10 Things I’ve Learned Overseas

I’ve written an actual summary about the academic side of my field school experience in Spain, but I’m waiting for a couple fact-checks before I send it to websites to be posted.  In the meantime, here is a silly/philosophical (sillosophical?) list of things I’ve learned while studying abroad in Russia and Spain over the last two summers:

1. How to nap in a wheelbarrow.  I’m serious.  It’s very comfortable, and I don’t even normally take naps.


2. Don’t fear the metro.  It’s the trusty steed of the modern city, no matter what country you’re in.

3. How not to spill water on myself while drinking out of a botijo (see photo) unless it’s really hot and I want to spill water on myself.


4. Russia is not cold in June/July.  Spain is cold in the morning and the evening in June.  Even weather defies stereotypes.

5. How to talk to people without knowing the right words.  Most of the time, knowing the most important words and doing your best with the rest of the sentence will get you through, especially if you gesture a lot (which I do).  I even managed to be funny a few times (usually on purpose in Spanish, not so intentionally in Russian)!


6. On that note – just so you know – “tired” and “old” are not the same word in Russian, and “caliente” when applied to a person in Spanish does not mean “experiencing a high temperature.”

7. Singing and dancing are not about how good you are at them, they’re about how much fun you’re having.  If you’re around people who disagree with that philosophy, you’re probably in America – and you should find more fun Americans.

8. Working hard does not mean making your entire existence revolve around your job.


9. You can, in fact, forget how to ride a bike.

10. There’s no point worrying about 90% of things that happen – either you’re wasting energy worrying when you could be working on the solution, or you’re wasting energy worrying when you can’t do a damn thing about it.


Goin’ Away To Spain

For some reason, everyone assumes I’m going on a *vacation* to Spain.  These people think I have way more money than I do.  Haha!  I’m actually going to Spain for an archaeological field school, which is both more exciting and a lot more work than a vacation.  For anyone who doesn’t know what happens at an archaeological field school, it goes like this:  I pay the field school tuition to let me work for them.  While working on the excavation, I learn the correct techniques for each step of the process, partly by training and partly by doing the work.  I also go to seminars and workshops to learn skills like excavation photography and archaeological drawing, osteology (skeletal analysis) and burial practices, etc.  From what I’ve heard from friends who have already done a field school, I’ll also spend a lot of time hauling buckets of dirt, digging in the dirt, sweating, cursing, laughing, cracking jokes, sight-seeing on the days off, and stuffing myself with good local food and beer.  See – better than a vacation, but also more work!

Oh, and if anyone is thinking this is a good time to find my apartment and steal all my stuff, note that Zak (an armed and formidably muscular man) is, alas, not able to come with me.  So I don’t recommend it.

Anyone who doesn’t get the title of this post, do yourself a favor and check out the Jane’s Addiction song, “Jane Says”.

Ask Me Anything….

I have plenty of topics I *could* blog about.  I’m trying to expand the scope of things I write about here, and I’m curious as to what those of you who read this blog want more of!  So if there is anything you’d like to know more about (my writing, my recent trip to Russia, archaeology and/or my academic pursuits, my chinchilla, or whatever), ask me a question in the comments section of any of my posts, and I will write a post to answer.

In the meantime, here is a post about how awesome the food is in Russia.


pork & potatoes stewed with onions, dill, and bell peppers











St. Petersburg has so many good restaurants – and even the pub grub is fantastic – I can’t even scratch the surface of all there is to try.  There are more sushi bars than you can shake a stick at, too – and apparently it’s a big thing to have pizza and sushi in the same meal…which I didn’t try, although it sounds like a great idea to me!


pelmini – meat dumplings with sour cream

My favorite Russian dishes were probably the pork & potato stew (which was called different names on different menus – if you know the “official” name of this dish, let me know!), pelmini, and beef Stroganoff (which Americans always serve with noodles, but Russians serve with either mashed potatoes or fries).  Speaking of the fries, they MUST be fried in lard or duck fat or something over there, because they’re too good not to be horrendously bad for you.  I could happily die 20 years earlier than my natural lifespan if I could eat fries that good on a daily basis!  Who needs unclogged arteries???!


