Friday, May 15, 2015

The College of St. Scholastica 2015 Cuernavaca Quest Service-Learning Abroad Program

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Our first day in Moscow was a whirlwind. We rolled into Moscow around 9:30 am, after a 12 hour train ride from Petrazovodsk.

Immediately after exiting the train, we hopped into a tour van and were driven all over Moscow, stopping to visit some impressive touristy spots. Our first stop was the Kremlin and the infamous Red Square, which is not actually red. We then visited Cathedral of Christ the Savior, where Pussy Riot staged their infamous protest song. On the whirlwind bus tour we also stopped at Novodevichy Cemetery, which was attached to a convent. It was a beautiful cemetery, with many famous people buried within its walls. It was one of my favorite stops in Moscow.

Our hotel was something else. The Космос had been built for the 1980 Olympic games, and showed it. A gigantic structure, it had around 15 floors, restaurants, bars, shops selling all sorts of strange and overpriced goods, and lots of security. Our first evening in Moscow was spent exploring вднх, a Soviet era amusement park, with buildings that represented each republic in the Soviet Union, and an old Soviet rocket on display. Some of the group broke off to visit the aerospace museum, which was mysteriously closed, in true Russian style. They were fortunately able to return the next day and visit.

Not wanting to end the night yet, our group ventured into the Moscow metro system, which was much more intimidating than the Saint Petersburg system. We rode the metro to the Arbat, a pedestrian only street with lots of restaurants, street performers, and other tourist attractions. We stopped at the Viktor Tsoi wall, took pictures, and saw some Russian style pictures being taken.

It was around this time that we found out our plans for Moscow had changed. Originally we were supposed to spend two days in Moscow and overnight at the airport there. However, an error had been made on our visas, allowing us one less day in Russia than we planned. To our surprise we were to fly to Paris a day early and spend a night there. But that experience is another story, for a different time.

The next day in Moscow was spent seeing as much as we could in our abridged time there. We all rallied for a great buffet breakfast at our hotel that morning. I know I was happy to see such normal and diverse food options at the hotel, as food in Russia had often been much different than in the US.
We took a really neat metro line to Red Square. The metro line was filled with beautiful Soviet era statues and decoration. It was really quite something, and it seemed like most people thought the same, as many pictures were being taken there, and many lucky statues were rubbed for good luck.

We had a surprisingly short wait in line for Lenin's tomb, which was free and a must see if you go to Moscow. While in line an argumentative, drunk beggar asked our group for money. I can only assume he thought we were only clueless tourists who didn't understand Russian and would give him money out of fear. I think he was quite surprised when Jamie, our group leader, told him in perfect Russian to go away! This only further angered the man and a nearby police woman was called over. She had to tell him to leave us alone several times, and finally two police dragged him away. I'm sure he was back the next day to bother some more tourists.

 Outside of Lenin's tomb there were signs that admission was 3 rubles and cameras were prohibited. However, like so much signage in Russia, that was all bark and no bite. We were not charged, nor were our cameras confiscated. Though we did have to walk through a very unintimidating  metal detector on our way in.

Which brings me to an observation. There was a surprising lack of panhandlers and beggars that we ran into in Russia. I had pictured there being a lot, since we visited many tourist areas. It was also observed that many people who asked for money were polite at best and went away rather easily. Maybe it's truly a cultural difference, or just a coincidence.

After our trip into Lenin's tomb, we went our different ways. Some went to St Basil's, a group went to a beekeeping museum, and some took walks around Moscow to see what could be found on foot.
Since I was running low on cash, and discovered that Moscow is perhaps the most expensive city I've ever been in, my time was spent walking around downtown, enjoying the (free) sights. It was truly interesting to see just how ritzy and expensive the downtown area was. Being a cheapskate, I was mostly repulsed and a little fascinated by the business people I saw lunching and shopping there. How do they afford to live in such an expensive area, and how can a place like Moscow exist in a country like Russia? I know there can be extreme income differences in one country, but for someone like me who'd never been in such a large city, it was rather mind blowing.

We finally found a coffee shop called OMG!Coffee, and enjoyed the coffee and atmosphere there for a while. Then we were back to walking the streets of Moscow, and observing life in such a big city.
We decided to backtrack and walked to a neighborhood near the university. This neighborhood was slightly more typical of what you'd see in a smaller city. There were a lot of small shops, cafes, and coffee chains. Finally we found the cafe we'd sought out, a tiny place, with fairly priced food, and university student patrons. A guy sitting next to us kindly made sure we understood the ordering process there, and we enjoyed a great meal, and some journaling time.

