ve been reading them for days now I want to find out how they end!” you should have seen her face when I laughed/cried/was sad from a book. I don’t think she gets as in to books as I do. Oh well enough about Hunger Games and on to a short update on my life, then the main event my “Russian bath”

So we will start with school I guess, its still boring. I know that I keep saying this but honestly, it is. Jenia and me most days just sit at a table and blankly stare at the chalk board while the teacher lectures the class and they take notes. In fact the last few days (since we started reading the books) we have been taking our books to school and reading them during class. I know, we are bad exchange students because listening to Russian is the only way we will learn, but hey it is helping to pass the time and that was only for a few days. So all of this last week my school has been having shortened days. Each class was 30 minutes instead of 45 because the school is cold. The city of Uglich had not yet turned on the heat in that part of town. I will never understand this but hey, its Russia! They actually did turn on the heat on Friday but the school was still freezing so we had short days! And hey we definitely are not complaining about having short days rather then our normal 5/6-hour days.

In my home/family life the major (and this is MAJOR) event that happened was…. Bum bum bum bum… the city finally TURNED ON THE HEAT!!! I was talking to my Italian host sister on Skype on Tuesday and I was telling her about how cold it was and how the city still hadn’t turned on the heat and went over to feel the register thingy (its like the old ones we have in the USA, they are metal have water in them and are like against the wall about 3 feet tall) and it was warm!! I was so happy I about screamed!! Oh there was another good thing that happened as well! I finally got the box that my real mommy sent me from the USA! It took exactly 3 weeks to get to me so I guess Russia is slower then Italy was when it comes to mail! Oh well! Other then that everything in my home life is good, my host family and I are getting along really well which is nice!

My Russian, well I’d love to be able to say that I understand everything that is going on around me but in all honesty, I cant. Russian is a VERY difficult language; probably more difficult then I thought it was going to be when I chose Russia! It is starting to come along I mean I can definitely understand and say A LOT more then I could when I got here but still its difficult to communicate and I still give that blank “I have no idea what you’re talking about” stare to people a lot when people talk to me. My Russian lessons with Jenia are starting to get better now that we are going faster but I still wish that I could speak Russian fluently after just 2 months but I know that that is not an option so I’m trying as hard as I can. Hopefully it’ll click soon!
I also had an AFS orientation in Yaroslavl that consisted of an “international dinner” which I brought chocolate chip cookies to (because I mean honestly, what’s REALLY American?) and some talking in a classroom about how AFS works, how we are doing, what our support system is and all of that. Nothing that we didn’t already know or hadn’t heard in a million different orientations before but it was nice to see all of the other kids that we had not seen in over a month. But honestly I didn’t really remember most of them OOPS. They did tell us one exciting thing though That we would have to option to go to Krasnodar Russia with AFS in November for about a week! I’m very excited about that!

So now on to the main event: my experience with a “Russian bath.” So my host family and I went to Yaroslavl (for my orientation) and we stayed the night at my host mothers boyfriends house. Well after my international dinner we went back to his house and they started to talk to me about “a bath” with “really hot water” I was really confused because honestly I wasn’t planning on taking a shower there (we were only staying for 1 night) and I always take hot water showers so they just kept telling me “okay you will see”.

Then they gave me some old sweat pants to change in to and they told me to take off all of my make up, jewelry and my clothe s and to put on the sweats. I was very confused because honestly, Russians DO NOT leave the house with sweat pants on but hey, I didn’t know what I was doing or what was going on so I just did what they told me to do and changed.

Then we were we all started going outside, it was cold, I didn’t want to go outside but I had to because that’s what they told me to do. We all went out to this little wooden house that was out side of the apartment and it was HOT in there and that’s when I started to connect the dots. It was a type of sauna! So my host mom’s boyfriend leaves and my host mom and sister start to strip. Not wanting to make the already awkward situation any more awkward I started to get undressed to. I’ve never been one for nudity so luckily we all wrapped up in towels after that and then we went through another little room that was a little warmer and then a third room that was REALLY hot. It had some benches and some wooden stove that was producing A LOT of heat.

So we all sat down and I started to understand more of what was going on and why we were actually there! We all sat in there for a while about 15 minutes before we needed a break because it was so hot! So we rested for a while in the first room and when we went back in my host mom had a little cup with her. She offered it to my host sister and me and when I asked what it was she simply said, “honey”. That just confused me even more! Why on earth did she have a cup full of honey? Then her and my host sister both started to rub the honey on their arms and legs, so that’s what I did to. Honey? I mean really? Why rub honey on your body its sticky and yucky but they seemed to think it was a good idea so I went along with it.

