A year in Russia
Personally, I’d only ever been to St. Petersburg on a month long trip to the Benedict language school with others from Uni. I wanted to go somewhere new for my year abroad and there were lots of factors to consider; cost, size of the city, accommodation on offer and course details to name a few.
At Bath, students can choose from the official exchange with Voronezh State University, a more informal exchange program in Tomsk, the RLUS options and other language schools at your own discretion (such as the Pushkin Institute in Moscow). If you want to work, then good luck as you have to find something by yourself, more on that later.
For Voronezh and Tomsk, students don’t have to pay extra tuition fees except for the £693 (academic year 2013/2014) paid to Bath for the year. For RLUS and Pushkin, tuition fees range from £1500-£2000 per semester and there are also some limitations, for example RLUS only offers Petrozavodsk for first semester. Clearly, finances have to be considered when deciding where to go, especially as accommodation needs to be considered on top of tuition costs. Moscow is, unsurprisingly, the most expensive in both tuition and accommodation costs. It’s worth noting that Student Loan does offer more than the norm in your loan for the year abroad, although I don’t want to specify as this will be individual to each persons circumstances and decided by Student Loans.
Size of city
Some people want the cosmopolitan, big city feel of Moscow whereas some might prefer a more provincial feeling Petrozavodsk or Voronezh (which is hardly tiny and isolated). When deciding what you want, consider how easy it will be to meet Russians; in smaller cities it might be easier to integrate and see a more ‘Russian’ lifestyle rather than the more westernised St. P or Moscow.
For me, the type of accommodation on offer was quite important, but it all comes down to individual needs and preferences. RLUS generally offers a shared room with one other student (who you won’t know) either in a hostel or with a landlady. Pushkin offers a halls of residence next-door to the school, where you could be sharing a room between three. Voronezh however, offers an individual room with a landlady who also provides a breakfast and main meal each day. When I attended the Benedict school a year ago, I shared a room in a hostel which was fine because I was sharing with a girl I already knew and we got on really well, in fact that experience has left us very close. But admittedly, I do like my space from time to time and when you’re sharing quite a small room it can start to feel claustrophobic after a while without it being anyone’s fault. Equally, I’m quite a light-sleeper so sleep-talking and even the sound of typing on a laptop can disrupt my sleep and I don’t really want to put a roommate through the trauma that is a tired and grumpy Jenny. If you’re someone who sleeps deeply and doesn’t need much sleep anyway, shared rooms shouldn’t put you off. Sharing a room creates amazing bonds so long as you’re tolerant and sociable and can be a great way to meet new people; people who can offer support when you’re feeling homesick or experiencing culture shock. Ewan is studying in Moscow and will fill us in on his accommodation experience there come February.
Course details are obviously core to your time in Russia. While a year abroad is as much about adventure and getting to grips with the culture and lifestyle, you are there to learn the language and what the language school offers does play a key part in that. How many hours of tuition a week? What modules does it offer? I can only speak for Voronezh here, but they encourage you to become a language assistant within the English department of the University (or possibly in the French/Italian/Spanish etc department dependant on your mother tongue). This is an unpaid position, but a great way to meet local Russian students who might introduce you to their wider network. It’s only a few hours a week as well! Also by attending a University, you can join in with the University Sports and Societies to meet people, is that available at a language institute? Furthermore, Voronezh, as the official exchange with Bath, offers a course specifically arranged to our needs and what we’ve covered in Bath. I know it sounds like I’m hyping Voronezh here, but these are things to consider. I have heard really good feedback about Pushkin and RLUS too where they give you a small language test when you arrive and split you into ability groups.
Mix and match?
Obviously you could do one semester in Tomsk and one in Moscow and experience both settings, doing it this way might make the tuition fees in Moscow more manageable. I’ve chosen to stay in Voronezh all year, in part to pay minimum tuition fees and for the individual accommodation, but also so that I only have to settle in once. When I return in January I won’t have to worry about finding a new social circle, instead I can concentrate on consolidating and expanding upon the friends I’ll have already made. I figure I can visit my friends who are in Moscow or Tomsk during the year anyway!
Now, back to work placements. During my first year at Bath I was determined to find an internship in Russia. Hahaha. I attended every session with visiting companies that Bath put on and was told the same thing each time- ‘well if you apply when you’re in Russia and you’ve already got a visa, something could definitely be arranged’. Erm, well how do I get a working visa if the company won’t sponsor it before I arrive? You need the visa to get the position, but need the position to get the visa. Problematic. It’s been mentioned to me by a lecturer at Bath that previous students have gotten around this by attending a language school and getting a student visa, then doing work experience in their free afternoons however more often than not these students knew someone in the office they had the work experience with. Andras already writes a blog for the Russian International Affairs Council and was able to arrange a placement working as an Analyst in Moscow without needing a student visa, again Andras will be able to offer more detail in his contributions.
I’m aware I’ve only touched on some of the factors to be considered, but I feel that these are the most significant. Different things are important to different people, for me being a light-sleeper impacted on accommodation needs but for others this won’t be an issue.
Whatever you do, don’t forget that you’ll meet fantastic people and have an amazing time wherever you choose. Each experience is what you make of it!