Be Sure to Bring Your Coffee!
Students should abroad expecting entirely new experiences. This includes new experiences in how university-level classes are scheduled, a process that is different in both Ukraine and Russia from what most students are used to in the United States.
While abroad in Kyiv, Ukraine (PCON Program) and St. Petersburg, Russia (Society, Business, and the Arts), my programs with SRAS included 20 hours of Russian language per week. This intensive schedule was quite an adjustment at first. When I first arrived in Kyiv, I found having four straight hours of Russian to be a bit tiresome, but manageable nonetheless. By the time I arrived in Russia, I considered myself to be well acclimated to the long hours.
However, transitioning from a private language school in Ukraine, which runs a fairly tight and stable scheduling process to a Russian public university, which… does not…. was an additional change to acclimate to.
My spring semester at the Saint Petersburg State University of Economics included my weekly 20 hours of Russian, in addition to four elective courses. Coming from an American university where students are given a set syllabus at the beginning of a course, I was slightly overwhelmed when I learned that our elective schedule would be posted on a weekly basis. So, a typical semester-long schedule with Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday classes that I was accustomed to doesn’t really exist in Russian universities. Instead, the elective courses only lasted roughly 3-6 weeks, and the classes would meet 1-2 times weekly for about 4 hours. Although out Russian language courses remained fairly consistent in their scheduling, our elective class schedules changed weekly. There were some weeks when I only had Russian class and then a whole bunch of free time. On the flipside, there were some weeks when I wouldn’t have time to eat lunch until nine-o-clock at night.
At first, I absolutely hated this scheduling system. As a perpetual planner, the constantly-changing schedule drove me insane, especially when I was trying to plan city excursions and travel arrangements. I also hated the disproportion that stemmed from this system; there were numerous days when I would be in class from 9 am to 9 pm, with only a small break in between to grab a coffee and small snack. While snacking in class is far more frowned upon in Russia than it is in the U.S., most of our professors were incredibly understanding of our extensive schedules and would encourage us to bring a small snack with us to keep us fueled and focused.
In the beginning, our coordinator sent us a rough outline of the semester schedule; however, we were forewarned that the schedule was subject to change, especially on a last-minute notice. This did indeed happen quite a few times, causing a few problems with pre-arranged travel plans for some of my fellow classmates and me. However, our professors were well aware how tricky the class arrangements could be, and they would often find alternative assignments for us to complete if our scheduling conflicts resulted in an absence.
While this scheduling method was stressful at first, I found myself greatly appreciating it after a few months. The long hours, of course, weren’t always ideal, but completing an elective in 3-6 weeks and not having to worry about it for the rest of the semester sure was refreshing! I was also able to take an extended trip to the Baltic states, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was on a normal American class schedule. I also found the professors to be a bit more interactive with their students in order to keep the class engaged throughout the lengthy sessions. All in all, what started out as a major inconvenience turned out to be a great way to take classes while studying abroad. For anyone planning on studying in St. Petersburg, I would recommend just being patient with the schedule and embracing all the good that will come from its flexibility! I truly consider it to have been a blessing in disguise!