Stuart: Moscow State University (Semester 1, 2012)
Hi, my name is Stuart and I am in my final year of a Bachelor of International Studies and I have recently returned from a semester abroad in Moscow, Russia. The experience was both amazing and challenging but overall a highlight of my studies.
My main goal for my semester abroad was to improve my language skills so I only took language based courses. It turns out that language based courses were my only option anyway as the faculty (Foreign Languages and Area Studies) at Moscow State University is the only faculty to have an agreement with UQ.
One of my courses was focused on the history of Russian cities so as well as being good for learning new vocabulary it was great for learning the history of Russia. At the start of the semester it was quite challenging as all courses are taught in Russian with little if any English used but after the first few weeks I really saw an improvement in my language. I would highly recommend anyone studying Russian to go on exchange as it’s the only way to really improve those language skills.
The most difficult thing I found in Moscow was finding out general information like when the semester actually started and finished and what was expected in regards to assessment. If you are planning to go to Russia for a semester abroad, make sure you ask questions (to teachers and Russian students) it’s the only way you’ll find out what you need to do. You aren’t spoon fed information in Russian universities!
The highlights of my trip were travelling to famous cities like Vladimir (one of the oldest towns in Russia) and Nizhny Novgorod (one of the many historically important cities of Russian history), visiting many of the museums of the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Church of Christ the Saviour (where the group Pussy Riot committed social suicide by speaking out against Putin) and meeting so many interesting people from all over the world.
I was in Moscow for around four and a half months and I spent around $7000. The dorms in Russia are really cheap ($7 a day) however very basic. If you would prefer to share an apartment (you would have to organise this yourself), look at spending upwards of $650 a month for a room in a share flat. Living in the dorm has its benefits. You will most likely be living with Russians (excellent opportunity to practice language), it’s ridiculously cheap and it’s close to uni. However, privacy, peace and quiet and independence will be sacrificed.
Food is relatively cheap, if you eat at the cafeteria even cheaper. A three course meal (Russian sizes) from the cafeteria which is found in the dorm costs around 200 roubles (around $7). After a while you will get sick of the food though. By the end of my first month I was buying groceries and cooking which cost around $100 give or take a week.
Eating out and nightclub prices vary greatly so you will have to find places within your budget. There are endless clubs and restaurants in Moscow there is something for everyone. Have a look here for info http://www.trendymoscow.com/tag/moscow-nightlife/
Transport is cheap if you organise yourself a student metro card. Unlimited monthly metro will cost a student 350 Roubles (just over $10).
All in all, I was spending about $200 a week on food, transport and socialising (including at least one night out).
- Be assertive. After you have been accepted for exchange you need to keep asking for information. Like I said, you aren’t spoon fed information in Russia. Five days before I left I still didn’t have any information regarding my accommodation or what I needed to do on arrival. The only reason I received this info was because I sent several emails reminding the liaison officer in Moscow that I needed information!
- Organise yourself a student metro card! You will have to get the application from the metro then get two signatures from different people from the uni then take it back and wait two weeks (welcome to Russian bureaucracy!) but it’s well worth it.
- If you don’t know something, ask. You won’t necessarily be told.
- Be prepared to be annoyed at how difficult it is getting things done, i.e. extending visa, getting a permanent dorm pass, getting your student metro card etc. Things in Russia don’t work as efficiently as in Australia so start practicing meditation or just be patient.
- Meet, speak and learn from Russian people! I recommend those travelling to Russia to seek out native Russians and interact with them. So many foreign students go to Russia to learn Russian but only socialise with other English speakers. Russians are highly sociable and are sincerely interested in meeting and speaking with foreigners! Don’t accept the stereotypes of Russians being rude and ignorant (although it is common). Be open minded, you are in a foreign country as it is and there is absolutely no way to learn the culture and language if you don’t interact with native Russians. A great site to meet people for language exchange is http://conversationexchange.com/. I joined this site and literally had at least 3 or 4 new people contacting me a week looking to meet and exchange language.
Finally, if you would like to look for share housing and alternative accommodation arrangements, take a look on www.expat.ru. This site has lots of share housing advertising and heaps of other info for foreigners.