Let our St. Petersburg students let you know what to expect when arriving to St. Petersburg! 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?
Joseph Ernst (Summer, 2019): Whenever I am out of my comfort zone there is nervousness that I know I don’t want to feel, but it is still there. I think this is natural, especially when you’ve just arrived in a brand new country and culture. However for me, excitement always trumps the nerves. Driving in from the airport, watching the people on the streets and the beautiful statues and monuments pass by made my mind race through all the new experiences I was about to have. The sense of euphoria hasn’t left me yet, but sitting down on my bed for the first time was like being hit by a train – considering I had not been able to sleep at all during my flights. Though tired, seeing the city in the distance as I flew in, the forests and rivers, I just felt happy to finally make it to a place I have wanted to be for a long time.
Greg Tracy (Spring, 2019): Oh, look, a forest. The first thing that I noticed after touching down at Pulkovo Airport (other than how exhausted I felt) was a wide belt of trees on the runway. Whether or not they are enough to be considered a forest, I am not positive. But it definitely felt like an appropriate first sight for my first time in the Russian Federation. As I disembarked from the airplane and walked up into the terminal, I vividly recall the realization of where I was washing over me.
How did things go at the airport?
Joseph Ernst (Summer, 2019): Flying internationally can be nerve racking, but I think when I just focus on getting from point to point I tend to not stress about it. After landing, I really only had one direction to go and that is where everyone else was going, but it took me straight to passport control. While in line, I could not decide if I should be nervous (where all my documents okay?) and remembering how horrible London border control was and that this was quite peaceful. Going into the little booth where they check your documents, you just stand there quietly and the official might look you up and down. The baggage claim was down the hall and down a floor but it was fairly easy spotting my flight number *always know your flight number*. I exited the secured area of the airport to see a very large group of people holding different signs. It took me a few minutes of walking back and forth through the crowd, but SRAS has a very recognizable logo.
Greg Tracy (Spring, 2019): Getting from the gate to passport control was simplicity itself, walking down a short hallway and installing myself in the nearest line for foreign citizens. After a brief wait the immigration officer called me forward. Whether it was tiredness on my part or lack of volume on the officer’s part, I found myself having difficulty hearing his first question, which turned out to be asking my name. Luckily, my answer to that question proved to be enough and I was soon walking down into the baggage claim, where I collected my checked baggage and headed out into the arrival’s hall. I swiftly located an individual with a SRAS sign, only to discover that they were there for a different person, and I had in fact walked past my actual greeter. Nonetheless, I found her with minimal issues, and, once another student arrived, we headed outside.
How was the transfer to and arrival to the city?
Joseph Ernst (Summer, 2019): The drive to the city was exciting. Seeing Russian signs and advertisements immediately tested my Russian skill level, but hey that is the goal. My contact was extremely nice and we talked about why I wanted to go to Russia, and what being an American student is like. I arrived a few days after everyone else in the program, so arrival for me was really easy. I took my bags to my room, got some documents sorted out at the International Office and went on a short little tour of the surrounding area. I think it is important to make sure you know a few of the essential places when you arrive: bank, grocery, metro, etc, and that is what we did.
Greg Tracy (Spring, 2019): Anastasiya (my greeter) called a cab and soon a middle-aged woman driving an SUV pulled up in the chaos of the taxi lane. After tossing my luggage in the trunk of the vehicle, I got into the passenger seat, where I was immediately confronted with my first test in speaking Russian to a native. I regret to say that I did not exactly pass with flying colors. After I managed to stutter out a few halting words the driver smiled and turned on the radio. The rest of the journey passed pleasantly watching the suburbs give way to the city proper.
Checking into the dorms also went quite smoothly. Anastasiya directed me and another SRAS student to where we had to go. I needed to present my documents at the main desk in the other dorm building, where I got a пропуск, or dorm pass, and my electronic door key. It is helpful to have an extra passport picture along to get the пропуск completed immediately. After that, we went to my dorm building, “7 lestnitsa,” where I received my room key and brought my luggage upstairs.
My first impression of my dorm room was that it was quite large. It is about the same size as the room that I have at my home university, and I don’t have a roommate here. April, the SRAS representative in St. Petersburg, left us welcome bags on our desks. These included our in-country phone, some snacks, and a map of the city.
How was your orientation?
Joseph Ernst (Summer, 2019): Like I said, I did not participate in the group orientation, but Lucy (a student coordinator for the program) gave me the locations of some good food spots, the internet name, and what I would be doing in the following days regarding registration.
