The Triumph of Navigating a New Bus System

By Rachel Essel

When I studied abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, the only way for me to get around besides walking was public transportation. If you’re not familiar with St. Petersburg’s geography, the city consists mostly of two main islands and sections of mainland and I lived on one of the islands with my host family. Due to the nearest metro stop to me being closed for remodeling, I had to take mostly buses and trams everywhere which made things a lot more complicated.

The first day of school my host mom actually took me there, and we left while it was still dark out to get on a tram, to go to the next closest metro stop to meet my fellow students where a bus would take us the rest of the way to school. It was so confusing and took so long and then my host mom drops this bomb on me: I won’t actually be taking that route to school, that was just to meet at the correct metro stop the first day. So at the end of the day my host mom takes me out to where I will catch a bus that will take me all the way to school the next morning.

When I finally leave the next morning, it’s still dark out and I’m praying that I’m getting on the correct bus. Finally, I see the 11 bus chugging down the street and I’m elated because I had been waiting for 15 minutes already and was afraid that I was in the wrong spot (I’ll soon learn that the 11 bus is just incredibly inconsistent). I get on the bus and make my way to school and finally, I see the tall cathedral where I attend school in the distance. We get closer to it and I think I have one more stop to go, and then the bus hangs a sharp right and I had to get off at the wrong stop and walk 10 more minutes than I would have.

Then, the next day after school, my friends and I decided to explore and hang out around Nevsky Prospekt, the main street in St. Petersburg. After walking around a while in the cold, it got dark pretty fast and we all decided to go home so I hop on the bus that will take me back to my island. Or so I thought. The bus route was the correct one until we crossed the bridge to my island where the bus should turn left, but it went straight instead! Freaking out, I get off at the first stop and I walked 45 minutes home, and no buses were going down the main street I lived on and I was so confused.

Later on, I found out that just for that day, buses would be going a different route because of construction. But what I learned from that day was invaluable: 1) Just trust your instincts. If you know that Bus 10 will get you home, allow it to. And 2) never trust Russian public transportation to tell you of route changes.

Rachel is a senior double majoring in Economics and Russian. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, she studied Spanish language all throughout high school but then decided to try Russian when she came to USC, and fell in love. Her first time traveling to Russia was in spring 2015 and she knew she had to go back, so she decided to study abroad in St. Petersburg in spring 2016. While studying abroad, Rachel volunteered at St. Petersburg State University as an English teacher, so she has experience teaching English as a Foreign Language. She also knows the biggest challenge of learning any language is understanding native speakers. In her free time, Rachel enjoys doing surfing, stand up paddle boarding, photography, and watching copious amounts of Netflix.