1. I wish I had brought a longer jacket.
I believe that having a coat that goes to at least above the knees is essential whether you are in the fall or the spring program in St. Petersburg, Russia. My host family did take good care of me and allowed me to borrow a jacket, but I would recommend bringing one with you unless you plan on buying one in country. Layering did not always work and having some warmer bases will ensure that you aren’t going to get hypothermia anytime soon.
2. I wish I had known what typical dress was for Russian students.
I felt like I came into the program expecting Russians to dress similar to American college students. Most of the program, I felt very much underdressed. I would recommend bringing your nicer clothes, especially dress clothes, so that you don’t stick out like a sore thumb. I remember walking down the hall and hearing a Russian professor comment on how American I was. I later realized it was because I was wearing sweatpants to class, which is a no-no in Russian’s eyes. Classes didn’t start until 10:00 AM so I would recommend getting up early so that you feel good going throughout your day and knowing you fit in.
3. I wish I had known some Russian before going abroad.
When I first got there, I was immersed in Russian up to my head and I didn’t even know how to read in Cyrillic. I learned how to read in two days because mostly everything is in Russian. Had I known how to read, I would have gotten around easier the first week since some words are cognates. Also, knowing some basic phrases would have made my first trip to the grocery store less of a nightmare. I remember walking around the store and grabbing some items. When I stood in line, I had no clue what to say when the cashier asked me a question in Russian.
4. I wish I had prepared more questions in advance to ask my host family.
I knew going into the program that I wanted to learn more about the history and the life of everyday Russians. I wish I had spent more time preparing specific questions that I wanted answers to. My area of study is politics and my region of focus is Russia. I did ask my host family about their lives during the time of the Soviet Union but I still feel like I have many unanswered questions.
5. I wish I had paid more attention in the History classes and taken more notes.
Russian history is so interesting and there were times when I put more emphasis on my language classes and time outside of class than I did on History. I wish I had spent more time connecting with my history professor and getting his opinion and expertise on issues.
6. I wish I had been able to stay for a full year.
Due to finances, I was only able to go for a semester. I was able to learn the most I possibly could about the Russian language in a semester. Had I been able to stay a year, I know my knowledge and language skills would have continued to grow exponentially. I love spending extended periods of time in a country and Russia was no different. It seemed like just as I was getting the hang of being immersed in Russian every day, making great friends, and living life, I had to come back to the United States.