Monday, July 14, 2008

The end of an Adventure

By Ryan Chapman

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got 'till its gone…” I think back to the Counting Crows and Vanessa Carlton remix of this song as I laid in Frankfurt, Germany’s airport floor waiting for the Lufthansa Airline strike to end.

I thought back to all of the sights I saw, people I met, things I had learned, and fun times Russia and Study Abroad offered. As the song played yet again in my head, I realized it was not describing my Russian experience at all.

My initial goals for going to St. Petersburg, Russia, was to try everything and partake in as many experiences as I possibly could. I kept the time I was sitting in the dorms to a minimum, as I always tried to make the most of time seeing the city, talking to Russian people, eating at local restaurants, and learning the Russian Language. I never left Russia with a “wishing I had of done…” feeling. I truly felt I got the most out of my Study Abroad experience.

As the song in my head grew more annoying (especially the parts where Vanessa Carlton sings, “Mmm bop bop bop, Mmm bop bop”), I tried to figure out what exactly I took for granted over the last 31 days. Then it hit me, America!

Arriving in the states near July 4 was absolutely great. I have never been the type of person to sleep with American Flag undies on, but after being gone from my country for a month it was great to be back at a time of semi-unity for our country.

I had taken America for granted. If you think about it, it’s quite easy to do. I hear so many Americans say they despise our country for various reasons. While it is certainly each person’s right to be able to criticize our country, I feel like if more people were to travel abroad and have other countries to compare America with, than many people's mindsets would be different.

(From left) Ryan Chapman, Caitlyn Mobley, Lillie Steele, Kyla Rodgers and (front) Stacey Oksam.)

Study Abroad has been a great experience that I would recommend to everyone. I hope my blogs have helped anyone interested in studying abroad become well informed of the positives and negatives of traveling. If you have any more questions about my experiences or about Study Abroad in general feel free to contact me at

Friday, July 11, 2008

My Experience Abroad

By Nakita Dziegielewski

Now that I am back in the beautiful U.S.A., it is now time for me to reflect on what I have learned and gained from my trip abroad. This self-reflection is necessary in order to see what I have taken away from this trip. This self-reflection is good because it allows me to see what personal view or attitudes, if any, have changed from being away. It is also necessary because self-reflection will allow me to see what I would/could have changed in order to make my Russian adventure and future adventures successful and enjoyable.

One thing that I have most definitely learned about studying abroad is that immersing myself in another culture was a lot harder than it looks. A person cannot just do one thing to become apart of a culture, but many. From what I have experienced, the essentials that are needed in order to be totally immersed include: learning the language (the most important in my opinion), adopting the clothing, hair, etc. style, knowing the cuisine and actually eating it, knowing the traditions, and in the Russia, the superstitions, and knowing the basics of what drives and motivates the culture. All of these aspects are what allows someone to totally become apart of Russian culture.

I realized from my experience that I didn’t have all of these essentials mastered, but I did try to incorporate them into my everyday life in Russia. I tried to communicate to the best of my ability. I tried to shape my clothing style to that of the Russians, but more times than not, I was not terribly successful in that department. I did eat the local cuisine, and I somewhat knew the basics of Russian culture. Even though I didn’t master the essentials, I still feel as though I was able to be a part of Russian culture and I was able to gain insight from a culture so different from my own.

Now when it comes to self-reflection on changed views or attitudes, I would say that only a few views or attitudes have changed. One is that my experience abroad made me appreciate the U.S. even more. I have always valued my country, but I have made judgments on the faults that our country houses. Now, that is not a bad thing by any means, as U.S citizens we need to recognize our countries faults. But after visiting Russia, I have become much more aware about how much our country does do for its citizens, and I have become much more appreciative of the United States of America. While this trip has provided me with new perspectives, overall my views and attitudes have not changed from this trip.

Lastly, when it comes to self-reflection on things that I would have changed in order to make my trip better, my number one answer is language. I never realized how not knowing a culture's language would tremendously influenced the outcome of my trip. I believe that my experience abroad was great, but I know for a fact that it would have been better had I know the language fluently. I knew the basics, but it definitely wasn’t enough. I hated that I couldn’t bargain at the market in Russian and that I couldn’t have full, detailed conversation with the locals. Besides the language there is nothing else I would change.

My month abroad was filled with mostly positive (and some negative) experiences, but it was an amazing experience overall. I have learned so much about Russian culture, and I have learned a lot about myself. Will I ever visit Russia again? I’m not sure, but I do know that my traveling to foreign lands has just begun.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Midnight Train to Moscow...