Then my host mom and sister went out and my host mom came back in with this branch that had a bunch of leaves on it. It smelled good and it was wet with hot water. Then she told me to lay down on the bench and guess what!! She started hitting my body with that bundle of leaves! All that was going through my head was “oh man how on earth am I going to explain this to people with out sounding like a complete psycho!” well after my host mom did this to me she showed me how to wash off all of the honey with this bucket of hot water and a sponge and then she started to “beat” my host sister with the leaves while I washed off! Then when my host mom came out I told her I was done and she’s like “okay its time to rinse off” and she got this other bucket of water and dumped it on me. I SCREAMED! It was ICE cold water and I had been sooooo hot since I was in that room and she dumped cold water on me! Then my host sister washed off and we got dressed and so went my experience with a “Russian bath”

I was so confused the entire time this was happening but this is apparently a Russian tradition! They kept asking me if I liked it afterward “Kendra did you like it?” and honestly the only response that I could come up with was “well it was definitely an experience!” its not that I didn’t like it but it was just so different and I wasn’t expecting to do that while I was in Yaroslavl or even while I was in Russia!

I hope that you all had a good laugh while reading because I most certainly did while it was happening, I honestly could not believe it was happening while it was happening but hey “it is Russia” !

Love and miss you all!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

International Language Day

Привет (hello)

In the world of AFS September 24th is known as “International Language Day” and it is celebrated by people sharing their cultures and languages. No wonder AFS is the only group that celebrates this holiday seeing as its mission statement is about sharing cultures and languages. Seeing as I’m in Russia this year with AFS I was one of those few that celebrated this particular holiday this year. The morning of September 24th Jenia and I were told that we would be going to a “party” instead of English class for our 6th period. We were a little confused because we had not been told about this before hand but like always we nodded, smiled and said, “okay, we understand.” (This happens to be the mantra of most AFS students seeing as for the first 3 months we walk around in a hazy state of confusion.)

By the time that 6th period arrived me and Jenia were very very ready to just go home. 6 hours of lessons in Russian make us very tired and quite honestly quite bored because we don’t understand anything that’s going on in any class except Geography. But alas we had to go to this party that we knew anything about. So we were herded into this big room and our class was there, Jenia’s sister and her friends, Laura (the German exchange student) and Laura’s sister and her sister’s friends were all there. It started off with two of our classmates giving a short speech in English about how grateful they were to have us in their school and in their town.

Then Jenia’s sister and friends got up and started to teach us some Russian games. I’ll describe these, very strange, Russian games to you. We played this one that started a lot like ring-around-the-Rosie with everyone holding hands and one person in the middle. Then the ones in the circle spin around in a circle around the one person in the middle, and they then make a bigger circle then kind of “charge” at the person in the middle. Then the person in the middle changes. I was very confused and I still don’t understand why or when they play this game but hey when in Russia right? Then we played this game called “the river” people stood in two lines holding their hands up creating a kind of tunnel for the one person at the head of the tunnel to run through. That person running had to grab the hand of another person and the person left without a partner was the next “runner”. I’m still confused about this game too but still When in Russia!

Then a girl got up and sang a pretty old folk song in Russia and quietly I commented to Jenia “it was pretty, but I’m glad they aren’t making us sing it too”, little did I know that was coming later. Then a girl in a, what I assume is a traditional costume, got up and did a dance. Then came the embarrassing part. We were told that WE were going to learn this dance, in front of EVERYONE in the room. It wasn’t THAT bad but still I would have preferred not to dance a folk dance in front of everyone. Then came the singing, out loud, in front of a group, IN Russian. For those of you that know me and have heard me sing, I’m not great, or even good but I did it. We, Jenia, Laura and I, sang a folk song in Russian alone until some very kind people felt sorry enough for us and started singing along with us.

Then the VERY Russian part of the event, we ate. Before I left I never really thought of Russians as eaters (like the Italians) but oh man they ARE!!! My English teacher told me exactly how it was “ In Russia, people feed you in order to show their love, just eat it, you don’t have a choice in the matter” So we ate “blee-nee” and drank tea. This is very typical for Russians. Blee-nee are like little pancakes that they cover with butter then sugar and sometimes dip and jam. Tea, well tea is something Russians LOVE. I think I’ve drank more tea these last few weeks that I have it coming out of my eyes and ears. I’ve come to like tea and I actually am developing a great tea addiction! I look forward to drinking tea each day. I’m becoming Russian!

