Spring in St. Petersburg 2018

David Bushhouse
Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University 2018

Today was the first day I saw grass in Russia. Even though we’re halfway into March and celebrated the official start of spring two weeks ago, the daily temperatures here in St. Petersburg are in still the mid-twenties. Take it from me, everyone in Peter is eager to see when spring will actually arrive!

This spring is special because on Sunday, March 18th, The Russian Presidential Election will be held.

Election adverts are all over the place: bus stops, billboards, shop windows, the YouTube homepage, on the radio, and even text messages that the Russian government sent out to every single Russian cell phone. Just today I saw a flower stand covered with five identical posters advertising the election.

You can see some examples pictured at right. The billboard says Nasha Strana, Nash Prezident, Nash Vybor!, which means “Our Country, Our President, Our Choice!” The bus stop says Vybirayem Prezidenta—Vybirayem Budushee!, which means “We Choose the President—We Choose the Future!”

It may seem odd to Americans that the Russian government spends enormous amounts of money advertising the election, while the candidates hardly advertise at all. The reason we have the opposite arrangement is that Americans and Russians view elections in different ways. In America, everyone obsesses over presidential elections: they consume every news story, fill every personal conversation, and are unavoidably touchy subjects at Thanksgiving dinners. In Russia, things are quite different. Even though the election is just days away, no one is eagerly awaiting election results; everyone knows that Putin is going to win, and most people will not bother to vote.

It’s not the Russians are so disheartened by the Putin regime that they think voting is useless. In fact, most Russians want Putin to win, but the lack of competitive alternative candidates and the massive public support for Putin makes most people think that voting is a waste of time. One professor of mine told our class that “Why would I vote? I know Putin will win, of course, so I will stay at home.”

However, there are also many Russians who will deliberately boycott the elections on Sunday. These are supporters of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and primary opponent of Vladimir Putin, who has been banned from running for president because of felony charges against him. Navalny supporters insist that the trumped-up charges against Navalny are politically motivated, and that the election is sure to be rigged. These supporters held large protests in over a hundred Russian cities in late January to call for an election boycott; they are also likely to hold reactionary protests after the election.

I will be in Moscow for the election, and am really looking forward to the experience. After that, I will be flying to Tbilisi, Georgia—where daily highs are in the mid-sixties—for my spring break.

Spring in the Czech Republic 2018

Nate Dracon
Charles University 2018

dobrý den from the city of Prague, Czech Republic!

I have been in the Czech Republic for almost a month now, and the differences between here and the U.S. are striking. Getting over wasn’t a problem, even for
a 6’4 student. I would just say that I am accustomed to never having enough leg
room. We first stopped for two days in London before taking a short flight to
the Czech Republic. The first thing that made me appreciate that I was in a very
foreign place was arriving at the airport and being unable to read anything
since it was all in Czech. From there, it was straight to the dorms, and the
next day I started my Czech language class. I never realized how good I had it
learning Spanish until I took on the Czech language which doesn’t use vowels.
During that two-week, 5 hours a day language class, I was able to use my spare
time to travel the Czech Republic. The first week, I went to Czechy Krumlov and
visited an ancient castle. The second week, I took a two day trip to Monrovia. I
had a great time on this trip as our group was able to visit Brno, have a
private dinner in a wine cellar dating back hundreds of years, and visited The
Battle of Austerlitz Memorial. My study abroad group is comprised of about 40
kids from all over the U.S., and we are all getting along reasonably well.
Classes at Charles University just started so they are pretty uneventful so far,
but there is so much that I have already learned from living in Prague that I
will try to break it up into categories!

History
Being a History major, I was excited to visit a city that has been virtually
untouched for almost 600 years. In fact, my school, Charles University, was founded in the 14th century. I never realized how young America was until I learned about the statues on the Charles Bridge. I was initially disappointed to learn that they are not original since they are made out of sandstone. Therefore, they need to be replaced every 300 years, and I realized that the current
statues might be older than America itself. The fact that the bridge has
replaced its statues multiple times since the 1300s is amazing to me.

Social Interactions
It was hard to imagine how much we take for granted in America until I visited a
country that was communist until the 1980s. Communism affected, and still
effects, the lifestyle and culture of the Czech people. It seems that the Czech
people have real trust issues with one another rooted in their fear of the
communist secret police. No one talks to one another, and no smiles are
exchanged in public. Any common business transactions, such as buying food, is
done with borderline rudeness from my perspective growing up in North and South
Carolina. Same can be said for the interaction between men and women. Prague is
truly a man’s world where women need to be careful about what they say and how
they dress, especially when it is late at night. It has been difficult for many
of the girls in our group to adjust to this since America is a very
forward-thinking compared to an eastern European city when it comes to
interaction between men and women.

