Friday, June 24, 2016

Rock Concert

While in Petrozavodsk, our group had many opportunities to experience both traditional and modern aspects of Russian culture. One of these opportunities involved attending a Russian rock concert. For me personally, just getting into the venue where the concert was to be held was a challenge. This was due to the fact that I was navigating our journey in a wheelchair. Needless to say, the entire trip was a bit of an adventure. Never have I been so grateful that I can, in fact, walk the majority of the time. However, that evening the real challenge was the sheer number of stairs we had to climb just to get into the building. Thanks to my wonderful fellow travelers, who carried my chair up the vast number of stairs, we finally entered into the club. When you first enter, it takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the drastic change in lighting. It definitely gave me that "underground club" vibe. Between the muted purple and green lights and the underground bunker feel, lay a small local music scene.
As we arrived and began to settle in, the first band slated for the evening were finishing up their sound check. Towards the back side of the room there was a small bar and some tables and booths.
 Over the course of the evening we listened to music by three different groups with very different music styles. The first group performed a mix of heavy metal and some bordering on screamo. The second group was fronted by a man named Vova, a guitarist/vocalist who was a friend of some our group leaders. His music seemed heavily influenced by Nirvana. The third and final group were, in my opinion, the most musical talented out of them all. They played a variety of rock pieces, including a piece by the group Arctic Monkeys.While I sensed less enthusiasm from the majority of the group, the music enthusiast within me was perfectly content to simply sit and absorb the good vibrations heading my way.
by Kaytlin Hintz-Knopf

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

University Life

Russian and American school systems have many similarities, but they also have stark contrasts. An example of their similarities would be that both are greatly affected by politics and political agendas. In Russia, the Federal Law on Education of 2013 completely revamped the Russian educational system and educational standards of the Russian Federation. In this law, everyone played a part in education, including the role of parents in education outside the classroom.
This law also began to treat education as a service to be bought and sold, further capitalizing the Russian Federation. That being said, America has been treating education as a service and commodity for a very long time. Just look at the price of college tuition! However, unlike in America, Russia assists their students in paying for this education by giving out scholarships based on merit rather than finances. In America, government funds for education can be found in the form of loans and, on glorious rare occasions, grants. These are based on income rather than the work a student does. In Russia however, the system of scholarship is based on the marks a student gets. The highest marks (5) get scholarship to pay for their tuition, 4s get a smaller scholarship, and 3's or lower don't get scholarships. This method will incentivize learning and good grades rather than partying and paying off the debt later.
Our classroom at Petrozavodsk State University
In addition to this difference, credits are allotted in different ways. Credits in Russia are counted by both in class and out of class work. Only half of one's credits can be in class (~18 hours per credit) the other half account for the time a student puts in outside of the classroom. In America, one credit counts for ~15 hours of work in class and that's it. Russia also has a difficult time counting study abroad programs into their system because they must take a certain number of hours in class and the Russian credit has more hours per credit than many other countries. This makes it difficult for Russia to recognize some degrees or coursework.
The coursework is also allotted differently between the two countries. In America, a student is given the freedom to choose their classes, number of credits, and the times of your classes. An American university student rarely has the same classmates in every class and most of the time, their classes aren't in the same building. In Russia however, a student's schedule is fixed according to their major. Odd semesters have class from 8am until 3pm with a 15 minute break at 9:30 and a half hour break at 1. Even semesters have classes from 11:30am until 6:30pm.
There are several other differences such as vocational studies beginning at the 10th grade level, the affect of mandatory military service for men, and others; but for the most part the systems are structurally similar. Roughly 82% of Russians go to university, similar to America's roughly 84% that gets at least some college education (though only about 34% of Americans get a bachelor's degree). There are also Unified State Exams in Russia that are very similar to the ACT in America (although the ACT isn't required by law). These exams determine what you will be able to do in terms of university studies and vocational work.
Through everything, the end goal and end result is still the same: gaining knowledge through government institutions with the hopes of enjoying a brighter future.
By Kristalena Herman

