Thursday, 16 June 2011

The final chapter, and a new book begins...

My time in Siberia has come to an end. Whilst at times it was very difficult, I tried to keep the problems and negative aspects out of this blog as I knew it would do me no good to focus on them.

Overall, I have no regrets about taking the job in Nizhnevartovsk although I didn't like the town. The school I worked for was great, and most of the people I met while I was there were wonderful. Although my current plans don't include a return there, my motto of  'Never say never' stands. If I hadn't gone to Russia I would have stayed unemployed, or at best been forced to take a job I didn't enjoy. Instead, I learned I can survive without the safety net of friends and family, I've had some great experiences and spent 9 months doing a job I love, albeit in challenging conditions sometimes!

So, what's next? Well I probably won't post on this blog again but will start posting on again, so you'll just have to read that to find out!

Thank you for reading, and for all your encouraging comments - it really helped.

Margate, England. June 2011

Saturday, 16 April 2011


I've been asking myself "why?" a lot recently. I'm not religious, and although I'd call myself vaguely spiritual I don't really know what I believe in. One thing I do believe in, however, is that everything happens for a reason, even if we can't see it at the time.

When I came to Siberia in September it felt like the right thing to do. The alternative was unemployment in the UK and I knew I would find that incredibly hard to deal with. It hasn't been easy here, and there are times when I've felt alone, forgotten, ignored, unappreciated and I've really struggled. Even though by Siberian standards the winter was mild, the cold was painful and meant that I could hardly spend any time outside - something that I've really missed. But even though it's been hard, I'm convinced it was the right thing to do. My contract ends in 4 weeks and I'm leaving it open as to whether I return or not (although if I do, it won't be until January at the earliest).

The problem is, that I'm already becoming impatient to know why I was here. How is this going to tie in to the rest of my life? I've done things here I didn't anticipate doing (teaching children for example) and my Russian has improved but there is more to it than that. I have had to cope here without the safety net of family and friends to pick me up if I'm down, and this has possibly been the most important thing I've learned - that I can cope without the safety net; in fact in some ways it has made things easier as I've had no choice but to keep going. I hope I can remember this when I get back to the UK.

I've also been wondering why I started a blog, as I haven't exactly been a regular blogger, and for those of you who were expecting regular updates - I apologise. I am going to write a few retrospective blogs on here over the next few weeks and will also continue after I'm home - so you can follow my integration back into the UK and the reverse culture shock I'm bound to experience!

As they say, watch this space...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Can I?

In a previous blog I wrote the following as one of my first posts about 3 years ago. I thought it fitted quite well with this blog so I have copied it exactly as I first wrote it:

Can I?

I wanted to share with you some thoughts I had recently.

I was talking with a group of people who were all at stages in their lives where they feel they needed to, or wanted to, make a change of some kind. One person there wanted to change her career completely but said several times "I don't know if I can do it."

It then occurred to me that we all ask that question a lot:

Can I have more time to do what I want to?
Can I afford a holiday?
Can I work part time?
Can I be paid for what I enjoy doing?

and so on - the list of "can I's" in life is probably endless, especially with the demands on everyone now and the fast pace of change in our society.

Most people think of "Can I?" in the sense of "Am I able to?" but I realised that equally important is the sense of asking permission. When we say "Can I open the window?" we are asking permission, not if we are able to do it.

So it is important that we give ourselves permission to do things sometimes. There are times in our lives when we need to allow ourselves to take a risk, to be scared, to go against the grain of what is often accepted, or even to just stop for a while and think, while the rest of the world is rushing madly by.

Next time you are thinking about making a change in your life, find a quiet place, stand there and think to yourself - "Can I do it?"

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Beauty and the bleak

I went home for the New Year. I had two weeks at home, two great weeks, although with the stress of travelling either side. I often wonder why I chose to work somewhere two flights away from home! It was great to be back home, to see family, dear friends, green grass, and to eat decent cheese. I was prepared for the fact that I'd get 'post holiday blues' when I came back to Siberia, but I wasn't prepared for the way they'd hit me like a freight train.

When I came back I was tired, jet lagged and with the start of a flu virus (although I didn't know it at the time). I had a few hours sleep before I had to go into the school and I started teaching the next day. I went from staying in a nice, clean house with a garden in the UK to having to come into a soulless concrete block, sharing a stairwell with alcoholic smokers (who use the landings for drinking and smoking), avoiding the streams of urine on the concrete stairs every time I came in. My flat is actually very comfortable, and whilst inside I can sometimes forget where I am, as soon as I looked out of the window or open the door and see grey, white, and concrete it hit me.

I couldn't feel anything for the place when I first got back. It was bleak. Everything seemed bleak. The lack of decent fresh vegetables in the shops, missing family and friends, everything looking the same, the concrete stairwell, the weather, the four months of winter still to come... all just bleak. I felt no connection with the city at all. I couldn't even enjoy the job.

