I made it!

Welcome to Russia, the country where the roads are dusty, the women dress up for everyday life as if they’re going to a party, where no one smiles at you, where those you know will feed you endlessly.

I made it, darlings. This year, I made it. I could barely believe it when I got out of the plane. It was already really dark, I had been traveling all day, so when I got out of that thing, I was just smiling weirdly. Isn’t this one of the weirdest thing I’ve ever done? Going to Russia all alone? But I can tell you: I’m doing very well. I managed to slice my feet by wearing new shoes, but next to that it’s going well. People tell me I talk well in Russian, that I barely have any accent, and so far I’m not impressed by their lack of smiling or effort to be nice to strangers.

The amount of strange things here is quite great. Everything is in Russian style, but that makes it so interesting. Also, strange things can be very cool. Since last night I can add drinking apple juice at 3 am while eating a good salad after having danced like crazy in a pub to my list of Weird Stuff That Just Seems To Happen. Now that’s the kind of thing I like – random, absurd, but absolutely good.

In Poland it took me about a month before I seemed to do something, for real. But here I dived into it and now it feels like I’m making the most of it already. I’ve been drinking beer with friends, I’ve gone dancing, I’ve gone to my classes, everything seems to go faster.

And that is good.

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A sense of belonging

When I decided to stay in Belgium, I had to start my courses here a week later than everyone else. I missed out on almost all the first classes. That’s certainly not a big problem, and I have good classmates who tell me what I need to know about those first classes, but it does mean that I started my academic year a week later, and maybe that is why I have been so busy. Part of it, at least. It seems that I have been running from point A to B, from classes to food and back, and then to homework and then to bed and then to point A again. I have been running around, it seems. Just running around.

I thought this would be terrible, staying. I thought it would be hell. When I decided to stay in Belgium, I already knew I was choosing the ‘lesser bad’ option. Staying was not what I wanted, but being late more than a month in Russia wasn’t what I wanted either. And it seemed to go well. I have adapted to my new situation. There are small little bright sides here too: I have a good new room, I have good classmates and housemates. Things aren’t as dramatic as I imagined them to be.

But yesterday, I was listening to a certain song, and suddenly I started to miss all the others, all those who are now abroad. I miss them. I want them closer to me, I want to talk to them and go to dinner with them and have a drink with them. But they are all abroad and I am here because of no other reason than someone not doing his job well. I have lost. And I’m one of the few who actually had everything to go studying abroad. Not one retake for an exam. Good grades. No difficulties whatsoever.

And yet, here I am.

Together with missing my friends, I started to think I don’t belong here. I’m taking someone else’s space. This shouldn’t be my room and these people shouldn’t be talking to me and I shouldn’t be walking around here. It’s not like I don’t feel at home, because I do, but I have the idea that I’m out-of-place. I’m very used to this life here again already, and I think I’m doing well, and things look okay and everything. But I shouldn’t be here. I should be elsewhere.

It’s a strange thing, and I know I just have to suck it up, man up and so on, but this injustice and missing sometimes hits quite hard. I’ll get out of it again – but for now, I will try to find a way to deal with it.

Where I am now

In Belgium, clearly. It’s the seventh day after my last post, simply because I have been busy starting over my life here. Exactly one week ago we managed to find a room for me in the city where I study – of course, I had found someone else to stay in my first room, thinking I’d be gone for a year. Since that day I had to put an order to my Belgian life again, choose my courses, move my stuff to the new room and trying to get used to it all – which happens quickly.

Luckily, it is not as bad as I thought it would be here. My new room is nice, I like living here, and the housemates are very friendly. The courses are okay, we’re mostly with four people in class, so that is not much at all, but less desperate than I expected. It’s also interesting to note that our professors have made it a big issue, all the troubles with going to Russia. I’m far from the only one who had such troubles (though I’m the only one to stay), but they’ve noticed and now I’m even asked to talk about it with someone. They want to hear my story to see what went wrong, in order to make things better.

It’s a little too late for me now, but okay. I will do a second attempt next year. If the university there will still take me, that is… They have done all this effort, and now I have to inform them that I won’t be coming anyway. I’m still struggling with telling them this. Fingers crossed they won’t be mad!

