Let our Moscow students let you know what to expect when arriving to Moscow! 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?
Weston Weber (Fall, 2019): When I first arrived to Moscow, at Domodedovo Airport, it was the peak of a mountain of uneasiness that has been building during the two-day journey. What I think made the whole travel much less stressful and less tiresome was doing it with my friend, Margarita. I cannot explain why, but having someone to run ideas and questions by makes traveling to a different country easier. The final connecting flight was the hardest because of sleep deprivation, stomach pain, uneasiness, nerves, and anxiety. Even though it was the shortest in distance of my flights, for some reason it felt the longest. Eventually, we landed on the tarmac and I was in Russia!
Margarita Davis (Fall, 2019): Let me just tell you that jet lag mixed with your body refusing to sleep or even eat really takes a toll on someone. However looking out my window and seeing the place I would call home for the next half year made all of the travel and flight delays and the insanity worth it. I really could not imagine doing the journey alone and being with Weston made time fly by faster and there was comfort in sharing an uncomfortable experience with someone. I really cannot explain what I felt because the emotions were confusing and muddled, but it really did feel like a dream when we finally arrived in Russia.
Lauren Chilton (Summer, 2019): I was definitely nervous because I was thinking about throwing myself back into a situation where I could no longer speak quickly and easily, and how each sentence would take thought and effort. I was also very excited, however, because I had such great memories from my time in St. Petersburg, and the thought of making new friends and going on adventures eased any worry. As I saw Moscow through the plane window, I thought about how green and luscious it was and about how ancient it is. Curiosity overcame me as I thought about all the museums, parks, and monuments that were waiting for me below.
How did things go at the airport?
Weston Weber (Fall, 2019): Opposite to what my worst fears were, navigating the airport was not as difficult as I had thought. Many signs were translated into english and there were airport staff as every turn guiding passengers to the correct queues. Much to my surprise, there were not as many people as I would have thought in the airport. The passport control went by super fast as only two people were in front of me. And, even though my mind always thinks I am going to get detained and searched and arrested, the guard hecked my passport and visa, looked at me a few times, and sent me on my way. Collecting my baggage was a little concerning because another one of my worst fears is all of my luggage getting lost in transit. It did not help that all of my luggage were the last three to arrive at baggage claim. Finally, we grabbed our bags and left the airport to see Alex from SRAS waiting for us.
Margarita Davis (Fall, 2019): Everything went so smoothly and better than I could have imagined. Obviously people always prepare for the worst (and think the worst), but going through passport control was very easy and quick and so was getting our bags. I think the only hard part was figuring out how to roll two huge suitcases, a carry on, and a personal bag. Finally, seeing the SRAS sign along with a smiling face greeting us made me sigh in relief because I finally knew that the hard part was over. Alex made us instantly feel welcome and was the sweetest and best person that could’ve met us. Overall, everything went smoothly and eased my anxiety of being in a completely different place.
Lauren Chilton (Summer, 2019): Passport control and baggage collection were very easy and smooth! The workers at the airport were friendly, and I had a chance to practice some quick Russian. We met our SRAS contact, Alex, and he was very kind and quick to answer any questions. We then either bought SIM cards for our cell phones or bought new burner phones for the summer. The airport was very warm and we were definitely sweating! It was finally a relief to walk outside where it had just been lightly raining. We finally purchased some water as well–finally! I think it is definitely important to get water, food, and use the bathroom when you first land because it takes a while to get settled in the dorm. That night I didn’t eat until 11 PM.
How was the transfer to and arrival to the city?
Weston Weber (Fall, 2019): I felt bad for Alex and our taxi driver, because both Margarita and I brought three pieces of luggage, a personal item, and another bag. So, as I am sure you can imagine, fitting into one small sedan taxi was quite the problem. Luckily our taxi driver has experience fitting luggage perfectly into his car that we managed to fit all of our items and us inside the car, though we were a little squished. The car ride was nice as I got to watch my new home through the windows and see a sneak peak into the next few months. The only stressful part of arriving into the city was getting registered in the dorms. Luckily, Alex was there to translate and help us navigate the dorm.
