How Moscow Has Changed My Attitude Towards Coffee

I used to hate drinking coffee; My friends at school know I love Diet Coke, but while I have been in Moscow the past two months I have found myself drinking and enjoying coffee more than ever before. My new coffee habit might be because I have not seen a single Diet Coke since I have been here, but it might also be a result of the cold weather that is still present in early April. Moscow also has an abundance of anti-cafes which do nothing to help my growing love of coffee (an anti-cafe is a unique place where a person pays for his or her time rather than the drinks and food he or she purchases). For example, one of my favorite anti cafes in Moscow only costs 350 rubles and you can stay for as many hours as you want and get free unlimited coffee and cookies (disclaimer, this café doesn’t have the best coffee, but it is my favorite because they have at least 20 cats that roam the building). There are also other anti-cafes in Moscow which have better coffee for free as long as you pay the price for your time there.

While coffee is everywhere in Moscow, I have had a hard time finding soda that I like. There are cans and bottles of soda all over Moscow but I have always preferred to drink soda from a fountain machine, like at a fast food restaurant.  Unfortunately, my best option here is a McDonalds Coke Zero, which is never served with ice and does not compare to a Diet Coke from home.  Other than the fact that I would rather enjoy soda from home, this difference contributes to my love of coffee because I would rather spend my time in a local cafe than a McDonalds.  Clearly, there have been many factors contributing to my newfound appreciation of coffee: Moscow’s climate, the abundance of anti-cafes, and the lack of good soda. Beyond these factors, however, lies the truth that I simply like the idea of being a coffee drinker because I feel slightly more sophisticated with a cup of coffee or cappuccino.

My coffee appreciation may seem unimportant compared to other factors of life in Moscow, but it is actually representative of my personal attempt to adapt to the culture and react to this new environment.  Back home I used to enjoy my early morning trips to the McDonalds drive-through for a cold Diet Coke but now when that is not an option, I have adapted and I find just as much enjoyment from a different morning routine.  Going into the city to study in a cafe rather than staying in my dorm is also a simple way to get outside and see Moscow while still being productive.  Finally, the atmosphere of anti-cafes is something I have never seen in America.  It’s all about the little things in life and living in Moscow has pushed me to appreciate the small joy of coffee which I could never bring myself to appreciate in America.

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Hello from Moscow

I have been living in Moscow for two months now and sadly my program was officially halfway over as of last Friday.  I told so many people I would be writing this blog but here we are halfway into the program and I have only just written my first post! My failure to start this blog in a timely manner has bothered me for a while but despite my best attempts, I couldn’t produce any posts I was proud of.  I have also struggled a bit with writing down my feelings on Russia because I know no matter what I say or how I phrase it, I can’t truly express how much I love Moscow.

So despite the setback, I have decided that the middle of the program is a wonderful time to start blogging because I am much more familiar with Moscow and the things that go on in this city.  Maybe it would have been nice to capture all my awkward and silly moments at the start of this experience, but I can still write about those times in retrospect.

Russia is not the most sought after study abroad location, but I knew for a long time I wanted to come here.  I was partly drawn to the academic aspect of my program (which was somewhat misleading) and even more so to the idea of being in Russia, a foreign country that I have only read about in books.  There is something so distinctly different about Russia that captured my heart and I wanted to travel somewhere with a completely different history from the US.  Russia was a clear choice because first of all, I enjoy Russian literature and culture, but secondly because Russia’s communist past is so different from anything in America. Going to Russia has been a great chance to live in a historical nation that is highly relevant in current affairs.  I also knew I could complete an internship this semester at the American Center in the US Embassy and this opportunity was another factor in my choice to study here.

Although I knew for a long time I wanted to study abroad here, and I knew what it meant to me, some of my family members were shocked by my choice. For example, when I originally told my parents that I wanted to study abroad in Moscow they were not too enthusiastic.  I even remember sitting around the table on Mother’s day a year or so ago when my family thought I was joking about wanting to come here. Their comments upset me but now I view the whole situation as a funny memory. I believe I received those negative reactions because Russia has a strange and complicated reputation in America, and sometimes is seen as inherently unsafe, which I have not found to be true.  While my choice to come here was somewhat unconventional, I have not regretted my decision once since I arrived. In fact, every time I walk by the Kremlin or go through Red Square I feel so happy to be here that I cannot imagine being anywhere else!

There have been some bad days in terms of weather conditions, but I am convinced that it’s is all part of the Russian experience. Even when the weather was quite bad I was still able to enjoy being outside in the heavy snow and cold air.  While the stereotypes of the weather are pretty much true, other ones can be misleading.  One misleading stereotype is that Russia is ugly and everything here looks like it came from the Soviet era.  There are a lot of gray buildings but in some ways, they just add to the Russian atmosphere and remind me of the incredibly long and difficult history of this nation. While some buildings are less than attractive, there is a surprising number of pastel-colored buildings in Russia too, especially near the city center.  The weather has also been quite sunny lately and I am having the best time walking around to see everything outside when the sky is actually blue!

Yes, life in Moscow has been difficult at times, especially since English is not widely spoken here and I have only been learning Russian for about a month and a half, but the challenges are just a way to grow.  I have found my challenges here have also been mostly of a personal nature, such as overcoming self-doubts or figuring out how to manage my time when there is so much I want to do.  There has been a fair share of challenges specific to Russia too though, such as the time I went to Ikea to buy bed sheets but actually bought a curtain because I couldn’t read the package. Even during the harder times my experience so far has been even better than I ever expected; my mom and dad even joked once that I sound happier on the phone here in Russia than I do in Spartanburg.

Ultimately I know that my time in Moscow has been a bit different from other study abroad experiences, but I would not trade this time for anything else even if that would mean I could travel around Europe every weekend or live in more aesthetic conditions. I have had some of the best times here with the new friends I have made and I am getting a close look at what life is like for ordinary Russians, a perspective which I find very valuable.  Thanks for the good times, Moscow!

Now that I have finally managed to write this post, I am excited to keep writing on all the topics I have planned to discuss. My future posts will be aimed at informing my friends and family about life in Russia but also cataloging my experiences so I can go back through them in the future. Stick around for some amusing and sometimes tragic stories like how I lost my phone on the first day I arrived here, or all my awkward encounters while trying to learn and speak Russian. Future posts will also be about topics such as:

  • The academic culture in Russia, life at MGIMO, and Russian students
  • My biggest challenges and accomplishments so far
  • Some Russian stereotypes and if they are true
  • My time in Vladimir and Suzdal, two smaller Russian cities
  • Food and nightlife in Moscow
  • The dogs of Russia
  • Cultural differences between Russia and the US
  • My daily experiences and lifestyle
  • My internship at the American Center in the US Embassy

Finally, below is a small collection of the pictures I have taken so far. I hope you can see the beauty of Russia and realize this place is made up of more than gray Soviet-era buildings.  Look out for more pictures on Facebook and in other blog posts!



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