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FC: Russia 2002

1: One of my first days in St. Petersburg was spent exploring the beautiful cathedrals dispersed within the busy city. It felt like I was in a dream to walk through a city that was so foreign and fascinating. This day was just the beginning of an incredible adventure that would make a life changing impact on me. Little did I know all that I was going to learn in the next 5 months.

2: Russian Family My Russian Family was wonderful. They lived in a small, humble apartment in downtown St.Petersburg. I was welcomed with open arms and they took very good care of me, making sure I knew the 'ins' and 'outs' of Russian life. I made a lot of fun memories with them. Some favorite are moments were when Masha would spend time with me in my room. She loved to listen to NSYNC, a popular band at the time. She would 'jam out' for hours on end. Another memory is when my Babushka taught me how to knit. I am not a coordinated person, so it was an interesting feat to learn something in another languagethat required a lot of coordination. I was able to learn to make a single strand of knitted yarn, but that was the extent of my success. My Babushka was thrilled that I attempted to learn and it was a good way for us to bond since there was a language barrier.

3: Home Sweet Home I took very fast baths in Russia. If you wanted hot water you needed to boil it, so bath time wasn't a time for you to soak and relax. Our poor toilet had seen better days and required quite a bit of maintenance. Most of our laundry was done in the tub and was hung to dry. My Russian family had a small machine I could use and that was very helpful. | Cooking We had so many fun cooking adventures in this kitchen. Many attempts were made to create American food. Chocolate chip cookies were our greatest success and we savored them. You never realize how great you have it until it's gone. I will never take a chocolate chip cookie for granted again. We really had to get creative with the recipes and it never tasted exactly how it should, but it was close enough. | City Decorations Many of the apartment buildings were spray painted with different symbols. A common symbol we would see on a lot of apartment buildings was the swastika. Every apartment had two doors to get through in order to enter. They had very authentic keys that looked like they were from the 1920's. Each door also had a bolt you had to get through. It was quite the process to enter the door. | Got Mail? It wasn't the safest thing to receive mail in your mailbox. As you can see, mail was a 'free for all.' I remember going with Alisha to a local post office to pick up a package and we had to wait two hours to make it to the front. There were no lines, you just had to push your way to the front. Survival the fittest.

4: Transportation Getting around Russia was an adventure! Getting from point A to point B could be quite a task. The metro was a common way to get places. An interesting thing to know is St.Petersburg has one of the deepest underground metros. We also rode buses, cars, trolleys and trains. It was a wild ride. Nate was our guide since he spoke Russian. Poor guy.

5: Cooking Classes We would have a cooking class with our friend, Sveta, every month. She taught us some yummy Russian recipes. We made things like Apple Cake, Smentana, and Borsh. Each was different and good.

6: School Days Here are some outside pictures of the school where we taught. I would walk through this gate every day. The classes I taught were in the afternoon from 4pm-8pm, so it would usually be dark by the time I went home. I would walk home with Masha, the little girl I lived with. The ages of my classes ranged from 5 yrs to 9 yrs. I loved my kids and my experience here is really what inspired me to want to be a teacher.

7: Typical sight at the school. Guitar music and chess. Good times for all. | Learning my chords on the guitar. Nate and Tori were great to help. | Books, books, books. These were some of the books we used to teach. | Our disastrous closet that always seemed to be in disarray. | Tiny sinks at the school for the kids. | You have to have lots of tools to help teach English.

8: Intermediate Class These cute kids ranged from ages 7-9 yrs. They were my 'angel class'. I was so impressed with their eagerness to learn and they worked hard and had a lot of fun at the same time. They were also really smart. Most of them could read English pretty well. It was great to be able to communicate with them and hear about their lives. They loved to tell jokes and tease. We had so many great memories together. I really looked forward to my days with these kids. They made me smile.

9: Beginning Class This class was cute, but also a bit of a challenge. They didn't speak much English so they would get frustrated when they couldn't communicate what they wanted. We did have a great time together and they had some very entertaining moments. One of their favorite activities was our Halloween Party and lesson. Russians don't celebrate Halloween, so it was a unique opportunity for them to dress up and have some fun. They were hilarious. As challenging as this class was, I still adored and loved them.

12: Year Celebration Towards the end of the year we put together a play in English for the kids to show their parents. My kids performed a play from 'Harry Potter.' They did a great job and had a lot of fun with it. It was a great way to show their progress and celebrate. The kids loved sharing their talent.

13: "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." -Henry Brooks Adams | We had an opportunity to teach some English in the Public Schools in Russia. The kids were really excited to have some crazy Americans teach them. They were very entertaining to teach.

14: Russian Class We were able to take a class on the Russian Language from a nearby University in St. Petersburg. Our teacher didn't speak a word of English. She was an old woman with a lot of spunk, and she was hilarious. If we weren't rolling our 'R's' correctly, she would shove a pen up our mouth. Good times. It was a challenging class, but we loved it.

15: Russian Ballet We were able to attend the Russian Ballet of 'Swan Lake' while we were there. It was an incredible performance. The Opera House were it was held was beautiful, full of intricate designs and sculptures. It was breathtaking. Definitely something to remember.

16: Gardens and Mansions Russia is full of beautiful palaces, mansions, cathedrals and gardens. The palace here was huge with bright colors and the gardens were incredible. Every bush and flower was perfectly trimmed and planted to build a masterpiece of art. This area overlooked the Baltic Sea and had gorgeous views.

19: Summer Gardens This is a place we went often. I loved it here. There were always artists sitting around painting their work of art on murals. It had a fun European flare. These gardens were breathtaking in the Fall with all the changing leaves. It was a place were you could go for some peace and quiet from the noisy city. I'm so glad places like this exist. I could sit here for hours.

