My time in Russia...

My time in Russia… It sounds like an old fairytale. I will not try to compare it to that but sometimes Russia was a bit like that anyway.

Everybody always told me: “Whenever you have the chance, go abroad during your college time. It will be an awesome experience.” I always answered that it would be an experience to never forget. But at the same time I wondered how it would be. 6 months away from family, friends and my own company in exchange for an experience abroad. If I look back on my time abroad I can answer those questions in a very easy way. Going abroad is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

In that time I was studying for my Bachelor of Commerce degree so trying to stand out from the rest was priority. I could go to the USA but then you would not stand out from the rest. Russia, that was distinctive!

Getting in Russia was not the problem: by plane just a few hours away from The Netherlands. From the airport to Moscow was just a short time. My adventure had begun! At the airport and in the train everything was displayed in 2 different languages: English and Russian on every single sign. When I stepped out of the train, I noticed that all the English was gone and only the amazing alphabet of hieroglyphs was displayed. I was really glad that the buddies were already there to help us out. Without them I would never have arrived at the dorm. Immediately after arriving it became clear that communicating with most of the Russian people wasn’t easy to do. But again, the buddies were there. The same applied to the bureaucratic way of thinking in Russia: a stamp on the document in a bank and in the other side of the campus an autograph to verify the stamp. At first I thought it would become very annoying but Russia creates a sort of magical feeling. People don’t care about anything. That’s just a waste of time, so don’t bother doing it. The Russian feeling and way of thinking were very fast implemented.

At first I felt like a tourist in a new world. I could not understand anything and when I ordered something on a menu of a restaurant I could just hope it would be reasonably edible. But again, glad that there were buddies and other international students who already knew and understood the Russian language. After a few weeks of discovering Moscow, Russia and all the other students it was time to learn the Russian language. 20 hours a week Russian language. Almost undoable, that were the first thoughts. Nowadays I’m really glad I’ve had the change to get 20 hours Russian Language a week. I can read, talk and write a bit Russian. Still it’s difficult but I can communicate! The dorm was really strict, all the rules made it difficult to pull of some jokes. We made the stay in the dorm very pleasant together with all the students. The rooms were hot and the beds too short but  hey, I didn’t bother. I was having a great experience I would never regret and forget. While going to school, we traveled to lots of different cities and places. I would never forget the trip to the dog sledges. In the train for hours and hours. Same for the trips to Ukraine and St. Petersburg. All amazing trips where I met a lot of nice people. The nightlife of Russia, and specific in Moscow is very good. Pivo-management classes are also worth a recommendation. Next to that, if people say: “Don’t take the illegal cabs”… Take them! It’s awesome. Driving around in one will also be an ultimate Russia-experience!

The main difference between Europe and Russia is very well illustrated in the differences between St. Petersburg and Moscow. Moscow is way more orientated on the East-European way of living. If there is a sidewalk where your nearly can’t walk because of the holes in it, you know you’re in Moscow. If you see organized, straight sidewalks you know you’re in St. Petersburg. At first some things in Moscow are shocking but why would you care about it. It also has it charms.

The classes in school were at a good level. A little bit less than in The Netherlands but I learned a lot of new things too. Generally the Plekhanov University is a well organized school where you can feel save and respected. The understandings between student and teacher are more formal then in The Netherlands.

I can look back on an amazing time in Russia and if you ask me to come again I would not hesitate a second. I would go immediately! Because of the hospitality and all the help of people you don’t know but most of all because you will learn a lot about different cultures and you will have a broader perspective on general knowledge. You will experience the “normal” way of living in Russia which is so different from ours.  Of course with a lot of “vodka” and night clubs; but hey, that’s also the life of a Russian student!

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who have made my stay in Russia feel like home, Thank you!

Mark Steetsel

Exchange undergraduate student

University of Applied Sciences Utrecht The Netherlands

Fall Semester 2012