10 things I wish I'd known before leaving for Russia
I'm very grateful to the Kitezh-Orion partnership for providing me with such a useful volunteer guide, which had so many tips including a rough packing list. This list of things I wish I had known before leaving comprises some things that, though mentioned in the handbook, simply weren't stressed quite enough. Others weren't mentioned, and I hope you find their inclusion useful.
1. Take shoes that are really easy to take off and put on.
Don't take shoes with laces to Russia. You will constantly be taking them off and putting them back on and it'll get really annoying. If you don't have any appropriate footwear without laces, invest in a pair.
Take one pair = good. Take two pairs = better.
3. Identify any poisonous or stinging plants or animals in the region you're going to.
The printed-out pictures and Russian explanations I found here were both unclear as to what they look like and as to what they'll do to you.
4. Be prepared for bugs.
They're everywhere. I've been stung twice by wasps, and there are seemingly infinite numbers of flies. I've become rather handy with a fly-swatter.
5. Steel yourself for car journeys.
Russian driving can be unimaginably bad - it would appear using indicators here is optional, and use of the hard shoulder as an extra lane during heavy traffic is standard. Cars change lanes suddenly and without warning. It's scary.
6. Know how much mobile phone usage will cost and act accordingly.
6 days into my stay I called my parents for the first time, having only sent them a "I'm here, I'm alive" text on the first day. We spoke for 10 minutes before my £16 credit vanished. It turned out it costs £1.49 per minute to make or receive a call, and 40p to send a message on the network I'm on. I would highly recommend buying a Russian SIM card - MTS and Beeline are both popular networks and charges are pleasantly low. They are specific to each region - using one outside of the region (oblast) you bought it in can incur roaming charges. If you have access to a reliable and cheap internet connection then by using Skype you may avoid having to spend as much on calling abroad. The same advice applies to other countries, but I can't vouch for reliable networks elsewhere - keep your eyes peeled for advertisements.
7. Acknowledge that Russians lack manners from a British perspective.
It's nothing personal when Russians seldom say please, thank you and sorry, it's a cultural thing.
8. If you smile as much in Russia as you would smile in England, people will ask you why you're smiling.
Russians see smiling constantly as a sign of senility (read: being slightly off your rocker).
9. Take fewer clothes and toiletries, take more of everything else.
I wish I had brought more teaching materials, more souvenirs, more British sweets to eat when I'm feeling homesick, and more DVDs to watch. You can wash clothes frequently or buy more wherever you go, but you can't get your parents to send you everything you would have packed but didn't have room for because you thought you'd need a few more party dresses.
10. Don't hesitate to try new things!
Join that karate class, go mushroom-picking, help unload a lorry, eat that bizarre-looking dish! In seizing opportunities for new experiences you will not only have fun and meet new people, but you'll also have talking points for conversation with the natives.
Check out Lois's year abroad blog for her latest updates...