Once Upon A Spring Semester

My Reason for Attending:

My parents and I left St. Petersburg, Russia during the tumultuous nineties when the country was struggling to adjust to the new government. It was a time of unbelievable crime, shortages, and overall uncertainty. I was only two years old; therefore, do not remember much about it. However, I always felt pulled towards my birthplace. It had been a dream of mine for a long time to study here. I even considered doing so in middle/high school but never had the opportunity until now. Saint Petersburg State University was an obvious first choice for several reasons. First of all, it was attended by incredibly successful and brilliant people such as Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev, Ivan Pavlov, and Dmitri Mendeleev. Second, St. Petersburg is a magnificent city with a relatively short yet rich history and a unique, unforgettable soul. I wanted to come see the life I could have had. Unlike most other students, I did not reside in the dorms since I have family here I could stay with. If you would like more information about the dormitories please refer to other reviews and ambassadors on this site.

Study Program:

Saint Petersburg State University offers several study programs you can check out on their site (I’ll attach a link below). My, what they call here “faculty”, or on more familiar American terms, “college” of International Relations, offers a great variety of fascinating courses in Russian and in English. Exchange students are given the freedom to participate in any of the faculty’s bachelor’s and master’s classes, despite your study level at home. This way, you can choose courses that can fit with your university’s requirements. There may be a few issues with transferring credits for American students whose university is not partnered with SPSU since Russia uses the European college credit system. However, SPSU has high rankings and credibility; therefore, it is more than likely not going to be a problem.

Also, it is about four times cheaper to study here than at a regular four-year public university in the States. I paid somewhere around $3000 for one semester. I should warn you that payment may be a bit complicated so I suggest you bring your tuition in cash. If that is not possible, make sure your credit/debit card works abroad or find a way to transfer the money online. You will have to make your payment with a card or cash by visiting a Russian bank rather than paying it directly to the university and there will be a commission charged (around $50). If you know for sure your card(s) will work abroad, use your best insisting skills to convince the tellers to try it out (they may refuse to at first). Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out right away. Russia is a nation where patience is vital and if you are impatient you will certainly learn this skill. Believe me, it is worth it!

Professors here are very knowledgeable and usually quite kind and understanding; however, you may find them to be a bit stricter than in the US. For instance, on one of the first days of lessons, a group of students and I arrived a bit late to a lecture and were not let in for that reason. It is important to be prompt! Last but not least, if you study at the international relations, sociology, or political science faculties you will have the privilege to study at the Smolny campus (the gorgeous blue buildings cluster included in the photos). The Smolny area is famous for once being an institute for noble maidens as well as Bolshevik headquarters and a residence for communist leader Vladimir Lenin. All in all, this place is guaranteed to take your breath away and lighten your mood with its grandness even on the most gloomy of Petersburg days.

Student Life:

SPbU’s hospitality and general willingness to help exceeded my expectations greatly. Each student, if willing, is given a buddy and possibly a Russian language partner. Your buddy is there to help you adjust and settle in. He or she can offer you help with visas, dormitory issues, and getting around the city. I strongly recommend you purchase a phone in the States that can accept foreign SIM cards. Plans here are extremely cheap and unless you are a paper map master you will need the internet to navigate the city and communicate with people at home. I pay roughly $5 a month for unlimited internet and 200 calling and texting minutes. Unlike in the US, you will have to present your passport in order to obtain a SIM card.

Your first week here will be filled with a wide variety of activities organized by the university. Possible events include photo quests around the city, pub crawls, board game nights, movie nights, international parties, various tours, and of course introductions to the university and your faculty (college). As the semester progresses, events will continue. Also, as time goes by you will feel acclimated enough to seek out your more personal interests.

If you are into winter sports, such as skiing and skating, you will find a lot to do here. There are several indoor and outdoor rinks around the city. I got to visit a skiing resort on the outskirts of St. Petersburg called ОХТА Парк. This place offers skiing slopes, skating trails (included in the photos), outdoor heated pools, and more. Also, if you are a music fan there are constantly concerts of both foreign and domestic artists going on. The Russian rock group Spleen was in town while I was here. Their performance was absolutely incredible. If you simply enjoy hanging out, there is a giant assortment of cafés, anti-cafés, bars, clubs, and other establishments such as этажи (where you can climb up to the rooftop and drink mulled wine). You can find just about anything in St. Petersburg. Here, you must force yourself to be bored.


Russian culture does differ a bit from American. As a person brought up in a Russian household, I still found a lot that surprised me. If you come here in the winter, you will quickly notice that Russians (perhaps, St.Petersburgers in particular) are not very fond of salting sidewalks. They may use dirt; however, a lot of areas are still quite icy. Shoes with good grip go a long way. Additionally, be prepared to be stared at on public transport. There is probably nothing wrong with you. People just use it as a way of entertaining themselves on their mundane way to work/school. At some point, you may end up catching yourself doing the same thing! St. Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia and its citizens always make sure to live up to this name with their style of dress. Rarely, will you see sweatpants/leggings worn in public. In fact, I heard you may not be let into your faculty in such garments. Students often arrive to class in skirts, dresses, suits, and even ties. It is a sign of respect here. Also, it is likely that you may be treated rudely by cashiers at grocery stores. It’s nothing personal. However, Russians, in general, are very warm and caring people once you get to know them. They are simply not that open to strangers right away and may seem distant at first. Overall, I strongly recommend studying at this wonderful university in this magical city. It is an opportunity of a lifetime and can teach you more than you could have ever imagined.


Helpful Links:  

SPSU Majors: http://timetable.spbu.ru/

ОХТА Парк: http://www.ohtapark.ru/

Этажи: http://www.loftprojectetagi.ru/en/

Alexandra Chugunova

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