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. I hope that the following details about my first days in St. Petersburg will be prove helpful to future SRAS students.
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 quickly 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 with minimal issues, and, once another student arrived, we headed outside. Anastasiya 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.
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 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.
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 impression of the surrounding area was similarly 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.
Registration (of visa and for class)
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.
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.