By Ryan Chapman

Excitement filed the air the entire day as we prepared to go on our midnight, 8-hour train ride to Moscow, Russia’s capital. To the best of my knowledge, St. Petersburg has a population of 8 million, while Moscow houses 15 million, quite a large difference.

Talks of staying up all-night and partying on the train to Moscow left the group’s mind as soon as we entered our 20 square foot room shared by four people. While the midnight train wasn’t everything the group dreamed of, we made the best of it, shoving 12+ students into a room smaller than a jail cell, just riding and reminiscing on the good times we shared in our short time together.

(Lillie Steele, Ryan Chapman, Jason Duffy and Trisha Thibodaux)

Once we arrived in Moscow, we realized just really how humongous the city is. The underground metro had more train lines than colors I can see, although that is not saying much since I am color blind…

Now, I sit writing my blog on the second night on this three-day excursion and I want to bring everyone’s attention to a harsh reality of foreign travel. So far, I have spent 27 wonderful days in Russia, and each day my trust for the Russian people continues to grow as my guard over myself slowly slips away.

This morning, I went shopping for souvenirs with three friends at a Flea Market. They eventually grew tired and went to the room, while I continued to shop. After buying a snazzy Russian tracksuit, I walked by a shoe vendor, who let me try on some Pumas. He gave me a bag to put my tracksuit in as I tried on the shoes, but when he wanted 6000 Rubles (or $240), I tried to leave. He bargained a bit then told me he would go to the ATM with me, which didn’t sound to safe at all. I noticed his tone being more forceful as he grabbed my wrist the more I refused. I could since the situation getting more and more unfavorable, when 3 other vendors moved towards the one exit in the tent.

(Stan Mcclellan, Irina Mcclellan and Ryan Chapman)

I knew I had to act before things got even worse. I stood up and got my merchandise back from the vendor, while giving him his shoes. Once I had my stuff, I tried to walk away, but yet again the man grabbed my wrist, this time with more force. I spoke what Russian I had learned with a clear tone, saying I wasn’t looking for business, no matter how cool the Pumas looked!

Another step and another wrist grab, this time the most forceful, I had enough at this point. I felt alone, surrounded by Russians, and was able to only speak the basics of the language. Any hope of reaching my friends was gone also; they were back in the room by this point, so it was time to react. I broke the wrist grab using a neat technique I picked up from the 2-years of Taekwondo I took in high school, then pushed him back, while tripping him. Next I V-lined out of the place and jogged it out until I was in a more crowded area. All was safe.

I cannot stress the importance of never letting your guard down in a foreign place. I have and still do love Russia and all my time here, but as a foreigner, the one time you get into a comfort zone you let your guard down and become susceptible to pick pockets, overly assertive venders or things much worse.

Even after one negative experience, I would still recommend study abroad to everyone. There are hundreds of life changing experiences that overshadow the very few negatives I have encountered. I just want to give each reader a fair look at the good and the bad of my experience.

(All photos by Lillie Steele)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Finishing Up

By Nakita Dziegielewski

So, I can’t believe that my stay in St. Petersburg is coming to an end. Yesterday was our last day of classes and in seven days, I will be getting on a plane headed back to the states. I can’t believe how fast time flies. Although I’ve been here for almost a month it seems like I just got here yesterday.

I have seen and done so many things, but I know that I have only seen a little of what St. Petersburg has to offer. I have accomplished most of things that I had wanted to. I went to the Idiot Café (more than once), ventured several times through the Hermitage, and in a way became apart of Russian culture.

Even though my time in St. Pete has been short lived, I will carry so much more away with me then I ever thought. Memories made with the friends that I have met here, and things that I have learned about myself. Even though in some ways I am ready to see the States again, I still can’t get over the fact that my last day in St. Pete is only seven days away.

Paka for now!

Russian Night Life

By Ryan Chapman

After any person subjects themselves to five hours of straight techno music, they begin to question who they are, where they came from, and what their sexual orientation is. I just asked myself the first two questions…

Nightlife in St. Petersburg is amazing. I have spent today recovering from the last two nights of partying. The first night was a citywide party where 200,000 citizens of St. Petersburg came together and to celebrate the graduation of all the high school students. I remember my high school graduation and do not recall anyone closing streets and having free concerts in my honor. Here it is much different, the largest street of St. Petersburg, Nevesky Prospect, is closed and drunk citizens and high school graduates alike litter the streets in celebration.

