Admittedly, studying abroad in Russia is not really the first choice that most students make. I happened to end up in the Motherland entirely by accident. When I was a freshman in college, I wanted to take a foreign language class that wasn’t Spanish, since I had lived for years in Mexico and knew the language fluently. I wanted to take German, but all the classes were full. So I settled for Russian instead, and, two years later, decided to test out my language skills by studying abroad in Russia. If you’re considering studying abroad but haven’t decided where yet, I high recommend Russia. Still, it’s not the easiest place to adjust to, but the challenge makes the experience all the more rewarding. Here are a few adjustments tips from someone who’s been there, done that.
- Russians don’t wear extremely heavy clothing. Layering is essential.
Personally, having lived in Texas or Mexico most of my life, I had no experience with cold, snowy weather. As such, my parents and I over-packed with very heavy coats and what was essentially ski gear. This was a big mistake. You see, in Russia, it’s freezing outside. Inside, the heating system is suffocating. Everyone in Russia wears thinner but multiple layers, with a warm coat on top. As soon as you step inside, you can strip down appropriately and be comfortable.
- Carry your papers with you at all times.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest social problems in Russia is police corruption and brutality. As a foreigner (especially if you look “foreign,” a.k.a not white), you can be stopped at any time by Russian police for whatever reason. When you go through your student visa process, you’ll be given several papers that you will be told to carry with you at all times. This isn’t a joke. If you don’t have your papers, police can fine you heavily or even take you to jail if they feel like it.
- Don’t mistake typical Russian aloofness for coldness. They are really one of the warmest, friendliest cultures you’ll ever encounter.
When I first arrived in Russia, it seemed to me and my American classmates that Russians were emotionally cold and unfriendly. This is really not the case, though it may appear so at first. Once you open yourself, become friendly, and try to meet them half way, they welcome you into their lives and their homes as though you were family. Though many Russians I met were aloof in the beginning, I made some incredible friends whom I still talk to ten years later.
- Don’t let the bureaucracy get you down.
Though every country has its own set of bureaucratic rules and ways of getting things done, I do feel as though Russians take it to the next level. I once left my bank card in an ATM machine. Millions of phone calls later, I knew which bank was holding it—one on the opposite side of St. Petersburg where I was living. After two hours of subway rides, walking miles in the snow, I arrived at the bank an hour before closing time. I was asked to wait in one room, before taken to another, before taken to another. Finally, I met the woman who had my card. She told me since it was five minutes to closing time, I had to wait till tomorrow. This was one of the most disheartening experiences I had in Russia, and occasions like this were common for my friends and I. But after a while, you learn to anticipate these types of inefficiencies, and it becomes a good story later on, so be patient!
Studying and living in Russia for six months was really one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I got to improve my language skills, make great friends, and learn about the country’s incredible history and culture. If you haven’t decided where to study abroad, give Russia a chance. Good luck!
Melissa Miller is a freelance writer and blogger whose specific area of expertise is higher education. In particular, she enjoys writing about student life, entrepreneurship, social media, career advice, and more.