Educa Language School offers a homestay option as part of their language program. Combined with language instruction, a homestay completes the language emersion experience. It’s a great way to not only work on language skills but get an inside view of how locals really live.
Generally, homestay hosts speak very little English and communication is in the target language. Like in the language learning classroom this is the preferred situation. Unfortunately, when the student doesn’t speak the local language well and communication is difficult, host families simply turn on the television and there is very little discussion in any language.
In my case, my homestay host spoke good English and that’s what we used for most of our communication. I could learn about her life, how she viewed the world, what she worried about, what her ambitions were. I was making a new friend. In addition we would practice Russian and I learned and used household phrases over breakfast. Because she had the patience to listen to me, I actually learned and practiced more Russian than in previous homestay situations where communication was only in the target language.
I opted for half board to give me more time with my host. Anna made an effort to introduce me to a variety of Russian dishes, especially at breakfast. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten more types of cooked porridge – oats, various types of wheat, buckwheat, etc. I also tried milk noodles, thin noodles cooked in milk. Sounds odd but it’s was actually quite tasty, sweet and milky not unlike porridge.
The breakfast highlight was, of course, home-made blini. Made something like a crepe, they are filled with jam, honey and/or sweetened cottage cheese.
For dinner we had a variety of soups and a few pasta dishes. I said that I wanted to eat healthier so there were plenty of vegetable soups. Meats were used in small quantity generally as flavoring rather than being featured in the dish.
Anna’s hospitality included a fun tour of the city center, see post, and an outing to a football match with an International mix of friends. Not a fan of football or sports in general it was still worth going to see the spectacle of it all.
The middle class, 2 room apartment included two rooms used as bedrooms, one for Anna and one for me, a kitchen, a bathroom and a sizable entryway where the Guinea pigs and squirrels lived. Although a modest standard of living, on par with Argentina, rather than Europe, the bedrooms were sizable and bright with large windows. The kitchen was small and cramped with a dining bench and table in one corner and was the only place to really sit in the apartment other than in the bedroom. The bathroom was small but adequate, with plenty of hot water.
The apartment was about 50 minutes from school with a 20 minute walk to the metro, a 20 minute metro ride followed by a 10 minute walk to school. Although this is far from the city center, in the end I was glad to be living in an area where I needed to speak Russian.
The apartment was in a large block-building in a neighborhood of block-buildings surrounded by trees and plantings. Shops occupy the lower level of many of the buildings, making it convenient to buy most anything you need a short distance from home.
Near the metro station there is a large Okei grocery store with an impressive selection of preserved fish as well as cured meats and sausages with both sides of a long isle dedicated to just cured meats.
On my daily walk to and from the metro the streets were filled with commuters and merchants. At this time of year fresh fruits and vegetables are for sale, and although they look tasty what I sampled was disappointing.
For links to all the posts in this series see the St Petersburg page.
For more posts on travel in Russia see the Russia page.