The Best Place to Shop in Moscow: Измайловский Рынок

In Moscow, Ismaylovo is THE place to go for tourist shopping. There are many corner souvenir booths and shops around the city – there’s even stores underground in between metro stations! Do not be tempted. These small, over-priced shops don’t even begin to compare to the wonder that is Ismaylovo.


The market is massive. I went on three separate occasions for gifts for my family. It costs 10 rubles to get in, but that’s chump change compared to how much a person can save. Of course, it helps to be a little versed in the art of haggling. A few tips?

– Always be prepared to walk away.

– Stick to male vendors, especially if you’re a female shopper (the female vendors hardly ever wanted to bargain with me).

– The same can be said for older vendors – they’re not as “hungry” for profit as their younger counterparts are.

– Try to use as much Russian as possible. They’ll still know you’re a foreigner, but it gives you bonus points if you can converse well, as it seems to be a refreshing change from the usual conversations they have with English speakers.

– Go when it’s raining. Business will be slower, and you’ll get better prices.

– If you must go when it’s sunny, arrive early before the crowds grab all the good stuff.

– Visit the upper levels, and around the back. This is where the really quirky, and also the antique, items are located.

– Bring a large bag to carry back all of your stuff. Vendors will give you small plastic bags, but if you’re taking a large haul of prezzies for family and friends you’ll want a sturdy bag to cart it back to your dorm/hotel.

– Don’t bring any more money than you want to spend. Yes, there are tons of great deals to be had. But…the market is also HUGE…and filled with MANY wonderful things. Careful ;)


Beware the metro map though. To get to the market, one would think to get off on the “Ismaylovskaya” station from the blue line. This is in fact not true (although there is a rather nice mall at that station though). What you actually want to do is take the blue line to the stop before (“Partizanskaya”). When exiting, just follow the crowds to the left and you’ll run right into it.

The most touristy stuff will be right in the front, and the crazy odds and ends as well as antiques and artwork will be towards the back. It’s fun to walk around way back there and just absorb everything that’s around you. You’ll notice a significant drop in English there as well.


The whole of Ismaylovo is wonderful. As soon as you walk past the gate into the open-air market, you are enveloped in different, hearty smells of wood from the nesting dolls, crafts, and the wooden structures of the booths themselves. Other scents of smoke and meat from nearby food vendors waft over as well. You are constantly “assaulted” by sellers beckoning you to come over and see their goods, some more aggressive than others. There is a beautiful mix of languages as tourists from different countries all bargain over items meant for their loved ones. It’s magical.

I actually was very lucky, as while browsing some old Soviet era children’s books I struck up a delightful conversation with a very interesting vendor. He was in his mid to late forties, and confided that like many who sell their wares in the upper levels of the market, he goes there mainly to chat. For this man though, he was especially interested in language study. After finding out that I was in Moscow for language study, he gave me a book for free!!! All he asked was that I email him the publishing information for the textbooks we use in Russian classes at USF. Amazing!


День Победы – aka Victory Day

I FINALLY have access to clear, uninterrupted internet and can now post away to my heart’s content ;) That said, let me tell you about a very special Russian holiday that I got to celebrate.

It’s called День Победы. It occurs on May 9th, which means I got the chance to see it through very fresh American eyes, as the group had just settled into the dorms the night before. In a nutshell, this holiday honors the defeat of Nazi Germany in Russia during WWII (also called The Great Patriotic War). Everyone gets the day off to celebrate by partaking in parades, speeches, receptions, fireworks, and family time. Apparently the holiday wasn’t as big during the ’90′s because the whole Soviet mass demonstration thing didn’t exactly fit in with the Russian liberals’ political agenda. Ever since Putin came to power though, the situation is changed. Holidays like Victory Day are now a source of national self-esteem and pride, a chance to reflect on the history of the country. It’s a very joyous holiday.

We were advised not to travel into city center to see the parades, as the crowd control was more akin to crowd uncontrol. Also, as a group we hadn’t really figured out the metro system yet. So, our tour guides took us to Kutozov Avenue, which was only relatively crowded. Near this avenue is Victory Park, a very beautiful outdoor park where former military members arrived in full dress to walk about be given flowers by the adoring crowd.

Before we entered the park, we visited the Triumphal Gate in the avenue.