Greg Tracy (Spring, 2019): Soon after arrival, SRAS’ intern, Sasha, took me and another student for a brief tour of the surrounding area. She pointed out some restaurants, a couple banks and grocery stores, and what areas to avoid when alone. The short tour managed to pack a lot of important information in and was quite helpful.
Getting online was no trouble at all. The dorm building has a public Wi-Fi network that one can simply join. While there are some dead zones within the building, this is a high-quality connection that allows one to access the Internet with ease.
There is no reason that students should need to go hungry after their arrival. Two grocery stores, Dixy and Perekrestok, are just a few minutes’ walk from campus. Of the two, I definitely recommend Perekrestok. Although perhaps a bit more expensive, it has a much wider selection and higher quality items. Given that they are both close, I would only go to Dixy for snack or beverage type items. An even larger store, Auchan, is a short metro ride away but most items that one might need can be found locally. Auchan, and the IKEA that is nearby the Auchan, are also good options for picking up bedding, small appliances, or kitchenware.
My first impression of the surrounding area was difficult, due to personal exhaustion and disorientation. In my first week, however, I have gained a good understanding of how the streets are laid out and find my way around quite well. In particular I know the locations of the local supermarket, VTB bank, the nearest metro station, and some great restaurants.
Finally, SRAS and UNECON both work hard to give students a chance to immerse themselves in the cultural and historical heritage of St. Petersburg. In addition to a walking tour of the city center during the first weekend provided by SRAS, we also got a bus tour courtesy of the university during the first week of classes. Our local guide, Sergey, is a welcoming and knowledgeable man who will be leading many of our excursions this semester, including one that we have already had to the Hermitage.
How was registration and starting classes?
Joseph Ernst (Summer, 2019): Getting my pass, copies of my passport and visa, and my pictures for my documents was pretty simple and did not take me more than a few minutes each – other than the photo, for which there was a line. I have been taking Russian for three years, but my language has definitely been tested. Not so much in orientation or arrival, but going to the store and speaking with locals that I have met. I generally understand what Russians are saying, but I am still finding my voice. It just takes some courage, the willingness to be wrong, and a whole lot of practice! I will say that Survival Russia (what you do the first week) is really good for refreshing useful phrases, and learning the basics of day to day speech that you don’t really learn from a textbook. I love my class, and it has absolutely given me a boost of confidence; not because I am excelling or anything, but because it has reminded me how rewarding learning a language can be.
Greg Tracy (Spring, 2019): Within the first 24 hours of my arrival in St. Petersburg I had to register my visa with the university. This process entailed going to the International Office, which had been pointed out to me the previous evening. It is just a short walk from my dorm building, and giving them my passport, visa, and migration card. They took care of the registration and I received another welcome bag, this time from UNECON. I also received a справка, a document that has a copy of my passport, visa, and my migration card, as well as an explanation that I am registered at the university. I can carry my справка around the city in lieu of potentially losing more vital items.
SRAS has a great program called “Survival Russian,” which is currently being piloted in the St. Petersburg location. During our first full week in St. Petersburg, we went though an intensive mini-class that taught and reviewed how to get through everyday words and phrases in Russian. This included talking about problems with dorm room. It also included using common language for grocery shopping, giving and asking for directions, and holding conversations. At the end of the week we took a placement exam for our SRAS-sponsored individual lessons. The test comprised a short reading section, a multiple-choice grammar test, and a short speaking component with the instructor. Within a day I received my individual lesson schedule (the program uses a mix of both individual and group lessons). The following Tuesday the university gave an official welcome presentation to foreign students, and I also took a placement exam for group lessons. The exam consisted of a written portion and a group interview with the head of the Russian department. It might sound intimidating, but it was quite straightforward. On Thursday evening we received schedules for group lessons.
Having gone through all this, how do you feel?
Joseph Ernst (Summer, 2019): Nearly a week in, and I feel great. I cannot wait to see how I progress personally, and all the experiences I have yet to well, experience. The city is absolutely beautiful, as are the Russian people and, of course, the language!
Greg Tracy (Spring, 2019): I found it difficult to form an initial impression of the campus, as all was shrouded in darkness on my arrival and coated with snow and slush. In the past week, though, I have come to enjoy the building style and the exterior wall that must be entered though gates. With all of the trees and nice architecture, I imagine that campus will be beautiful in the springtime.
My first weeks in St. Petersburg have gone altogether smoothly. Now that I am finally abroad, I have forgotten the pains of preparation and been wholly consumed by the adventure and experience before me. There is so much that I am looking forward to—from improving my Russian, to elective classes, to seeing the sights in St. Petersburg, to meeting new people. SRAS and UNECON have both done a great deal to ensure a seamless transition and I am positive that the rest of the semester will be even better.