Exchange period: September 2016 - January 2017.
This is the first time I have ever written a blog… So, I hope you will enjoy it.
This blog will be written from the perspective of double nationality where visa is absent and who speaks Russian as a mother tongue.
PRE-ARRIVAL: BUDDY PROGRAM AND DORM CHANGES
I do recommend you register for the Buddy Program. The purpose of this program is to help the exchange students to arrive to St. Petersburg (SPB), to get around the city and to solve some urgent bureaucratic issues, e.g. visa, sim-card, Russian language exam, and you will have your first Russian friend in SPB.
My personal experience with this program was not the best one. I had not heard any word from my buddy just prior my leave that I would be moved to another dormitory address. Luckily, at last minute I also got a contact of a person who was willing to help when arriving to St Petersburg.
ARRIVAL TO ST. PETERSBURG
I and other students from Helsinki University, who were chosen for the exchange to St Petersburg State University (SPBU), arrived to Finlyandsky Railway Station by Allegro train from Helsinki. The train trip took about 3.5hours, was very easy and requires no extra hassle.
Due to the unclearness of the buddy program, the arrival to the train station in St Petersburg (SPB) was also a puzzle. We students from Helsinki University literally stood 5-10min at the platform looking for our contact/buddy person. Finally we decided to move outside of the platform/transit area where we also met our contact/buddy persons. Most of us were able to get a buddy at a last minute, except me. Instead of having a buddy, luckily prior my leave I was able to contact a girl, Julia, who was willing to help by meeting me at the train station in SPB.
As I found Julia, instead of taking a taxi to the dorm, we decided to go by public transport. It was easy to get to the dorm by metro; took the red-line from Ploshchad Lenina to Ploshchad Vosstaniya, changed from red-line to green-line, from Mayakovskaya station went to Vasileostrovskaya, and from there we walked to the dorm.
Next, after getting to the dorm, I had to do all the bureaucratic formalities for registering into the dormitory. Unfortunately, they informed that I have to spend one night in another room, but next day they would assign me to my room; because in that room a family was visiting their daughter, so they wanted to spend time together.
After registering to the dorm and leaving my stuff there, Julia showed me a bit around by helping me to get a sim-card, and showed where are the food stores and a book shop. I do recommend that you get ‘unlimited internet sim-card’, because you will be able to share the internet to your devices, as the dorms do not provided or not have free internet.
LIVING IN THE DORMITORY
This year was exceptional in relation to dorms. Usually all exchange st shopsin. Sometimes, hot water would not run, but it would then come back eventually, because of some constructions conducted at the Vasilevskiy Ostrov. Also, the tap water in SPB tends sometimes to stink like chemicals. Eventually, these things would be fixed; we just had to notify our commandant about them.
Some dorm rooms were already equipped and some not, like ours. I do recommend that you take your own plates, etc. stuff with you. Or you can go to 6/7-Liniya, not far from Vasileostrovskaya metro station, there will be a shop called “Всё для дома” (Everything for home) and there you can buy anything and everything for home. Regarding bed sheets, you do not have to worry about them at all. They will be provided by the dorm itself. Just take a towel for shower with you.
'NON-VISA' ISSUES FOR RUSSIAN NATIONALS
Due to double nationality, the visa question was not applicable.
Instead, there was a need to (re-)register the "Inner Passport" (внутренний паспорт) that I live temporarily in SPB, because the Inner Passport contained another address in another city. This can be done in a Registration Office (Паспортный Стол); so you would be registered as any other full-time Russian student who studies at SPBU. This can be done on Line-5 (Address: В.О., 5 Линия, дом 66, кабинет No. 8) [see pic].
The picture contains list of documents that have to be brought for the “Паспортный cтол” for the registration, such as; “Заявление”, which you get from the dormitory; Copy of the agreement living in the dorm, Copy of the Inner Russian passport, and a passport picture.
If you are missing some of these copies you can ask very politely if the dormitory could possibly take a photocopy of these documents. They do not do this normally.
My passport registration took 1.5weeks, but the process can take longer time - up to one month. After you get your Inner Passport back and a registration-paper with it, make sure you carry these documents with you all the time! This applies to other exchange students as well. If police stops you, you need to provide original or authorised by Russian notaries documents, otherwise there can be serious consequences (according to my friend's experience). Just a copy of your documents is not sufficient.