This gate was originally built in 1829-34 in Tverskaya Gate Square to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. The arch was taken down in 1936 as part of Stalin’s reconstruction of downtown Moscow. The current arch (as seen in the picture) was built to the original design in 1966-68. The open space around the arch is known as Victory Square.

Now, I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit let down after I found out that this “historical” arch was so young. But, that still doesn’t diminish the beauty of the construction. Just look at the underside! Gorgeous.

Program director, USF faculty member Dr. Olga Oleynik

After milling around Victory Square taking tons of photos like good little tourists, we were off to the actual park. In order to get inside, we had to pass through a makeshift security tent that searched our bags and gave us a quick pat down. I’ve never been to a large event in any capital city, but I would assume something similar happens here in the States as well. All of us made it through. There was one tense moment as one of our group was questioned after she refused to give up her brita water bottle. Outside liquids were strictly prohibited, but I guess she had shelled out a decent enough amount of cash that she didn’t want to part with it. After some coaxing from Dr. Oleynik, she was allowed entry with her brita bottle, albeit with a stern warning not to bring it to such events again.

The inside of the park is beautiful. There were tons of people singing, talking, reciting poems, and praising the country in any way they knew how. It was quite a sight. As the Fourth of July approaches here in America, I can’t help but make comparisons. I would say that the sense of pride and love of country is much more palpable in Russia. Back home, it’s more like sense of pride and love of…barbecue. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are plenty of Americans who do celebrate the 4th patriotically. I’ve just never experienced it firsthand.

Perhaps it’s because there’s a deeper history in Russia. Or maybe it’s somewhat taboo for Americans to express their pride (fear of being the loud, obnoxious superpower). I’m not sure. All I know is that I saw more honest to goodness love of country in the faces of the Russian people. I think it might be a race/culture thing. What does it mean to be American? Many would say America is the convergence of many cultures. If that’s the case, then which values do we hold on to? Therein lies the rub. Russia has a more common idea of culture, and therefore a greater sense of community.


Here, heartwarming scenes of younger generations paying tribute to older ones that served before them. Photo credit for these two photos goes to Alexandra Stokes. My camera was acting up, but she got some awesome shots ;)

A Word About American Rudeness

The day before yesterday, our group had a planned excursion set to see Bunker 42, a super neat Cold War exhibition with simulations, interactive areas, and even a restaurant. Everyone was very excited for this shindig. However, when we arrived we were informed that the museum was closed on account of “technical reasons.” We were all let down, of course, but nothing like the other Americans that were also waiting to get inside…

There were only three of them – a privileged husband and wife duo who we had earlier learned were from California, and a modest, typical American backpacker on her own. With an intense look of agitation, the Cali wife stared down her plastic nose at this poor woman who had the unlucky job of explaining the closure to the Americans.

“You know what?!” she shrieked, “This is exactly why Americans don’t want to come here! I paid $700 for a visa to see your STUPID country, and everything is always CLOSED! Ugh!!!”

Our group uncomfortably looked on as the backpacker joined in, talking about how Russians were so unaccommodating, rude, intense, etc., and how she wished she had picked ANY other country to visit.

For nearly five minutes, the patient Russian mouthpiece of the bunker stood and took these incredibly rude and ignorant verbal onslaughts. When Cali asked if she was going to “do something about it,” this amazing woman calmly replied, “Please don’t yell at me. It was not my choice to shut down, and it’s not in my power to open back up.” Props to her! I don’t know as though I would have been able to reply so cooly to those Americans.

The thing is, the stereotype is that Russians are the ones with the cold personalities. As you can see though, it was definitely the Americans who exhibited icy remarks. I was truly embarrassed to be associated with these pretentious, rude people. If the majority of American travelers react this way every time there’s a wrinkle in their plans, then it’s no wonder the rest of the world sees us as whiny, inferior nitwits.