beef Stroganoff & the best fries on the planet

On the other hand, I felt like I was eating much healthier while I was abroad, because the meals are more balanced.  You don’t get a whopping huge portion of meat and starch at a Russian restaurant.  You get a pretty reasonable portion for one human to eat, and you get about an equal portion of veggies, soup, or a roll (stuffed with veggies or fruit jam). Since I absolutely love fruit and fruit juices, the fact that there was an incredible selection of fruit juices on every menu and at the grocery didn’t hurt, either…pure strawberry or cherry juice with any given meal is my idea of heaven.  There’s also mors, which is berry juice, and kompot, which is juice with fruit and cucumber slices in the bottom of the glass.  And then there’s kvass, which is a drink made from bread (somehow), and which tastes like bread, tea, and beer had a lovechild together and then took the alcohol out (mostly).  It’s a weird flavor, but oddly crave-able.


blini stuffed with mushroom cream sauce & chicken, borscht, and a bottle of kvass


the end of a double chocolate stout and a Delirium Red

And as long as we’ve mentioned alcohol…the first thing most Americans think of when they think of Russia is, of course, vodka.  And yes, the low-end vodka in Russia is about 100 times better than the medium-end vodka in America.  My hostess explained to me that the tradition in Russia is to toast, take a drink, then eat a little something – a bite-size cube of cheese or a fresh strawberry – to make it easier on the stomach.  Even as strong as the vodka was, though, it was pretty damn smooth.  In the past year, I’ve finally acquired a taste for beer, and St. Petersburg restaurants and pubs have some pretty extensive selection of world beers!  Mostly, I’m a stout fan.  I like beer so dark that it develops an event horizon around the glass.  Found some good stouts in Russia, including a double chocolate stout, and THEN discovered Delirium Red, a Belgian cherry beer that’s somewhere around 12 or 13 % alcohol per volume.  Thought I’d died and gone to heaven…

If I even BEGIN to talk about Russian pastries & desserts, that’s going to need a whole post to itself, because it DESERVES its own post.  I’ll save it for later, but I’ll tantalize you with this photo of a single case of cookies in a St. Petersburg bakery:



Now hit me up with some questions!  GO!

Guest Post at SRAS’ Art in Russia Website

My final article for SRAS’ Summer 2013 program is posted!  You can read it here:

Program Review: Art and Museums in Russia

I’m very excited about everything I learned while I was there, and excited to carry these experiences and this inspiration forward – in my academics, my creative life, and my personal life.  It’s been an amazing summer, and I’ve still got a month to do more awesome stuff with myself before I stuff my brain full of more awesomeness this school year!  Woot!

What I Did on My Summer Vacation….


View from the roof of St. Isaac’s Cathedral

I spent the last 3 weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Now, if you’re thinking that 3 weeks is not very long for a study abroad semester, you are (a) correct and (b) not aware of how much can be packed into 3 weeks with sufficient effort and enthusiasm.  Ha!  I’m happy to say that, for just about every page of my beautiful DK Guide to St. Petersburg, I can point to at least one listing and say, “I’ve been there!”


One of my favorite paintings in the Russian Museum

I’ve written a series of articles for SRAS (the School of Russian and Asian Studies, the organization which ran my program) – a pre-departure research article (previously posted on this blog) about Russian artist Aristarkh Lentulov, and the following 2 articles about some of the museum studies experience gained during my trip:

1. Archaeological Collections and Curation at the Hermitage

2. Painting Restoration Methods of the Hermitage


A stormy day over the Hermitage Museum

My final article, a trip summary, has not yet posted to the SRAS blog.  In the meantime, let me say that I absolutely loved St. Petersburg.  It’s a beautiful city, and going in the summertime (when the sun only goes down for a few hours per night, at most) was fantastic!  The amount of art, architecture, and history you can encounter within one block in St. Petersburg is overwhelming.  My travel journal is around 45 pages (single-spaced!) and right now, I honestly can’t think how to sum up that much experience in one little blog post, so I will leave it at my articles and a few photos for now, and post parts of my travel journal from time to time in the next few weeks.IMG_0887

On the Oreninbaum Estate