SPbSU as a place for academic exchange

Here are some feedbacks from our foreign students:

Vakhtang Kizikurashvili = V (Warsaw University)

Daan Butterman = D (University of Amsterdam)

Yoann Perrin = Y (University of Lausanne)

Manuel von Mettenheim = M (Free University of Berlin)

Why did you choose St. Petersburg and SPbSU as a place for academic exchange?

V: SPbSU is a popular university and during the centuries many famous people studied at this university. It should also be noted that Saint Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities which really motivates you to study, to walk in its beautiful gardens, make your own cultural tours (as there is one of the best theatres in the world) and simply to relax.         

D: Since I first visited Russia in 2012, I was very intrigued by the country. I have followed some elective courses about Russia during my bachelor’s and really wanted to get to know even more about the country and learn the language. An exchange in Russia would be a perfect way to achieve this. Since I found Saint Petersburg the most beautiful city in Russia, I decided to apply for an exchange there.

Y: I chose SPb to discover a very different world from mine in the Alps. But if some place have been available for Siberia so I would have been there. One of the main reasons was to learn Russian language.

M: I am interested in Russia and learned Russian for many years. Furthermore, SPb is a beautiful city. I did not know much about SPbSU.

Which faculty were you at, and did you like how your studies in SPbSU were organized? Which subjects would you recommend to other exchange students and would NOT recommend, and why?

V: I was at the faculty of International Relations. The faculty is in a historical building next to the magnificent church. All the staff of the faculty is very friendly and very open to contacts, they help international students in everything. The subject of Contemporary Political Systems in the world is one of the most interesting subjects which I have taken in my life. I strongly recommend every student to take this subject with professor Ivannikov whose lectures can attract every student. His unique approach with students and friendly atmosphere on the lectures motivated me and not only me to read more and to work as much as possible. He organized very interesting meetings with diplomats, writers and scientists and gave us a possibility to ask them questions. The knowledge which I got from his lectures helped me in my home university also.

D: I studied at the faculties of Sociology and International Relations. Furthermore, I did the 8EC Russian language course at the Institute of Russian Language and Culture of the university. This latter course was one I really loved. We had a wonderful teacher who took the time to really get us acquainted with the difficult Russian language. Throughout the months, I really felt that I was making progress. At the faculty of Sociology I really liked the course Introduction to German Sociology. This course was taught by a German PhD student in the German Language. My exchange thus allowed me not only to learn the Russian language, but also to improve my German! At the faculty of International Relations my favorite course was about the relation between the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Foreign Policy. This was despite the fact that the classes for this course were on Saturday morning. The examination for the courses we did was rather easy. We mostly had to write papers and do presentations. When you did your thing, you would easily pass, so there was no need to stress. While some exams were interesting with essay assignments, another was just multiple choice questions asking for simple facts. This latter exam did not really feel like it belonged at a university. Still, my overall experience of my education at SPbSU is really positive. I gained a lot of interesting international insights and learned a new language!

Y: The studies in SPbSU were well organized. I had the chance to attend classes with some passionate teacher Andrei Alexievitch Alimov. I learned a lot in his classes. It was very interactive. Moreover, SPbSU provided very good courses of Russian language for foreign students.

What problems have you encountered in St. Petersburg and SPbSU that other exchange students should know about?

V: I can say the only problem was that Petersburg is a very beautiful city, so I walked a lot and sometimes got very tired:) 

D: The biggest problem I encountered was that my landlord (I did not live in the dorms provided by the university) was sometimes reluctant to re-register us (registration is mandatory in Russia) when we came back from a trip somewhere else in the country. When you want to privately rent an apartment, make sure your landlord is willing to always re-register you. When you decide to live in the dorms, this is a problem you will not have to think about, because the university will re-register you after a trip.

Y: There wasn’t any major problem I encountered at SPbSU. Everything was clear and administrative staff was here to answer questions.

Share your personal top (up to 5) places to visit in St. Petersburg and its surroundings. Which places you wouldn’t advise to visit, if there are any?

V: The sculpture of Peter I; The bookshop on Nevsky Avenue; Saint-Isaac’s Cathedral; Hermitage Museum; Avrora. 

D:  1. My favorite place in Saint Petersburg is Apraksin Dvor. It’s a run-down market right in the posh city center. Going there is like entering a totally different world. It’s the right place to buy some cheap clothing. For instance, I bought my winter coat there for a good price. However, don’t go to the place alone or after dusk, it can be a bit shady there. Also, don’t buy any food there. My roommate did that. All I can say is that it was very bad…

2. My favorite museum in Saint Petersburg is Erarta. Of course, everyone has to go to the Hermitage at least once, but not everything should be about old art. Erarta is a museum of contemporary and modern art and has a really interesting collection. Works can be really politically-laden and/or reflect life in the Soviet Union.

3. When you are staying in Saint Petersburg, I would advise you to often go on day trips by Elektrichka or Lastochka. Elektrichkas are very cheap regional trains that can still have a very Soviet vibe to them. They can bring you to the beautiful palaces around Saint Petersburg. In my opinion, the most beautiful of these is Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin, but definitely go to Peterhof and many others as well.

4. Lastochkas are a bit more modern and luxurious. These are faster trains and could be compared to intercity trains in Europe. They can bring you to cities like Veliky Novgorod, Pskov and Vyborg. My day-trip to Vyborg is the most memorable of those. We went to this city with a large group and not only went to have a look at the very Scandinavian city centre, but also went for a good stroll in the nearby national park.

