Case study: Mercedes Jaskolka, St Petersburg, Russia – 2017

I was full of nerves when I landed in St Petersburg. I thought I’d feel somewhat comfortable in a new environment, having had spent 5 months living in Paris. But nothing could prepare me for the culture shock that came with living and breathing Russia’s culture capital for 5 whole months. The first month I was sad, cold, and homesick – it was minus 20c when I landed! – and the succeeding 4 months were 4 of the most incredible, eye-opening, enriching, beautiful, educational, intense, sometimes emotional(!) months of my life.  Now that I’m back home in the UK, I miss St Petersburg with every fibre of my body.

Doesn't St Petersburg remind you of Venice? With its many canals and beautiful buildings, you'd be forgiven for thinking you're in the European capital.

Doesn’t St Petersburg remind you of Venice? With its many canals and beautiful buildings, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in the European capital.

St Petersburg has been called names over its rich history – from the official Leningrad to Petrograd – but I was fortunate enough to have called it my home.

I never really put too much thought into to what extent the John Speak scholarship would enrich my semester abroad. I, embarrassingly, saw the monthly report requirement as a hoop to jump through.

I think that’s why my first report was so shockingly bad. Thank you to my reviewer who told me it was at the level of a 10 year old! I took this critique in my stride and really focused on improving my Russian.

This room inside the Hermitage museum reminds me of La Galerie des Glaces in the Château de Versailles. I find this interesting as the Russian tsars of the 18th century looked to Europe for architectural inspiration. If you've travelled extensively around Europe, you'll notice when walking around the old centre of St Petersburg that each street is like a different European city.

This room inside the Hermitage museum reminds me of La Galerie des Glaces in the Château de Versailles.
I find this interesting as the Russian tsars of the 18th century looked to Europe for architectural inspiration. If you’ve travelled extensively around Europe, you’ll notice when walking around the old centre of St Petersburg that each street is like a different European city.

I would look all around me for inspiration for my reports: go for walks, go to restaurants, bars and museums and making notes on what I wanted to include. By my final report, I loved writing my reports. They became less of a chore and more of a labour of love. I could feel myself becoming more and more confident in Russian with each passing month, and it’s great to look back on how much I progressed. Now, I kind of miss writing my reports. Please John Speak Sir, may I write some more?

Snow covered statues of Russia's most decorated architects... and me.

Snow covered statues of Russia’s most decorated architects… and me.

Despite being restricted somewhat by some stressfully huge essays for my home university, I enjoyed Russian life as much as possible. I lived with Russian/Russian-speaking students in a student dormitory, who taught me so many weird and wonderful things about Russian ways of life, food, culture and politics. Of course, at times we had a culture clash, but I made it my goal to respect and appreciate the culture in which I was trying to assimilate myself. What really struck me about my flat mates was how genuinely GOOD they were. Wholly kind, generous, and kind-hearted.  Everyone I met was gracious, friendly, and incredibly intelligent, with such an awesome work ethic. I’ve learnt a lot from my Russian flat mates; they’ve humbled and inspired me in more ways than they could ever know.  I made some friends in Russia that I know are going to be friends for life.

When one is tired of beautiful St Petersburg sunsets, one is tired of life.

When one is tired of beautiful St Petersburg sunsets, one is tired of life.

Russian food is… interesting, and the nightlife in St Petersburg is insane. I definitely recommend experiencing the St Petersburg nightlife;  it’s so varied and there is something for everyone in the city centre.  I loved discovering new and interesting places and immersing myself into Russian life.  St Petersburg is a fresh, young, and dynamic city with many cool bars and cafes that wouldn’t look out of place in the trendiest parts of Paris or London, only without the price tag to go with it.

Thank you so much to the John Speak Trust for giving me the opportunity to get the most out of my semester abroad. I don’t think my Russian skills would have improved so much without writing the monthly reports.  This scholarship is more than just financial help; the skills this scholarship has given me – confidence, communication and blog writing – are skills I can now take with me to the workplace.  I’m now a proud John Speak alumna.  If you’re looking to get the most out of your time abroad, then the John Speak Trust is for you.

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