Student Stories

Some funny, some serious, some touching…all are personal memories of former students who spent time studying in Russia.

A Snowy Night in Novgorod

novgorod_snowDuring our trip to Novgorod, we wanted to go ice-skating at the local rink. We left the hotel and took a bus across the city to the sports complex, only to find that the employees there refused to rent skates to people who didn’t live in Novgorod.

A bit discouraged, we decided to walk back to the hotel and figure out what to do from there. Along the way, however, we found an empty Coke bottle and started kicking it around in a deserted parking lot. Not long after, we had set up goals and boundaries and had just started to play some “soccer” when a dog came out of nowhere and stole our ball. We cursed our bad luck again and once again started walking down the street back to our hotel (we didn’t know where the bus lines were) when we spotted some huge hills nearby.

It turns out that these hills were city’s oldest fortifications; they were intended to make would-be invaders tired after running up such a steep slope so that “dispatching” them on the other side of the hill would be easier. Covered in snow, these hills provided the perfect sledding hill for the four of us. We must have slid down the hill ten or fifteen times before we had to stop because we were covered in snow and ice.

We continued our journey to the hotel along the crests of the hills, and eventually reached the banks of the river. The snow was falling lightly and the city lights across the water reflected beautifully in the droplets of water hanging in the air. In the distance we could even see the dark outline of the city Kremlin, which loomed on a hill across the river.

On our way back, we passed by a beautiful church whose bells were ringing through the still air as the Saturday evening service let out. I can still remember the children running excitedly to the soft slopes of the fortifications, just as we had done earlier, enjoying the simple pleasure of sliding down an icy hill in the wintertime.

The Most Impossible Game of All Time

adil_billiardsIt must have been the first weekend or so when my host brother took me and another student out with his friends to a place off of Kamennoostrovskii to try out hand at Russian Billards. I enjoy an occaisonal game of pool, so I was looking forward to learning a new style of billiards, but I never would have expected the Russian incarnation to be as difficult as it was.

The biggest differences between the two games are as follows: the Russian billiard table is about 33 percent bigger than the ones we are used to playing on in the states. The pockets are much smaller, and the billiard balls themselves seemed about twice the size as the standard English billiard balls. And finally, there aren’t different colors, solids, or stripes. You have one red ball and a bunch of white ones. Honestly, I can’t remember what the official rules of the game are but you can hit any ball on the table with any other ball, so there’s no such thing as a cue ball.

Misha, Kiril, Adil, and I ordered a beer from the bar and watched some of the more talented players as we waited for a table to open up. From a spectator’s perspective, the game didn’t look any harder than shooting “regular” pool. But once we got our chance to try the game firsthand, we realized the challenge. The size of the pockets didn’t leave much room for error when you took your shot, and we must have missed thirty shots among the four of us before anyone scored.

After about an hour of missed shots, unlucky rebounds, and scratches, Team Not Russia finally scored, making the game 2-1. The game was far from well-executed; I think the score ended up being 5-3 after playing all evening. I still laugh at the my utter inability to make a single shot in Russian billiards, but eventually, all of the frustration payed off. The next time I played English billiards, the game seemed a whole lot easier!

Reflections on Fireworks

Grom Grom Grom. What is this noise? A thunder? An earthquake?

There’s no way this is Japan where earthquake strikes once a week. What if it really is an earthquake? Better wake up and run for my life, just in case.

Such thoughts are swirling in my head in a flash of moment. I push away my blanket and open my eyes. The whole ceiling flashes with golden light. I turn my head to the window. The most beautiful.

February 23rd is Men’s Day in Russia. Fireworks are dedicated to all the brave soldiers who defended the motherland.

I feel quite shameful to admit that it is the first time I have ever seen fireworks in my life. I mean real fireworks, not fireworks on TV screen. In Hong Kong, seeing fireworks from the window of your bedroom is out of the question. The only thing you can see from your window is probably either your neighbor’s room (lucky if you have a pleasing view), or a narrow spot of the sky if you are really lucky. That’s how things are in a concrete jungle where everyone wants to jump higher only to realize that even if you live on the 20th floor like I do, doesn’t guarantee you a decent view of the blue sky. That’s how things are in my birthplace.

Who could guess that, at this moment, I am lying on my bed, seeing fireworks from the window in the bedroom of a hundred-year-old apartment in St. Petersburg?

The most beautiful hits you in every unexpected way.

When you were little, have you ever thought that the world exists just for you and rotates just for you? I want to say, now I feel the same. The most beautiful exists just for me, and I witness it.

As sparkles are falling from the sky, I wonder what brings me to Russia. Why am I here? Everything seems so unreal now. Is this some kind of joke? Do things happen, because it’s at the right time and at the right moment? Or things just happen to be so? Do things happen for a reason?

There’s no need for an answer. I am alive, truly.