Small things that are routine at home can easily become a challenge when living in a new country. Add a different language to the mix and you have a totally new experience.
My biggest challenge isn’t the cold weather or the Russian language, it’s the short days. Sunrise is at 9h34 and sunset is at 2h37 so approximatively 5 hours of sunlight per day and that’s if it’s not cloudy or snowing. I learnt that Dec 21, we will get 3 hours of sun per day.
I am lucky my classes are in the evening at 6pm and most of them are online anyways. I try to walk to school or shopping center (3-4 km) at least once a day to get some fresh air albeit cold air (-21ºC). I’m not cold and most of the time I find myself sweating which is strange.
The local buses are called Marshrutka, and it cost ₽29 ($0.50) one-way ticket. The city is small so from my residence, I can go straight to university with bus no.1. You border the bus, and a lady collects the fare. Social distancing is not possible during rush hour. You are literally butt to butt in the bus. The majority wears the mask at least.
In the dorms, I share the bathroom and shower with another room (1 or 2 person per room), for now, nobody is in the other room. We share the kitchen (with basic commodities including washer and microwave) with 6 rooms, but once again, I haven’t seen anyone so far. Today, I wanted to wash my clothes, so I needed to figure out how to start the machine (all in Russian) and where to put them to dry (no dryer unfortunately like most places in Europe). I saw there was a rack further down the corridor but wasn’t sure if it was all of us to use. I decided to put my clothes there anyways. A girl started talking to me in Russian, luckily, she also spoke English and she told me she is from China and that she would take her clothes so I would have more space. That answered my question that everyone can use it. As for our bed sheets and towels, someone collects them twice a week. Someone also brooms and passes the mop in the common area, but our room too.
I was told tap water wasn’t safe to drink. I usually do not buy bottled water. A colleague told me there should be a filter in the kitchen so until I confirm this information, I will continue buying water at the supermarket.
To eat at restaurants, one needs to have the sanitary pass and QR. So far, I’ve been able to do so when I show mine from Canada. For some reason, it brings you to a website, but they always accepted it in the end. Only Sputnik vaccine is accepted in Russia. There are talks about recognizing other vaccines. So far, I was always able to eat in restaurants. I went to have dinner in an Italian restaurant by myself. I ordered a pizza which is quite easy to say in Russian. She arrives a bit later and puts this big tomato can and I start to wonder if I did order right so I asked her. She told me it was to hold the pizza.
I won’t have time to sightseeing this coming month. I have to catch up in my assignments. This morning, I had a meeting with one my teachers and he explained my assignment (Environmental Project Management). It’s a bit of a challenge as my colleague are able to work in groups of 2-3 and I have to do it by myself and the lectures were in Russian since I wasn’t there, but the presentation will have to be in English.
I have learnt that Christmas Day is January 7th in Orthodox tradition. They do celebrate New Years and we will have vacation from Dec.31 to Jan 9. My semester ends in January where I will have 2 weeks before the winter semester begins.
So far, I haven’t found anything to be difficult, maybe because I was in contact with different people and colleagues from the beginning and I’ve received a lot of help. Even the language, I managed with what I know, and I can always use google translate if needed. Understanding the Cyrillic alphabet is a big plus. I’ve lived in different countries and Bulgaria was probably the most challenging one.