A town called Arctic

Having arrived late (and left the pub even later) on Wednesday, it wasn’t until Thursday morning that I got a proper look at my new home and the surrounding area. I had arranged to meet the school’s founder at 11am, and so rose an hour beforehand to unpack and do a quick reconnaissance.

In many ways, my first reaction to the accommodation provided was representative of my take on the city as a whole: it was both larger and more modern than I had expected, but was underlined by a functionality that gave it all an undeniably stark quality. While the constant humming of the fridge stood in for the unwavering whir of the wind.

Whereas my apartment’s warmth was generated by a no-nonsense boiler in the kitchen, Syktyvkar’s came from its people. Or, at the very least, its English speakers. Met outside of my front door (which would look equally at home guarding the entrance to a vault), and driven to the end of my street, I was directed right onto ул. коммунистическая and escorted the short distance to the city centre.

Armed with a new SIM card and a passable understanding of the local geography, we soon arrived at the school itself: a modest collection of classrooms on the building’s third floor. Boasting four friendly teachers and over one hundred enthusiastic students, ranging in age from the young to the old(er), the school proved — and continues to prove — a very pleasant place to work indeed.

Obviously, such warmth is in stark contrast to the weather outside; and with the snow barely relenting since I arrived, I soon relinquished my trusty Converse in favour of more appropriate footwear. Frozen pathways, liquid roads and snow-capped but otherwise bare trees make up the scenery here, at least until a bracing flurry of snow forces you to stare exclusively at your feet.

Not that such a climate phases the locals. With a fleet of tractors clearing the roads and parents pushing their children around in little sledges, life simply goes on as normal in conditions that would have made news in the U.K. and closed the nation’s airports. After all, the weather is set to get worse; a quick glance at a weather forecast shows that today’s -3 could be -9 by this time next week.

But enough about the weather, it’s time to eat. Or, rather, to shop.

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