20: Beautiful Fall in St.Petersburg This palace is where the Princess Anatasia was believed to have lived. The ballroom was my favorite. The artwork inside was incredible. I loved the leaves at this time of year. It was beautiful with bright colors of yellows, oranges and reds reflecting in the pond out front. The Russian youth would make hats out of the leaves, as you can see on the next page.

23: Russian Architecture The Russians design their buildings and sculptures so intricately. St.Petersburg is a beautiful place to discover. There are moments where you feel like you a walking through a storybook. I loved walking by the river and exploring the cathedrals. Many of their creations involve bright colors.

25: Friends from St.Petersburg Life is so much better with friends. I met some wonderful friends while I lived in St.Petersburg. Nadia was a friend I still keep in contact with on a regular basis. I met her in our branch and we instantly connected. She showed me the beautiful places in St.Petersburg that I came to love. She is an incredible girl, she was a big blessing while I was there.

26: Russian Winter The Wintertime lasted a long while in Russia. It was bitter cold, but the snow made the city look beautiful. The snow covered pine trees and forrest were like a storybook. Winter began in mid October and it just got colder from there. Something unique about the Winter in St.Petersburg with the hours it was light. The sun wouldn't come up until 10:00am in December and would go back down around 4:00pm. This meant I spent the later months teaching class in the nigthtime.

27: In Memory This place is where over 4 millon Russians were buried after World War II. It is a very quiet, somber place. A place to reflect and give respect those who lay there. World War II was a very dark time for many. I visited this place with Nadia, who had family buried here.

28: Our Branch We decided to attend a Russian Speaking Branch rather than English speaking and I'm really glad we did. I didn't understand a lot, but the Spirit spoke to our hearts for sure. We met so many great members and it really strengthened my testimony to see people who had such strong faith. Many of them made huge sacrifices to become members of the church. While in the branch I received a calling to play the piano and help in the Primary. It was such a blessing to work with the children. I will never forget when they sang the song 'I Love to See the Temple.' The closest temple at the time was in Sweden and required a huge sacrifice for them to be able to attend. The kids were so excited to hopefully make it to the Sweden Temple someday. One particular member had a special jar to collect all the money she could to make it to the temple. I will never forget my time in this Branch and the people I met. These people are what will make Russia strong.

29: Thanksgiving We decided to create our own Thanksgiving celebration while we were there. Little did we know that practically none of the ingredients we needed were available to make a traditional feast. Crisco does not exist in Russia, so we had to make it from scratch, which meant melting down pig fat. It was quite the experience to try and create our feast but we did it and everyone seemed to enjoy it. We invited the missionaries and the entire staff at our school to the celebration, which made it fun. It was a great event and made for some wonderful memories. I don't think I will ever look at Crisco the same way. There was much to be grateful for and we were counting our many blessings. That night when I wrote in my journal, it was very easy to list so many blessings that I had taken for granted in the past. I am blessed.

30: Estonia, Finland and Sweden Toward the end of my Russia experience, we took a week to visit the surrounding countries. Each country was unique and beautiful in its own way. Estonia was our first stop. It was rich with history. I walked through the cobble stone streets admiring the old, authentic buildings. There was even an ancient wishing well where I made a wish. Glass blowing is very popular here and many of the pieces are shipped to the United States. It was fascinating to watch the artist mold the intricate details of a masterpiece. The day in Estonia ended with a meal in a tavern.

31: The next day our group took an overnight ship to Sweden, and it was a rocky ride. Many of my friends got seasick. Even though it was a rough night, the entrance into the country made up for it. I will never forget pulling into the dock, it was breathtaking. The ship passed right through a sea of tiny islands with little homes build on them. The waves crashed against gorgeous, rocky seaports and little sailboats and canoes traveled around the islands. It honestly looked like it was out of a story book. I wish I would have taken a picture, but I will always remember it. While in Sweden we went to the temple. It was so nice to go to the temple after not being able to attend for a while. I had come to realize the huge blessing it was to have a temple close by. Many of the members in Russia sacrifice so much just to get to the temple once in their life.

32: The last leg of our trip was to Finland. We visited many an old fort, many cathedrals and the famous Rock Church. It was nice to be in a place where so many people spoke English. It made me want to learn more languages to communicate with more people. I loved every minute of our trip, to the yummy cheese and bread we tried, to the cobble streets and cathedrals. This trip increased my passion for traveling. I love seeing the world and experience new cultures. My favorite part of traveling is meeting people from other places. People are what make the culture so great.

33: Moscow We had an opportunity to travel to Moscow in December. It was beautiful and freezing. I literally didn't feel a few of my toes for a few days after our trip. I have never felt so cold. We traveled by train overnight and that was an authentic, fun experience. While there, we saw Red Square with the Kremlin, Lenin's Tomb, and many cathedrals.

35: Farewell Our last week in Russia was a crazy one. Somehow our tickets home had been canceled and we were not informed of that until the week before. We were scrambling to find a way to get to our families before Christmas. Gratefully, everything worked out and we got to ride First Class all the way back. We even had an overnight stay in Prague which was fun, though we didn't get to see much. The time had come to say goodbye to our dear friends in Russia. When I had first arrived, I was so scared in a place very foreign to me and I wanted to turn around and go back home. Now, it was the hardest thing to leave them, not knowing if or when I would see them again. My time there taught me many things I never would have learned from a book or movie. The experiences I had has changed how I see the world and people. These experiences have definitely built character and I'm so grateful for the time I had in Russia.

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Emily Hamilton
  • By: Emily H.
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