Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Russia: St. Petersburg

Kyiv, Ukraine
Ana Frigo ‘14

What is your major?

I'm majoring in International Affairs with a minor in Russian language.

Why did you decide to study abroad?

I decided a long time ago that I wanted to study abroad.  I was a figure skater for 13 years, and many of my coaches and friends were foreign (many of my coaches in particular spoke Russian). Studying abroad was an opportunity to connect with other people and have a better understanding of how the rest of the world thinks and views the United States.

Why did you choose St. Petersburg, Russia?

I've always had a strong interest and connection to Russia, especially Moscow. When choosing between St. Petersburg and Vladivostok, I decided that I wanted to be closer to Moscow and the rest of Europe for traveling purposes. I always knew that St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe- and probably the world, with a lot of culture and history behind it, and I wanted to spend time there and learn more about it.

Dinner with my host family.
What was your living situation like?

All the American students were placed in families at the beginning of the program in order to integrate us more into society and have a better chance of practicing the language. I absolutely loved my host family and the location of the apartment.  I lived on Vasilevsky Island, about 15 minutes walking to the famous Hermitage Museum. In addition to my host mom, I had a host brother and a wonderful cat named Marcel. The apartment itself had 3 rooms for each of us, a toilet, shower, and the kitchen. Overall, it was very cozy, and it gave me an opportunity to really view the city from a local perspective. 

Highlights/challenges of the program.

Smolny Institute
The most obvious challenge I think many people faced was culture shock. It was difficult hitting the ground and realizing that you are no longer in your comfort zone.  For a while it was difficult to understand the Russian perspective of life, but after a while, you learn to understand and appreciate the things that the people and country have been through.  The biggest highlights were of course going on excursions, meeting new friends, seeing all the museums, and studying in an absolutely beautiful university. However, in the end the biggest realization I had was that all people are fundamentally the same, but are separated by language and culture. This is common sense when you think about it, but experiencing it for yourself is life-changing and helps you see the world in a completely different way.

Advice you wish you had been given before going on your program.

Relax. I wish more people told me to relax and just go with the flow of things.  We had a good number of meetings and information sessions where we learned what to do/not do, but the most useful thing I learned was that the experience of being abroad is much more enjoyable when you're not stressing over every little thing that you're not used to.

Additional comments?
I really recommend that anyone going abroad should keep a positive attitude and participate in all the events/excursions the program sets up. You are only abroad in this type of setting once, and you should take complete advantage of it!

 If you have questions about the St. Petersburg Program, you can find program alums on the Ask An Alum Moodle page by clicking this link. 

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