- What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB? I took classes structured on Russian language and then two electives. Class size was smaller usually 5-7 students. Class time was an hour and half. But all classes started at 10am. They were also all in Russian.
- What was your favorite class abroad? I think my favorite would had to be my grammar class, it was hard but it felt good to understand how the language worked. I also took a Russian mentality class that explained norms and stereotypes about the Russian people and it was interesting to see it from a different perspective.
- Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience. N/A
- How would you describe your host institution? It was very beautiful. The UC students are housed in the surrounding buildings of a Smolny Cathedral. It used to be an old convent, but now the outer buildings are used for university classes. All American students are placed together but the upstairs hosts the Russian school of political science.
- Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join? Yes there are sports club you can join within the university but there is also outside sports and activities you can sign up for. The staff provides students with info on how to get in contact with people. Many people joined local gyms, went to community dance lessons, joined soccer teams etc. There was a dance studio 15 minutes from my apartment that I signed up for and really enjoyed it so much that i can’t wait to get back into it.
- Describe your housing situation. I was placed with a host family in a very nice apartment in one of the main districts. I only lived with an older lady and her dog and we got along really well. I had my own room and my apartment was located near bus stops and metro stations. Students have the opportunity to write down their preferences when it comes to host families and they do their best to accommodate.
- Where did you eat most of your meals? Mostly at home. Host parents provided breakfast and dinner, but if we wanted to eat out with friends we also could, we just had to let them know ahead of time. Lunch was usually eaten at school.
- How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students? An average meal was about 3-5 dollars. It’s not very expensive when it comes to food. I would grab Big Mac meals for less than 3 dollars. At an average sit down restaurant, a meal would come out to about 500 rubles which is about 8 dollars. Budget for needed meals first! It’s so easy to get caught up trying new places and before you know it you’re spending all your money on food.
- Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals? No, the city is pretty progressive. There are multiple vegan places around and staff takes this into consideration when placing you with a family. They make sure to place you with families with similar needs. I knew a couple students who were vegetarian or kosher.
- Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad. This would have to be during one of our trips to Moscow. The restaurant was listed on the world’s top 50 restaurants. It was located at the top floor of a shopping mall and the tables were lined with big couches instead of chairs. It had floor to ceiling windows all around and the view of the city center was amazing at night.
- What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?I would have to say pelmini or blinis. They were like crepes but stuffed with all kinds of meat or different toppings. Russian food itself is very bland: potatoes, pasta, salads, but that is because they have what they need to live and nothing more. There is a lot of Georgian food places and I have to say that was the best. They have a signature bread dish that has different cheeses in the middle which is caved out. Then you dip the bread in the cheese!
- Describe your host city. Saint Petersburg is a magical place. There are canals running throughout the city and big colorful cathedrals and palaces all around. There are museums everywhere and cafes, restaurants, and stores on every block. It is a very lively city, even if it’s snowing at midnight you can still find a big crowd of people out in the downtown area. The city is separated into five “islands” that are accessible through metro, buses or other mini buses. The metros are the most beautiful in the world (not exaggerating) and some of the deepest being over 200ft. In the spring the sun sets at 10pm and rises at 3am. It is quite something to see!
- Was it easy to get around? Yes there are metro stations everywhere along with buses and trolley buses. They have private smaller buses that also run. The majority of people use public transport or walk because many things are within walking distances. Even Uber is cheap, a thirty minute ride was maybe 4 dollars.
- Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students? Yes I felt a lot safer than here surprisingly. I think it was because the city never sleeps and there’s always people out. I’d walk home really late sometimes from the city center and never felt unsafe. It’s different, I can’t just take a walk or walk to the store or work in the states, but over there it’s so normal you don’t feel uncomfortable.
- What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city? A lot of it involved visiting old palaces and cities in Russia. We went to Moscow and Kazan. We visited a lot of museums and tried different activities such as cooking classes, ballet and opera shows. My favorite thing to do was just sight-see. Everywhere had a nice view.
- Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad. The one thing that was irritating at times was the differences in gender roles. Simple male/female friendships were considered strange unless there was romantic intentions. It’s still sort of a male dominant culture but Saint Petersburg is more progressive then most cities. Other than that there weren’t any issues.
- How did you handle culture shock? Honestly I didn’t experience culture shock upon arriving. If anything I felt it more once I returned to the states.
- What is your favorite aspect of your host culture? The fact that it may seem stand-offish, but once you get to know people they are really warm and welcoming. I think another aspect I found appealing was their simple way of life. They don’t have much or make much but they are happy. I also loved having small grocery stores on every block versus huge warehouse stores like here. They shop weekly or every couple days just to get what they need and as a result food doesn’t go to waste from buying in bulk. They are very big on not wasting food, it’s a no-no. It all dates back to the siege of Leningrad. I try to do my shopping like this now after realizing how much food is wasted.
- Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad. My favorite was the five-week winter break we had between semesters. I traveled to 6 different countries during this time. It is probably the only time I’ll live out of a suitcase and in hostels that long! It was super fun to experience Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years each in a different country. Thanksgiving in Russia, Christmas in Prague and New Years in Amsterdam. Not sure what could top that!
- What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal? I think just navigating a new city. I left with no expectations and everything turned out great. I think I was also afraid of not making friends but it actually turned out to be the opposite!
- What was your biggest challenge abroad? The language barrier. It’s one thing to study it all day in class versus using it in everyday life. Definitely not the same, but many people are very patient and helpful.
- How have you changed as a result of your time abroad? I think it has made me even more open minded and accepting of unseen situations. If something bad happens, they don’t spend time dwelling on it but try to make the best of a bad outcome. I think all my Russian friends taught me that even if there are things you can’t change and even if you aren’t in the best situation, that shouldn’t mean that you stop living life! Russians love travel and simple things in life and always try to have fun with what they can!
- What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students? If you’re questioning going, just stop thinking about it and go. Do all the steps as if they were any other assignment. Once you’re at your boarding gate then you can think about it but by then you’ll be this far and it’ll be too late to turn back. But I promise when you’re out exploring a new city or sitting at a restaurant with new friends, you’ll be really glad you went.