A fellow Flyer reviews first month studying in Russia

By: Ian Edgley – Flyer in Russia

Здравствуйте университет Дейтона! (Zdravstvuyte universitet Deytona!) Hello University of Dayton!

This fall semester, I am studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, at the Smolny Institute of Political Science. I have just completed my first month here and could write a short novel detailing the myriad of funny situations in which I have found myself. However, limited by the length of a typical article, I can only share my most interesting observations and experiences.

Russia is undoubtedly different from the United States. Politically, Russians place more emphasis on the collective good over the individual. They are also much more comfortable with an authoritarian system of government than the U.S., provided said government provides stability.

Socially, Russians are much more traditional. Chivalry is alive and well. For example, men are expected to offer their seats to women on a crowded metro. Women rarely pour their own drinks or light their own cigarettes when socializing in a mixed-sex group. Russians in general, but women in particular, are always sharply dressed. Even when just going to the grocery store, Russian women delicately balance on high heels with meticulously applied red lipstick. UD’s typical female class attire of yoga pants, North Face jacket and baseball cap would be met with scorn.

Religiosity is and has been strong in Russia. This is a testament to the religious nature of Russians considering that orthodoxy survived the atheistic regime of the Soviet Union.

I have found Russia to have many wonderful quirks, or at least quirks by American standards. Russians have a wide variety of cherished foods and flavors not easily found in the U.S. Coconut is as common a flavor as hazelnut at coffee shops. Crab- and mushroom-flavored chips are regularly dispensed out of vending machines. Russian food is typically healthier than American food, devoid of GMOs and usually fresh. I’ve opened up my fridge and come eye-to-eye with a stack of freshly caught fish.

The U.S. could take a page from the Russians in public transit. The public transport system in St. Petersburg is unsurpassed by any in the U.S. For just 32 Rubles (20 American cents) I can catch one of the trains that arrive in exactly two-minute intervals and travel to the opposite side of the city. If a metro station is not close, I have a few other options in the form of a bus, street car or peculiar private bus system called Marshrutka.

Yet, there are some things that are slightly irritating, even baffling. It is impossible to find American-style drip coffee. Coffee in Russia is espresso-based. To my American palate, a latte here tastes like re-hydrated powdered coffee mixed with cigarette ash. St. Petersburg also doesn’t have potable tap water, despite the fact that I can connect to the Internet and make phone calls hundreds of feet underground on a metro platform.

Russia, however, gets an undeserved reputation in the United States. Americans envision Russia as a backwards nation, where bears juggling AK-47’s on unicycles is a common sight. Russia is, in fact, a modern country. Russians are also thought of as cold and unfriendly people. Yes, your typical Russian is frank and upfront, but they place great emphasis on hospitality.

Americans envision Russia as a backwards nation, where bears juggling AK-47’s on unicycles is a common sight.

Again, this was evident when I slipped in a sauna at my gym. The puritan modesty found in the U.S. is nonexistent here. Russians do not wear towels or even their underwear when walking in the locker room, showering or enjoying a sauna. After falling, I found myself being forcefully helped up by several helpful but completely naked men all concerned that I hurt myself. The situation was slightly uncomfortable, but I can’t say I disapproved.

I would even say that Russians in St. Petersburg are unusually helpful. This was particularly evident when I got lost on the first day of class. After asking for directions at a bus stop, two people entered into an argument about the best way to direct me.

I’m loving St. Petersburg and plan to buy a little house, called a dacha, here once I have a secure job. I recommend Russia to anyone who wants an experience off the beaten path.