Before my year abroad, I had never been outside of the UK for more than a month at a time. All of a sudden, I was living in Russia for 4 months. How did this feel? How did I adapt? What did I think about the place I was living?
To start, I had only been to Russia once before, when I was 18. I travelled to Moscow with my mum and grandmother and we stayed for a week and saw the sights before flying back. However, the place I had chosen for my first semester in my year abroad wasn’t Moscow. It wasn’t anything like Moscow. I had chosen to work and study in Magnitogorsk, an industrial city, located south of the Ural Mountains, not too far from Kazakhstan. This fascinating city was located half in Europe and half in Asia. You cross the bridge and the signs literally say that you are now leaving Europe. So, it was safe to say I was far from home.
When my plane touched down, I was surprised at how small the airport was. I looked out onto the runway and saw that there was only one other plane parked up, a private jet, probably owned by a Russian oligarch. Only 2 flights a day arrive in Magnitogorsk, which says a lot. I got off the plane, went inside, got my luggage, and was met by an associate from my placement who drove me into the city, to where I was staying.
There, I met my host family. A lovely, retired couple called Irina and Anatoli. They showed me to where I’d be staying, immediately fed me and showed me great hospitality. I unpacked, gave my parents a ring to say that I made it there safe, and went to sleep, slightly jet-lagged with the 5-hour difference.
Settling in to a new culture
Over the next couple of days, I was getting settled in. I met with my employers who told me what my day-to-day duties will be, as I was teaching English at a school. They helped me get registered with the university so I could start my lectures and Russian tuition as soon as possible. I got settled in pretty quickly, did whatever sightseeing there was to do in the city. A few museums, monuments, statues. I even decided to walk across the bridge to see what the Asian side of the city had to offer. It felt crazy having one foot in Europe and the other in Asia.
The industrial part of the city with all the factories and chimney stacks was like a look into its Soviet past. In fact, most of the city, with its Soviet apartment blocks looked like a time capsule, with the occasional newly built shopping mall or ice hockey stadium. Within the first week I was already making some friends. On the first weekend I went to my first live ice hockey match. The atmosphere of the stadium was incredible, as all the Magnitogorsk Metallurg hockey fans would cheer and clap and sing.
Magnitogorsk may not have been as big as Moscow. But I was really lucky to have been invited to work there. The people are really nice and are fascinated when they find out you’re English. I believe my Russian improved far more than if I were to have a placement in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or any other European Russian city, as literally no one spoke English. Shout out to Dan for being the best boss and a good friend. I hope I can come back someday.