I spent a few days in bed with flu. Fortunately I didn't have it too badly but it was bad enough for me to go 3 days without seeing another person. I started to get more and more miserable - "Why was I here?", "Why had I said I'd come back for a second year?" I just wanted to be at home. Even being jobless and homeless would be better than this place. Then, when I first ventured outside again to take the rubbish out I noticed the trees. Amongst the concrete blocks, snow mounds which used to be cars, the piles of slabs of broken up ice topped with discarded Christmas trees, and the abandoned children's playground, stood the trees. They were heavily covered in white frost. Dripping with frost. The sun had come out and I saw real beauty there amongst the bleakness around it. My eyes opened again and I started to see hope. Things started to turn around from that point.

I have said I want to come back for a second year. There are many reasons for that but I think that if I hadn't seen the trees that day I may not have made the decision. Even when everything looks bleak there is always some hope or beauty there, it just takes a moment to look for it. The Siberian winter is very harsh but the days are getting lighter and the hope that I can get through it is back.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

It's easy to forget

It's very easy to forget where I am. I've had a few days off and haven't been out much lately. I went for a massage on Sunday which, apart from the odd few words of Russian spoken, and the fact that the masseuse didn't discreetly leave the room when I undressed, could easily have been at home. I've been watching English language DVDs, been skyping with family, listening to podcasts, audio books and music, and reading English language books. I've been warm, I've been eating food I enjoy, that I've cooked myself, and to be honest, I could have been anywhere, even at home.

On Monday, though, I slipped on some ice. I didn't hurt myself badly, just jarred my arm, and fortunately my laptop (which was in my backpack) and my iPod (in my pocket) were unharmed. That was all I was worried about! It reminded me though that this isn't home. That this is a harsh and very different environment. I had an evening out tonight and walked home in a temperature of -10 degrees C. That is actually very mild for a Siberian winter and to be honest it didn't feel too cold (despite the fact I wasn't really dressed for it), but I could feel the difference. I felt the pain in my head, and I felt my nostrils starting to freeze. I had to keep moving my scarf round because it got wet from my breath - and it froze each time. I know it will get much colder than this (although the weekend is forecast to be mild) and I am actually looking forward to the experience, even though it will be difficult.

Not all the experiences here are hard though. I had my first 'cultural' excursion today - to a ballet in the Palace of Arts. It was The Nutcracker Suite. It wasn't live music but the show was great to watch, and I loved the way the audience clapped along to the music. To our Western minds, this seemed a little incongruous but was natural to them, as were the small children running onto the stage with flowers for the dancers. One poor little girl was a bit too late and started crying though, poor thing. The curtain call was after the house lights came on, which was another thing I found a little odd. I was definitely an enjoyable experience though.

So with the ballet and the cold, it is welcome to Russia!! 

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Time alone

Some things haven't changed simply because I'm working in another country. My colleagues and my students are great but at the moment they are the only people I know here, so any social activities are an extension of work. Whilst it's good to go out with colleagues at the weekends or after work, try new restaurants or bars and try to forget about work, I still need time on my own. I always have done. It might be the Gemini in me that gets torn between wanting to be with people and be on my own. I seem to need more and more time on my own to recharge my batteries these days but the good thing is that the older I get, the more easily I recognise the signs that I need to do it. If I start to get grumpy, ratty with others etc, I just take time out as I did this weekend.  I spent last night and today being a domestic goddess (ish!), watching TV, studying, reading, listening to music etc and I feel much better as a result. Almost ready to face next week, in fact. 

Friday, 22 October 2010

I have smiled

Sometimes it's tough teaching. Sometimes it's tough being away from home. Sometimes it's tough when the only people you can talk to or spend time with are the people you work with. But sometimes things happen which make you smile. These can be very small things, or big things, and if you focus on them the harder stuff somehow seems easier to deal with.

I was having a tough day and one of my classes bought me chocolate for teachers' day a couple of weeks ago. That made me smile.

I went to the market at the weekend and saw these little guys sneaking a feed without paying. That made me smile.

I was walking past a 16 floor high block of flats and I saw some large writing on the ground. I stepped back to read it. It said "Julia, I love you. You are all I need" (in Russian of course). That made me smile. Similar things can be seen all over the city, and the love messages outside the maternity hospital really make me smile.

I was walking past Maternity Hospital No. 1 the other day. A proud father was posing for a photo at the entrance, holding a new born baby. He was wearing his best suit and everyone had balloons. That made me smile.

We have had the first snow. It melted but it looked beautiful on the tree outside my flat. That made me smile. 

It was sunny this morning and a Great Tit landed on the tree. I couldn't get a picture, but that made me smile too.

I know it's partially caused by pollution but this pink sunset made me smile. 

Lots of other things have made me smile: words from friends, family, colleagues and students. Funny things people (often students!) have said, finding Kleenex Balsam tissues in the supermarket, seeing a child try to catch snowflakes, but most of all, waking up every day and realising how lucky I am to be able to do a job I love. At this precise moment in time I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.