So, that’s the little catchup with my life. I plan to write more interesting posts again soon, but for now you at least now where I am, and how I’m doing. Take care and see you soon!

A not happy end

Unless a miracle occurs, I will not go to Russia this semester.

I’m still waiting for my invitation, I’m still waiting for news about a host family and some other things. Meanwhile, the academic year in Belgium has started as well. This is the first week. One more week before the deadline of ‘pick your courses’. If I don’t want to be running late everywhere, I will have to decide now what I will do.

But actually, the decision has been made. I will be staying in Belgium. If I go to Russia, I want to be there as long as possible, I want to do as much as possible there, I want to blend in. If I would still go, I would be late more than a month. That’s a lot. It’s a pity to not be there as long as possible, too. Today is the last day. If I still get a phone call – ‘your invitation has arrived’ – today, I will go. But that’s not very likely to happen.

I will stay even though I want to go to Russia so badly, even though I don’t want to stay at all, even though I have done all this effort to go. My holiday didn’t mean anything, because I was waiting. I have thrown away three months for something that will not happen. I have had so much stress for something that will not happen.

It still feels like a punishment, but I guess I’ve paid my debts by now. I feel like a zombie.

Badassness (with Irene Adler)

It seems like the stream of bad news hasn’t come to an end yet. As things turn out, I will be going to Russia on my own, with a delay of a month. On my own! A month too late! I’m only a little bit completely terrified.

There is a big upside though. If I survive this, nothing can scare me anymore. Without a doubt this will be the most badass thing I’ve ever done, maybe even the most badass thing I’ll ever do. Being badass is something good. I mean, the real badassness. Not the ‘look I can drink two bottles of vodka in an hour’ kind of badass. No, I mean the ‘I’m just going to do this shit’ kind of badass.

According to the Urban Dictionary, there are a few explanations as to what this ‘badass’ thing is. (I guess that counts for every word you can think of.) Here are some rules the dictionary presents us:

Unspoken Rules of Being Badass:
1. First rule of being a badass. A badass does not talk about being a badass. Period.

2. Second rule of being a badass, a badass does not try to be a badass or look tough. A badass simply is a badass.

3. A badass stays true to themselves, always. This means being themselves for themselves, and not being fake to impress others.

4. A badass does not give up. Badasses will always push themselves for the better, no matter how hard it gets.

It seems that they aren’t so unspoken anymore, but okay. I’ve broken the first rule already, unfortunately. Does anyone else notice the movie reference I suspect here?
I’m doing a good job on the second one though. I don’t want to be badass! I’d much rather go together with a friend and on time to Russia! This is just a case of ‘I didn’t choose the thug life, the thug life chose me’.

And, if I’m bragging anyway, the fourth rule definitely fits as well. I have spent quite some time trying to get this shit done. If I get to go, it will be because of me, and not because of anyone else. I arranged it. I found out what we needed to do, and I did it. And even with the delay and sudden loss of company, I will still go. I don’t want to give up now. Not now, after everything I have done.

Luckily there are always examples when you need them. After recently having re-watched Sherlock Holmes, I have found Irene Adler a fitting example of old school badassness. Look at the clip, note this catchy soundtrack and enjoy the powah.

Bad, worse, worst

Light in the darkness has come – finally. I received an answer from Russia quite soon, telling me I needed to fill in a form. Suddenly everything seemed so easy. Just fill in the form and send it to them. Then they finally can start making your invitation. There was one document I still needed, but after calling our coordinator at half past ten in the evening, he sent it to us.

This sounds like a solution, doesn’t it? I agree.

So this morning all I had to do was fill in the form some more and send it. Before doing that I was heading to the shop in our street to buy some bread. I ran into our neighbour, more specifically the mother of my good-looking ex-neighbour (her son – the one who winked at me!). By accident I had decided to wear my new, loose pants. For a change I felt quite fashionable while running into her! She immediately asked when I would leave for Russia.

And for the first time, I could give an answer I am quite certain of. That’s such a win – looking good and being able to give positive answers to questions about my trip to Russia!

When I came home, I send the stuff they need over there and now I have some sense of certainity. I’m no longer waiting without knowing who’s doing what, if they’re doing anything anyway. I have taken control for a part. I have sent mails until I figured out what was going wrong and now I’ve managed to get it straight.

