The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Two, St. Petersburg, Russia
By Marin Ekstrom St.Petersburg: Week #1
I arrived in St. Petersburg around 11:00 at night, and instantly felt transported into a surreal land. The bright duskiness of the White Nights had me thinking that it was 7:00 (as if a flight ever arrives early), and I was astonished by the jarring mixture of breathtakingly beautiful monuments, decrepit Soviet apartments, and modern commercial enterprises vaguely reminiscent of Las Vegas. However, the following day our study abroad program orientated us throughout the city, showing us the major landmarks like the Church of the Spilled Blood, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Bronze Horseman, and the Hotel Astoria. Through this journey I became enchanted with the history and magic of St. Petersburg, a city that began as a Swedish backwater and transformed into the Euro-tinged cultural capital of Russia.
Through these walking tours of the city, I have been able to experiencing the culture. On the culinary end, I have discovered Teremok, the blini-centric “Russian McDonalds” that serves such heavenly creations as blinis with sweetened condensed milk, and already know that I will miss it back in the States. I also love the various dairy products available in Russia (Dutch cheese, kefir, and tvorog, Russian cottage cheese) and the variety of fruit juices (that are strangely unrefrigerated). As for the people, many seem to be quite serious, based on the lack of smiles, the vast amount of book and Kindle readers on the metro, and the blunt, curt attitudes of the checkout cashiers-. Some of these factors have clashed with my own tendency for Minnesota niceness- I even had a professor that went on a bit of a rant because I used “please” and “thank you” too much! However, I’ve also noticed that once you get to sit down and talk with a Russian, they are kind and caring, and make for pleasant conversation- which I think describes all humanity, no matter what nationality.
In addition to my “play” of exploring the city, I also “work” by study the Russian language at St. Petersburg State University, designated as a slushatel, or listener. I have one class per day, three hours straight (though there is a ten minute break at the halfway mark) that focus on grammar, conversation, and reading. Classes are conducted solely in Russian, which is both intimidating and exhilarating in this immersive experience.
All in all, I hope that the combination of formal study and life experience will help me to further unravel what Winston Churchill deemed “the riddle wrapped up in an enigma” that is Russia.
For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see http://www2.css.edu/app/depts/HIS/historyjournal/index.cfm?cat=10
The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We gratefully acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also warmly welcome Duluth East High School and Dodge Middle School to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.
Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
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