5. The last places in Saint Petersburg I would like to talk about are Stolovaya Nr. 1 and Kontakt Bar. Stolovayas are canteens where you can get Russian/Soviet food very cheaply. Kontakt Bar is a chain of bars in Saint Petersburg. Here you can get beers and cocktails for very good prices, especially when you buy them in pairs of three 😉

Y: Crossing the city by bicycle a few times is the best way to discover many places (bridges are especially intense to cross).

  1. To eat some ‘chachliki’ on the gulf of Finland.
  2. The flea market Oudelka Уделка (Around Oudelnaya Удельная metro station).
  3. Smolny Cathedral.
  4. Traveling in Tramway/ Marchroutka from PB to PB through Kronstadt.

What was the most memorable and crazy experience during your stay in St. Petersburg?

V: The most memorable event was a boat tour on Neva when university staff invited all international students on a night boat tour. We saw a night in Petersburg when the drawbridges were opening and it really impressed me. 

D: The most memorable experience during my stay in Russia was my trip to Nizhny Novgorod and Izhevsk. In Saint Petersburg I made friends who are from these cities and we joined them to visit the cities they are from. In Izhevsk, we were invited to join a Russian family for a Russian Orthodox holiday. As it was winter, we went for a dive in a frozen lake after the religious ceremony. To warm up, we had Borsh and Vodka afterwards. I guess it can’t get more Russian than this!

Y: There were a lot of memorable experiences during my stay in SPb, I couldn’t make a ranking of them. But I can mention one when I came back from the flat of a friend by bicycle. There was a snow storm this evening (but not when it was time to go). I left the apartment around 22:30. I was very happy because I had a favorable wind pushing me very fast on my bicycle. Suddenly I realized that there weren’t any more buildings around me. I was in the far north of PB. I was on the border of the city of SPb and Vsevolozhskiy Rayon (Всеволожский район), separated by the Magistral Motor Road A118.  Then I understood that I was completely on the opposite point I was supposed to be. I was on the good road (Engelsa Avenue, проспект Энгельса) but not on the good way. I was very hungry so I stopped to eat a Shawerma to get some energy and warm. I finally got home at 4 p.m. in the Kapitanskaya Ulitsa.

What are the special features about Russian culture/Russian people/Russian food that you personally noticed?

V: Russian culture is a very wide phenomenon which unites thousands of famous and talented people. The artifacts of Russian culture can be found practically everywhere in Saint Petersburg. I really started to read Russian classics after my exchange and visited museums of famous Russian writers. Russian people can be distinguished by their hospitality and friendliness. Even an unknown person in the street or in a public transport can help you to find something or just help you with your things if they see that you have a lot of baggage. In Saint Petersburg there are many restaurants and canteens (Stolovayas, affordable for students) where you can taste real Russian food. Russian cuisine is very rich with tasty dishes and you should not forget to taste Russian chocolates.

D: It is often said that Russians don’t smile. Once, a Russian told me that I didn’t look Russian because I smiled too often for instance. When you meet Russians in public, it is true that you will barely see them smile. However, once you get to know them, Russians are the friendliest people you can ever imagine. And believe me, when they are your friends, you will get that smile!

Y: Russian culture, Russian people and Russian food is not one. Nobody is the same, no family is the same, no place is the same. Except Kasha as a national meal, a very good experience to live and which could synthesize Russian people/culture/food, is spending a couple of days in a true Soviet Datcha. There, you can eat some Chachliki, and enjoy the white nights around a lake or around Finskiy Zaliv and be bitten by mosquitoes.

Was there a lack of important information about submitting documents or staying in Russia in the ESN guidelines? What information should be added?

V: It should be noted that the guidelines are very well organized, but it would be better if in the future they will contain more rules of how to follow Russian bureaucratic procedures. 

D: I never encountered a lack of information. However, when staying in Russia, you’ll have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy. Be prepared for that, of course. But you can trust that the university and ESN will help you through it.

Y: Everything was ok.

If you participated in ESN activities, did you find them interesting or helpful? What activity was your favorite?

V: Yes, I participated practically in all ESN activities and I will never forget them. I want to thank ESN for that. They helped me to find new friends and to see many different cultures of the world. The international dinner was the most impressive when students from various countries presented their national food and culture. 

D: I participated in a lot of ESN activities and made a lot of friends there, so it is hard for me to state a favorite activity. However, I really liked the karaoke evening in the introduction week and also had a very good time during the cottage party later in the year.

Y: The activities were very interesting and helpful to get some connections with other students. My favorite was ice skating, I think.

If you had a buddy from the ESN, was their assistance helpful for you and did you practice your Russian with your buddy?

V: The assistance of my buddy was very helpful as the buddy program helps you in everything, so you won’t feel alone. My buddy became a very close person for me and we have permanent contact with each other. During these months I improved my Russian and now I speak it on the level of the native speaker.

D: My buddy helped me with a lot of stuff in the first weeks. However, more important to me is that he became a very good friend of mine. We did a lot of nice things together. For instance, we went to football and ice-hockey matches together and headed to bars often. He also helped me with learning Russian, especially the bad words we didn’t learn in class.

Y: It could have been useful to have a buddy, but not in my case. I didn’t practice my Russian language with her and she didn’t care about French language. For language, the Tandem Program was a very important thing.

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