BANK ACCOUNT FOR SCHOLARSHIP
It was easy and literally it took 5min (except queuing): Came to a bank, explained the situation that I came on exchange and that I will be receiving a scholarship from SPBU. The bank worker asked for Russian inner passport and Russian mobile number for their system. Bunch of papers were printed, signed, and the worker explained which ones I need to provide for my host university. After that it was done.
Opening bank account is free. Only thing you have to bear in mind is that you are able to lift money from Sperbank ONLY and ONLY in SPB. No where else! Make sure when leaving SPB you lift all the money from there or come and visit SPB at some point and then get all the money from the account.
Instead of going personally to the university office, you can take a picture of the bank note and send it by e-mail to your coordinator. Make sure you ask your coordinator if they have received your e-mail!
REGISTERING FOR COURSES AND ACCESS TO STUDENT ‘PORTAL’
The Orientation Week (O-week) is the most essential time period when the most bureaucratic things are done. My personal experience was a disastrous one, as our coordinator at the faculty was on vacation.
As a result, our student cards were delayed, thus we could not get the library or transport cards in time, because the actual registration at the university data system is done by assigning you the student card. When you get your student card you will also get your student login information; with it you can log into your Blackboards and Share Point systems. Blackboard you can access from home, but Share Point you can access ONLY from the faculty building itself. Personally I did not end up using these system during my whole exchange period; maybe because of my specific course selection.
Further complication was registration for the courses. It was possible only two weeks after studies have begun. This is done because the host university wants to give you the chance to ‘go and see’ if you like the courses or not, and accordingly you can change them till they will be fixed in the Learning Agreement. Thus, during these two weeks, we were not unable to access any study materials.
This matter could be solved, as my coordinator suggested, by finding in each class (so called) “Старший” or “Старыста” (the oldest). This person is responsible for distributing any information in class and between students. Unfortunately, I did not find one, but luckily one person volunteered to help me.
The worst nightmare was still to come! After finding the list of mandatory and optional reading materials I started to search for them. I tried to buy one mandatory book per class, so that I would not need to worry of not having a copy; because I was not being able to take out any books from library. Unfortunately, in the book shop these books have been sold out and no orders would be coming. However, similar to Amazon.com webpage, there is a webpage Ozon.ru where you can order literature. This page literally saved my life, because in Russia even optional reading material equals to mandatory one in order to pass the assignments.
Before going to see your coordinator I would recommend you give a call to him/her, because I ended up running for nothing many times, especially when it came to signing the Learning Agreement.
STUDENT, LIBRARY AND TRANSPORT CARDS
At my faculty it took really long time before we got out student cards, almost the double time than normally. Make sure you ask your coordinator constantly, because my coordinator promised to inform us by e-mail as they would be ready, but she forgot.
After getting a student card I was able to get the transport card. I ended up visiting two times this office in order to get the transport card, because each time there were issues with my registration at the university. On the third time I finally got the transport card.
The library card issue was also a messy story as well for me. If your exchange is for half year, in that case you will not get a library card. Instead, every time when you need to access the library sources you will need the ‘Temporary Library Card’. Furthermore, you will not be able to take any books from library home. I did not know this until I ran through the whole entire faculty building and found a place where they assigned the cards, and there they informed that I cannot get the card. If your exchange is for one full academic year, in that case you will get a library card and will be able to take book home as well. Otherwise, if your exchange is for half year, not.
STUDIES AT THE UNIVERSITY
When settling down your schedule, just be patient with it. It will take a while. In my case, it took like 1.5months. In addition to my faculty classes I also took Russian language course. So, there were constantly some fixations going on with Russian course during the first month until it got settled. It was a bit nerve wrecking at the start, but when it gets fixed, you will have a great time at exchange!
RUSSIAN LANGUAGE COURSE
As a native speaker, I found the Russian language course was a bit pointless, because it was taught as a foreign language for foreigners and not for native Russian speakers, even though the group I was allocated to was the highest level. So, the focus was distributed on other issues, rather than on those that native speaker might need to.
Seminars are mandatory, in addition to Russian language lectures. They began one month after the normal Russian lectures started. During my exchange, there were 4 different types of seminars you can choose from - syntax, literature, Russian culture, and films.
There is also another option how you could pass the 8 ECTC Russian Language course, which was recommended to me. Instead of attending the Russian Language lectures, you could replace these lectures by taking all seminars, which would then fulfil the 8 ECTC requirement as well. In my case the schedule was an issue, thus I attended the lectures and a seminar.
The other studies at the law faculty were simply put FABULOUS! Teachers are awesome, very professional! The study quality is high as well as are the demands! They are very open-minded and welcome any opinions for the discussion. I really recommend the law faculty!
