Despite the quiet small-town feel, Irkutsk boasts an impressive cultural legacy, and is center stage for important environmental debates. To help you better understand what life is like there, we’ve asked our students to share spme of the experiences they had while studying abroad in this wonderful city.
SRAS: First, think of the city – what was available in terms of culture, shopping, and services. Were you able to find things to do and the goods and services you needed? What was missing? Were there any pleasant surprises?
Katya Grigerman (Summer, 2019): Something that a lot of people forget while traveling is that the whole world uses things like toothpaste, laundry detergent, and make-up. While the places may not have the exact brand/flavor/scent that we are used to, it will be quite similar. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the stores in Irkutsk had almost the exact same products as the ones I use, and even some ones that I liked more!
While in the 6 weeks of being in Irkutsk I did not need to get a haircut, I saw several places that offered haircuts for both men and women. I did get manicures and pedicures for much cheaper (1000 rubles for a gel manicure) and much better quality! I also found several places that offered waxes/sugaring, and also spas that offered massages, facials, etc.
SRAS: How were the prices abroad? Did you find your host city affordable in terms of food and entertainment?
Katya Grigerman (Summer, 2019): I found Irkutsk a very affordable city. A 6 hour bus ride would cost 600 rubles ($9), while a regular city bus or marshrutka ride would be 20 rubles ($0.30). A quick cheap meal would cost between 200-400 rubles ($3-5), while a nice sit down meal would be between 700-1000 rubles ($10-15). A coffee is around 90 rubles ($1.50), and most beers at bars were around 200 rubles ($3).
SRAS: How were the people you met? Were you able to generally complete transactions with any professionals you interacted with (at offices, cafes, shops)? Did you find local friends to share your free time with?
Katya Grigerman (Summer, 2019): I did not have a lot of difficulty completing transactions. If your Russian language isn’t as strong, most places have menus with pictures, or even English menus, and you can usually just point and use minimal words when ordering things. Russian people were always very curious and friendly when they realize that you are a foreigner, and try and talk to you. Many times they will try and speak to you in English, but are always willing to switch to Russian if you ask. I was able to find several local people to spend time with. Classic ways like bars and parks are great ways of meeting people, and apps like Couchsurfing and Tinder also work really well to find people. Word on using Tinder in Russia, while some use it for dating, many people use it just to find friends and conversational partners, my friends and I were able to find several people to hang out and walk around.
SRAS: What modes of transport did you use? Did you generally find them convenient and affordable? Did you travel outside the city during your stay?
Katya Grigerman (Summer, 2019): TWhile spending the summer in Irkutsk, I primarily used busses, marshrutkas, and the tram. Public transportation runs from the morning to around 8pm constantly, and then from 8pm to about 10pm, they are less frequent, and then usually do not run after 10pm. Taxis are a really affordable way of getting around (especially at night), and run about 200-300 rubles for a 10-20 minute drive.
During the program I also traveled to Ulan-Ude by train, and to Olkhon Island by marshrutka. Both were very easy and convenient!
Best and Worst Things
SRAS: What was the best thing about your stay in Irkutsk? What was the worst?
Katya Grigerman (Summer, 2019): The best part about my stay in Irkutsk is being able to tell that my Russian language was improving. I was able to have conversations about almost all subjects, and my grammar and accent had also improved.
While it was not horrible, I would say my least favorite part of the program was the dorm situation. While I was there, the last 3 weeks they were doing construction on the building, and almost all the bathrooms were completely out of order, and there was only one laundry machine working. Otherwise, the room itself was not touched, so that was okay!