While I love how familiar the scene of Berlin has become over the past (almost) two months, I was truly looking forward to the inevitable culture shock that I knew St. Petersburg would bring. Coming to Berlin has certainly provided me with a different life than the one I carry on at home, but I was looking for a taste of something culturally jaw-dropping. Now that I’ve returned from Russia, I can without-a-doubt say that I got what I was looking for.
Soon after our arrival, I realized things were different in St. Petersburg. On the first morning, we walked roughly 45 min to the university that we were going to attend lectures at during the week. On the walk through the city center, no one smiled, no one talked (not even amongst themselves). The amount of Russian conversation that I did hear going on around me sounded totally unfamiliar, and the words on the signs I walked past essentially meant nothing to me.
Simply walking around St. Petersburg was truly a different experience. The buildings are only a fraction of the height of skyscrapers, yet they manage to make you feel even more small and insignificant with their old, magnificent architecture.
The wide, perfectly symmetrical streets were packed with cars, pedestrians, and crisscrossed over countless canals cutting through the city. Old women filled the edge of the sidewalk with their produce for sale, and once in a while, a grand Orthodox steeple became visible in the distance. Looking around and just taking in my surroundings never became boring.
The differences in culture became the most apparent when communicating with Russians. Our IES group was lucky enough to get the chance to spend a fair amount of time hanging out with Russian university students. The students were studying translating so they spoke excellent English, yet there remained a disconnect in conversation because of the ways in which our different cultures had taught us to communicate. I had never really taken into consideration that even though you might be fluent in a language, you might still run into numerous complications when communicating due to cultural differences in communication styles.
I spent the vast majority of my week in Russia utterly confused by my surroundings and experiences. I went there with nothing, and came back with a million questions. While this is nerve-wracking, I value the fact that I’ve had the opportunity for the questions to even arise. Now that I have questions, I can seek answers, and in a way, I think this is what studying-abroad is all about.