The bad thing is that I will miss a month over there. It makes this adventure somewhat more terrifying. But after all my efforts and all the waiting, I didn’t want to give in. The worse option was going to Poland or year – honestly, though, I don’t really want that. The worst option would be staying. I must confess that while going through all the stress and doubts, this option didn’t seem so terrifying anymore. It’s so easy to just re-enroll yourself in the same university as the former two years. It takes perhaps two mouse clicks and it would be okay. On the other hand, I know I would hate to stay when almost my entire class is abroad, and two of my hometown friends.

I have made the decision to take the risk and arrive in Russia with delay. It’s bad, but at this point I can live with it. At least I’m going away. And at least I have done what I could to get this done after all. It’s a victory still!

Update: the not really news

My mind is occupied by Russia, Poland and visa right now. It has been the entire holiday already… ANd now we’ve got some more news. Well, “news”. To be honest, it’s not even really news. It’s guessing.

You know, the 7th of August I send an e-mail to the university in Russia I want to go to in two weeks. They answered saying they didn’t have information about us.
The 11th of August, the day our coordinator returned, I called him and explained the situation. He said he thought everything was okay and said he’d take care of it.
A few days later, I called him to ask how things were going. There was still no news.
Yesterday, the friend who would go to the same university went to see our coordinator. He said that he still hadn’t got an answer from Russia. Apparently, making the invitation we need in order to get the visa, takes a month. So we won’t be going to Russia until half September. And that’s the optimistic take. It’s more likely that we miss at least an entire month.

Needless to say I wasn’t happy to hear this. It isn’t even real news. It’s half news. It’s guessing. Now the questions rise as well. Is missing a month very bad? Can I still go to Poland for a year? Does the university in Russia really know we are coming now?

Today I sent a mail to Russia asking if they were really making our invitations, and one to our coordinator, asking if going to Poland for a year is still an option. And now I’m waiting again. At least I am sending mails around. I do what I can to get answers and to arrange this all. No one can ever say I didn’t try. I have sent mails to Russia in Russian, I have called our coordinator as soon as he returned, three times that day, until he answered the phone. I called him again though he had said he would e-mail us if he got more news. I have sent two more e-mails today.

And now we’ll wait again. At least I have done something again. It takes away a little part of the powerless feeling I got.

I WANT TO GO TO RUSSIA. How hard can it be?

 

Just to clarify: I also really want to go to Poland, but since I just have to send some documents for that, the desire is calm and peaceful. But since going to Russia is so hard, I want it more and more.

Waiting

Waiting.

Waiting for my grades.
Waiting for the list of destinations we can go to.
Waiting for the confirmation that we’ve been accepted.
Waiting for my grades.
Waiting for the invitation.
Waiting for the visa.

Everything I did this year was to make sure I could go studying abroad the coming year. I worked very hard, because good grades are required. I have done what I could to make sure everything would turn out fine. To make sure that I could leave at the end of August.

The end of August is getting pretty close, and I still have nothing, no invitation, no visa, no confirmation of the host family. With every passing day I start to think more and more that I’m not going anywhere. Normally I’ve got at least four months Poland that’s safe, but the first semester is still one big black hole. And that scares me. There are only three people who want to stay, two of which are Polish. So if I have to stay, I’ll have classes with just two people sometimes. Isn’t that the most terrifying tought? For me it is.

I have been doing everything I could to make this work. I even send an e-mail to the university in Russia, to which they responded that they don’t have any information about us. And as long as they don’t send the invitation, we can’t get a visa and we can’t go.

That’s what we’re heading at. We can’t go. Though I have done what I could. Though everyone else is going. Though my entire life has been constructed to leave.

I’m afraid.

Getting things straigth: Ukraine and Crimea

Unless you live under a rock, you must have heard about what has been going on in Ukraine. Tension has been rising a whole lot, revolutions, referendum and so on. It’s headlining in the news for quite a while, but still it seems like a lot of people have no idea what this is all about. What’s the fuss about and why is Crimea suddenly a problem? Someone even recently posted on Facebook that ‘poor Ukraine was now ruled by nazis and an outdated boxer’. Of course that’s the shortest way to get a Slavic studies student mad. I feel like many people don’t really know what’s going and why, so maybe it’s useful to give a quick but hopefully clear insight in the current situation.