Margarita Davis (Fall, 2019): Fitting our luggage in the back of a small taxi was just like a game of Tetris. The taxi driver cleverly arranged our bags and managed to fit almost everything in the back of his very small trunk. A few bags had to be in the backseat with us, but Weston and I didn’t mind since we were used to being squished because of our previous flights. Pulling up to the dormitory in the dark onto an unpaved road made me laugh a bit (because of the lack of sleep). The taxi made terrible noises as it crawled over the rubble and rocks of the construction and the driver kept reassuring us (and probably himself) that everything was okay. The front entrance was closed, so we had to enter from the basement floor and drag our luggage up the stairs. However, Alex and one of the kind ladies in the dorm helped us with our bags and finally we waited to get checked in. Check in took longer than I thought, but with Alex’s help we were settled in no time.
Lauren Chilton (Summer, 2019): A few of us arrived at the same time, and we got on a bus that had been waiting outside. At first, I thought there would be many of us because it was a large bus. However, there were only about five or six people. The city was a little dark and gray as we drove in due to the rain. As we neared the dorm, construction started to divide the streets into dangerously narrow one way roads, but our driver was very adept at navigating them. Many times I thought we were going to hit another car or a building, but we barely scraped by! I wanted to applaud the driver, but he seemed a little annoyed. When we finally got to the dorm area, we had to drag our luggage to the dorm (I say drag because there were areas of mud and dirt) and then we were told to leave our luggage on the first floor and to go meet the deshurnaya on the fourth floor. She launched into a short “orientation” that was all in Russian. If our tutor had not been there, I would not have picked out anything useful. We were all tired and no matter how good our Russian was, I don’t think any of us were capable of that much brain power at the moment. We just wanted to be done! It would have been nice to be given some written instructions with how to do laundry, where to take our sheets every week, and the fact that there is a kitchen cleaning schedule. Finally, we finished orientation and went to bring our bags to our rooms. The rooms were nice and clean, and I was very excited to have our own full-size fridge and freezer. However, I was very disappointed to learn that I would not get a warm shower after over twenty four hours travelling. The warm water would not come in until over a week later due to annual maintenance. Our tutor then showed us where the grocery stores were, and I bought some ramen to make a quick dinner. I came back, unpacked, took a cold shower, then went to make some noodles. On my way back to the dorm, the cup of noodles collapsed in my hand, and the water scalded my fingers. I ran them under cold water for a while and then let it breath and then I passed out on my bed. Thankfully, my hand has healed quite nicely.
How was your orientation?
Weston Weber (Fall, 2019): My orientation experience was interesting. The problem was arriving to the dorm so late and the check-in process taking a long time. Because of this we only had the chance to go to a grocery store and get dinner as the other items on our list were closed. This meant I had to wait to get a sim card and could not access WiFi and connect with anyone. This was a little secluding for me as I am not used to not being able to reach anyone, but it was only for a night. The next few hours we traveled to the city center for a short cultural seminar. Learning to use the metro and navigate the streets was a little new to me but very easy to pick-up. The subway system is incredibly easy to navigate. Most of the time, I don’t even need the app because the signs and rail systems are organized so well!
Margarita Davis (Fall, 2019): After checking in, Alex led us to the grocery store and showed us where we could eat, buy things, and showed us a little bit of the area around us. We went out around 9:00 so it was too late to get a SIM card and look around the metro, but we made up that lost time by doing it the next day. At first I was terrified to use the metro and order food because I was afraid my Russian was not good enough. However within the following days Alex eased us into being more independent and now I use every chance I get to use as much Russian as I can in public. I did not understand getting registered, but soon realized in a place like this you just have to ask, use your resources, and go with the flow.
Lauren Chilton (Summer, 2019): Our orientation, as I mentioned above, was very haphazard. It would have been better to have written instructions. I also would recommend that everyone purchase specific things at the grocery store, such as something for breakfast the next day, snacks, instant coffee or tea, and water. With things like this, you can relax the next morning and not go rushing out into the world scrounging for food. For orientation after that many hours of traveling, my mind was not going to use nor comprehend Russian. Thankfully, we did understand that we needed to register the next day at 9:30 AM. We figured out from a friend who was having issues that you need your passport, migration card, and the piece of paper for the dorm that the doctor signed about blood testing. Our tutor (bless her!) assumed, I think, that we knew more Russian than we did. However, she added us on Facebook, and I was able to ask her questions later about sheets and laundry. Fun fact: there is a room for dirty linens and a room for clean linens. On linen changing day, you go downstairs and drop them off in the dirty linens room and then the laundry person must give you clean new ones. I almost walked off with dirty ones because I thought there was only one room, but one of the guards saw my mistake. Thankfully, I know the words for dirty and clean, so I quickly figured out why he wouldn’t let me go upstairs!