After this marathon of eating, dancing and singing Jenia and I did something that we had never done before. We stood out side of the school and talked with Russians. In mostly Russian (granted this is because the kids that were there did not really speak English but still props for us!) about the USA, our lives, us, everything under sun. We were with 2 girls that we just met, Jenia’s sister’s friends, and a couple kids from our class. It was amazing! We managed to speak in Russian that maybe a 2 year old would speak. We would either just skip words that we didn’t know or attempt to talk around the words that we didn’t know. Then we always decided to go home so we split into two groups (because our houses were all in one direction or the other) and started to walk home. I live quite far away from my school (about 25 minutes walking) so by the end I was just walking with just one girl. She didn’t really speak English so I had to speak Russian. It was hard but by the time I got home I was very proud of myself that I managed to speak very little English all day (except with Jenia, but even we are starting to speak a little Russian together).

This was just one day in my life here in Russia. By far not a typical day in my life but one that was quite fun and exciting! In my regular life everything is going okay. Next weekend I have my first AFS orientation and it will be held in Yaroslav, which is the capital of my “state” here in Russia. I have not yet been there so I’m very excited to go there and see the exchange students and city! In Italy AFS orientations were some of the best times of my year! So we will see how it turns out here in Russia! Everything with my family is going amazingly as well. I got really lucky again.

I miss you all and hope that you are all having a good time in the USA (or wherever you are) seeing all of the Halloween decorations appear in the stores! I’ll miss that.

Рока (good bye) :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Differences: Russia - USA

I have been in Russia for almost a month now, and honestly I can’t decide if it’s gone by super fast or if it feels like I’ve been here for years. Some days I feel like I just arrived yesterday and some days I feel like I’ve already been here 10 months.

So for a quick update first. School is still pretty boring for me because I still don’t understand what is going on like 99% of the time. The only class that I can even begin to understand is Geography and that’s only because the names of the countries are pretty much the same in Russian and in English. Jenia and I have (or will have once we have a final schedule) 20 hours of Russian a week some of which we have started. We have private lessons with the English teacher and those are finally starting to help which is good I can say some basic stuff and I’m starting to understand more. We also are attending classes in… elementary school… yes I said it. We take classes with second, third, and fourth grade. Honestly those classes are some of our most fun because we understand a little and the little kids are in awe of us.

Everything with my host family is going really good. It looks like I’ve gotten lucky a second time, because my host sister and I are getting along really well and I’m slowly starting to understand my host mom more. I even helped her cook dinner last night. We still require a dictionary to talk and we only speak a little bit but still, its definitely progress from the first day.

Some random type stuff that has happened so far… lets see. Well when I told my mom and sister about these two “milestones” in my Russian life it prompted a “aww you’re a big girl now” from both of them. (not that they are alike or anything lol). Well I have officially managed to take the bus by myself and learn to walk to school and into town by myself! Yay! While walking to school doesn’t seem like a big deal, it was hard because in Russia they don’t walk on the street but footpaths that just cut through blocks so in a combination of them being hard to learn and me being scared to get lost on them by myself it was almost a full month before I attempted by myself. But now I can do it like a pro!

So the real reason I’ve decided to post this blog post is because I thought that all of you reading would find a post about differences between the USA and Russia amusing because well honestly, some of them are down right amusing.

School Related
• Russians have shoes that they walk to school in and then when they get to school they change their shoes because their walking to school shoes are usually covered in mud because here in Russia there are GIANT puddles.
• Normal Russian students stay with the same class all day (except for German/English) and they travel with those students from class to class. Teachers have their own classroom like in the USA
• All schools are K-11
• Little kids running through the hallway screaming is a completely normal thing that occurs EVERYday, Jenia and I have come to call it “the stampede,” the crazy thing is that no teachers stop it.
• They were never taught that you walk on the right side to make it easier for everyone.
• Saturday school
• No lockers – they carry their books to school every day
• The notebooks are like half the size of American notebook and they are gridded not lined. This makes my life difficult!!
• Different schedule every day and we have been in school for a full 2 ½ weeks now and we still don’t have a permanent schedule. We get told our schedule for the next day at the end of the day every day.
• Lunch only lasts 20 minutes.
• They get 10-minute breaks between every class.

