Let’s start with this point: Russia is tough, but it’s worth it.
When I took part in the international exchange program that allowed me to spent six months at the University of Saint-Petersburg, I really couldn’t say that I was prepared to it. As many people, I had a very idealized image of Russia as a far away country that give birth of many of the world’s most brilliant intellectuals. I was seeing Russia through the lenses of Gogol and Dostoevsky’s books, as an enchanted, mysterious land, tormented by history and poverty, where the hardships and meanness of men some way get along perfectly with the good heart of the Russian people. It actually is like that (and, you’ll see, a look at the Nevsky Perspective will soon remind you of the Petersburg Tales), but at the same time, I feel like I would have been better off if I would have known something more before going there. To help the next travellers, here’s a list of things to know about Russia and about the Saint-Petersburg University, based on my personal experience.
1. When you go to Russia, you should have a good knowledge of Russian. True, Saint-Petersburg is the “European capital” in Russia, but only young people can speak English. This implies that whenever you will have to deal with the administration, not knowing Russian will make everything far more complicated. And, trust me, you’ll have to deal with bureaucracies quite often. In this case, I strongly suggest you to apply for the buddy programme the Saint-Petersburg University provides. Buddies are Russian angels that can really save your life and, as far as I am concerned, very good friends to hang out with during your staying.
2. Administration. As I was saying before, administration can be hell, both within University and more generally in the whole country. Therefore, on your behalf, try to be as precise as possible when meeting deadlines and bring all the documents needed. And once again, ask your buddy’s help. For all the rest, good luck!
3. Teaching level at the University of Saint-Petersburg really depends on which course you’re taking. The ones that I would suggest you, if still active, are “Colour Revolutions in the Post-Soviet Space” and “International Political Economy”, both very interesting and well-taught. Of course, there is no better occasion than to study Russian at the University of Saint-Petersburg. The teacher I had was very good, the class was small so that the group really had the possibility to make progress. Sometimes the exact exams’ dates are not communicated efficiently so don’t fear asking the University Secretariat or the professor until you got a clear answer.
4. Travel a lot. Russia is beautiful and is vary. Try to see not only Saint-Petersburg or Moscow, but go to all the beautiful places in this country. I did not do that and it is one of my biggest regret.
5. Make friendship with Russian people. They’re really warm-hearted and helpful and getting to know them it’s an opportunity not to miss for anything in the world. I met most of my best friends through linguistic tandems, but every occasion is good!
One last thing I can tell you is that, being your experience awesome or not that awesome, you’re going to miss Russia for sure.
Enjoy your staying and as a very good friend of mine used to tell me for saying that Russia is the country where everything can happen: “Whatever the circumstances, remember: это нормально, это Россия”.