The rest of the evening was spent packing for our flight to Paris the next day, and enjoying the view of Moscow from our hotel.

by Liz Brown

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Russian Study Tour Banquet


Final banquet Hotel Severnaia
The 25th anniversary of the Petrozavodsk-Duluth language camp came to a close Saturday the 5th of July. It was hard to hear it was officially closed. To be honest, I could have gone another month or two. I didn't want the camp to end but all good things must. During the Closing Banquet we enjoyed a great meal and laughed all throughout dinner with our new friends. We also received our official certificate of completion of the courses required of us by the camp. Looking around the room, I could see an atmosphere of happiness and excitement for all the experiences and friendships made here. Words could not describe the emotions we all felt. I also noticed that we didn't have room to preform the skit and songs we prepared for our Russian hosts. I finally got word that after dinner we would all walk to the park and perform outside. Whew, what a relief!
Kizhi hydrofoil trip reenacted 
            So, after finishing dinner, we all walked to the park together. We set up our stuff and the crowd gathered around to watch us Americans perform. Our first performance was a song called миленький ты мой  a song about a woman's love and a man's refusal to love her in a far away land. The girls sang a verse and then the guys sang right back with the second and so on. We sounded pretty good! We then went right into our skit, which we had been practicing all week. While Adam narrated, all of us reenacted our most memorable moments while in St Petersburg and Petrozavodsk. We acted out our night at the "hostel of spilt blood", where unfortunately Ryan cut his thumb in a wine-opening incident! We then reenacted the night we were nearly stranded across the river after going the wrong direction on the metro. After that, we went through the cultural differences we observed while in Russia. The crazy bus rides, long walks around the cities and every day drinking tea! Our last scene was the day we rode the boat out to Kizhi  Island. We encountered some rough waves and cold weather but it was a spectacular place! We had a blast acting out our experiences for them and we got quite a few laughs! 
Our final banquet performance was another song called я бездельник by the band КиноViktor Tsoi "Bezdel'nik" It's a song about a slacker with no home. It's a really fun song to sing and very catchy. I caught myself humming and singing it when I got into Moscow!

Americans emulating the "Russian photo pose"
After our performances, they announced that there would be Karaoke at the Blues Cafe in town. No one wanted the night to end so we all met up around 10 p.m. to celebrate. Eventually I mustered up the courage to sing a song, and then another later on. It was a night I would never forget! Russians and Americans dancing and singing together and having a great time! It was quite the evening but unfortunately we had to get some sleep to wake up and leave the next day. I'm glad we all got to celebrate our final night in Petrozavodsk with an awesome banquet, memorable performances and a few extra late night songs with all our new friends!    
by Brett Tyson

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rafting Trip!!! Russian Study Tour 2014