Russian Life
• They actually have people that sweep the streets/sidewalks with brooms.
• Soviet style stores – By soviet style stores I mean that when you walk in everything is behind the counter and there is one of everything that they have out and you have to ask the lady behind the counter for what you want and she goes in to a back room and gets it for you. This particular thing makes my life difficult, but I have managed to find a few “normal” stores near my house.
• Brooms - they are like a bundle of straw held together with a rubber band at the top.
• They tend to have very small houses and apartments because most of the apartment buildings were built during the soviet era (and all look EXACTLY the same)
• They walk EVERYWHERE!! It is normal for Russians here not to own cars because there are buses and they walk. Its been almost a month since I’ve been in a car.
• no one smiles – They don’t smile/acknowledge strangers at all.
• you do NOT wave/smile to people on the street.. it is just NOT normal
• TEA – Russians have a serious tea addiction. I drink hot tea probably 5-8 times every day here, and its not even that cold yet!
• Eat A LOT – Like every 2 hours
• Their toilet and shower/sink are in two different rooms. I assume this is so two different people can use the “bathroom” at one time.
• Squat toilets in public – I avoid public bathrooms.
• Beds are hidden inside other furniture. My “bed” is inside a chair. You pull the chair out, move the cushion and it turns in to a bed. It is quite fascinating!
• Cheap food – expensive clothes. Everything but clothes and shoes are fairly cheap by my American standards. But clothes cost a lot more then they do in the USA
• They wear the same outfit for more then one day in a row before they wash it. This is one habit that I wont be picking up.
• They didn’t know what an “I-Pod” was but they know the “I-Phone”
• You pay for public bathrooms. Granted its only 10 rubles (or 30 cents)
- no toilette paper
• No dryers, I’m beginning to think that dryers really are an American thing. I miss them.
• Every phone is a pay as you go phone. Like “track phones” in the USA.

• The mullet is IN. I have seen more boys with mullets here then I ever have seen before in my life.
• High heels in general – They wear them EVERYWHERE, to school, to walk around town. I don’t understand because their roads/sidewalks are not flat!
• PETA would be furious with Russia. I’ve seen more leather and real fur here then ever before!

These are just a few of the differences that I have encountered in just a month here in Russia! I’m sure there will eventually be a lot more and that a few of these will just become every day “that’s the way it is” type things for me! I hope you all enjoyed some of the more amusing ones as much as I have had discovering them. I miss you all dearly and comments are always welcome ;)!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

High School: 5 years and 3 countries

So it’s official, I am now a Super-Senior. I started my 5th year of high school on September 1st. I was really ready to start school on September first because I wanted to have something to do every day. I am liking Russia just fine but the days were getting a little boring without having specific planned activities every day so when that first day arrived I was really nervous and excited all at the same time.

So about a week before school started we met with the principal of my school and she informed us that all the exchange students: me, Jenia and Laura (a girl from Germany), would need to do a small speech in Russian. I was very very nervous for this but my host sister helped me practice it over and over for that week. Basically I had to say “Hi, My name is Kendra Wagner. I am American. I am 18 years old and I will be studying in your school this year” that’s it.. Seems easy enough right? Well it was but I was still very scared.

The day before school started my host sister and I went to buy flowers. Which seemed weird to me but she said it was normal to buy flowers for the teachers so I bought flowers. With our flowers in hand we walked to school on that first day; my walk to school is about 20 minutes each way. We had to wear black pants, black shoes, and white shirts to school. When we got there, only the 11th grade class had to be there at 9, we went up to a computer classroom to watch some movie that never ended up working. So we went up to our actual classroom and the teacher talked for a few minutes but even if my life depended on it, I could not tell you what she said to us that first day.

We were then herded outside (it was fairly COLD) to have the first day of school “ceremony” apparently in Russia September first is “the day of knowledge” and it’s a holiday, hence the reason they ALWAYS start on September 1st. Everyone in my class was taking the hands of the little kids, I have no idea why, and I was told to do the same. All I was thinking was, “this little kid understands what’s going on better then I do why am I leading her around?” but alas I took 2 little girls hands and we walked them around the circle of all the kids while the other kids clapped. We then stood a big group and listed to some speeches by the president of the school, some students, and some teachers. There were some songs and some stuff read aloud by the teacher. Then I heard “Kendra Wagner” and I knew it was my time to walk up in front.

