Let our Irkutsk students let you know what to expect when arriving to Irkutsk! Heading abroad is always a big step and can feel exciting or overwhelming – or both. Learn from the experience of others and hit the ground running!
How did you feel when you first arrived?
Bronwyn Galloway (Fall, 2019): When I touched down in Irkutsk last Friday, I’d completed a three day journey from my hometown in Ithaca, NY to the other side of the globe. For the most part, everything went smoothly until I needed to fly out of SVO in Moscow. I had a super long layover before my departure time, so I decided to do some sightseeing with a friend around the city. When I got back to the airport two hours before my flight, I realized I had absolutely no idea how to navigate the humongous international airport. Only by asking my dad for help did I realize that it was necessary to take a mini train to get to another terminal so that I could check in. With all the confusion, I nearly missed my flight. So when I finally landed at the Irkutsk airport, I was just happy to have made it there in one piece and on time.
Katya Grigerman (Summer, 2019): In general, I was very excited to come to Irkutsk. I had spent three days in Moscow before flying here, so I felt that I had accumulated a little to the country before I came to Irkutsk. The woman sitting next to me on the flight was from Ulan-Ude, and she seemed very excited to fly back to her home, and that made me very excited to experience summer in Siberia.
How did things go at the airport?
Bronwyn Galloway (Fall, 2019): Hungry, sticky, and exhausted, I got off the plane, got onto the shuttle bus, and entered the main airport area. I made my way to the baggage claim area and saw my host mother waiting there for me, sign in hand. I tried to put on a cheerful face, though it quickly vanished once she started firing questions at me in Russian. Having used English at every airport on the way there, I was completely unprepared for the onslaught and my brain went into panic mode. I blurted out, “I don’t speak Russian well!” which really set the tone for the rest of the day. Very quickly, I went from being excited about the whole experience to being terrified of it. The jetlag certainly didn’t help. Little did I know that it would all be okay within a few days.
Katya Grigerman (Summer, 2019): When I got off my flight, I took a little bus from the plane to the airport, and was a little shocked on just how small the airport was! When I walked in, I saw Evgenia (our wonderful program coordinator) waiting for me with a SRAS sign. Since I arrived a little earlier than expected, I had to wait at the airport for about 30 minutes, but during that time we just chatted, and I was able to get my luggage with ease. Pro tip, you have to show your baggage tag to the attendant before you can leave the room, so make sure you don’t throw it away or rip the tags off (I almost did this, and the woman yelled at me until she understood that I didn’t know!). Soon, Masha (our amazing student guide) came to meet me, and she took me to my dorm.
How was the transfer to and arrival to the city?
Bronwyn Galloway (Fall, 2019): My host mother and I took a taxi back to her apartment from the airport. I was sort of dazed the entire trip due to my jetlag and general sense of disorientation. Of course as soon as I got settled in the apartment I asked for the WiFi password so that I could tell my family that I had made it to Siberia alive. My host mom then showed me around the apartment, gave me my set of keys, and instructed me to rest, assuring me that she would wake me for dinner. I didn’t need any convincing. When I woke up five hours later, dinner was served, and we started to get to know one another. I could tell that my Russian was severely lacking, which frustrated me, but she was very patient.
Katya Grigerman (Summer, 2019): Masha and I got into a taxi, and in about 15 minutes were at the dorm building. The area around it is very nice, with several shops and stores, and a really lovely park right nearby. When we arrived, the woman who sits in the front checked me in, and explained a little about the rules and such. I went to drop off my bags (beware 5 flights of stairs with luggage can be hard, thankfully I only had a backpack, but even so, try not to overpack!). Masha and I then walked around the neighborhood, and she showed me the bus stops I would need to get around, and she also showed me some shops, and the large supermarket where I was able to get some food for the day. When I got back, I unpacked, relaxed, and ate some of the new goodies I got at the store!
How was your orientation?
Bronwyn Galloway (Fall, 2019): I believe orientation could have gone much better. Many things, such as how to exchange money and get our library cards, were left unexplained to us. The very important health and safety information was presented to us, but in Russian, not English. This was because the presenter did not feel comfortable speaking English. I understand that this is supposed to be an immersive experience, but I would have preferred to learn such crucial information in my own native language to ensure I didn’t miss anything. My host mother taught me how to use the city buses, but most of the important information was given to me by a fellow student who had studied in Irkutsk over the summer. There seems to be a significant disconnect between the university here and SRAS.
Katya Grigerman (Summer, 2019): The orientation happened the day after I arrived. It was a very standard orientation where we discussed the program, the university, safety and regulations, and things like this. We then had to sign some forms, and then had our testing. After this, we walked around the university, and then around the area and were shown some places to get food, coffee, and snacks.
How was registration and starting classes?
Bronwyn Galloway (Fall, 2019): To register my visa, my host mother and I had to go together to one of the buildings near campus. The process itself did not take long, but the details of how and when to re-register after making trips outside the city were not well explained. The first day of classes, I was shuffled back and forth between three different classrooms while the professors attempted to gauge my language ability by asking questions about my previous Russian education. Eventually, I landed in a class that seemed to be my speed. After being in this class for a week and a half, Monica (another SRAS student) and I decided to try to switch to another class. We felt like our language skills were not benefitting from the types of activities, exercises, and homework that we were instructed to do.
Katya Grigerman (Summer, 2019): At the time of writing, I have not started classes, but I will be in two days. When we had our testing, the other two students had theirs on a computer, while I had a story to read and then write about. I am not sure exactly what my schedule is yet, but I will learn in the next day or so.
Having gone through all this, how do you feel?
Bronwyn Galloway (Summer, 2019): I think I’ve settled into the city very well at this point. I have no trouble with public transportation, I can easily buy myself food, and I have made several friends that I really enjoy spending time with. However, the classes are by far the most vexing aspect of the experience thus far. Hopefully the language class I am switching to will suit my needs better. My education is very important to me and it’s the main reason that I’m here in the first place, so I want to make sure I’m getting what I need out of class. But overall, it’s been an exhilarating first two weeks and I’m excited to get to know the city more and more!
Katya Grigerman (Summer, 2019): Having been here for almost four days now, I feel very solid. I think that besides the few hiccups that always happen with any study abroad program (or any traveling in general), the next six weeks are going to be amazing. I have already met most of the people in the program, and cannot wait to see where this next month and a half will lead me