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Life in Russia

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Peter the Great

Peter's City on the Neva

Participants in the internship live in St. Petersburg, Russia, Russia's "window on the West". This 300 year old city is Russia's cultural center. It simply overflows with opportunities to absorb art, theatre, opera, ballet, and music. It is a city of Russian Orthodox churches, whitewashed pastel-colored buildings, dozens of canals, and palaces. It is also a city of neo-modern architecture, concrete-and-steel apartment buildings, pot-hole-covered streets, and icy winds. It inspires in one a sense of mystery and romance, attraction and repugnance. Its dramatic history lingers in the atmosphere and can be sensed as being at once tragic and glorious.

This city was built on a swamp at the edge of the Baltic Sea by Peter the Great in 1703, at the expense of hundreds of thousands of workers' lives. It was renamed Petrograd after the 1917 Revolution, and later Leningrad. Peterburgians have a reputation of being hearty, longsuffering people. They endured the Siege of Leningrad during World War II, during which time the city was blockaded for 900 days and millions died, most of starvation. The citizens of St. Petersburg are known for their hospitality, their open, generous nature, and their high level of education.
                                                   Interns in the RBP are expected to soak up as much of "real life" in St. Petersburg as they might. This means they will have ample opportunity for developing friendships, learning about the reality of Russian life from the inside. Interns are strongly encouraged to research some of the city's and the country's history ahead of time. Familiarizing yourself with classics of Russian literature is also helpful: Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are a good start. Naturally, the more familiar an intern can become with the Russian language, the easier it will be to communicate.

Living Arrangements & Transportation

Interns live in shared apartments with other interns. In past years, the apartments have been close to the roddom, but sometimes the apartments are on the edge of the city, since downtown apartments are much more expensive and outside the RBP budget. In such a case, interns ride public transportation—which is quite extensive in St. Petersburg—to work. The cost of taking public transportation to work is included in tuition. The St. Petersburg subway (the metro) was built at a great depth below the city and even runs underneath the Neva river. It is relatively safe, although interns should observe certain universal precautions to insure their safety. The metro closes just after midnight, and some other forms of public transportation close even earlier. Many Russians take "taxis", which are either official taxis or unofficial ones--a driver who decides he is willing to take someone somewhere for a fee. People often stand on the street and simply flag down a vehicle and ask to be taken somewhere, and a price is agreed upon. It is not recommended that interns do this unless they are accompanied by a Russian.

                                                            Basic food is provided as part of the program fee, and is purchased for interns in order to save them the time and difficulty of shopping for food—often a harrowing undertaking for non-Russian-speaking foreigners. "Extras"--such as expensive, imported items--are not included in the basic food supplies and interns must procure these things themselves. Most Russian food is sold in bulk or in its simplest form, and is, for the most part, free from pesticides and fertilizers. Fruits and vegetables therefore look like "organic" ones with more blemishes. The RBP budget cannot afford to purchase the terribly expensive, shiny, blemish-free produce imported from Western Europe--but most people are more satisfied with the local food, anyway! Russia currently has all the food one could desire, with tempting delicacies for even the most refined of palates. Fish, both fresh and smoked, is found in abundance in St. Petersburg. Dairy products include a host of cultured milk products in all manner of preparation. Fresh vegetables and greens are sold on the street by people who bring them to the city from their dachas, where they were naturally raised. St. Petersburg boasts some of the finest chocolate in the world, as well as a myriad of confectionary delights. Whole grains in bulk form are readily available. And any of the varieties of Russian bread, sold fresh daily unsliced, entice the appetite and are so pleasing to the stomach that one is never again satisfied with any other.

White Nights
                                                           St. Petersburg is located on the same parallel as Anchorage, Alaska. Located on the Baltic Sea, however, the city is not nearly as cold. The white nights begin at the end of spring, when the days gradually get longer until June 21--the summer solstice--the longest day of the year. During the white nights there is daylight until after midnight, darkness for a few hours during the night, and sunrise by 4:00 or so. Sleeping is often difficult with so few hours of darkness. On the other hand, the extra hours of light make it easy to stay up late and go for a midnight stroll.

"Kissing Bridge"

St.Petersburg's "Kissing Bridge".

The Banya

Russia maintains an ancient tradition of its own version of the steam sauna, called the banya. The banya is a building usually housing a steam and a dry sauna, and a means of cooling oneself in an ice cold body of water. Traditionally, a banya was built at the edge of a pond or river and a person could simply immerse jump into the water after working up a thorough sweat. In the winter this entails cutting a hole in the ice, sometimes inserting a ladder, and quickly yet energetically dunking oneself--or a small child-- into the water. Modern banyas in the city usually have a small cold water tank or pool, and they are an absolute essential after emerging, drenched in sweat, from the sauna. A peculiarity of the Russian banya is the use of birch or pine branches in the sauna to beat oneself (or a friend) for the purpose of encouraging sweating. These branches are sold outside most banyas.
Most Russians consider the banya an essential part of life and a necessary ingredient for health.
The banya tradition is rich with opportunity for glimpsing the collective unconscious of the Russian psyche. Interns are therefore required to attend the banya at least once in order to successfully complete the program (unless a health condition contraindicates it); however, most interns gladly frequent a banya at least once a week!

Man with scythe

                                                     Living as Russians do in a typical apartment of a large city can be a challenge to some Americans. It is not uncommon for the unexpected to happen, for instance, the telephone may suddenly stop working, or your toilet will start to run endlessly. A more extreme mishap may be that suddenly your key breaks off in the door lock, or the elevator in which you are riding gets stuck between floors and you have to wait an hour until you are rescued. These things are part and parcel of Russian life. It helps to have a good attitude and a healthy sense of humor. In Russia, things do not always run as smoothly as we expect, which is why Molly has always said, "Murphy’s Law was invented in Russia, and was actually called ‘Murfsky’s Law’".Interns should be prepared to live without hot water for at least several weeks out of their stay in Russia. Hot water is always turned off every summer, during which time the pipes are cleaned in the apartment building.
Gheorghy’s job is to handle as efficiently as possible such unexpected events of Russian life. Interns should not hesitate to call upon him to deal with these unpleasantries.

Street Vendors

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