Jenia and me made our way up to the front of a group of about 300 students and 50 teachers to give our speeches. I was shaking. I listened to Laura and Jenia give their speeches then it was my turn. I was so nervous but I got it all out, and my sister told me that I did good later that day. The school gave us each an assignment book and a pin.

After the ceremony my class went back up the classroom and we gave the teacher our flowers and then the day was over and we were allowed to go home. YAY the first day only lasted a total of about 3 hours, which was really nice even though I knew that wouldn’t be normal.

So that was my first day of school experience, the following days have not been quite that eventful.

My class is really nice so far; there are about 20 students plus Jenia and I. Its really nice that she is in my class as well because it gives me someone to talk to during the lessons/breaks that doesn’t understand Russian either.

Russian school is a little; okay a lot, different then American schools.

• My class and I travel together from classroom to classroom, so we are always
• together with the same kids but we move rooms every 45 minutes or so.
• The classes last about 45 minutes each
• between each one we have a 10-minute break.
• After the third lesson we have Lunch break, which is only 20 minutes (and I thought the short lunch I had at MHS was bad).
• There are usually only 6 lessons a day.
• Every day there are different lessons
• You’re allowed to openly text during class and the teachers don’t do anything about it
• talking is DEFINITELY allowed
• all in Russian (obviously)
• 8:30 – 2 pm
• no toilette paper in the bathroom
• they call it algebra – but really its calculus

These are a few for now, at the moment school is pretty boring for me but that is to be expected. Jenia and I leave the regular class 1 or 2 hours a day so that we can have our private Russian lessons with the English teacher. We will also be starting elementary school these next few weeks so that we can learn Russian right along with little kids. I’m actually quite excited about that! It should be fun to be in second grade!

School is mostly my life at the moment but I’m okay with that. I understand pretty much 0% of my classes as of now but I’m trying. Russian is a very hard language, it is going to take me a while to get a hold of, and hopefully it will come quickly!

I miss you all A LOT!! I hope everyone is well, I’m doing okay here in Russia but I do miss the USA

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I have arrived!!!

Hey all!!

So it's been a very long journey but I have finally arrived here in Russia! YAY!! After what was just a few months of waiting I am finally here in the land that is called Russia!! So from the beginning, and I will try to keep this short!

So on August 17th my mom, dad, Emma, Stephanie and I woke up nice and early, about 445, and we drove to the the Madison airport where we found out that my plane was going to be delayed. Shannon, Jeremiah, Brandon and AJay all came to say goodbye to me as well. So we all hung out for a little while then it was time for me to go through security. While we were saying our goodbyes before i went through security we started hearing "Kendra Wagner please report to your gate as your plane is about to depart" which didn't make any sense because i still had like 30 minutes before boarding even started. Well needless to say I went through security quickly because the men there knew that i needed to get to my plane. I had to run to my gate because i thought that I was going to miss my flight but what i didn't know was that my dad was talking to the delta people and making them hold the plane for me because they changed the boarding time at last minute. Well I made it to my plane on time and boarded. The ride was pretty uneventful. It was a small plane, only 3 seats wide and about 30 rows. When i arrived in NYC I got my bags, YAY they weren't lost!! and got on the little shuttle bus thing and ended up sitting next to a girl that was going to China with NSLI-Y scholarship. We finally found the AFS people and sat down and got lunch and I got some VERY good news. I found out there was going to be another American/NSLI-Yer, in Uglich!!!

The first day of Orientation in NYC was just Russia and China NSLI-Yers. Only 9 were Russian outbounds which was nice because we were able to get to know each other really well. Me and Jenia were the only ones going to Uglich but i was still happy to have found another American that was going to the same city as me. I also got to meet all the kids that I had been talking to for so long! Sean and Zach!! We were pretty much in orientation that whole day but we were told one thing that we didn't know. That we would have to wear dress clothes the next day because the Representative of NSLI-Y was going to come and talk to us. this was bad because for most of us the nice clothes were at the bottom of our suitcases. The next day was pretty boring, ALOT of orientation!!! But there was one amazing thing! I GOT TO FINALLY MEET NICKY!! Nicky is an outbound to Belgium and we have been talking this WHOLE summer, almost every day, and her orientation was on the same day as mine so YAY we got to meet. She gave me this adorable little stuffed animal of Curious George that says "going to Russia" and has a cape that is a Belgian flag!!