So, here we go. First things first: it’s best to start with the protests in Kyiv. The first big protest after the Orange Revolution in 2005 started when Yanukovich decided to not accept the Association Agreement and Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. People started to protest because they wanted a closer European integration. They were being repressed really hard. Then a whole lot more people started protesting against this violent repression and against the corruption, abuse of power and violation of human rights (1). The protest weren’t only and above all pro-Europe. Though this belief seems to be well spread, it’s not the entire truth. As far as I know, these people above all wanted the country to change for the better. This doesn’t necessarily means there had to be a big bond with the EU. I also read that most people in Ukraine, or amongst the protesters were disappointed with Europe because they didn’t help when things got worse and worse.

Because that’s what happened. But the protesters didn’t give in, kept going and then, in late February, the president’s party lost its majority and Yanukovich had to flee. Elections were planned for May 25th. I don’t know if you have seen the pictures of Yanukovich’s house, but that’s insanity. The man apparently felt like a modern emperor or something, having golden toilets and everything. That’s what power seems to do to people. It’s only a short way to abuse.

So, Yanukovich fled, a temporary parliament is now working. Elections will be held. And then Crimea becomes a problem. This is also a big one. First, you have to know something more about its background, which is now very important.

Crimea is a peninsula. It’s officially Ukrainian for as long as that will last now. It was annexed by Russia in 1783. At that moment, the people living there were the Crimean Tatars. Then it became Russian. Under Stalin’s regime, these Tatars have been deported, all of them, because they would have collaborated with the nazi’s. Of course, a lot of them died. Ukrainian and Russian people took over their villages and went living there. Only in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, they started to return in big numbers, claiming back their ground. In 1954 Khrushchev have it to Ukraine. At that moment of course it didn’t matter that hard, because everything was Soviet Union still. Many Russians though see it as a historical mistake.
Right now, the majority of people living there is Russian, followed by Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars.

Knowing all this, I believe it’s easy to understand why everyone is seeing Crimea as ‘theirs’. Everyone sort of has a point there. But now, because of the new parliament in Ukraine, the Russians at Crimea started feeling it as a threat. From what I’ve heard that is because of what the news tells them. Apparently they really believe their lives are in danger. Their reaction is protesting. They are even putting black crosses on the doors of Crimean Tatars, like back when they were being deported. Last Sunday there was a referendum on what should happen to Crimea, and apparently the majority voted for a ‘reunion’ with Russia.

Are these numbers real? Maybe not entirely. But seeing that the majority there is Russian, and the people not in favour tried to boycott it, it’s very likely that a majority voted for that. Maybe not 93%, but still. Of course it has to be known that at the moment, all they get it Russian news and Russian channels. This has undoubtedly a big influence on what they are doing.

Are they in danger? I don’t really think so. Ukraine is a country with quite many Russians, personally I dont’ think they would throw them out just like that. Will there be war? Maybe between Ukraine and Russia, Europe helping Ukraine out is unlikely I think. Ukraine is probably to weak to have a war, so I don’t think it will get to that point. But who knows…

The most important things to remember are these:

  • The protests in Kyiv weren’t only about getting closer to the EU, they were against corruption and abuse of power in their own country.
  • Because of its history, it’s quite logic that everyone wants to claim Crimea. You can never say it only belongs to this or that country, because it’s too complicated.
  • Crimea is currently taken over by Russian channels and news. This triggers the behaviour of the Russians there.
  • This is a very difficult situation that is way too hard for us to judge all too easily.

Please be smart enough not to go running around saying that Kyiv is becoming all nazi-like, or that Crimea is Russian, or that they all want to get a member of the EU. Things are very complicated up there and we need to keep our judgements for ourselves now. We will just have to wait and see what happens, and we can only hope there will be a peaceful end… But I’m afraid we’re still far from there.

I’m not an expert at this, but I am aware of the history and current situation of Ukraine and Crimea. This post is above all to give a better background. If anything is wrong, don’t hesitate to let me know. I hope that this will clear out some things for you!

 

(1) http://www.rferl.org/content/protesters-police-tense-standoff-ukraine/25241945.html