First Impressions in Russia


Don’t believe the stereotypes. The notion that Russians possess cold, rude personalities is entirely untrue. That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional person who gives you a nasty look or shoulder bumps you in the metro – I’m sure one can find those precious individuals most everywhere. However, the majority of Russians that I have met have been nothing but cordial, sincere people. Actually, I say “Russians,” but really it’s more appropriate to employ the phrase “those living in Russia.” There are numerous students on our dorm room floor from the neighboring countries of Ukraine, Algeria, etc. They are very sweet and considerate. We got invited to hang out with them the very first night we arrived! Now, everyone’s friends :)

Russia can get HOT. I was very excited to abandon the steamy weather of Florida and enter into the chilly temperatures of Moscow. A look at the weather showed a low of 38F the day before we left! As soon as I exited the airport in my trench coat though, I knew I wasn’t going to experience the weather I was promised. Apparently, the sweaty heat followed us. For the first two weeks of our stay, we had to endure an abnormal heat wave. In fact, the temperatures were even about 10 degrees hotter than back home! For awhile, it was all any of us could talk about. Then, finally, some rain came and brought colder weather with it. At the moment, it’s drizzling and about 70-75 degrees. Even when we went to St. Petersburg last weekend, the weather was still hot.

This is not the land of supermodels. Yes, there are many gorgeous women here. There are also many ugly women. It’s about the same as in every other country. The women, in my opinion, are just a very different kind of beautiful, in the same way that Japanese, or German, or Spanish women would be in comparison to Americans. You do see more high heels than back home though. Not every woman wears them – just more than in America. I would say there is a more polished “look” to the professionals in Russia. In St. Petersburg, Vladimir, and especially Suzdal, clothing is more casual than in Moscow. Speaking of clothes….

Does everyone wear black, all the time? Of course not. Perhaps Russians wear a lot of black in the winter for obvious reasons, but in the summer they wear all kinds of colors. We were also told that shorts didn’t exist – but I’ve seen more Russians in shorts than Americans!

Beware the public restrooms. Even those in a classroom building. Toilet paper is almost always non-existent. Toilets are lower to the ground and often do not have seats. And, strangely, the ground is usually always covered in water. Oh yeah…and hold your breath.

If you plan on doing research in Russia like I decided to do, make friends with locals who have contacts. You cannot enter official buildings (schools, government, etc.) without some sort of invitation. What’s more, you usually cannot obtain said invitation unless you know someone who works there, or is a friend of someone who works there. Befriending a Russian means that you are friends for life, but while you are still a stranger you are treated very suspiciously. Making friends in multiple places is good for the soul, but has an added practical bonus.

It’s gorgeous here. The style and history of the architecture leaves you breathless. Lilac trees scent the air most everywhere you go. There is a sort of New England feel to some aspects of the nature (the deciduous trees, the packed dirt, some smells). There are birds everywhere – even fluttering inside malls, as we humorously found one day when a few had somehow made their way in. The leaves on the trees are ridiculously soft, and are delightful to touch as one meanders down a lonely trail in the evening. Overall, sights around here are a feast for the senses.


A typical, gorgeous field at Ца́рское Село́


A decorative, wooden playground at Воробьёвы го́ры (Sparrow Hills)


Another stunning sight. A person can pretty much close their eyes and take pictures at random and still get gorgeous shots 😉


This is the famous statue at Tsarskoe Celo. There is a very beautiful song about it, composed by Cesar Cui (one of the Mighty Handful)!

Gilman Essay Writing

As I’m anxiously awaiting to hear back from different scholarships, including the Gilman, I figured I’d post some tips for writing the essay portion of the scholarship application 😀

First off … begin EARLY. I cannot stress this enough! There is a 7,000 character limit for each essay, which amounts to about 1 1/2-2 pages of single font text. Now, that’s not a huge amount, to be sure. However, you want to allow yourself ample time for revisions and peer/advisor reading. Take advantage of your education abroad/scholarship offices if you have them!!! People are being employed for the sole purpose of helping you! Use these resources. If there aren’t any such offices on your campus, look to your university library for writing center help, or ask friends (who write well, haha) to read your essays. I consider myself to be well-written, but even so…when you go through 10-15 revisions those words all start to blur together. Fresh eyes are definitely needed after about the 4th revision. There are two essays you need to write: a statement of purpose, and a follow-on service project.

While both are weighed about the same, I’d say the statement holds slightly more sway. This is because it is a platform for connection with the scholarship committee. While you certainly want to include relevant information about your study abroad program, financial aid (or in my case, lack thereof), and other necessaries, you also want to be a little more personal than you would in academic papers.