The next morning all the Russia and China outbounds had to wake up at like 5 am so that we could get to the Airport like FIVE hours early. We got the the airport uneventfully and got thru security very easily then we waited, and waited and waited and waited for what seemed like ever!! We finally few from NYC to DC then guess what... MORE WAITING we had like a 6 hour layover in DC which didn't seem to long but we were all anxious to get to Russia. Well we boarded our plane at the normal time but we were sitting on the runway for what seemed like forever then they got on and told us that the navigation system was broken and that they had to switch planes. so we all had to get off wait for another hour and re-board another plane. IT was a pain in the butt but better they figure it out before we take off. So then we started on our 10 hour flight!! It was long but we were all sitting together so it passed somewhat quickly. The plane was kinda suckish and we found out that Russians take FOREVER in the bathroom. I personally got complimented twice for how quickly i went to the bathroom.. hmm strange? i thought so. None of us really slept and we knew that we would regret that but its okay.

The first thing we noticed at the Moscow airport was that there was a lot of smoke, apparently Russians are allowed to smoke in the airport which we found odd..Since Americans cant smoke ANYWHERE these days. It took us forever to find out which conveyor belt thingy had our bags but when we finally did we all had our bags YAY! no ones bags got lost so that was a VERY VERY good thing. then we had to go through customs.. which seemed scary. Russian Customs.. well first we had to all wait in a line to get our passports and visas stamped then we went through customs which was strangely easy. no one really got stopped, but we did go through really quickly, so hopefully we wouldn't get stopped/searched.

We then had a "two hour" bus ride to the orientation sight which actually turned out to be 5 hours because of traffic. so all 10 of us plus like 5 volunteers were crammed in to the worlds smallest hottest bus and driven to the site. Most of us slept because it had been more then 24 hours since we slept. When we finally got there we found out that we were the only ones there. We ended up getting there 3 hours late and we were still the first group to arrive. So most of us just wandered around exploring the building. which i still have no idea what it is. there were a lot of kids there but they didn't seem to ever have parents with them. the Russians tried to explain but i didn't know what they meant. oh well.

The next day all the other students arrived and we had our first day of orientations. We played the silly ice breakers we always seem to play with AFS. Then we broke up in to groups based on where we were going and got told about our little regions. i didn't get told anything new but found out there would be a total of 6 in Uglich. 2 Americans, 2 Italians, 2 Germans. all girls except one German boy. I'm happy :). That night we had a "country presentation" where we all had to do something from our country. that's really hard when you come from the USA because honestly.. what is "American". We ended up telling where we were from, showing them the flag then singing "Miss Suzy" which is a song we all learned when we were little.

The next day all the students that weren't in the Yaroslavl Region (I am) left for Moscow so they could take trains to their cities. The rest of us took a bus directly to Yaroslavl. It took a total of about 3 hours but i think the driver took a wrong turn somewhere because we did a lot of turning around. I then took a van to Uglich so that I could meet my family. The van ride was nice because we were with the english teacher at my school (she will also teach me and Jenia Russian) and so we were able to speak in English the whole way there.

They dropped me off at my host families house. So far everything with my family has been good. Me and my sister go out on walks alot. I've visited my school two times so far and I have started practicing a speech (in Russian) that I will have to give on the first day of school, September First. I'm a little nervous about that but Jenia and Laura (a German girl) will be giving the same one so I'm not to scared. Jenia and I will both be in grade 11, which is the last grade. My sister Ksenia, is in that grade to so that will be nice. I've taken a short tour of Uglich with the other students as well. Pictures are up on Facebook and my picture website!!

I'll update more when i have more information I hope you enjoyed reading about my journey as much as i enjoyed writing about it!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Flight Itinerary - YAY

Hey all! I know that it hasn't been all that long since I updated last but I have some new information since i updated last! I now have my official Itinerary for when I leave for RUSSIA!

So I found out that I have to be in New York City by 2 pm on August 17th so in order to arrange my domestic travel I called AFS and their travel department found it for me. Because I got the NSLI scholarship my domestic travel is included whereas a regular afs program, such as my program to italy 2 years ago, domestic travel is not included in the price of afs. I expected the process to be much more difficult then it was but arranging my domestic travel only took a total of 10 minutes. sooo now for the exciting news here is my plans for August 17 - August 20. yes that is 3 full days of travel!

