Throughout the year many second years on my Russian course in Birmingham have been emailing me with questions about the year abroad. So I thought I’d write a blog where I would answer as many of them as possible. I’m sure the teachers at university are doing their best to scare you about your year abroad. I hope this will put your minds at rest!
And if you’re not going to do a year abroad in Russia I hope you will find this blog about normal Russian life mildly interesting!
The Cold and Clothes.
To state the obvious: in Russia from around mid October to March it is cold. Very very cold (- but on the plus side from around May onwards it’s boiling! Summer is here!) So how do you deal with the cold? LAYERS. My biggest piece of advice is to buy some good boots (I bought mine from New Look in Moscow), a good coat and good hats, gloves and socks. But the most important things to pack are layers!! For the girls my advice is to go to Dorothy Perkins/ New Look/ Topshop (basically any clothes shop) and stock up on all those ‘3 t shirts for a tenner’ offers. Works a treat AND my ‘colourful layered’ style was complimented on more than one occasion. Win win. Oh and for the period when it is getting cold but the metro is still boiling I recommend zip up hoodies/jackets under your coat (easier to strip off in the metro).
Living with a hoz (landlady).
Only those who have lived with a hoz before can truly understand what this is like! It’s a very Russian thing to live with a (normally old and crazy!) landlady instead of finding your own flat. At first it is annoying and feels like you’ve moved back in with your parents again but I would advise everyone to see your hoz as a GREAT way to practise your Russian! Yes they might have some crazy Russian traditions that they want to make you take part in but just see it as all part of the experience! Think about the stories you will be able to scare the first years with when you get back ;)
Mobile sim cards.
You can buy Russian sim cards for around 150 rubles and you top them up using top up machines on the street. Easy peasy. I’d advise you to all take an old unlocked phone to use in Russia, you can take a nice phone if you really want but my beautiful Blackberry is at home (… and I miss it so!)
To us students, unlimited access to facebook is important. For those of you who are living in Moscow or St Pete do not fear! You SHALL have the internet! (Said the facebook fairy godmother). Fortunately my flat already had wifi in it. If you are not as lucky then I recommend Yota internet – it’s a usb stick that you plug into your laptop so you can have the internet everywhere! You top it up every month using the top up machines on the street like your mobile. Also near the school in Moscow there is an internet café, Macdonalds with free wifi and apparently a library with free internet nearby (but I’ve never found it!)
For those going to Yaroslavl… I hear there’s a nice Chinese restaurant that has free wifi….
What to do when you get there!
When you get to Russia you will most likely be picked up from the airport and taken to your flats (well that’s what they did with us this year). In Moscow (and I assume in all the other places) you go to school the very next day. I think this is good because you’re busy straight away and can start adjusting to living in this crazy country!
Well I hope all that helps! My biggest piece of advice though is to just ENJOY IT! The year abroad is hard and you WILL have low points. I try to always remember what an amazing opportunity it is to be able to study in a foreign country… that normally stops me moaning for about 5 minutes! I also can’t stress enough how important it is to try and find Russian friends (something I have to say I have been pretty rubbish at.) Speaking Russian with people you feel comfortable around is the best way to improve – I’m fortunate enough to have a lovely flatmate who helps me improve my Russian so much! So if you’re not as fortunate as me go out and meet some friends… bars are a good place to start, after a couple of drinks your Russian will be ‘amazing’. To you at least.