Living in Prague
Prague is a beautiful city, just not particularly where I live, which is in a
large dormitory. That being said, I mostly buy my food at the grocery store
except for the burrito place I frequent called Burrito Loco. I have been going
there every day since I got here since it’s close to the gym I joined. I think
that I am their only American “regular”. On Wednesday, they actually smiled at
me and gave me a free brownie, so I must be making progress! My dorm is about a
15-minute commute by metro to city center. I live in an area of the city that
was built by the communist, so it’s just what you might imagine; dark, grey, and
everything looks the same. In fact, it’s so bland that our guide told us that
after the communist left, the city had to paint each building a different color
since kids could not tell the difference between them and would get lost trying
to get home after school.

Food
A great thing about food in the Czech Republic, as compared to the U.S., is that
everything is cheap. I eat three meals a day for under $10 each. Czech
food is good, but there is little variety. It mostly consists of some stew with
meat and dumplings. It is straightforward, and I got tired of it quickly.
Thankfully Prague has excellent international food, and as long as you stay away
from the tourist areas, the food is reasonably priced.

Being in Prague has been a great experience so far, and I look forward to
sharing more in the upcoming months.

Spring in St. Petersburg 2018

David Bushhouse
Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University 2018

I’ve been in St. Petersburg for less than a month, but have quickly noticed that шаверма, shaverma, is the most widespread and popular street-food in the city. In St. Petersburg, Shaverma stands are everywhere: next to every Metro Station, down nearly every alley, and in every clubbing district. Since shaverma stands are open 24 hours, it is the go-to drunk food for St. Petersburg locals, who call it ‘korm,’ which literally translates to “animal feed.” It’s unhealthy, always comes with a stomachache, and, as the locals say, will give you food poisoning every fifth time you eat it. But boy is it good.

Chicken, lamb, and goat is stacked onto a vertical spit and slowly grilled, creating a column of meat that is shaved then into smaller pieces. This method of cooking was originally developed in Ottoman Turkey in the 19th Century and quickly spread to the surrounding region, giving rise to the Turkish doner kebab, the Greek gyro, and the Arabic shawarma. Incidentally, the names of all these dishes reference the rotational grilling method—the most obvious being the Greek gyro (think gyroscope).

In shaverma, the shaved meat is served with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and a kefir-based sauce (similar to tzatziki) in a large tortilla-like Caucasian flatbread called lavash. Russian shaverma was invented by Central Asian immigrants, and is both greasier and less spicy than its distant Arabic cousin. Shaverma is cheap too! For 150–200 rubles (~3–4 dollars), depending on the stand, you can get a giant meal-sized shaverma that would cost at least 8 dollars stateside.

Shaverma stands are often run by Central Asians like Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Kazakhs—the nearest shaverma stand to my dorm, shown in the picture, is run by a Tajik family. In Russia there is a good deal of racial discrimination against Central Asian immigrants, who can often only find work in low-skill sectors of the economy. However, in the same way that Chinese restaurants enabled Chinese families to enter the middle class in the face of racial discrimination in the United States, many Central Asian families in Russia have been able to enter the middle class by opening shaverma stands.

As I mentioned before, Russian shaverma does come with an uncomfortably high risk of food poisoning. In 2016, Moscow city officials threatened to ban the sale of shawarma, and physically removed a few stands, due to the high percentage of stands that failed safety standards. The public backlash against this “Shawarmageddon,” as newspapers called the crackdown, was massive, and shawarma stands in Moscow remain open for business despite the public safety concerns. The truth is that for most Russians shaverma is a guilty-pleasure food, and they simply do not care about the safety concerns; they love shaverma. And, speaking for myself and my fellow exchange students, Americans love shaverma too!

Studying, “Across the Pond” 2017/18

Jamie Agnew
LSE 2017/18

I returned to London on January 2nd, 2018. The London School of Economics’s calendar is quite different from Hampden-Sydney’s as well as other colleges in the United States. You take four classes for the entire year all of which have a final exam in April or May. The only exception to this rule is if you take any Economics classes: they also have a midterm exam in the first week of January. I am not very fond of this setup because, unlike Hampden-Sydney, you enter winter break knowing that you have an exam at the end of break. Nonetheless, my midterm exam was on January 4th, so I returned to London on the 2nd. The exam was quite tough, but I believe I did alright.
Since my exam, I have really tried to focus on school as much as possible. Last semester I traveled around Europe a lot, and it became hard to stay on top of school work. I told myself that I was going to spend the first month or so in London to make sure I get all my ducks in a row for the second semester. I am currently planning several weekend trips in later February, March, and spring break. We have a month off for spring break, which is unheard of in the United States, and I am trying to figure out my plans for that month. I might come home for a week or so, but I am definitely planning on playing golf in Scotland and traveling with a bunch of friends to Greece. Some of my other trips this semester will include Amsterdam, Rome, Barcelona, and Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day.
The study abroad program through the London School of Economics is quite unique because it is a year-long program. Most study abroad programs are a semester, which is great, but I am very happy that mine is a year-long. Not only does it allow me to find a good balance between staying in London versus traveling around Europe so that I am not constantly traveling every weekend, but it also has allowed me to meet so many different people. In the first semester, I traveled around Europe with my buddies and their friends, but they were only here for a semester. This semester, I will travel around with a new set of buddies and friends, which I am really looking forward to. Even in London I have met so many new friends just in the first three weeks because UCL and Kings College have one-semester study abroad programs. Nonetheless, I am having a blast over here, and I can’t wait to see what this semester entails.