On the morning of August 17th all have to leave my house at about 5 am in order to get to Madison on time for my 8 am flight. THe flight time is about 1 1/2 hours but due to the time change i'll arrive in NYC at around 1130. I'll have to find my way to another part of the airport to find afs staff and they will take me to the AFS orientation. We will stay in NYC until the 19th.

As far as I know we, the kids going to russia, will be the only group there on the 17th but on the 18th the kids that are going to go to Norway, Belgium, Hungary, and Switzerland (possibly more) so hopefully the orientation will be a little more exciting once they arrive! Especially because I have a friend, NICKY, that is going to belgium!! YAY

So on the 19th the russia group will leave NYC and fly to .... Washington DC... where we will unfortunately remain for about 5 1/2 hours before we take a night flight directly to MOSCOW!

So far this is all that I know about my travel information but in other news: I have started to hear from my host family! YAY! I have been emailing with my host mom a few times and she has told me that my older sister lives and studies in Moscow and that i'll go to school with my younger sister! So that is exciting!

I have also started to collect the things that I am going to need to take with me, Its a slow process but I want to get some of it done before that frantic last week!

I will leave you with one final thought: THREE WEEKS UNTILL I LEAVE!! It is officially 21 days until I leave my hometown for NYC!

Monday, July 12, 2010


привет (hello)

So i would like to start off this blog by appologizing as I have been quite the "absentee blogger" since i made my last post. So I've decided to do a quick update on what I've been up to since my last blog post culminating in the amazing news that I HAVE A HOST FAMILY!!!! okay sooo here I go.


Well after I was told that I had been accepted to the program I had to do a conference call with other people that had also been accepted to NSLI. Let me tell you that a conference call with over 50 kids that were just told they were exchange students is not easy and let me tell you it was LOUD! But we got some basic Information on the program and the Russia kids were told that we would need to start applying for our Visas immediately because as it seems the RUssian visa process takes a long time is rather complicated.

When I went on the AFS website about the russian visa process i was rather pleasantly surprised. IT WAS SIMPLE. well i guess that simple isn't exactly the correct word but when I remember back to how complicated the italian visa was to get..(I.E. all the paper work, not getting paperwork on time, making an appointment, going to chicago, and waiting nervously) the 2 page document that I had to fill out wasn't that bad. Granted i filled it out about 3 different times because it had to be done in black ink so mistakes weren't easily corrected. But I got it done and sent off and now all i have to do is wait until afs gets me my family and gives me back my passport at the gateway orientation.

Something that is only slightly exchange related. I have officially deferred college for next year. I will be attending John Cabot University in Rome, Italy from 2011-2015.

One last exciting bit of news about the month of may is.... I GRADUATED HIGH SCHOOL!! yay! i did it. Unfortunately for me (american) graduation doesn't mean that I am done with school. I will be in a regular russian high school whilst i am in russia so as it seems, i'm not quite done with high school yet but its worth it.

After 5 years and 3 countries I will finally finish high school in june of 2011!!


It was my first summer of being a high school graduate and frankly, I did nothing. my summer has consisted of ALOT of sleeping but honestly i've been enjoying it (what 18 year old wouldn't?). I started doing some more research for russia and thinking about the stuff that I needed to get.

I also decided that I wanted to get a Russian Tutor. I emailed the russian professors at Beloit College and they told me about a student that was interested in tutoring me. I decided to do 2 lessons a week until i left. So far they have been helpful!


So July started out quite uneventfully. July 4th was a sad day honestly. July 4th for me is no longer "independence day" but it is the anniversary of when I left Italy. This past July 4th was the one year anniversary that I have officially been back in the USA so I had some conflicting feelings about the day. Over all its been a good year but I really miss Italy and can't wait to go back!

Then on July 8th, the ONE day i didn't check my email every hour on the hour, my mom calls me and asks me "Kendra have you checked your email lately?" I ran up stairs to check my email and found a pretty little email that said:

Hi Kendra,

Great news! AFS-Russia has just provided us with information about your Permanent Host Family Placement! I’m sure your host family will be excited to hear from you, so we encourage you to get in touch with them as soon as you have a chance.

Whether you choose to call your family or post a letter, keep in mind that they may not speak English fluently. Now is a great time to practice the language of your host-country! (Keep in mind that there are many online translation services that are great resources for looking up individual words, but avoid using these for translating whole letters, since generally the results don’t make much sense!) It is okay to write them in English, but be sure to keep your message simple and succinct.

