Anna Whittington is a Harvard University senior who is spending a year studying at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow (www.rggu.com) and at Freie Universität in Berlin (www.fu-berlin.de). Her travels have done wonders for her Russian and German, and she can now recommend a great Depeche Mode-themed bar in Estonia. You can read more about her adventures at her blog, anyamarie.wordpress.com/.
TWO CAPITAL IDEAS: I was drawn to the idea of studying in these countries' capitals, and I was especially attracted by Middlebury College's language program, which meant all my interaction and coursework would be in Russian and German.
ROOMIES: I spent my [first] semester living with a middle-aged Russian woman. She prepared breakfast and dinner for me. This gave me a unique perspective about life in the former Soviet Union, as I was living in what was definitely a post-Soviet apartment, with all the blessings and drawbacks that come with it. I had a long commute to classes - 75 minutes usually. The living situation in Berlin is quite different. For one, I am living with two male students, which is quite common in Europe. My time in Berlin is characterized by a sense of independence that I have not really had in the past.
METRO NO-NO: Smiling. Muscovites take their metro riding seriously, and when you inadvertently crack a smile, you might get a few odd stares.
CHEAP TRAVEL: My time abroad has afforded me unbelievable opportunities to see more of the world. It sounds exotic, but one of the best parts of Russia, for me at least, was the fact that train tickets were so cheap - Moscow to Petersburg on an overnight train, for example, cost around $16. This meant a lot of traveling was based on where I could go on overnight trains without paying to stay places.
GOOD EATS: I am pretty much in love with all non-Slavic food from the former Soviet Union. Georgian kharcho, a spicy meat and rice soup, and their famous cheesy bread, khachapuri, stand out as particular favorites, along with plov, a rice dish from Central Asia. From the Slavic side of things, it was rare for me to enjoy a meal without a heavy presence of beets, cabbage, and above all, dill, the Russian herb of choice.
TOAST RESPONSIBLY: In Germany, when you toast, you always look the person in the eyes when you clink the glasses. Failure to do so allegedly means you will have seven years of bad sex.