“Bon Voyage” 2017

Semester at Sea Experience
First and foremost, I would like to say Thank You for providing me funding that allowed me to participate in the Semester at Sea Program. With the scholarship, I was able to obtain my passport, visas, and travel expenses. Semester at Sea was an extraordinary experience to say the least. Even though I was only in different countries for an average of 4 days, the experience I had is invaluable. From being able to visit the Taj Mahal to hiking the Great Wall and from trying different foods to, most importantly, talking to the local people, I am extremely grateful. Also, I am extremely grateful to explore my roots in Africa; I visited Slave Castles in Ghana and I visited Nelson Mandela’s Jail Cell in South Africa. Even though this was a dark road to travel, it was imperative that I explored all of my history, and these experiences have helped me grow in my own culture. Even though I traveled to 11 different countries, I learned that there are two similarities that are the same in all of them. One is that everything is “Same, Same But Different;” the other I learned from a Trader in Ghana named Stephen who said, “No matter where you go there will be good people and bad people.” These two things taught me that people are one in the same everywhere; however, they just may have different ideals and ways of doing their daily routines. I have learned to be more understanding and try learning other peoples’ ways instead of enforcing my own, and I learned how privileged I am, and I want to give back to everyone.
God Bless

To Whom This May Concern:

I, Mr. Shemar Mandell Blakeney, would like to truly say thank you for providing me funding for the Semester at Sea Program. This program was invaluable, and to be able to participate in it is amazing. By God’s Grace, I was able to attend. Being an African American male from a single parent household, I do not even know how blessed, humble, and privileged I am to have been able to participate in the Semester at Sea program. I am truly grateful and thankful for the scholarship you granted me.

Blessings and Love,
Mr. Shemar Mandell Blakeney

Studying “Across the Pond” 2017/18

Jamie Agnew
LSE 2017/18

My study abroad experience was unbelievable. Between the things I saw, the friends I met, and the memories I made, the entire semester was all I could have asked for and then some. I had a rough idea of what the experience was going to be like because I talked to kids that had done the program already. But words can’t describe how much fun I had. London was a fantastic city to live in, and the easy ability to fly to other countries is something unheard of here in the United States. I knew going into it that I wanted to balance school in London with travel to other countries, and I think I did that pretty darn well. I split my time 50/50 between London and traveling, which was the perfect amount.

snapshot 2I can’t speak highly enough about London. It was a huge relief not needing to learn a new language for my time abroad. Londoners loved talking politics with my friends and me. They all assumed that because we were from America that therefor we were Trump supporters, which was an interesting assumption for them to make. The stereotypes I had going into it were that the British had good beer, bad food besides fish and chips, and that it rained a lot. The first two were spot on, but the bad weather wasn’t as much of a problem as I thought. Unlike the mid-Atlantic, the rain over in London was often a light, spitting rain, which isn’t unbearable like the downpours we get here. And on top of that, it didn’t rain all that much; rather it was cloudy most of the time, but there were plenty of nice sunsets to compliment the bad weather.

snapshotThroughout the semester, I traveled to 5 different countries. I began my travels in Amsterdam with friends to experience the city as well as go to the music festival occurring that weekend. Amsterdam is like no place else in the world for many reasons. It was an expensive trip but a memorable one at that.

I then traveled to Prague the following weekend. Prague is a fantastic city, arguably one of my favorites in Europe. It is so cheap and so medieval. The architecture there is quite neat and there are major landmarks like the Prague Castle and the Lennon Wall, which are very enjoyable to visit. Coming from the expensive city of London, Prague was a huge relief because the dollar goes so far there.

