Personal experience: Exchange semester at Saint Petersburg State University

Exactly three weeks ago I came back from my exchange semester at the Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. In the framework of the Master of Arts MIREES (Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Research and Studies on Eastern Europe) at the University of Bologna, a semester in one of the partner universities is compulsory and I was one of the lucky students who was selected for Russia. The process to obtain the Russian visa is not that complicated, apart from HIV tests that I had to take before applying, which I found quite annoying, but this seems to be the normal procedure.

When I arrived in Saint Petersburg, at the end of August, a Russian friend picked up me and another girl, who was going to be my flatmate and “fellow adventurer” for the rest of the semester. At our arrival at the dormitory of Kapitanskaya Ulitsa 3, the very centre of the international students’ life, we had to deal with some papers and bureaucratic stuff and we were assigned a double room in a 4-people flat at the 10th floor of the huge building. The view of the Baltic sea from the window of our room was simply wonderful and something that I enjoyed every single day and night during my stay, in any weather condition. The next day we had to reach the university, where our exchange coordinator was waiting for us, but before that we decided to buy a Russian sim card, since we had no internet in the dormitory and we had no idea how to get there! I experienced for the first time the metro of Saint Petersburg, with its never-ending elevator and its ticket, that, with my great surprise, was a coin. After that, I had my first experience with the bus and with the figure of the konduktor, a job that in Italy doesn’t exist. During my stay I’ve really learnt to appreciate the people doing this job, it looks very stressful to go through a crowded bus back and forth all the time, while trying to remember who has already paid the ticket and who has not. They really had an incredible memory! The bus went along the legendary Nevskij Prospekt, that I finally saw with my eyes for the first time, after having read its descriptions in the books of Gogol’. The meeting with our exchange coordinator was very nice, with my great surprise she was a girl of our age (maybe even younger), but she was really competent and helpful.

During the first week we took part in some activities organized by the Student Union and I enjoyed very much the “Informal Saint Petersburg” and the “Literary Tour”. The weather was still nice and it was a wonderful way to discover the city for the first time. I was exhausted at the end of the day, these Russian girls (our guides) were walking really fast!!

At the beginning of September we had our first classes at the faculty of International Relations, in the buildings surrounding the Smol’nyj Cathedral. I had never had classes in such a beautiful place before. In fact, I have to say that the first period at the university was quite chaotic, the schedule was not really clear, sometimes the professors didn’t show up or just came for 15 minutes to explain the programme and then left. A very “soft” start could be nice, this is true, but after having spent more than one hour in order to get there, it was quite annoying. Anyway, this situation lasted more or less one week and then things started to get better. I followed three courses at the faculty of International Relations and I very much enjoyed the course “Colour Revolutions in the Post-Soviet Space”, which was taught by an excellent professor who was concerned about developing our critical thinking. This was indeed one of the best courses that I’ve ever had during my years as a student.

I enjoyed Saint Petersburg as a city very much. I came from a year spent in a small town in the centre of Italy, so the shock in that sense was huge. There was so much to do, I went to the theatre, to several museums, I’ve been for the first time to a hockey game, I’ve been to a poetry festival on the roof of a building, I discovered the anticafès, I went on a boat trip along the canals, I walked on the frozen Neva in January, I’ve been to the top of Saint Isaac Cathedral with -23 degrees, I’ve seen the bridges opening, I celebrated New Year’s Eve walking in the middle of Nevskij Prospekt with thousands of people, I went ice skating and many other things.

I’ve learnt to love Russian taxi drivers, who were always friendly with me and always asking me a lot of questions when they found out that I was a foreigner. I think that Russian people are very curious with foreigners, at least this is what I’ve perceived and I’ve really appreciated this feature, that I consider a great quality.

I experienced the “unofficial taxis” and this was such a great experience. It was enough to stop for some seconds on the edge of a road, in order for a car to stop. The guy would ask us where we wanted to go and would tell us the price; agreed on that, we could go home in a fast and cheap way. It was always a great and funny experience with the unofficial taxi-drivers and I’ve never got cheated, if somebody is wondering about that. Still, this is something that I would never ever do in my country, as strange as it may sound, don’t ask me why.

I cannot say that I had a real cultural shock. Maybe at the beginning I was smiling too much at unknown people, for example at the women who were working at the entrance of our dormitory. I used to say “good morning” and “good evening” every day, but since most of the time I didn’t get an answer, I simply stopped. A glance passing by, sometimes, was more than enough. I’ve learnt to appreciate the discretion of the Russian people, in this sense.

I left Russia on a rainy morning, with a heavy heart and a heavy suitcase. I had far more books than I had before (if you have Russian friends, well, you better expect it and leave some room for them!) and a great feeling of melancholy. I loved my stay in Saint Petersburg and if I have something to regret, it’s only that I didn’t get to know so many natives. Indeed, as every other foreign student, I was leaving a bit inside the “Erasmus bubble”, which is nice, but sometimes keeps you outside the real society of the place where you are. For this reason I definitely want to go back there, to have another experience, to improve my Russian language skills and discover more about such a fascinating country.

Теги: Личный опыт

Последнее обновление 24 августа 2016

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