Make connections between your academic/career goals and the abroad program. Talk about your current studies, future goals, and the program all in one bundle, and make your case as eloquently as possible. You might mention challenges you face in going abroad (for instance: it’s been hard for me to fit in study abroad b/c I’ve  been super busy with two majors and a full-time job).

Introduce your major, career goal, and program right away. DON’T  be tempted to write a cutesy story! The readers at Gilman have thousands of essays to get through, so be kind and put the most relevant information first. Don’t waste their time with cheap anecdotes.

Tell them why you chose your program, and be extremely specific! Why this program? Why this country? Will you get college credit during your trip? Where are you staying? Any excursions? Additional challenges? If you are studying a language, can you find total language immersion readily in your area? Difficult study abroad programs for your major? Have you ever known anyone who studied abroad? First generation college student? Significant financial difficulties? This is as much a “get to know you” essay as it is informative. Find the balance between the two. Also, if you face a lot of difficulties…do try to express them in a positive light, as something that you will overcome through hard work, academic merit, etc. Don’t beg! Writing a sob story is going to seem cheap. Nobody likes a beggar 😉

Okay, so here the final version of my statement of purpose:


The impact that a single life can have on many others is an experience educators across the world are privileged to take part in, and this ability to positively influence students’ futures is why I have chosen to pursue dual degrees in both music education as well as literature at the University of South Florida. In the journey to fulfilling my passions of teaching and educative research, I have become aware of how very small our world really is. With the advent of impressively efficient technologies of communication, globalization has become less of an idea and more of a reality. For this reason, I feel it is my duty as an educator to become acquainted with as many different languages and cultures around our world as possible. This desire to be a well-rounded educator is what drew me to the USF in Russia: Intensive Language & Culture Program.

The study abroad program sponsored by my university suits both my academic and professional needs perfectly. I have been diligently working on both degrees so that I can readily be able to teach either discipline: music or literature. This dedication has made it difficult to find time to study abroad, as I’ve been involved with fulfilling requirements for both degrees during the academic year. The USF in Russia program takes place over the summer, which means it does not interfere with my strenuous academic commitments at USF. More importantly, the design of the program allows for an ideal “trifecta” directly related to my academic and career goals: critical language study, cultural immersion, and relevant, investigative research in music education.

The program features about twenty hours of intensive language study of Russian at Lomonosov Moscow State University, a highly respected academic institution both in the Russian Federation and abroad. There, I will be taking a six credit course in Intermediate Russian language. While Russian is offered at the classroom level at USF, there are no opportunities in my area for language immersion. Being able to travel to the Russian capital, where I will be taught by Russian professors in a small classroom setting, will allow me to take my foundational language study to a higher level that can then be confidently employed in my future classroom. Shrinking school budgets in our country that have led to language study cuts threaten students’ futures as well as national security when thought of in connection to our globalizing world. Even more, if a school is lucky enough to have a language department, non-western languages such as Russian are not likely to be offered. This foreign language deficit is highly unfair, and unsafe, in my opinion. Therefore, becoming fluent in as many languages as possible allows me to incorporate language study into my curriculum if it is not offered at my school.

The second benefit to the program is the valuable cultural study. Key historical and cultural sites of Moscow such as museums, churches, and parks will be visited and studied as part of a three credit course on Russian culture and civilization. Exceptional components of this study also involve a weekend excursion planned for St. Petersburg, and the witnessing of “Victory Day,” one of Russia’s most loved holidays, which celebrates the end of World War II in Europe and honors the fallen Russian soldiers. The opportunity to partake in direct cultural study of the religion, architecture, food, music, and history of a country that is still somewhat shrouded in mystery to the U.S. is critical to my academic and career goals of language acquisition and educative research, which will both be greatly enhanced by cultural immersion.

