Study one or two semesters at SPbU – that‘s the question!

When applying as an exchange student for SPbU you have to decide, whether you want to stay there for one semester of even the whole academic year. In case you want to start your exchange period in the spring term you have to take into consideration that it won‘t be possible to stay here for two semesters, you would have to come in September for the beginning of the winter term to do so. As a student who decided to study two semesters in Saint Petersburg I will try to give you a personal decision support concerning the optimal duration of stay.

I guess the primary reason of spending two semesters at SPbU is that you will be able to experience the whole annual cycle (at least almost): you will not only feel what a long Russian winter is like or how Saint Petersburg looks like in the summer full of tourists who try not to get blown away from all the wind. You will have the possibility to see all of the big holidays and festivities starting from Unity Day and New Year‘s Eve, Men‘s and Women‘s day and ending with first of May, Victory Day as well as the city‘s anniversary. If you come here only for the winter term you have to be aware of the fact that apart from the first weeks in autumn, it can not only become quite cold which definitely makes an impact on your motivation to discover the city. Some attractions are simply not opened during this time. This, however, does of course not mean at all that there‘s not enough to do in winter, even then the city is full of possibilities (just think about the hundreds of museums where you can perfectly spend all those cold days). But in case you want to enjoy beautiful parks, open-air concerts and other events you should rather come for the spring term or even the whole year.

When talking about university life the main advantage of staying two semesters is that you already know a big part of the professors and lecturers and have an idea of how the whole procedures work. This makes your choice of courses and generally your everyday life much easier in the second semester.

If you come to Saint Petersburg in order to improve your knowledge in Russian it is definitely worth considering staying here two semesters. Especially if you are taking English lectures at another faculty and only additionally follow a Russian course you should not expect an enormous progress after only four or five months. Of course everything depends on your motivation and your efforts but you should not forget that in most cases English is still the dominant language for in the everyday life of exchange students here.

A last general reason for studying here for the whole academic year is the fact that it‘s normal that you will need some time – may it be weeks or months – to get used to this new country, new city and a whole new environment. In my experience the first semester finishes more or less at that point when you start to feel that you reached the point of having arrived.

But are there also disadvantages of studying two semesters at SPbU? I would say that there are at least some. Although there are some exceptions it can be said that generally you will spend most of your free time with other exchange students – especially if you decide to live in the dormitory and take part in special lectures only for exchange students. In my experience the majority of them only studies here for one semester. This means that if you decide to stay here for the whole academic year, you will have to say goodbye to a big part of your friends already in January which may be quite unpleasant. Viewed from a positive perspective this means that you will have the chance to get in touch with a lot of different people, because already in February new exchange students will arrive. Moreover, there are of course enough possibilities to get in touch with local students who stay here for a long term.

Another point which can be considered a disadvantage of staying two semesters can be only applied to the faculty of international relations as I don‘t know details about the study programs in other faculties. If you don‘t have a sufficient language level to attend Russian lectures and plan to take part in the English ones you should be aware of the fact that the majority of them is provided particularly for exchange students. The majority of these courses treat topics closely connected to different aspects of Russia: its political system, history, its external relations and so on. If you are interested in these topics and want to focus on them in your studies, coming here for one year might be very good because I think that the classes at the faculty are definitely interesting and of high-quality. If however you are more interested in attending more basic lectures about International Relations in general less focused on Russia, you should remember that they will rather be taught in Russian. And in this case, you should maybe think about whether studying one semester at SPbU is enough for you.

As you can see, there are different points which have to be taken into consideration when thinking about the duration of your stay here. Personally, I do not regret at all to have decided to stay here for the whole academic year. Anyway, in both cases you will have the opportunity to spend an amazing time here and gain lots of new experiences!

By Pia Schupp

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