Trains, Kopeeks, Honey, and a Dash of Smetana

Cheyenne Connor

Walking once again across LU after a year abroad — possible with help from non-LU funding, The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship — seems at the very least surreal. As cliché as it sounds, stepping off the plane in Moscow’s Sheremetovo International Airport seems like yesterday.
In order to reach my ultimate destination of the city of Saratov, I opted for a mode of transportation that most people take to travel between every imaginable city in Russia: a train. You must know that there is a set routine once you are aboard, which includes paying for clean sheets, changing into a comfy set of clothes to sleep in — for overnight hauls — and most importantly switching into a pair of sturdy slippers or tapetchki.
This attire makes for a somewhat awkward sense of intimacy with complete strangers. Being the foreigner, I’m the only one that felt that awkward.
As last year was not my first time to Russia, I was able to notice some familiarities this time around. For instance, I found if I was ever in doubt as to what I would like, I would simply ask for smetana, which is comparable to sour cream.
I guess, just think ketchup in America, every restaurant has it and it goes with practically everything. On a side note: Do not ever worry about leaving tips directly on the table or someone will most likely think that you foolishly forgot cash that in theory is now up for grabs. No one expects you to tip unless you are at an expensive place and in that case it will be included in the bill.
During my time, it also became apparent to me that honey is not something to be toiled with in Russia. I encountered more varieties than can be conceived, all of which proved to be addictive. However, in addition to eating it by the spoonful, many stir it generously into a hot cup of tea. Any Russian will tell you honey can combat just about any cold or mild fever and is the preferred method of treatment. In fact, it is often sold at drugstores. Just try to make sure the source is reliable to avoid cheap mockeries, which are diluted with average sugar.
Now that you know what scrumptious things to taste and buy, how do you pay? Unless you are in Moscow or a ritzy newly built establishment, credit and debit cards will only get you money at an ATM. Russia’s currency is the ruble, and the cent equivalent is the kopeek. With the dollar losing value internationally, last time I checked $1 could get you about 24 rubles and 60 kopeeks.
Cash is the way to go and if you want to be prepared, make sure you have a variety of kopeek coins as I found that disgruntled clerks would often ask you to check for exact change.
Be it Russia or any other country, studying abroad is a must as part of your experience here at Lawrence. I would strongly recommend taking Russian and traveling to Russia. I do not have enough space within this article to even begin to scratch the surface of what you will experience.
If anything though, when you are there you will know to always ask for some smetana.
Consider this: I for one tended to think that scholarships were this mystical thing college students only dream about — an entity clearly beyond my reach. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship welcomingly proved me wrong, and I was awarded $5,000 towards my trip.
Of course you have to qualify — do not be intimidated. For more information, check out http://www.iie.org//programs/gilman/index.htm.

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