The last, and perhaps most important, reason the USF in Russia program is perfect for my goals concerns the independent undergraduate research that I intend to conduct. In addition to language and cultural study, I will also be involved in two related research projects. The first involves study of pre-service music education, and will measure the effect that different pedagogical practices have on the success of music education students. This study will be conducted both quantitatively and qualitatively, and was pioneered in part by my research mentor, Dr. Clint Randles. Dr. Randles collaborated with music education researchers in England and Finland, producing studies published in two respected international music education journals. Arrangement for the duplication of the quantitative data in Russia is already underway, and a qualitative study of the same ideas will take place when I go into a few of Moscow’s music schools, such as the Ippolitov-Ivanov State Musical and Pedagogical Institute, for firsthand observation of Russian music pedagogy. In addition, there is a smaller practical study I will take part in which will involve the researching of music education practices in a few of the Russian capital’s primary music schools, in order to investigate the parallels between similar arts crises here in the United States and in the Russian Federation. Both countries currently suffer from a dwindling presence of support for music education, and there is very little research that has been done to compare the problem the two countries share. I have built these research projects into my free time in Russia, and my research mentor and I feel very confident that the data will be relatively easy to collect. A great deal of pre-research will be done during the spring semester prior to the summer trip, and a USF Russian faculty member (Dr. Olga Oleynik) has agreed to help with my admittance to the various music schools while I am in Moscow.

Participation in this program comes at a high cost, and adds to the most difficult challenge I have faced as a student – the financial one. Working on two degrees will ultimately lead to my being a more informed educator, but has come at a great price that I have been struggling to keep pace with. Both of my parents passed away before I entered college, and so I have been financially independent for my entire university career. Even with federal loans and a Pell Grant, I have had to hold a full time job in order to pay for my living expenses and leftover costs of attending university. Because of this financial strain, I have had to sacrifice both personal time and pleasure for the greater good. My participation in the study abroad program will only add to this burden, and the Gilman Scholarship would greatly help to relieve some of the cost.

I foresee this study abroad experience having an immensely positive effect on not only my life, but the lives of my future students. The experience will help me to become a competitive applicant in the education job pool, but more importantly – it will directly aid in my dream of becoming a well-rounded educator who will be able to compassionately pass on knowledge and values to a new generation, preparing them to proudly represent the United States in the world conversation.


Okay, so you have your statement. Now all you need is to perfect your follow-on service project. This is where your creativity and marketing skills will be tested. The follow-on is, above all, an advertisement. It’s all about getting the word out about this amazing scholarship opportunity. A report on this project will be required within six months of your return to the US, so make sure it’s feasible. To convince the Gilman readers that your project can be carried out, use specifics. Dates, contact information, relevant research, etc.

Keep it personal by sticking to your interests and activities. Consider writing blogs, holding workshops, doing newspaper columns. Go to schools and speak to students. Speak at a conference. These are just examples, but the idea is to find something like them and then mold it into something unique that fits you as a person.

Provide as many details as possible! Think of this essay as a legitimate business proposal, and not a vague idea you’re just tossing around. Who is your target audience? Who do you think your project will reach? When will you carry out your ideas, and how many people will it reach, and it what amount of time? Where will you advertise? Consider the following departments that may be on your campus: Scholarship office, education abroad office, housing/residential, libraries, etc.

Again, here is what I did:


Receiving a Gilman scholarship can help finance a significant portion of my study abroad program, and so I want to have as much of an impact as possible when the time comes to give back. I would like to take advantage of the accessibility inherent in our technological world by creating an educative, informative blog detailing the Gilman Scholarship as well as my academic, research, and personal experiences while abroad. I intend to implement a marketing plan to ensure that my blog is seen by as many Gilman-eligible students as possible.

A significant portion of the blog will be constructed prior to my departure, and will continue to be maintained while I am abroad. I intend to highlight not only my sincere gratitude for the Gilman’s support, but also set aside a section entirely devoted to the process of applying for the scholarship. There are many brochures, flyers, videos, and the like which are offered by the Gilman but which not all colleges/universities may know about. Scans and links to these aids will be put on the blog. It is a sad fact that there are many colleges in my state (indeed, around the country!) which do not have a scholarship office. Or, if such assistance is available to students, many offices may not be familiar with the particulars of this generous scholarship. Therefore, I believe that a combination of detailed instructions about the application process, links to the Gilman Scholarship website, and personal anecdotes about my search for funding will prove to be a reliable source of information for students who were not as blessed as I was to have an informed scholarship office on campus. In addition to information concerning the Gilman Scholarship, I will also be providing information about my personal experiences while in Russia, updates on the research I will be conducting, and pictures of the trip.