As always, let me know if you have any questions!


I was literally shaking and clicking franticly on the link that was sent to me that had information about my host family! I opened the attachment and found out that I would be studying in Uglich, Russia (click for Wiki article) which is in the Yaroslavl Oblast (oblast is like state).

Yaroslavl Oblast

Uglich (click for pictures) is located in the western part of the Yaroslavl Oblast on the Volga river.

So Uglich is a relatively small city, about 40,000 people that is located roughly 120 miles north of Moscow and about 30 minutes from Yaroslavl (which is the capital of the Yaroslavl Oblast and has about 600,000 people). It seems to be quite the touristy town because it seems that Cruise ships stop there between St. Petersburg and Moscow.

I dont know much about my family other then I have a Mother and two sisters. One of them is 2 years older then me and one of them is 2 years younger! I think that only the younger one lives with them but i'm not totally sure on that. I have emailed them but they havent responded to the email yet. My host sister (the younger one) did comment on my blog post (my italian blog)

kseniya said...
I am Kseniya from Russia. I and my mum will be a family this year! We are very happy:)We will wait you, I hope that we will well spend this year!
Do not miss:)

It made me so happy to hear from them! they seem so sweet!

I dont have any official departure dates but I have been told that i need to be in NYC for my departure orientation on August 17th unofficially. I'm hoping i get the official email soon!

до свидания (good bye)

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Welcome to my new exchange blog!

Hi everyone! My name is Kendra and i'm here to tell you all about my upcoming adventure in RUSSIA!!!! Some of you out there might know me from my exchange blog that i wrote 2 years ago when I went to italy! if so, welcome back, and I hope you enjoy my new blog as much as I enjoy writing it!

So a little about myself! Well I'm Kendra and i'm an 18 year old senior in high school and I'm getting ready to graduate, but unlike a normal high school graduate i'm not planning on going on to college this year. I will be going to college, I'll be attending John Cabot University in Rome, Italy, but i'm postponing it for one year so that I can go to Russia on an AFS/NSLI exchange! This is my second high school exchange. WHen I was a junior in high school I went to Sardegna Italy with AFS. ( I had a blog for that year as well if you're interested click HERE) It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I cant wait to go on a second exchange!

Why Russia you ask? well when i was researching on a way to do a second exchange i came across NSLI-Y which stands for National Security Language Initiative for Youth. THis is a program that offers full scholarships to high school age students to go abroad for a summer, semester or year. They offer exchanges to countries that speak "national security languages" meaning languages that the American Government deems to be important and needed. Like: Chinese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Hindi, Persian, and Turkish. When I found this I jumped at the chance because this is a full scholarship and with out a full scholarship i would not have been able to afford a second exchange. when i looked at the list I was immediately drawn to Russian and Turkish so when I was filling out the application I put them as my #1 and #2. My number #3 option was chosen basically by my mother because I was to old for Chinese and she said no to Korean and Arabic so that left me with Hindi.

I turned my application in in early December and tried my hardest to put it at the back of my mind, meanwhile i continued to apply for university like a normal student because NSLI was not a sure thing. In late January i was notified that i was a Semi-Finalist and that I had to do an Interview. I wasn't really nervous for my interview because the ladies that interviewed me were the same ones that interviewed me for my trip to Italy and the same ladies that i have volunteered with since i returned from Italy. The interview went well and was told that i would need to wait until april for the final decision! When april rolled around I started to get nervous and waited very impatiently until Tuesday, April 27,2010! When i received this:

"Kendra, I am pleased to inform you that the NSLI for Youth selection committee has recommended you to receive a 2010/2011 NSLI for Youth scholarship. The reviewers believe that you have the ability to meet the challenges of a rigorous overseas language program and that you possess great potential for success."

When i read this email i felt like screaming at the top of my lungs! I couldn't believe it! It was really happening, i was going to be an exchange student AGAIN! I was happy, ecstatic, excited, scared, nervous and all i could think was "am i crazy for doing this again? i must be!!" but over all i was very excited and couldn't wait to go home and tell my parents that i got accepted to go to RUSSIA!

That pretty much brings us up to today and now i'm just waiting for more information from AFS/NSLI-Y on my host family, visa process, and orientations! I hope that you all enjoy reading about my adventures becuase I for one am more excited then I could possibly describe!

Bye! пока!