From Russia with Love

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St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow.

Timing is everything. As I awoke Monday, the day of my flight to Moscow, word that Delta had grounded all flights worldwide gave me a bit of pause. Though I never fly Delta, of course my school had booked me on Delta for both legs of the journey. As luck would have it, I made it to Moscow only three hours behind schedule. Pretty done with JFK Terminal B but no complaints. Many new coworkers had it much worse. One even made the news. In general, I was shocked at the ease of the 9 hour flight from NYC to Moscow.

When I touched down in Moscow, my principal, our HR rep, and a number of other teachers were there to greet me. I couldn’t have felt more welcome and relieved. I also made a quick friend in the Middle School PE teacher, Shin, who knows my good friend Ryan Williams from APIS. Shin, it turns out, knows EVERYBODY, but that’s a story for a different day. There are a lot of connections among these seasoned international teachers. I am probably the youngest and definitely the least experienced abroad so it’s pretty cool hearing all of their stories. It would take a lot to rattle this group.

First impressions of Russia – some very interesting hair styles (designs buzzed into the hair of Russian males) and the airport was no Incheon, but the country’s deep history was immediately apparent. On the way to my new apartment, we passed sculptures marking Hitler’s eastern-most advancement in WWII, the location of the Battle of Moscow. We were also introduced to the Seven Sisters, a collection of buildings commissioned by Stalin made distinct by their “communist gothic” style. One the sisters, the historic Hotel Ukraine, sits just across the street from my apartment building. It is now a Radisson.

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The Hotel Ukraine, one of the Seven Sisters.

More impressive is the White House, which lies just down the street from where I now live. It’s used in the same way as the US White House, with the President spending the majority of his time there.

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The view from my balcony. That’s the Hotel Ukraine to the right and the White House just beyond. Moscow’s modern business district is to the left.

My first days in Moscow have been very calm and measured. My location in the city makes it very easy to get around and I’m finding myself quicker to explore than I initially was in Seoul. Remembering the days when I wouldn’t walk farther than eyeshot of Brownstone… Dinner in Red Square and an IKEA run were the big ticket items so far.

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Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral behind me.

I’m sure you can understand that much of this experience includes me comparing my life in Seoul to my new life here in Moscow. It helps to contextualize the major jump I’m making and it seems pretty interesting, culturally. Alongside the comparison below, I’ve added photos from my grocery store run as I always find the shopping experience unique, country to country.

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The 24 hour grocery store across from my house, translates as the Russian letters for “A” and “B”.

Similarities between Seoul and Moscow…

  • Both have fast and reliable metros. Moscows are works of art featuring mosaics and beautiful lighting fixtures. They are also very deep underground.
  • The everyday passerby on the street probably doesn’t speak English, or enough to feel comfortable sharing.
  • Both are walkable cities – though I’m much more central than I was in Seoul. No one lives in Nowon… 😦
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Fish are plentiful here in Russia. They even get their own counter. A fillet of salmon costs roughly 5USD.
  • I’ve landed in another clearly supportive community – though my school is huge in size, the housing communities are very close – coworkers in mine threw us a dinner the first night we arrived so we could meet everyone.
  • There’s a coffee (кофе) shop right down the street, next to my school bus stop. This one takes the cake over Dunkies SoKo due to its offering of cold brew and the fact that it is randomly located within a dry cleaners.
  • One downside in common is the amount of people who smoke 😦
  • Shopkeepers are very willing to help, especially when they determine you don’t speak the language. I’ve found the Russian people to be very friendly off the bat.
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Korean peeps beware, cheese is no longer scarce… There is also a separate cheese counter for “fresh cheeses”. Mmmmm.

Differences…

  • Moscow has the distinct feeling of a European city. The riverfront apartments near my house could be found along the Seine in Paris. The bike paths are quite beautiful, something I enjoyed in Seoul as well.
  • This one is heartbreaking – there’s little to no recycling here. I can’t believe it. I’m already planning to bring my basic recycling to school where they do their best. It’s almost unfathomable in this day and age.
  • I received a SIM card and internet access at home immediately, making life so much easier. While it took a month in Korea, this change makes an incredible difference in ease of assimilation.
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I’m definitely living in a European country – from the magazines to the ease of eating at restaurants, life is different here. But I still miss Korea!
  • My apartment is much more spacious. I’m turning the dining room into an art studio. I have an oven in my kitchen. My den will be cozy in the winter. And my bedroom has a door (not a loft!). Ironically, I have less storage space than in Seoul. The Koreans for the win on that one.
  • This one is a big deal – I’m rarely stared at on the street or the bus. People mistake me for a local, asking directions on the street. This is probably the greatest change from my time in Korea as there was absolutely no way anyone would ever mistake me for a native. It’s really quite freeing, I must say.
  • I live on an 8-lane road. No frogger here, See&Me people. The traffic never stops so I’m getting used to the din. With windows closed, it’s thankfully quite quiet in my place.
  • The grocery store (AB Mart) across the street is open 24/7. This means no Sunday texts, “Is Homeplus open?” and sadly no need for this brilliant website any longer.
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That honey has my name on it 🙂
  • The Porsche dealership down the block is decidedly different from the Hagye offerings… Also, when I see a Ralph Lauren store, it’s actually a Ralph Lauren store! Not that our old favorite, Abercrombie/J. Crew/whatever behind Induk University wasn’t a classic.
  • The alphabet is challenging in different ways from hangul. It is tempting to try and read Russian words as if they are English. But when P = R and H = N you won’t get very far. Fast forward to me on my nightly walk/study session, reading street signs. I got one tonight! Аэрофло́т, the Russian airline, known as Aeroflot in English. Quizing myself on store signs is helping. The history of the Cyrillic script is fascinating and I’ll definitely be sharing more in the future.
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The Cyrillic alphabet, my current homework.

Tomorrow I’ll get to see my school and classroom for the first time. My school seems to be of the mind that they will ask a lot of us as teachers so they take care of pretty much everything else in our daily lives, from running a bus service that I will take to work in the morning directly from my building to paying our bills to maintaining a housing staff to do everything from install curtains to deliver furniture. They are treating me exceptionally well and I’m really thrilled to be here. More local pictures to come after I explore this weekend so stay tuned…

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One more of St. Basil’s for the road.
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17 thoughts on “From Russia with Love

  1. Thankyou very much. I will look forward to your “blogs?” in the future. The Patriots first preseason game is tonight. 93 degrees at kickoff! Good luck and enjoy!

    Sent from my iPhone Richard Cauldwell

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘Азбука вкуса’ is one of the most expensive and high-end grocery stores in Moscow. There are some items that you will never find in any other Moscow stores. You are lucky to have it across from your house.

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  3. I’m looking forward to your adventures Meg. As an ESL specialist, many of my students speak Russian. Your blog enriches my teaching, as you provide another perspective to global learning. I especially can relate to your comments about blending in. When we took our family trip to Asia, 10 years ago, my kids thoroughly enjoyed watching the locals stare at us, their parents. It is an amazing experience, to explore the world. Thanks for sharing your journey!

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    1. Hello Tricia! I’m so glad you enjoyed my blog. Thank you for sharing your experience in Asia – it’s impossible to miss the stares, even as they’re mostly innocent. I’m really curious to hear that you are teaching many ESL kiddos who speak Russian. We’ll have to discuss in the future!

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  4. Dear Meg,

    I’m glad everything is going so well for you (except for Delta).
    It was great to have you home for a while this summer. and I can
    look forward to seeing you this Christmas.

    Love,

    Grandad

    Like

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