I went on exchange to Moscow State University during my third year of a Bachelor of International Studies. At MSU I studied Russian language and took courses in reading, practical speaking, phonetics and grammar. Studying a foreign language overseas is a very rewarding experience; I liked that the teachers only spoke Russian and we did not speak English during lessons. However, this did make it difficult to understand assessment requirements. I found that most of the courses at MSU didn’t have specific learning objectives, marking criteria or course outlines, so it’s a very different academic experience to studying at UQ.

The highlight of studying at MSU was definitely sightseeing and travelling around Russia. Living abroad gives you the opportunity to experience a different culture in a unique way. Because of visa restrictions, I would not have been able to spend such an extended period of time in Russia or travel with as much freedom, if I wasn’t a student. For example, I had the opportunity to spend a month in St Petersburg and visit the Russian countryside, like Tula and Yasnaya Polyana (Tolstoy’s Estate).

I lived on campus in the main building of MSU, which is one of Stalin’s Seven Sisters. The best part of living in the dorm was the building itself and the location; the views of Moscow from the top of the main building and Sparrow Hills are spectacular. I was in a sector with mostly international students, which meant that I was surrounded by English speakers. This was good for socialising and making friends, but it does limit your progress in Russian. The rooms are also very small and you share with one other person, which can be challenging. Also, there were problems with the heating in my sector so it could get very cold inside during winter. You can organise internet in your room through a local company; dial-up internet isn’t very expensive, but the cables are run outside the building so the internet often stops working for extended periods of time. Another issue is that there are no fridges in the rooms. During winter it is possible to keep food on the window-sill, but when it heats up you really need to buy produce daily.

When I was in Moscow, the dorm was 348 roubles a night (about AUD$12). In the main building there is a café and a really cheap cafeteria where most students eat. I am gluten intolerant and vegetarian so I bought cooking utensils and prepared my own meals, which cost about $80 week. Internet was 600 roubles a month (about AUD$20) and I bought a Russian sim card and spent about 200 roubles a month (about AUD$8) on credit. As soon as I arrived in Moscow I organised a student metro card which allows you unlimited use of the metro for 350 roubles a month (about AUD$12). Museums, galleries and churches are also inexpensive and sometimes offer discounts if you show your student ID.

Top Five Tips:

  • Get a student metro card as soon as you arrive in Moscow. They take a few weeks to process so pick up an application form from a metro station, fill it out (in Russian), take it to your faculty to have it signed and stamped and take it to a metro station to submit. The University Metro Station will not accept applications unless you have your passport and visa translated into Russian, but other metro stations in the city will accept them without this paperwork. After two weeks the pass should be ready and you can pay for each calendar month at any metro station.
  • Go to Jagganth, a vegetarian restaurant in the city near Kuznetsky Most. This place has cheap vegetarian and vegan food and the business lunch is only 200 roubles during the week. If you need a healthy alternative to Russian cuisine this is definitely the best place in the city.
  • Organise your visa extension as soon as possible. In order to get a multi-entry student visa, the migration department needs to take your passport. I was without a passport for six weeks but I knew some people who waited two and a half months to get theirs back. If you plan to do any travel in Russia, put your passport in for renewal as soon as you can so you get it back early. You can’t leave the Moscow region, book a hotel or get train tickets without a passport.
  • Invest in a good quality, waterproof jacket and boots before you leave Australia and bring thermals. During my first four weeks in Russia the temperature did not get above -26 degrees. A decent jacket is a must and try to find footwear with warm lining, plastic soles and heaps of tread. The streets of Russia are notoriously slippery so watch your footing on the ice.
  • If you do get sick or injured in Russia, do not go to a Russian hospital. Insist that you are taken to an international medical centre; there are American clinics in St Petersburg and Moscow. Visiting a Russian hospital is not a pleasant experience and typically the doctors won’t speak English.
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