Last night, I went to the infamous Red Club. Being highly recommended by my Russian friends, the group of 11 of us went out with high spirits. Five hours of techno later, I forgot any form of dance I had learned in America. Dancing to techno is an experience that everyone should have once; flailing madly with the never-ending beats was an unforgettable time. Once the night was ending, the club’s private room opened up and to our surprise it was an American music dance room. I had never been so happy to hear Britney Spears music in my life…

With all the Russian culture surrounding us, I took a sojourn today to partake in some great American pastimes, McDonalds and Pizza Hutt. I thought back to the old Sylvester Stallone movie, Demolition Man, where in the future, the only restaurant is Taco Bell, which turns out to be a 5-star restaurant. Pizza Hutt and McDonalds in Russia are elaborately decorated, containing tons of modern furniture and designs. The quality of food also tasted a lot better, especially at Pizza Hutt, where the pizza was not covered in grease.

Its good to know that even in a foreign country, you can still find little footprints of our country’s culture, even if it does contain 50 grams of fat…

Monday, June 23, 2008

One of the Most Beautiful Places on Earth

By Nakita Dziegielewski

I just got back from one of the most beautiful places on Earth, Staraya Ladoga. Today, all of us went on a field trip to this beautiful town to learn a little Russian history, have a picnic, and bask in the Russian sunlight. Our trip to Staraya Ladoga has by far been the most picturesque and relaxing day that I have had in St. Petersburg.

We left around ten in the morning, making a few historic pit stops along the way, and finally arrived at our picnic destination around two in the afternoon. This town is not only beautiful, but is very much apart of Russian history and culture. It is known for being the first capital of Russia, and provides an inside look at how things were done in old Russia. The town itself is dated back to the eight and ninth centuries. On our trip, we were actually able to go inside the restored fortress that is located in the ancient town. It contained historical information regarding the formation of the town and of the fortress. The view from the top of the fortress was amazing.

Another aspect of the trip today was the picnic. We cooked kebabs on the grill and relished in the amazing view that Staraya Ladoga had to offer. Today was the perfect day as well because the sun was out and we had a constant breeze to keep us cool. We also had our Russian tutors come along with us. After all the eating was done, some played frisbee, volleyball or badminton, and others just walked around the countryside. I could have spent the whole day there, but unfortunately we had to leave. You know, if I could, I would spend the rest of my time in Russia there. The countryside has my heart.

One other thing that made this trip even better was the little snack that I had before entering the fortress. There were these two guys outside the fortress setting up this table with fish, head and all. So we went over to investigate and found out that these fish had just been caught and smoked today, and were ready to eat. At first, I was a little hesitant to spend money on a fish that still had its head everything attached and was laying out in the open air, but the aroma of the fish tempted my friend and I so we split a fish. When we got it we had to pull the skin back and just the meat straight out of the body. It was amazing — the best fish that I’ve ever had. My friend and I pretty much devoured the whole thing. It was so fresh, and smoked just right. The picture might tell otherwise, but listen to me when I say that if you ever venture to Staraya Ladoga you must, must find the guys that are selling the fresh, smoked fish and buy one. You will never go back to regular fish again.

Paka for now!

My First Solo Adventure

By Nakita Dziegielewski

So, I know they always say that it’s never safe to go anywhere alone when your in a foreign country that you don’t really now, but today I didn’t listen to that safety tip and I went on my first solo adventure.

It wasn’t very far, just to main campus and back, but it was still my first Russian solo adventure. Before I came on this trip I wrote down goals that I wanted to accomplish while abroad, and one goal in particular included going on an adventure on my own. I made this goal because I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I wanted to see how far I could go on my own. I didn’t want the safety net my fellow study abroad friends and directors provided. I wanted to truly see if I could, in a sense, mix in with the Russian culture on my own. Like stated before, my adventure only consisted of a walk to main campus, but it was a big step in pushing me out of my comfort zone.

You see, the campus isn’t directly next to IMOP (my dorm). It’s about the distance from Centennial Hall to VSU’s main campus. So, I walked all the way there by myself. Upon arrival, I didn’t just turn around, but I got on several walking trails and ended up in several different places on campus. The campus is kind of wooded, so it provided me with an even stronger sense of a true adventure. After about an hour of walking on campus trails I found this bench and sat and just reflected on my goal accomplished. I sat there for about thirty minutes resting my feet and watching the interactions that happened around me, relishing in the fact that I just did something in Russia all on my own. After my rest, I headed back to the dorm for dinner, where I again got to eat amazing Russian cuisine.

The two things that I loved most about my solo adventure was the fact that I was able to accomplish one goal that I set out for myself, and I got to see a softer side of St. Petersburg.

Paka for now!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Getting into the Russian Groove

By Ryan Chapman

Whoever said 70 percent of all communication is non-verbal, never went on a date with a girl who speaks zero English. I would have to say about 12.5 percent of communication is nonverbal, and that’s on a good day.