Rafting Trip

On the fourth of July we embarked on our greatly anticipated rafting trip down the Шуя (Shuya) River.  This had been a trip that I was looking forward to even before I had left for Russia.  Being from Wisconsin, and growing up right next to the Brule River, canoeing and kayaking were always activities that I loved.  But whitewater rafting was something that I had never experienced before.  So with this being something completely new to the rest of the students and I, we were all excited to get up that Friday morning and go rafting!  So on that Friday morning we got up early and met at the university to board the bus at 10am for our rafting trip.  It was around a 30-minute drive to get to the canoe landing, and when we arrived it was pretty cloudy and chilly so many of us weren’t looking forward to the cold water lurking ahead.  After everyone had gotten changed, we walked eagerly down the trail barefoot and in swim trunks to see what lay ahead.  As we got down to the boat landing we saw the beautiful Шуя River.  There were three rafts and three guides accompanying us on the trip.  We all got into groups and got into our rafts.  I was up at the front with Devan and we were in charge of setting the pace for the raft.  Behind us there were about eight other people and our guide who steered the raft in the back.  We started off with a nice and relaxing ride down the river and that was when our guide told us we were approaching the first of three rapids.  I was excited!  Devan and I started rowing faster and faster ready to plunge right into the rapids.  Suddenly all of the waves began to pick up and I could hear the girls screaming behind me as we took on the first wave.  I. Got. Soaked!!  We hit a huge wave head on and nocked the whole to the side and drenched the first few people in the raft.  Back again we rolled down the wave and collided with another wall of water.  This was the one that really soaked the girls so I was cynically laughing to myself.  By this time I was already so soaked I didn’t even care about getting wet so I just kept rowing into the waves and it was so much fun!  Then before we knew it we made it through our first set of rapids.
We then had another calm ride down the river again.  We were sharing stories about our trip, then out of no where someone yelled “Sing us a shanty!”  And Alina began singing the Drunken Sailor in the back of the raft.  We all joined in for a while and then it gradually just died off.  It was a beautiful ride down the river.  It really reminded me of the northern Wisconsin area, from the trees and the climate.  For a moment or two I actually forgot I was in Russia.  No matter where you are in the world, you realize that people are just people.  It doesn’t matter if were from the United States or Russia, we were all just people having a good time together.  But once again while I was lost taking in the scenery and the culture our guide told us to get ready for our second set of rapids.  This one was a little bit bigger, but he warned us to save some of our strength for the last set of rapids, the biggest, and most dangerous.   We all got ready and cruised through this set of rapids.  I’ll admit our raft got a little cocky.  We thought we were the best whitewater rafters out there.  This was until we came to the last set of rapids.  We went into it with hot heads, and we kind of made fools of ourselves.  We began picking up speed going faster and faster as we plunged into the rapids.  Waves were crashing all over the raft and we were just getting drenched.  But this time it was different.  The raft started spinning.  We didn’t just go down the rapids.  We did a 360 as we went down the rapids.  Style. As we were talking about how lame everyone else was (jokingly) by going straight through, we bragged about how we strategically maneuvered our raft to do an awesome spin down the rapids.  This showed our superiority compared to the other groups.  That was until we got hung up on a huge rock.  Our guild told us to start bouncing.  So here we are, the world’s best whitewater rafters, sitting in the middle of a river, hung up on a rock, bouncing on our raft trying to wiggle it free.  I can only imagine how stupid we looked to the onlookers.  Unfortunately the bouncing didn’t wiggle us free.  So our heroic guide took one for the team and plunged into the icy cold river and began to push us free.  I dug my paddle deep into the river and helped push our raft while he pushed us and we broke free!!!  Everyone cheered, but that was short lived.  After we broke free we looked back and we had left our guide!  He was charging through waves (which I am now recalling in slow motion with dramatic background music.)  He kept running as we were cheering for him to make it in time.  With one more stride and a leap, the guide made it back on board and away we went down the river.  We all laughed about that experience for the rest of the way down the river. 
We were just about to the end and we were all exhausted and STARVING!  When suddenly it began to downpour.  (As if we weren’t soaked already)  People jokingly said “Oh great now were going to get wet.”  At the end we were proud that we had conquered the rapids.  We made it to the landing and we all got out and carried our raft up a very steep hill and into camp.  There waiting for us was a nice warm fire and a huge canopy with benches and some live music performed by one of our guides.  He made it very clear that they had CD’s.  Then some workers brought out food!  We were so excited!  They had this amazing fish soup, some pasta, salad, tea, wine, and vodka.  We all sat around and talked to one another and just enjoyed the rest of the day.  It was so relaxing and nice just to sit back and talk to everyone.  It was around this time that Tia thought it would be a great idea to try slack lining.  She accidentally slipped and had a bruise on her leg the size of an avocado!!  We gave her a lot of crap for that the rest of the trip.  Being away from the United States on the 4th of July, I always thought was going to be a bummer.  But it was definitely one of my most memorable and exciting 4th of July experiences of my entire life.   

Adam Holden

Sunday, June 29, 2014


It was successful day at Urozero.  The group of people consisted of an approximately equal amount of Americans and Russians.  We met at the university around 9:45 a.m. and like usual, some of the students were running late due to miscalculations of public transportation.  Luckily, we were able to depart shortly after 10 a.m..  The bus ride was a brief 20 minute journey.  When the bus arrived at Urozero we were allowed to move around freely and explore, which was very nice not to be “on a chain.”  Everyone was in a very relaxed mood because the weather was beautiful (17°C) and sunny, which was definitely the best weather we had experienced since we arrived in Petrozavodsk.  Initially, everyone went their separate ways.  Devan and Liz took a modest stroll around the camp.  Karen, Morgan, Tia, and Alina went for an adventurous expedition in a row boat, luckily the wind wasn’t heavy or they probably would have been doing circles for hours! J Neil went swimming in the lake for approximately an hour.  It is still a mystery how Neil was able to withstand the frigid water for that long, because the temperature was probably under 10°C.  Ryan, Adam, Brett and Ivan (the Russian who won) played an unofficial game of basketball for a while until it became tiring.  The women came back to shore, some people were sunbathing while Ryan and Brett jumped off the pier.

Soon after these early morning events a big group of Russians and Americans joined together to play a game of “futbol” aka soccer.  There was a dramatic concern from the older Russian gentlemen that Ryan couldn’t play because his only footwear was sandals, but he played anyway.  It was Haley’s first time playing a game of soccer and it just so happened to be in Karelia.  By the way, she did very well.  Zhenya, who is an experienced soccer player, showed everyone how Russians play the game of soccer.  He scored multiple goals, including an open netter! 