What is great about Russian teachers is that they are flexible and very understanding. It is possible to agree with the teacher that you would leave the class a bit earlier in order to get in time to another class, because the attendance is mandatory.
I have never studied in Russian language, so it was quite a surprising experience. The teaching method is different. The lectures are held in collaboration with the class dialogue; teacher presents the topic of the day and at some point he/she may initiate a class dialogue on it. The tempo of teaching is quite fast. Luckily, I had a voice recorder, which saved my life!
Unfortunately, I did not have much of a contact with Russian students in most of my courses, except one. In this particular class it took a while to get familiar with other classmates, but after that we became quite a good friends. Russian students are very helpful and open-minded as you get to know them.
Most of my courses’ exams were held prior new year holidays, except one essay that did not have any particular deadline date. At SPBU, instead of taking a course, there is also an option to write an essay - they call it a ‘Term Project’. It is an independent writing work. The deadline is flexible and agreeable with the supervisor that you get at the SPBU. I had few issues with the essay, because of the new year holidays. I was not able to contact my supervisor by e-mail even though we agreed to be in contact. In Russia, which is normal, when the new year holidays hit nothing bureaucratic stuff functions properly. However, some of my friends and most of the exams in Russia are held in January, after the new year holidays.
THE EVERYDAY LIFE AND THE HOLIDAYS
My everyday life mostly circulated around studies as I was completing simultaneously exchange studies and some courses at home university. So, I was constantly traveling between Helsinki and SPB. As autumn shifted closer to winter it became quite a hectic time due to exams and deadline at two different universities. I literally was studying 24/7 at some point, because of this there was little spare time to relax, but occasionally managed to go to karate practices. However, completing two university studies at the same time in different countries is very doable depending on each course structure and how much time you are willing to distribute between the studies and the spare time. After all exams were over I drew very close to SPB; it started to feel like home. I really did not want to leave St. Petersburg!
It was a bit unfortunate that I was not able to travel that much around Russia during the exchange period, as other exchange students did. Instead, I felt like I became assimilated with the SPB’s everyday life by being able to experience the SPB as a local person; by having big study load, almost like a normal full-time Russian student, and by attending karate practices with other local Russians. With this experience I also got some lifelong friends from university and from karate as well.
The holiday celebration in SPB was a wonderful experience! Some of exchange students decided to stay in SPB during the Christmas time (24-25.12.). As Russia does not celebrate the Christmas on those days, thus we exchange students organised our own tiny Christmas celebration in the dorm and continued it later in the town. However, the New Year celebration was a big hit! I do recommend that you experience the Russian New Year celebration, and if possible, in Russian company, because then you will truly experience the Russian spirit and open-heartedness. Just be spontaneous and open-minded, and join the fun activities - dances and singing - at the new year streets in SPB!
My exchange period was only for half year (September 2016 - January 2017). However, the first confusion pops up already here. At the Exchange Student Certificate, which Helsinki University assigned me, the duration of the first half of the academic year ends in the mid-January. However, at the SPBU they will perceive that your exchange will end the last day of January; because in Russia the duration of the first half of the academic year ends there. This I got to know from my coordinator, literally, just 4 days before my leave.
After notifying my coordinator of my leave I had to fill in few bureaucratic documentations, e.g. the Statement of Leave (Заявление об уезде) and the Request for Issuing the Transcript (Заявление о выдачи аттестата), and on the last day to leave the student card to my coordinator. When filling in the Statement of Leave, if by any chance you are leaving before the end of January, you have also to present your one-way ticket. In my case there was no ticket, as I was leaving by car to Estonia for karate competition and from there back to Helsinki, and this has to be stated in the Statement of Leave.
When leaving the dormitory there will also be some bureaucratic procedures. I notified my commandant one week prior my leave and she directed me to the dorm reception where they gave me some kind of paper slip in which I had to collect few signatures and return it afterwards. This signature collection took some time. I also just in case notified the Вахта/Вахтёр (“the door watcher”) of my leave, because on my last day I will no longer have the student card by which I would be able to go through the turnstiles.
I am very grateful for this memorable exchange opportunity at SPBU!
I just wish I could have been able to stay at SPB just a bit longer and to experience the local life even more.
Thanks for reading this blog! I hope it was useful for some of you who is considering the SPBU. I wish the future students who decide to go to SPB will as well have wonderful and enjoyable time there! GOOD LUCK!
EN FIN / THE END