I chose to study abroad in Russia because it will help me with my international relations major. Yet, when I told my friends that I was going there, their reaction was not one of excitement. On the contrary, they expressed shock and concern. The most re-occurring question was, “Why Russia?” I am sure that most people who have studied in Russia repeatedly heard the same question. Many American students study abroad in places like Italy, France, or Spain. While those are great study abroad locations, studying abroad in Russia allows students to experience a completely different culture in a part of the world that few westerners visit. There are many reasons why students should consider studying in Russia.
1. It is not like anything any American has experienced in the United States.
Russia is extremely different from the United States, and not in a negative way. While the United States shares a common history and culture with western European countries, specifically the United Kingdom, it does not have anything in common with Russian culture and history. At first glance, Russian roads, cars, architecture, and people are different. The food is different and the way of life is different. While this can seem intimidating at first, immersing oneself in such dissimilar culture can allow them to see the world through different eyes.
2. As previously mentioned, studying abroad in Russia allows students to see things from a different perspective.
Because my field of study is international relations, I found it extremely important to study abroad in Russia in order to expose myself to different beliefs and ideologies. In the United States, students are bombarded with large amounts of news stories pertaining to Russia alongside many stereotypes that may or may not be true. This may sound cliché but since arriving in St. Petersburg, I have walked a mile in another man’s shoes and got the see the world through different eyes. With this newfound understanding, I know that my study abroad group and I will not take everything at face value when we go back to the United States. In a world where tensions are high and understanding is at an all-time low, being able to experience another culture may prove to be extremely valuable.
3. There are many culturally diverse groups within Russia.
Studying abroad in Russia does not only open one’s eyes to Russian culture; it opens up countless opportunities to be acquainted with other cultures as well. While Russians are the largest ethnic group within Russia, Tatars, Ukrainians, Bashkirs, Armenians, Ossetians, among numerous other groups make up the multi-national state that is Russia. Tatar is the most plentiful ethnic group in Russia after ethnic Russians, and the majority of them are Sunni Muslims. Bashkirs are Sunnis, as well. With so many diverse groups who adhere to different religions, cultures, and ideologies, it is impossible to leave Russia without experiencing other cultures.
4. Many Russians do not speak English.
This should not discourage anyone from coming to Russia! Apart from the somewhat cold service at grocery stores, Russians are incredibly kind and humble people. While I took two years of Russian language in the United States, most people in my study abroad group had not. They communicated mainly through signs at the beginning of the trip and never felt awkward for doing so. People are always willing to help. After only a couple of days, many of them started to pick up commonly used Russian phrases. In a country where few people speak English, learning the native language becomes a quicker process. For me, having to rely on my Russian speaking abilities has taught me more in a few weeks than in a year back at school.
5. Museums, museums, museums.
Where to begin? If someone wanted to see all the exhibits in the Hermitage, they would have to walk about twenty-four miles and view three million works of art. Not enough? The State Russian Museum is also home to countless exhibits students can see. Saint Isaac’s Cathedral is a must for its beautiful, golden dome and the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood’s architecture reminds people of medieval Russian architecture mixed with the essence of national romanticism. While all these exquisite places are in St. Petersburg, Moscow is also home to numerous museums such as the Tretyakov Gallery, Puskin Museum, and the Kremlin, which contains sixty thousand historical, cultural and artistic monuments. The numerous museums Russia has to offer makes it impossible for students to ever get bored.
6. Russia has amazing food.
Borsch, Caviar, Golubsty, Pelmeni, Pirozhki, Zakuski. Need I say more? Russian food is delicious and very satisfying. Most of the cuisine is meat and potato based, but vegetarians can find plenty of alternatives such as soups, salads, and meals made of out of potatoes. In addition, I cannot forget to mention the bread. Bread in Russia is otherworldly, especially if bought from little kiosks on the street. From those same kiosks, seasonal fruit can often be bought and it is usually much better than in stores. In case Russian food gets repetitive after a while, students can dine in many Italian and Chinese restaurants. Mediterranean food is also popular in Russia so students can enjoy a shawarma on their way to class.
7. The entertainment is endless.
Whether it is a night at the ballet or at the opera, there is always something to do and somewhere to go. Mariisnky Theatre has something almost every night. There, students can enjoy symphonic concerts, operas, and ballets. For a night of laughs and shocks, students can go to the world-renowned Russian circus, “The Nikulin Circus,” or they can walk around town, and perhaps take advantage of the energetic Russian nightlife. In big cities, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, studentscan often find people out on the street very late at night, making those towns feel safer and more entertaining.