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Studying in Russia: Five Lessons

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Guest post: Océane Van-Hoorebeke

After spending six months studying in Russia, the time has come to share something of what I’ve learned. As part of a double degree with my French university, I spent some time studying in the city of Tomsk in the middle of Siberia. Here are my five top lessons to help other international students get the most out of studying abroad in Russia...

Lesson 1: Getting a visa for Russia (aka ‘the Holy Grail’)

The formalities to get a visa for Russia are not simple. After being accepted to study at a Russian university (in a double degree/exchange program this is easier), you will receive your invitation to apply for the coveted visa…

However there are some conditions. You need to provide a completed application form, photo ID, a valid passport, a negative HIV certificate and an insurance certificate recognized by the Russian Consulate. After some visits to the consulate and a little waiting time, that’s it – you should receive your visa for Russia and you can get ready to enjoy your trip!

Lesson 2: Remember, good things come to those who wait

You may feel that your program of study is vague and the organization of your time studying in Russia is not clear ... and maybe this is not only an impression! In my experience, "at the last minute" seems the appropriate term to describe the Russian style in terms of organization. It can be a little stressful when you are not accustomed to this, but remember that in this great country, you only have to wait a while and something amazing will happen. So be patient and relax!

Lesson 3: Dealing with Russian administration (aka ‘the ping pong game’)

Russian excels in ping pong ... administrative ping pong! You go through the first office which sends you with a paper to another office in another building to get it stamped by another government employee in yet another office, who will give you another paper to go back to the first office... Russian administration procedures can take time and sometimes feel similar to an obstacle course. Be prepared, wear good shoes!

Lesson 4: "Я не говорю по русский" (I don’t speak Russian)

The language barrier is a real problem to consider before venturing into Russia and more particularly in Siberia. Even if the new generation speaks better and better English, the older generation to which your teachers will belong are not typically so fluent. Due to the country's history, German or French may be the most commonly used second languages. But in any case, having at least basic Russian will be a great help in everyday life (see Lesson 3 for example), and is likely to ensure you get a warmer welcome in general.

Lesson 5: Get beyond Russian stereotypes

As in every country and national group, there are plenty of clichés and stereotypes about Russia and Russians. To do away with a few Russian stereotypes, I can report that no, there are no bears walking the streets of Siberian; no, the mafia will not try to convert you into a spy; and no, Russian people are not all alcoholics... but yes, it's very cold in winter!

I wish you all the best while studying in Russia!

Océane Van-Hoorebeke has been studying at the National Research Tomsk Polytechnic University as part of her Masters in Technology.

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