As a native Floridian, I have chosen to target my home state with this blog. My goal is to provide access to the Gilman Scholarship to as many students as I possibly can. Therefore, I propose to send the link to my blog to the proper contacts/administrators of each and every college and university in my state. For a majority of higher education institutions, I will contact their study abroad advisors. In the event that there is no study abroad office, then scholarship advisors will be contacted next, followed by academic advisors and/or deans of student affairs if the college/university also lacks a scholarship office. I’ve already written an introductory email, which I will email along with the link to each higher education facility in Florida. A full list of colleges/universities in Florida is easily found on the internet through a search engine, all with links to official websites that lead to the needed contact information. I plan to send 10 emails a week starting in June after I return from Russia. Florida has 124 colleges/universities, which means this commitment will be accomplished in about twelve weeks, or mid-August 2013.

The reasoning for this endeavor is simple: while it may appear that one higher education facility is more privileged than another, the fact remains that there will always be at least one person there who is in need of the assistance that the Gilman scholarship provides. As a student at the eighth largest university in our nation, the University of South Florida, I myself could have easily slipped through the cracks without knowledge of the Gilman Scholarship had I not been proactively searching for a way to fund the cost of my program attendance. Many colleges/universities in Florida do not have an office specifically set aside for scholarships, or even a study abroad department. As it was, even at a university as large as USF, with as many resources as I had, I almost didn’t hear about the Gilman. I sincerely feel that each and every student should be privy to this scholarship opportunity, and the easiest and most efficient way to accomplish this task is through the most accessible and convenient vehicle to the modern student – the internet. I strongly feel that every student should not miss an opportunity to better themselves through an education abroad experience just because they lack the financial means to do so.

Of course, this success all relies on students’ willingness to read the information I will write in my blog. Therefore, I have specifically chosen to employ the user-friendly WordPress blog template. Large, successful companies and news media franchises like The New York Times, CNN, GM, Ebay, and Forbes all use WordPress for the same reason – it offers attractive, easily navigable websites. I can add pictures and share videos of my study abroad experience with ease, creating an intriguing and compelling blog that students will want to read through. Another sizable selling point of the WordPress blog tool is the fact that viewers can contact me by commenting and/or asking questions directly on the blog itself. If there should be any confusion about how to properly go about applying for a Gilman scholarship, I will be able to either answer their inquiries or put them in touch with someone who can.

I am of the solid opinion that change inspires change. Immersion in one of our world’s many cultures is an experience that I believe can alter an individual for the better. Students become aware of their part in the global experience, and learn of others’ involvement as well. I feel this enlightenment makes for more understanding that can spark change in our world for the better, even in the smallest way. To view of glimpse of the change that I envision, I have created a preliminary sample of my blog, which can be found at


So there you have it 🙂 I would also like to add that the Gilman website itself offers a ton of essay help, including videos and webinars! Check it out!



It’s Legit!

url     Well folks, I can safely say that this trip is happening “for real” now! I just booked my tickets yesterday, and it’s all thanks at this point to my Aunt Connie. I was in a nasty catch-22 situation for a while because travel plans needed to be made and my program costs needed to be paid for, but I hadn’t heard from any grants or scholarships yet. Aunt Connie stepped in and has very graciously taken care of the program expenses until the cash starts rolling in. Aunt Connie, words cannot express the extent of my gratitude for your helping me out of the bind I was in. I love you 🙂

As for the flight, I was able to get a decent deal by booking directly on I’m a little scared though, because the first leg of the trip didn’t have any “free” economy seats, only a few of Delta’s upcharged “economy comfort” seats were available. So, I didn’t select a seat. Presumably, if the flight is overbooked I may get bumped. Hopefully it doesn’t overbook, and I’ll get a free upgrade! Fingers crossed!

For those wishing to track, here is my itinerary:

Tuesday, 05/07

12:10pm-2:58pm Tampa to NYC

4:10pm-9:55am  NYC to Moscow (actually only a 10 hour flight). So, when it’s about 1am the morning of the 8th here on the east coast, I’ll be landing in Moscow.

Sunday, 06/16

11:40am-1:45pm Moscow to NYC

8:00pm-11:07pm NYC to Tampa

Yeah, I have no idea what I’m going to do in the JFK airport for 6 hours. Open to suggestions! 🙂