Armed with my Russian-English Dictionary, pen and paper, and four Russian 1001 classes beneath my belt, I went on a date with Liza a Russian girl who speaks no English.

The date started off a disaster, I ran out of Russian phrases within 34 seconds, and then desperately searched my dictionary to form sentences to keep spirits high. Next we resorted to drawing pictures to communicate ideas, unfortunately I’m no artist. When my stick figures came out looking like hot dog buns, I thought the evening was doomed.

Luckily her bi-lingual friend met us and we went to a café. Once a medium of communication was established, the date went great! One of the best first dates I have experienced. It was great how humor could be translated from one another using an interpreter.

After being in Russia for two weeks I’ve started getting into the groove. Of course, I still obviously stick out in public, but I am starting to feel more at home. One interesting thing I have noticed about Russians is that they are not friendly. You will never see two strangers greet each other or even make eye contact when in public, but despite the cold appearance of Russians, they make great friends.

Roman and Jack (his real name is Youginnie but prefers Jack around Americans) are two of my Russian friends. These two guys are amazing. They buy us drinks, negotiate cheap cab rides for us, and bend over backwards for us Americans. It was difficult at first trusting two random Russians, who we met on the street. I think the secret to it is to never trust anyone fully. Now I don’t mean to sound like Donavon from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Don’t trust anyone.” It’s just the fact that there are serious incidents of foreigners getting kidnapped and robbed by people they trust. So far everyone in the Study Abroad group has been lucky with the people they have interacted with.

One really cool tradition I have took part in here is football. The nights Russia plays football, the entire country goes crazy. I have been to two different bars on football night and each time it is like a holiday. The entire country seems to come together for the 90 min of the game — its great. I can’t begin to describe the energy in the bar when Russia scores a goal. It’s unlike anything I have seen. I think back to my time in the States and am jealous. I can never remember Americans coming together in such unity over anything. While it was just a sports game, I couldn’t help but think how we as Americans were lacking in any activity that brought the entire country together.

So far, we have spent 16 days in Russia. I would say about half of the 35 students are missing home in one form or another. I am definitely not in that group; I absolutely love it here and don’t want to go home anytime soon!

(Pictures contributed by Lillie Steele)

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Full Russian Experience

By Ryan Chapman

When I first boarded the plane to go to Russia, my mind spaced with thoughts of the villain from the new Indiana Jones movie slicing a soviet Sickle and Hammer into my chest with her sword. Not exactly, but I was completely clueless as to what awaited me. After spending a day and a half at airports dealing with layovers and intercontinental flights, I was quite relieved when I finally arrived in St. Petersburg.

The first two days consisted of tours around St. Petersburg. The sights I saw were unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. The architecture was so elaborate and beautiful, nothing I had seen in America could compare. One day I spent 15 min just staring at a building that housed a Pizza Hut, because the elaborate carvings in the building were so unlike anything I was used to.

The most impressive things I have seen so far were some of the churches. As I wonder throughout St. Isaac’s Cathedral I think back to reading the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, wishing I were able to interpret the countless carvings, pictures and elaborate ceilings into some grand conspiracy theory about the origins of religion. Unfortunately, I can’t. I’m a Physics major and know little of art history.

The breathtaking cathedrals may be wonderful, but the breathtaking women of Russia have the upper hand. The Russian people are amazingly beautiful. The style of clothing here is quite unlike anything I have experienced in America. One interesting thing I have noticed is about 30 percent of the Russian men I have seen have mullets — quite strange. Some of the students and I play a game called Count the Mullets, where we sit back on the Metro and count how many mullets we see on our way to downtown. We got 34 yesterday!

Tomorrow, I go on my first Russian date. I wanted to partake in every possible thing I could here in Russia, from day long tours to trying Russian food and from going to operas to going out on a date with a girl who speaks no English. It should be fun. I’m brining a translator to help keep things interesting.

Of course, Russia isn’t all pleasure. I did come here to take a class, RUSS 1001: Beginning Language. So far the class is kicking my butt! Russian language condensed into 12 class days is not an easy task, but at least it is just 12 class days!

So far I have been in Russia 11 days and already know I will not have enough time to fully learn the culture and explore all of St. Petersburg. What I do know is that I will try to utilize every day I can to go get enveloped culture and live this once in a lifetime experience to the fullest.

