Katharina (Germany) – My first three weeks in Russia

Three weeks ago I started my journey to Russia to do an EVS (European Voluntary Service) at Opora in Yoshkar-Ola. Being at home and thinking about Russia I wasn’t actually nervous, only when the plane took off I was a little afraid of what was about to come.
All day in Moscow I wasn’t very enthusiastic because I was feeling exhausted and I was trying to find my way through Moscow even though I barely spoke Russian – which was for me not so easy, because most people I encountered were barely speaking English. But with the help of printed maps and schedules they handed me I managed to find my way from the airport to the train station.
The train offered more comfort than I actually expected, so when I arrived in Yoshkar-Ola in the morning I was feeling pretty well.
Andreas – another German volunteer – picked me up from the station and we took the bus to the apartment where both of us and a Russian student live. After settling in a little and sleeping for another hour or so we made our way to the Office of Opora where I met Azat and Arthur – a French volunteer.
In the next days I had time to get used to Russia, to the city and to everything else; Azat also cared about things like official passport registration and getting me a Russian Sim Car. The other two volunteers were so kind to show me around in the city: Where you can eat, do grocery shopping and so on. They invited me to accompany them for swimming or ice skating – which I probably wouldn’t have been able to do on my own, because I am not able to communicate with the people there, yet – at least it would have been difficult.
I also met my mentor, which was really nice and of course the other people working in Opora. In general I have the feeling to be welcome here, everyone from Opora is willing to help and to answer question, about the city, the work, the Russian language or any other thing I want to know.
I cannot say if the experience I had here until now meets my expectations, because I hardly had any expectations. While being at home I did not want to create a picture in my head of my stay here, because it would be different anyway. So I try to be flexible and open-minded to understand how things are working here, so that I can adapt to them, if necessary.
Until now I only did a presentation about a journey to England for the so called “Traveller’s Club”, where people who are interested in travelling come and listen to presentations about other countries. Furthermore we had a talk about implementing a new environmental project and yesterday I had my first English class in the English Smoothie Club organized by Opora. The people coming there speak some English, because they learned it in school and university, but they rarely use it and therefore forgot a lot of things. So I am trying to find some topics they can discuss or think of games to improve their English.
Every week we – the EVS volunteers – meet up with Azat, to talk about how our week was and whether we need help with anything or have ideas for projects, so no one will have too much work or live in a bad apartment or anything like that.
What I want to learn here is of course the Russian language and culture, but I also hope to see more of Russia: The towns which are close to Yoshkar-Ola: Kazan and Cheboksary and of course Moscow and St Petersburg and maybe others but until now I am pretty unsure about where else I want to go.
So all in all I can say that I am feeling really well – also because of the friendly atmosphere here, I have learned some useful Russian phrases and how the bus system works. Also I started to work on my projects and, well – I am really looking forward to spend the next year in Russia at Opora!