When I took off from Chicago at 6pm one evening at the beginning of summer, I was not entirely sure what I was in for. Flying across the globe on my own? I had never even left the country! While I wasn’t sure at that moment what my summer would entail, looking back, I can let you in on a little secret… my study abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia was quite an adventure.
Logistics may not be the most exciting part of study abroad, but they certainly are important. I first started thinking about studying abroad my freshman year at Iowa State University. At this point, it was just an idea. At the beginning of my sophomore year I started taking steps toward making it a reality. I talked with my Russian professors, both of whom had lived in St. Petersburg before coming to the States. They told me how beautiful and culturally rich a city it is, and both said that if I chose to study abroad in Russia, I should choose St. Petersburg.
Over the next few months, I talked to my study abroad advisor, who gave me information on the steps I needed to take from a university standpoint, and what I could expect on my study abroad. I also spoke to students who had studied abroad with SRAS in the past and listened to their stories and tips. At this point, I was convinced — I was going to St. Petersburg. I got in contact with SRAS about my interest and started the application process. I applied for SRAS, university, and national scholarships to help fund my trip. I also had to get a passport, since I had never left the country before and did not have one.
Even though I had dedicated quite a bit of time to applications, scholarships, packing, and preparing, Wednesday, May 23 (when I was on a plane from Chicago to Helsinki, Finland for the first leg of my trip) seemed to arrive suddenly. Fortunately, I was well prepared; in the weeks before the trip I had read plenty of information provided by SRAS, such as the program orientation guide, student experiences and reviews, and explanations on the SRAS site about what to pack, which documents to bring, what to expect on arrival, and more. This information was very (very) helpful.
Before, during, and after the trip, SRAS staff were very quick to answer any questions I had about any part of the program. The support in St. Petersburg started the moment I arrived, when a volunteer student (Dasha) was at the airport to pick me up from the airport and show me around the dorm; later, a staff member called me to make sure I had settled in. The support continued throughout my program, up to the end with my 2am taxi ride to the airport (which SRAS and the university scheduled for me) on the last day.
From rooftop restaurants and flea markets to museums and amusement parks, I found myself doing it all in St. Petersburg. While figuring out what to do and where to go seemed overwhelming at first, in a few weeks I found myself accustomed to a schedule chock full of activities. Cooking lessons, sporting events, nights out, and naval parades are just a few of the things I recall as fond memories. Some of these were planned by SRAS, while my fellow students and I planned others ourselves.
With classes, homework, and the great excursions, it can be easy to forget to eat, work out, clean, and just relax at times. Luckily, the campus location makes it easy to take care of basic necessities. The foreign student dormitory at UNECON is located on the campus, and the campus is very centrally located in St. Petersburg. This made things like going to buy groceries or other home items, going to the gym, or grabbing a quick bite to eat very easy despite my full schedule.
With all the planned (and spontaneous) excursions, I found myself out and about in a different place every day. While something new or unexpected was bound to happen each day, it was nice to have a constant. For me, that constant was my Russian language class with my new friends and our dear professor Sasha.
The first week of classes was devoted to the “Survival Russian” program. This was a fun class where we role played scenarios (talking to the dorm guard, ordering at a restaurant) that we would use often. I found this week to be extremely useful for getting back into the swing of speaking Russian, and for learning some very important words and phrases I did not know.
After this week, we were placed into classes that were tailored to our skill level. Every class had different schedules; ours happened to meet at 9am Monday – Thursday. Of course we learned plenty of grammar and vocabulary. But, using our past and newly acquired skills, we also had some good discussions about history, politics, and modern-day Russia.
My study abroad in St. Petersburg was an adventure. It was an adventure of having fun with my new friends, Russian and American alike, on late night adventures and early morning road trips. It was an adventure of learning — learning Russian, learning about Russia, and learning about myself. It was an adventure I will never forget.