So many questions!
A $500 limit into russia? Nyet! I don't think so. At the minimum, i thought it was like $1500 but few people declared what they really had. The reasoning is that they do not want hard currency, specifically US greenabcks, leaving Mother Russia. I tried to deposit some dollars into a new 'dollar account' we got here recently and they asked me for my cash declaration form which of course, I didn't have. No form? No deposit. 'Yankee go away now...'!
As for the winter clothes, if I had it to do all over again....I'd bring extra cash and buy Russian. I shipped my winter (down-filled) parka and stuff and while it was fine for the weather, I stuck out even further than I normally do and besides, they're nice (the Russian goods), almost too nice. Heavy and warm. Plus, you might get lucky. I know a few happy lads who 'inherited' coats or got them for a song so bring more 'important' stuff and Go Russian! Oh, and I shipped my sleeping bag too. As I've said before, stuff the box with lots of little things you'll forget about and then when they do get here, it's sooo cool! Fridge magnets, chip clips, ziploc bags, Kraft caramels or other favorite candy (be warned, most major candy bars are here), marshmallows (someone said you can buy them here but I've never seen them.) Ranch dressing mixes, and all kinds of spice and/or sauce packets. I almost died and went to heaven when we made eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce a few months back. Sure, you CAN make them from scratch if you're a good cook. But I'm a shortcut kind of guy...
Also, my mom sent me loads of cooking mixes: meat loaf mix, taco seasoning (a MUST!), shephards pie seasoning, sauces, all those Knorr mixes type stuff. They make cooking a lot easier (at least in my 'cook' book.) Patricia mentioned a large bottle of Italian seasoning mix from Sam's Club or something. Great idea but ship it surface and save space and money.
Oh, host families. I wish mine were still around. It seems I scared them off.. No kidding, they moved west to Moscow. But as far as "In-glee-skee" goes, some do, some don't. My guess is most don't but almost everybody knows some English. If you're adamant, tell them: All Rooskie, all the Time, "puh-zhal-uh-sta".
Just don't panic. I know it's easier said than done but... we're all here (and are thriving, not just surviving) with a couple of exceptions. And most of those were medical-related. In any event, ALL of your questions will be answered during PST. Many current PCVs will be there and you can see that, while we dread the dawning of another day at times, we are happy, well-fed, and reasonably sane (current exceptions include but are not limited to Steve). Let me put it to you another way: after 10+ months here, I now understand HOW people can make the decision to stay here for a third year. Not that I have ANY plans to do so, I simply understand it better. Acceptance of all things Russian is key. I used to say "Expect nothing and you won't be disappointed." but now I am very content here and I would argue that most PCVs here are happy as well.
And lastly, for the philosophical among you: try to think of what you want to get out of this experience. I know that sounds tough when there's stiu so many unknowns but.... I asked myself "Do I just wanna kill two years here or what?" I set many goals for myself before leaving and more importantly, wrote them down. One was to leave here with a minimum proficiency of 'Strong-Intermediate' in Russian. Well, so far, so-so. It's been an uphill climb but I've renewed my energies recently and I should be able to make it.
Well, that's it for today. Have fun packing and do not, I repeat DO NOT leave it until 4 am the night before like Patricia and 'someone' else did. It makes for major anxiety! As I've said many times, pack some small boxes (shoe box or slightly larger), fill them with 'maybe' items and have them shipped later if you really want/need them. Be warned: the volume of packages from home drops significantly after month 6 or so...
Anyone who brings 'Law & Order' tapes is my second new best friend! (Susan's too!) Colombian coffee gets First!
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