1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?
I took courses to complete linguistics major electives and Russian minor requirements. Classes in Russia were 90 minutes long and were held MTRF (W was reserved for excursions). Classes were very small, around 8-9 students each, and were consistently friendly and casual environments. Unless the instructor gave explicit permission to do otherwise, students are expected to address them by their name + patronymic. Grading is either on a scale of 1-5 (5 being the best) or 0-100 scale. The workload was lighter than at UCSB, but more effort was placed on individual initiative (in order to be successful).
2. What was your favorite class abroad?
My conversation class was by far the most enjoyable of all my classes.
3. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.
I didn’t do any of these.
4. How would you describe your host institution?
St. Petersburg State University operates on a split-campus system. Students in the Russian language program take classes on Smolny Campus, which is located 30-40 minutes by bus/train from the city center and a minimum of 1.5 hours from Pulkovo Airport (varies with traffic). The student population is around 26,800 but if classes are taken through CIEE you’ll only be in classes with other American students. Unlike at UCSB, classes will all be in the same faculty building and will start at the same time every day.
5. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join
CIEE helped students connect with local organizations and sports clubs. As I was abroad during summer, few local students were attending classes at SPBSU, so during fall or spring there could also be more opportunities available as well.
6. Describe your housing situation.
CIEE’s summer Russian program offered hostel and homestay housing options, I went with the homestay. They handle the housing arrangements (you get a chance to submit housing preferences beforehand). My host mom and host aunt cooked for me and I had my own room, which was furnished. My commute was one of the longest out of all my classmates at about an hour, but only around 15-20 minutes from the city center. Housing expenses included more than just rent so I am not sure if they were cheaper than at UCSB/IV.
7. Where did you eat most of your meals?
I almost always ate breakfast and dinner at my homestay, unless I was going out with friends that night. I ate lunch on campus (mostly bought snacks from the vending machine). There’s a campus cafeteria but it isn’t open during summer. When out with friends we often went to cafes and restaurants.
8. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?
In comparison to California prices, everything in St. Petersburg will seem cheaper. Rather than budgeting tips, I would suggest being wary of things that seem ‘too cheap’. For example (one of my Russian instructors said this), ice cream under 100 rubles (~$1.20) is probably fake ice cream.
9. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
Yes, especially if you choose to do a homestay. Russian food is already known for being rather bland and ‘samey’. If you have a dietary constraint your meals could end up being almost the same every day (which happened to my vegetarian friend). There are a few vegan restaurants in the city but they’re more expensive.
10. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
During our excursion in Moscow (a 4-day trip run by CIEE), my friends and I went to a “North Korean Restaurant”. The atmosphere of the restaurant was really funky but the food was really good.
11. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?
I miss Russian deserts like bliny, cirniki, and pirozhniki.
12. Describe your host city.
St. Petersburg is a large metropolitan city featuring a fusion of western and Russian architectural culture and a long history. In terms of diversity, it’s mostly Russian but has many other minority groups living within it as well.
13. Was it easy to get around?
Transit was in Russian and English but realistically speaking, without even a foundational knowledge of Russian I think getting around would be very challenging. If you look Caucasian, Russians assume you speak Russian. Few Russians speak English well. Transport as a whole, though, was streamlined, efficient, and very easy to use.
14. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
St. Petersburg is just like any other big city, and you can get into all of the same dangerous situations there. Using common sense, staying in groups, keeping valuables out of sight and out of reach of pickpockets, not drinking alone etc is very important. My homestay was in a safe part of the city and Smolny Campus is in a well-policed area, but I did have some uncomfortable moments when returning to my homestay late at night, etc. Expect more pick-pocketing attempts near Nevsky Prospekt, etc.
15. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?
St. Petersburg is full of things to do. While I was there, I went to the Hermitage, visited several other museums, went to an aquarium, shopped on Nevsky Prospekt, went to an amusement park (Kristovsky Ostrov) etc. It also has its own selection of restaurants including varieties that are nearly impossible to find in the United States (Georgian food, for example).
16. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.
To an American, Russians outwardly look much colder and off-putting, whereas to Russians, Americans emote so much that they look fake and insincere. Take the act of smiling, for example. An American will smile if they make eye contact with someone, a Russian will remain expressionless. To a Russian, it’s nonsensical to smile at strangers, when apologizing, or for the sake of carrying on a conversation. What does this mean though? It means that when a Russian person does smile at you, they mean it sincerely.
17. How did you handle culture shock?
I experienced most of my cultural shock after I returned home. I was asked a lot of frustrating questions by my family and relatives (my parents especially, who were very uncomfortable with me studying abroad in Russia in the first place). I think the best way to deal with questions like these are to just answer them truthfully. “No, I didn’t live in a slum,” “Russians have western toilets,” “Yes, Russians drive cars like we do,” “No, I did not see Putin” et cetera.
18. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?
I think my favorite aspect of Russian culture was the food. Some of my favorite experiences in Russia were from visiting random cafes and restaurants with my friends and trying things together. There are so many traditional Russian dishes and foods there that you just can’t find in the US unless you come from a Russian family, and they’re all worth trying!
19. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
One of my favorite travel experiences were the Sapsan Express trains to and from Moscow (it was a CIEE planned excursion). I’d never been on an overnight train before. My friends and I were assigned to the same sleeping cabin both times and we spent the night watching Russian-dubbed Disney movies on the cabin TV.
20. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
Growing up in a typical Southern California suburb I never learned how to use public transportation. Even at UCSB, I could get away with walking, riding my bike, or getting an Uber. But in Russia there was no way around it: I was going to have to learn. The thought of it caused me way more anxiety than it honestly should have. Within the first week of classes I had already gotten used to riding the metro and by the end of the trip I felt like I could get around the city with ease.
21. What was your biggest challenge abroad?
My biggest challenge I think was staying motivated. In doing a summer program (that started literally the Saturday of finals week) I never got a break from Spring quarter and was feeling a lot of burnout. Eventually I found a method for getting my assignments done that helped balance my motivation to do homework with my desire to go see the city.
22. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?
Aside from improving my Russian language skills, another reason I chose to study abroad in Russia was to get a chance to see the country with my own eyes rather than through a headline. Being in Russia has provided me with an impactful, invaluable global perspective.
23. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?
EAP is the perfect excuse to get out of the US and see the world. While working on degree requirements, you can make international connections, visit world-renowned landmarks, and have the opportunity to see things from a non-American perspective. In that regard, I think that EAP provides a valuable opportunity to grow as a global citizen and as a person.