I think we all learned how soccer can be a dangerous sport.  Some spectators were hit by the soccer ball.  One of the Russian students was hit in the eye, and Svetlana’s young daughter Liza was hit in the foot which made her cry. L  Ryan was bleeding from the finger, foot, and knee, what’s new?  Overall, soccer was a success and many people were able to play, including the American professors Karen and Jamie.  Though many people didn’t play, they found other activities around the camp to keep them preoccupied such as photography, sunbathing and relaxing.  After soccer, everyone migrated to the mess hall and munched down some soup, bread and veggies.  I think Adam was slightly sketched out that the camp obtained their water straight from the lake, but it’s always a learning experience!
After lunch, the beautiful young women took advantage of the banya for about 45 minutes, which was surely not long enough to banya.  Also, they all had the courage to jump in the lake after coming out of the banya.  It shows how they really wanted to get the full Russian banya experience, plus it was well needed after being in 100°C banya.  After the ladies, the men had their turn to take a banya and there were many more men who desired the banya than women.  I counted 10 guys inside of the 6-person banya, which left 4 of us standing including me.  We did 1 round, jumped in the lake, came back and this time the American students went nude, because we felt it was awkward to wear our plavki (swimsuits) while all the Russians were butt naked.  It was a good experience and we all beat ourselves with the birch boughs.  Adam and Neil didn’t go to dachas the previous weekend, so it was their first time banyaing and probably a very memorable one.

After banya it was approximately 3-3:30 and by this time everyone was fairly exhausted from swim, banya, sun, and playing a wide variety of athletic activities.  A few of us played a very strange game of volleyball with essentially no rules.  Lena, one of the Russian gals, was making these very creative flower wreaths that could be worn on a person’s head.  Morgan was hanging out down by the lake enjoying the wonderful weather and a few students were waiting for the bus to come. The bus arrived around 4:30 and it was time to load up and drive back to the university.  The bus ride home was a quiet one and most people were exhausted from all the physical activity at Urozero.  Although we were all wiped out, I think most people enjoyed the trip and the weather couldn’t have been nicer!
My own thoughts on the trip:
I’ve learned that not all lakes and rivers in Russia are cloudy and polluted, and Urozero was a very clear, cold and seemingly clean lake.  People must be careful walking in the water though because there were many rusty pieces of metal.  Now I also think the Americans have a better understanding of the passion that Russians have for futbol (soccer) because the older Russian guys were quite serious about the game.  I’ve also found out that it’s a wise idea to wear full shoes when you play soccer, not sandals because the feet will bleed.  Another strange thing that I noticed at the Urozero camp was that the outhouses didn’t have gas vents.  Who seriously built those outhouses?  Even an idiot would be smart enough to install a simple pipe through the roof to exhaust the smelly gases from the waste beneath.  One word to future travelers of Urozero, change into your swimsuits outside because it stinks in there!  It was very nice to have freedom to do what we desired during this event, and I’m glad we were able to go there.  It was also very nice to spend some non-school related bonding time with the Russians, and I wish more of the Russian students came with.  It was a fun day by the lake, and I’m glad I got to banya again, even though there were way too many naked guys packed into that small room.  I’m going to build a banya/sauna hybrid at my house in MN, so I can get the best of both Russia and Finland. J  Это всё.
by Ryan Puzel

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day of the City

'Day of the City' sounded tame enough. When I heard that my Russian friends and I would spend our Saturday at this event, I began to slightly question just how much there would be to do down at Petrozavodsk's embankment. Upon arrival, these doubts were erased.

Thousands of people swarmed about the city's center on this day. We began our tour of festivities in an older neighborhood, where many were dressed in costumes of bygone eras: women in traditional Karelian clothing, men in WWI-era military uniforms (to commemorate the start of the First World War, 100 years earlier), and children dressed up as all sorts of historic characters. One of these children told me that my boots looked sad, and he would polish and shine them for a mere 5 rubles, but they were in such poor shape that I didn't want to make him work for half an hour...

Local craftspeople also lined these old, unpaved streets, peddling various handmade goods, such as pottery, textiles, trinkets, and antiques. One of these vendors had a pile of miscellaneous vintage Russian goods: a samovar or two, clothing, and manuals for old москвич cars were among the items spread out. I browsed the items, and decided to take a Polaroid of one of the individuals responsible for this collection, a dreadlock-sporting man next to a samovar. I began to walk away, but had already attracted some attention.