Next, I went to Berlin to visit a couple friends from Washington DC that were studying there. While the company was great, the city wasn’t my favorite. It was very dark, cold, and wet. On top of this, the city is very spread out, which makes it unfriendly for tourists. Nonetheless, we saw major landmarks like the Reichstag and the Berlin Wall, so I am definitely glad I went but not sure I am going to go back.snapshotv2

Next, I met up with kids who I went to Amsterdam and Prague with in Florence. A good friend of mine from high school was studying in Florence so we went out with her every night, which was super fun. Florence was a very nice city. Great architecture and even better food. Italian pasta is substantially better than any pasta in the United States. We had a really good time touring the city during the day and going out to the clubs at night. All around a great weekend.

mountainsDuring my last weekend abroad, I went skiing with friends from Washington DC in Chamonix, France, which is in the southeast portion of France (30 minutes from Switzerland and Italy). The French Alps were absolutely gorgeous. The first day we were there, we took an old cable car up the mountain and had lunch up there with an unparalleled view and went to a hockey game in downtown Chamonix that night. The next day was the first day of the season for the mountain, so we rented skis and skied all day long. The mountain blew away the mountains out west even though the conditions weren’t as good as they are in the depth of the winter. It was an amazing trip all together, and I’m so glad I decided to go on it.

As you can see, I had a blast this semester. I feel confident that I could navigate myself around any airport to get to any destination after all the traveling I did this semester. Now that I am back at home, I miss the drinking age being 18 over there since I am still 20 for a couple more months. It was so nice to never worry about being underage and now it’s a rude awakening that I am back in the states.

My best piece of advice for kids studying abroad is to save up a lot of money and don’t ever hesitate to take a weekend trip anywhere. There were a couple trips that I was on the fence about, and ended up going, and it was the best decision. There will be no other time in your life with no obligations besides school where you have the freedom to travel around Europe with your friends, so take advantage of it. But, also save a lot of money because the unforgettable memories cost a lot sometimes.

 

 

 

London in the fall 2017

David Arias Hernandez
UCL 2017

December was the last month of this amazing opportunity to study abroad, and I really took advantage of it.

St. Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil’s Cathedral

At the beginning of the month I went to Moscow, Russia, where, I was able to visit various iconic places. On the first day, I went to the Red Square, where I was able to visit The Iberian Gate, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Statue of Minin and Pozharsky, Kazan Cathedral, Kremlin Wall, Lenin Mausoleum, and GUM. The ones I liked the most were St. Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin Mausoleum, and the Kremlin Wall, although GUM, a Harrods-like shopping center, counted with several souvenir stores with tons of beautiful products. Clearly, St. Basil’s Cathedral was the highlight of the Red Square, as its architecture would attract any tourist                                                                                      regardless of his/her origin.

Lenin's Mausoleum

Lenin’s Mausoleum

Lenin Mausoleum was also a really interesting place to visit, as it provided me with an opportunity to be incredibly close to one of the most iconic characters in world history. Nevertheless, one of the most interesting things about the Red Square, which genuinely caught my attention, was to see how some locals would dress as Stalin to charge tourists for taking pictures with them. Tourists, excluding me, would get really excited about such picture, and therefore, would pay a considerable amount ($20). On the next day, I took a tour around Moscow’s metro. Moscow’s metro is known for the beauty of its stations. Each station has a different architecture, and tourists, just like me, often take some time to take a tour around some of the most important stations.

Display of Russian Nesting Dolls

Matryoshkas ( Russian Nesting Dolls)

After the short metro tour, I went to a Russian market 15 minutes away from the city center, where I was able to purchase very famous souvenirs like matryoshkas and eggs. It was also really interesting to see how many of the t-shirts sold in this market had Putin’s face printed on them. The president is really popular amongst citizens, and such particularity was evidenced on the merchandise sold not only at this market, but also at many other souvenir shops located in the Red Square. On that day, I also went to Gorky Park, which is the equivalent to Moscow’s Central Park. The park was neatly decorated by Christmas lights, and most of it was turned into an ice skating rink. On my final day, I visited the Kremlin, where I was able to see wonderful cathedrals, the palace where Putin lives, and the Senate, apart from several sculptures from the period before the Bolshevik Revolution.

Wembley Stadium

Wembley Stadium

After coming back from Moscow, I was able to attend my first UEFA Champions League game. It was a wonderful experience, as I had dreamed my entire life as a kid to listen the Champions League’s anthem live. The game was an easy 3-0 win for Spurs, and it was a great opportunity to visit one of the most important stadiums in football’s history: Wembley Stadium.

 

 

 

Countdown to the World Cup in Russia

Countdown to the World Cup in Russia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concluding my entries, I have to say that there are many things that I will take from this amazing opportunity. It is true that I had already experienced studying abroad when I decided to leave Colombia for the U.S., but the magic of studying abroad is never lost. This period in London taught me that studying abroad is never an opportunity one can miss, and I will definitely recommend studying abroad to every H-SC student that is doubting about taking this opportunity. Experiences like the one I’m about to finish are the ones that make us grow as a person, and definitely the ones that help us becoming good men and good citizens.