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From Singapore to Russia: My Summer School Experience

From Singapore to Russia: My Summer School Experience main image

Jiashin Ling (pictured in the center above) currently studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, specializing in ecology. She recently took advantage of the opportunity to travel to Russia and study at Tomsk State University’s summer school, allowing her to experience a new country and broaden her academic knowledge of ecology and environmental science.

We asked her to share some of her favorite experiences from her time in Russia and explain more about what the summer school program involves.

What attracted you to the summer school program at Tomsk State University?

As someone from a country with a tropical climate, being able to go to the glaciers was a very intriguing and luring idea. The climate, ecology and animals in Russia are very different from what we can see in the tropics and, while my school brings us on field trips to different countries to study, they are mainly in the tropics so we don’t get to learn about temperate zones.

When I heard about the summer school program, I was really excited to visit Russia and see and set foot on the glaciers myself, as well as to learn about the ecology in this area - which carries its own uniqueness and beauty.

Why were you interested in studying in Russia?

The mere idea of going to Russia was exhilarating. It carries so much history and culture that I was really excited to see the country for myself.

Having read about Russia during my studies of international history, I was really interested to see Russia with my own eyes and to build my own impression of the nation by experiencing the place.

What expectations did you have about studying in such an unusual part of the world? What were your first impressions when you arrived?

One thing I expected was that the weather would be really cold since we were heading to the glaciers...but really it was summer weather, and sometimes just as hot as being in Singapore.

Another thing I expected was to be wowed by the differences in culture and environment. Russia was very different from Singapore - there were fewer tall buildings and you could tell the culture of the country from the buildings alone. I really loved being on the streets in Russia, because it was so spacious and you could see the skies clearly. It was also a lot less busy than being in Singapore, which was so different and calming for the mind.

Another expectation I had was the food. Many friends warned me the food in Russia would be very different from what we have in Singapore and that I might not be used to it. However, I really liked the food in Russia, especially kasha (grains cooked in water or milk, like porridge).

The food they prepared for us in Aktru was so homely and comforting that it really made you feel at home!

What was the summer school experience like, both academically and socially? What were your fellow students like?

Academically, the summer school content was very new and more difficult than what we usually learn in Singapore - probably because most of the participants were at graduate level and above. As undergraduates, it was a bit overwhelming at the start, but they were all very open in sharing and teaching us concepts we didn't understand.

Even though it could be difficult at times, I really enjoyed what we were able to learn in the summer school. Socially, I met so many people from different cultures and backgrounds, and it was such a pleasant experience to be able to meet these people. It was such an enriching experience to learn about what they do academically, as well as the culture they come from.

Everyone was so nice, accommodating, helpful and open to share, which made the entire experience in Aktru even better.

What were the most interesting elements of your experience?

I think the most interesting element of my experience was climbing up to the glacier. It was very different from anything else I’ve done in my life, even though I’ve climbed up mountains and volcanoes before. I wasn't very used to climbing on icy terrain, but my fellow students were so helpful in teaching me how to walk and climb. It was an interesting experience that I'll remember for my whole life.

Another thing is that it was very amazing to see how the ecology of the place gradually changes as we climbed to higher elevations. Even though we did learn about the ecological succession in the area, it was completely different to see it with our own eyes. 

One more really interesting element was the banya experience. Even though I had tried onsen in Japan, where everyone shares the same bathroom, banya is so different because it was a sauna and a shower at the same time. I was so shocked and amazed at how there is a culture to jump into the freezing pool after being in the banya. Despite hearing about this before, seeing it with my own eyes was completely different!

What advice would you give to anyone participating in the summer school program at Tomsk State University in the future?

My advice would be to have an open mind and to socialize. Ask questions and talk to people! There's so much you can learn throughout the duration of the program, and you will only be able to learn more by talking to people.

Russia is a place that has a unique culture, so don't shy away from it just because it’s different from what you’re used to. Step out of your comfort zone and treasure every moment you get to spend in this place.

Finally, when they say it will be summer, it really will be, so bring clothes that can withstand very cold situations in the glacier and also clothes that are suitable for warm weather.

You will definitely not regret applying for this summer school program!

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Written by Craig OCallaghan
As editor of TopUniversities.com, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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