Meet Ryan Chapman

Academic Year: Senior
GPA: 3.1
Expected Graduation: December 2010
Degree Objective: Physics
Other: AFROTC Cadet, Wing Commander for Fall 2008

Hometown: Warner Robins
High school: Houston County High School 05'

Academic achievements; university highlights:

- University Honors Program
- Air Force ROTC Scholarship
- USAF Inactive Reserve
- Deans List
- POC of the Quarter Fall 2007
- AFECA Scholarship
- Rising Eagle Award from Field Training
- Honor Flight Ribbon from Field Training
- AFROTC Cadet of the Month February 2007
- Cadet of the Semester, voted by peers
- Ordained Minister in Church of Universal Life
- Local and National Society of Physics Students
- Peer Vote Award: Most Inspirational POC
- Who’s Who Among Americas College Students
- National Conclave for Arnold Air Society

Volunteer Work
- Ashley Street Cleanup
- Valentines for Vets
- Red Cross Blood Drives
- Humane Society Clean Up
- VSU Freshman move-in day and Visitation Tour Guide
- Christmas in the Desert
- Relay for Life
- Second Harvest Food Bank

Program chosen: St. Petersburg, Russia
Leave date: May 29, 2008
Return date: July 1, 2008

I chose this program because… I was in search of a change of pace in my life and Irina, the program director, was cute and gave me chocolate!

When I have free time I plan to… enjoy the St. Petersburg nightlife, visit all the historical sights and meet the locals.

The courses I will take include… Russian Language and Culture.

I am most excited about… being submerged in a culture that speaks an entirely different language and having to survive.

Before I leave the country, I will definitely… find the best spots to go visit, clubbing and eat!

This program will help me reach my long term goals because... it will help me understand other cultures and make me more open-minded!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Meet Nakita Dziegielewski

Academic Year: Sophomore
GPA: 3.7
Expected Graduation: 2010
Degree Objective: Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies
Employer: OASIS Center for Advising
Hometown: Dalton, Ga.
High school: Northwest Whitfield High School

Academic Highlights:
United Way Youth Volunteer Award
Visionary Award
Dean’s list

Program chosen: St. Petersburg, Russia
Leave date: May 29, 2008
Return date: July 1, 2008

I chose this program because… It will give me the opportunity to immerse myself in an Eastern European culture; while also allowing me to take classes that I can use for credit. St. Petersburg, Russia will also provide me with a cultural adventure that I have yet to experience.

When I have free time I plan to… Travel within the city. I already have a list of places I want to see and restaurants I want to eat at!

The courses I will take include… Russian 1001, St. Petersburg in War in Revolution, and Russian Language and Culture.

I am most excited about… Being thrown into a culture that is so different from my own, and interacting with the people.

Before I leave the country, I will definitely… Eat at the Idiot Café.

This program will help me reach my long term goals because... I eventually want to work for an NGO/Non-Profit in Eastern Europe, and the trip to St. Petersburg, Russia will benefit me greatly by exposing me to Eastern European life. This trip will also allow me to immerse myself in Eastern European culture, and assist me in deciding if international work is what I truly want to do.

A Russian Adventure

By Nakita Dziegielewski

St. Petersburg has been amazing so far. The “historic heart” of St. Petersburg is so beautiful with all its palaces, cathedrals and museums. So far I have been to the Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, the Hermitage, Pushkin, Catherine’s Place and the Russian bayna. My favorite places thus far have been Pushkin, Catherine’s garden and the Russian bayna. For those of you that don’t know what a bayna is it is like the American version of a sauna with a little twist. First you go into the sauna, stay in there until you can’t stand it, and after you can’t take it any longer you go and jump into a pool of ice cold water. Sounds crazy, but it is so amazing. It helps with circulation and detoxifies your body. Definitely something that I recommend to everyone that visits Russia!

I loved Pushkin! It was nice to see a softer side of Russia. Pushkin is located on the countryside of St. Pete and also houses Catherine’s palace and garden. It was so different to see the countryside of Russia. The historic heart is filled with beautiful architecture, but the outskirts are filled with large apartment style buildings. The country was a nice contrast. Catherine’s garden (below right) was amazing! It’s full of long, winding trails, tall grass and wildlife. I could of spent hours there, but unfortunately we had to leave by a certain time.

Classes have been great so far. I like my Russian language class. In only one week I have learn so much. Unfortunately, I’m not an expert at communication yet, so I love the fact that body language is universal! It has come in handy more times than one. One thing that I have become an expert at is the metro. I love it!! I was so happy the other day because I was able to get to Nevsky Prospect without having to look at my metro map. I don’t even need it now, but I still carry it with me just in case. I still can’t figure out the bus and trolley system, but I’m not that worried because I don’t ever use it.

An aspect of Russian culture that I have fallen in love with is the food. It is amazing. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner I am served with a hot serving of Russian culture and I love it. The food is so fresh and good. I just can’t get enough.

Paka (goodbye) for now!!