A woman in a rabbit costume and a man dressed as the mad hatter ran up to me and asked questions about the old camera that just made the picture. It was quite a novelty to them, and they seemed to think it was the coolest thing ever. These two people whisked me away to a tent next to the antiques and dreadlock guy (everyone seemed to know one another), much to the horror and amusement of my Russian friends. A samovar was already fired up under this tent, and I was given a hot cup to tea with a couple sugar cubes, complete with an antique spoon to stir it. After my tea was complete, I was returned to my group of friends. Even they were unable to explain the strange situation. "It's Russia," one friend simply stated.

After this, we moved toward the city's embankment along the lake. Here was where most of the action occurred. Several stages were occupied with performers. Some played music, some told jokes I couldn't understand, and some were normal people engaged in a hilarious dance competition. The sidewalks here were packed full of vendors and kiosks, including a few strange ones. A portable баня was among these, with men inside sweating profusely, visible through its clear plastic windows, and men standing around outside of it, also sweating. 

As the evening grew later, the sky was lit with the glow of the white nights for hours. Haze from countless kabob grills filled the sidewalks on the embankment, adding an effect to this glow. After the sun finally dipped behind the horizon, my friends and I made our way back home. Before going to sleep, I watched the scheduled fireworks at 1am from the balcony of my host's home. Fireworks in the light was kind of a strange sight.

This city celebration was unlike any other I've ever been to. The level of involvement from the community was impressive; it seemed like most of the city closed for the day and made its way down to the embankment for festivities. Similar events I've been to were far, far smaller; fewer people, only a handful of attractions, and more predictable. The large size did not seem to have any effect on the hospitality of complete strangers, though--every person I interacted with was far nicer than I could have imagined, with some even giving me things. These interactions have provided me with some great stories, I think.
Devan Burnett

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


On Wednesday, June 25, we traveled on Lake Onega for over an hour via hydrofoil to reach Kizhi Island. Located about forty miles away from Petrozavodsk, two possible forms of transportation are provided: hydrofoil or helicopter. The high waves that day combined with the long boat ride reduced our appetites but not the opportunity to experience an island rich in history.      
We arrived around lunch time and walked along the wooden path that encircled the island. A Russian student, from last summer’s English exchange to Duluth, led us to the log churches that were built around the end of the seventeenth century. The summer church was being reconstructed during our visit, so we toured the inside of the winter church and the bell tower. We learned that some truth holds from the legend: nails are not fastening the pine logs together to uphold the Russian buildings. The secret is that wooden nails were used instead of metal, securing the shape and preserving the wood from wear and tear during rain and snow.
Interestingly, the coloring of the summer church reminded me of a Finnish flag. We were told that the logs of the church were painted white while blue sheet metal covered the top. Looking at the annexes of the church from above, one will note the symbol of the cardinal directions as well as the cross. The story of the aspen shingles that create the onion domes stuck out to me. Depending on the time of day, the shingles would transform the image of the church. If the shining sun reached the aspen tops, the reflection turned the wood a golden-yellow color, representing a beautiful young woman. In the evenings or on a cloudy day, the shingles shimmered silver, symbolizing an elderly woman’s hair.
         Kizhi is located in the region, Zaonezh’e, which means behind the lake. The Karelian and Finnish people initially living here strongly believed in their practiced rituals and traditions, giving the island its name. On the island, we walked around in a Russian izba (log house). In one large room, three specific areas were silently sectioned off by shelving units within the wood panels above. Guests would enter the room and wait at the first borderline to be welcomed in. The next section included the eating table and living room. Off to the side, the last border created the dimensions of the kitchen.
Walking into the room near the kitchen, we watched a woman stitch an embroidered cloth. I learned that a pattern starts and finishes in the same spot, creating an intricately woven circle within the fabric. Though, women’s roles did not stop at the large room of the isba or the embroidery room. We reached a room where boats, tools, and a large woven basket were found. Men of the house worked here during the day, but women were also involved in taking the heavy wooden canoe into the lake. The item in this area that intrigued me the most was the washing machine. The women would fill a large, rectangular woven basket with dirty clothes, stones, and ash before closing the top and placing the structure into the lake. Gently rocked in the water by the waves, the clothes would be washed and ready to dry in the wind.
Overall, despite the strong wind and possibility of encountering a snake, I really enjoyed the visit to the Kizhi Island museum. About two centuries ago, homes were rebuilt to allow merchants and guides to live on this four-mile long island. If I could, I would be a tour guide for a year or two and experience living in a place where you really get what you put in. Many stories told represented women as strong leaders of this sacred island, making their practiced roles very important. On the island, the expected  way of living felt so different than anywhere I have experienced. My recommendation is to take the opportunity to visit Kizhi at some point in your life!
by Tia Pollak