Sibel Edgington travelled to Saint Petersburg to learn Russian. The building is left from the era of the last tsar.

To Russia with love and back again

Sibel Edgington travels to Saint Petersburg to learn the language

Zdravstvuj (zdrah-stvooy) is Russian for hello.

 

Complex, different and definitely foreign, Russian is a tough language and has an even tougher Cyrillic alphabet.

Sibel Edgington, who is living in Sooke, got some first hand knowledge of the language, people and life in modern day Russia.

She travelled, along with eight other students of Russian, to Saint Petersburg to spend four months really learning the language. They were on an exchange program through the University of Victoria and Dalhousie University.  The trip was available to language student with at least one year of Russian.

“It’s an interesting language to learn, said Edgington. “I decided to take Russian 101 and I did well at it and decided to continue it.”

Her trip was one of discovery — of the nature of the Russian people as well as the beautiful city situated on the Baltic Sea in the Gulf of Finland founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703.

On January 20 of this year, Edgington landed in the middle of a cold Russian winter.  That was her first obvious awakening.

“I wasn’t used to the cold,” she said.  “All the buses don’t stop when there’s a inch of snow!”

Edgington and her troupe spent the next four months in the classroom taking all of their classes in Russian. They lived in a dormitory in a “Soviet” style apartment block far from the beautiful palaces and cathedrals that Saint Petersburg is famous for.

She noticed many things. For one, the Russian people are reserved and guarded but they all want to learn to speak English. Part of the reason is that many of the young people want the opportunity to leave and English is the language they need.

“The young people are really eager to speak English and they try to say every English word they know.”

Since the country has become a democracy rather than under the Communist banner, people are more insecure. Back then they had jobs and houses although the food wasn’t secure.

“They are happy that now they can go to the grocery and there is food on the shelves.”

While there may be a constant supply of food, there is still poverty with an obvious gap between the rich and the poor.

Of the food, Edginton said she got a little tired of cabbage. In the depth of a Russian winter, there are not the fresh vegetables she was used to at home, but she did love the blinis (thin pancakes or crepes). In fact, in Russia now there are fast food blini carts. The Russians, on the other hand, could not understand the taste that Westerners have for peanut butter.

She also experienced the “white nights, “where the sun never set and people were awake all night.

After Saint Petersburg, Edgington took a bus to Estonia and Latvia as well as the Ukraine. Latvia, she said, was very Western and they scorned things Russian. Many people spoke English and they had a way of disregarding the Russian language if it was spoken. In June she went to the Black Sea for some sunshine and warmth. She also travelled to Luxumborg, Germany, Austria and France before returning to her home in Sooke.

Now her goal is to graduate, which she will likely do this fall and then onto some work. She has thought of teaching English in Russia as the 2014 Olympics will be held in Sochi on the Black Sea.

What did she miss the most while she was in Russia? Family and friends.

What did she like the most in Saint Petersburg? The city and the architecture.

“I realized how the things we have here we take for granted,” she said.