How was registration and starting classes?
Weston Weber (Fall, 2019): The registration and paperwork for MGIMO is a challenge all on its own. Registration for your visa was easy but took a long time waiting in lines with all of the exchange students. However, this let me meet other students from around the world! Registering for classes was and still is a stressful ordeal because it is so different and more chaotic than my home university. Because we are exchange students we were allowed to pick course from any year on both Bachelor’s and Master’s levels. Normal students are assigned classes and don’t have to worry about that. So, I am on my own to figure out classes and schedules and which classes don’t conflict with the classes I need to take. This would all be fine and normal, except the layout and organization of Russian classes at MGIMO is very confusing to me. The language test was very informal and less stressful than what I experienced in my head. My advice is to just ask many clarifying questions and plan them ahead.
Margarita Davis (Fall, 2019): While it did take some time to get used to, I believe my schedule is finally what I want it to be. For exchange students they let us have complete reign of what classes we wanted and we registered without knowing if our classes overlapped or what they entailed. Once I took the language test and was placed into a group, I had to drop and add lots of classes because my Russian class was during a lot of my classes. It was a confusing and stressful process, but in the end I feel very independent because I had way more freedom on what classes I wanted. On the other hand, visa registration took a long time but was fairly simple and easy to do.
Lauren Chilton (Summer, 2019): For visa registration, we went to a room on the first floor and spoke with a deshurnaya – maybe the head one. We needed our passports, migration cards, and the piece of paper for the dorm that is in Russian that our doctors signed about us not having infectious diseases, etc. It was fairly straight forward. She took our papers, made copies, and gave our stuff back. We signed a couple of papers and then we left. Our language abilities were tested that Sunday–a few days later. The testing was done through a multiple-choice paper exam and a little essay section. I would have liked to have been tested by conversation as well. —-Classes have been good so far. I enjoy how they are separated into 50 minute blocks with ten minute breaks and an hour break for lunch! There are even cafeterias in the school, and the business lunch is only 110 rubles! There are also places to purchase coffee and snacks in the cafeterias as well. When I did the SRAS program in St. Petersburg, we went to class for four or five straight hours with ten minute breaks here and there, and there were no food places close enough to get a meal until classes were over. I really like the Moscow program’s setup. I also enjoy the periodic lectures where we are all together. One of the lectures was about Russian rock music and the other was about Russian archaeology and ancient writings. –a note on classes: My group, group 3, has a large range of abilities. There is a significant jump from our group to group 4. Sometimes, our class moves very slowly for the students at a bit lower level. Right now, I feel as if I would want to ask to move up, but I do not want to move up into a class that is too difficult. It would be nice to maybe have an additional group in between so as to cater to people’s abilities as well as to keep numbers small.
Having gone through all this, how do you feel?
Weston Weber (Fall, 2019): It is hard to explain how I am feeling. I am still is a state of uneasiness as I was in the beginning of this trip, however for different reasons. I am still adjusting to a different way of doing things and learning the Russian way of “going with the flow.” As an especially fast-paced American, I am used to a constant state of urgency and that is just not how things are done here. I am still very much excited to see how my classes with go and how the rest of the semester will look. I have met so many people and learned so many things that I think it has been a few months here already! Which excites me even more to know that I still have so much time to learn and grow.
Margarita Davis (Fall, 2019): My feelings are almost like a rollercoaster and every hour is different, but overall I am so happy and grateful that I am here. I still cannot believe I am here and every moment truly feels like a scene in a movie. While there are tons of obstacles and culture shock, I try and take a breather and take in the world around me. I am so happy to always be active and learning about different landmarks and Russian history. Honestly, I am in bliss.
Lauren Chilton (Summer, 2019): I feel content. I am also lucky because I have studied here before, and I know what I have to be thankful for and also what to expect later on. I am able to be relaxed where others are not, and I understand that there is no embarrassment in stumbling with the language with locals. I am excited for the excursions and events that SRAS and HSE are hosting and for the content of our classes.