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Урозеро/Urozero

When I first saw the Urozero sign I thought I had been mispronouncing the Russian word for lake my entire life. Apparently, Urozero is just the name of the ozero, or lake, that we visited on our first Sunday in Petrozavodsk. I really enjoyed this one-day experience growing closer to my fellow Americans and Russians and in my understanding of Russian culture.
The day was full of fun and games. Morning began with a classic Russian sport—Футбол! Futbol! As one of the team captains, I selected my teammates and lined up to play. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, played on anything from small gravel fields to the large pristine grass of the ongoing European Championships. However, the game is the same wherever it is played. Soccer draws people of different nationalities and unites them as one people. Our game united Americans and Russians, young and old, and ended in an animating 5-5 draw.
After cooling down from футбол I joined a group playing billiards and ping-pong. I quickly learned that “Russians like hard challenges” in the words of Vadim. The billiards table had smaller pockets and bigger balls than I am used to, making scoring considerable more difficult. This only enhanced our camaraderie, though, as we all laughed when the easiest of shots were missed time and time again and all rejoiced when a ball was finally pocketed.
After a satisfying lunch and some quick games of Дурак (Durak, a Russian card game in which the player left with cards at the end is designated the fool), it was time for the баня! (banya, the Russian sauna) Even though Russian blood runs through my veins, I had yet to experience a real banya until this day. My fellow Americans and I were excited to join the Russians in this long-held Russian tradition,Men and women go to the banya separately. Upon entering the banya, Igor told the group, “when in Russia, do as the Russians do”. After seeing exactly what he meant by this, we too stripped off all our clothes and joined him in the steam room. The intense heat hit us as soon as we entered the steam room. At first it was painful to sit on the benches and keep my eyes open. Then I was introduced to the strikes of the веник (venik) branches, all the while sweating profusely. However, I was humbled by the feeling of camaraderie in the room. This was a type of intimate connection with adults and newly-made friends that we do not have so easily accessible in the United States. I will certainly remember and cherish that connection. A few minutes later we quickly threw on our swim trunks (плавки) and ran down to the lake. I was the second guy to jump in and feel the cold refreshment. The Russians say that the mix of the hot and cold is healthy for the body. After a couple more rounds, I couldn’t agree more. 
by Alex Mikhailov

Arrival in Petrozavodsk

When I first arrived at Petrozavodsk I didn’t know what to expect. My colleagues and I had been on a train for the past eight hours. I was tried, hot and sweaty, and most of all nervous. I was nervous because I had no idea what my host family was going to be like. I had just gotten in contact with them five days before. As the train rolled in I looked out the window and took my first look at the place I would be staying for the next three weeks. I could only see the train station, but more importantly I could see a crowd of people waving at us through the window. I wondered which family was mine. A million different thoughts were running through my head. What if my host family doesn’t like me? What if they think I’m strange? How will I get around to classes? Will I be able to talk with my family back home? I got off the train and took a look around. Petrozavodsk was much prettier than I had imagined. I had pictured a city with tall buildings surrounded by concrete like St. Petersburgh. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The morning air smelled clean and fresh there were lots of trees around almost like the city and the forest and merged together. It reminded me of a city that I would find in northern Minnesota. Just as I had finished looking around, a young brown-haired woman about my age walked up to me and asked “You are Alex?” I answered “Yes” and she told me that she was my host sister and quietly stood next to me. I remember being worried and thinking to myself “Ok Alex this is going to be really hard I don’t think she speaks much English and my Russian isn’t that great either.” We soon walked up to her father who shook my hand, then we walked to the car to go to my new home. I was trying to keep as much distance as I could because I was afraid that I smelled bad after our long overnight train ride and that they would have a bad first impression of me. When we arrived at my new home I was greeted with smiling faces of my new younger brother and host mother. I greeted them, and we had a small but good conversation. I was pleased to find out that my new sister could speak English very well, and that my Russian was not as bad as I first thought. After I took a shower my new sister took me on a walk around the city.
Duluth Sister City Sculpture, Petrozavodsk Embankment
Petrozavodsk was not what I had expected at all. I had been taught by films and by stories from other people that what I should expect to see would be a city that was not as developed as some of the western world, and that most of the people would be adults who did not like Americans. I was again proven completely wrong.
The city was beautiful, it stood on a huge lake, there were malls, lots of buses and cars. There were teens laughing with their friends, mothers with children, owners with pets none of whom were hostile to me at all. I came to realize that everything that I had expected or feared about Russia before I came to Petrozavodsk was completely wrong. To my surprise and relief I felt more at home in Petrozavodsk than I had since I had arrived in Russia almost a week earlier.
by Alex Tryon-Tasson

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Saint Petersburg

St. Isaac's Cathedral, Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg served to be the perfect starting point for our Russia trip. The city is large, elegant, rugged, and beautiful. It isn’t like when I went to Rome. Rome, being the capital of one of the greatest empires in history, breathed an aura of grandiosity. Its cathedrals were decadent. A testament to their might. Saint Petersburg’s cathedrals gave off an aura that can only be experienced. No amount of pictures or words can reproduce the atmosphere of the cathedrals. It is far more than architecture. It is, more than anything, a sense of culture. The cathedrals, like the ones in Rome, are immaculate. But nonetheless, they don’t present an aura of grandiosity. Upon entering the Kazan Cathedral in the center of Saint Petersburg, I saw a crowd of church goers.
Kazan Cathedral, Saint Petersburg
Regardless of this, it was almost completely silent. The only sound that echoed through the structure was the sound of chanting monks. They chanted for the entire time that I was there, though I never saw them with my own eyes.
Anyone that spoke only did so at a whisper, and without even being told, I, as well as my group mates, followed suit. Even as an outsider, even as an atheist, you feel the power that exists between the stone walls of the cathedral. You feel the history, the tradition, of an entire nation. You see it with your own eyes. You hear it with your own ears. You feel it in the vibrations of the air. All else in the city could be forgotten, and this experience alone would still make the trip extraordinary.

By David Obst