Why Russia?

Preparing for a semester in St. Petersburg

Amanda Quinn

Foreign Correspondent

Quinn1@umbc.edu

Summary:As my study abroad departure date to St. Petersburg approaches, preparations include obtaining a visa, finding the proper clothing for the Russian winter and preparing to live with a Russian family.

Like many college students across the country, I have chosen to pursue a semester of my education abroad. On September 4, I will leave for four months to study in St. Petersburg, Russia.

As Russia and Vladimir Putin have remained on the front page of the news, family, friends and co-workers have had a variety of reactions to my choice of location for the fall semester. Despite Russia’s precarious relations with most of the Western world, those conflicts are far from where I will be studying at St. Petersburg State University. Several participants of the program have already been in various parts of Russia for the summer and have reported that their day-to-day life has not been affected.

Still, I am often met with the question “why Russia?” My response to this is two-fold. As a Global Studies major, I am required to study abroad. I also took Russian courses each semester of my first two years at UMBC and eventually decided to pick up a minor in Modern Languages and Linguistics.

Many people say that in order to really learn a language, it is best to study it in its country of origin. During my time in St. Petersburg, I hope to improve my skills in the Russian language. The program I am studying through, CIEE, consists of a rigorous language program and cultural immersion through travel.

The courses offered include Russian grammar, phonetics and conversation. In addition to language classes, I will be taking two electives about Russian culture and politics, both of which are taught in Russian.

Over the past few months, there are various steps I have taken to prepare for my journey abroad. The first essential step was securing a student visa. CIEE uses a company called Travisa, which double-checks all the documents and verifies that the application arrives at the Russian embassy, ensuring that the process went smoothly and was completed in a timely manner.

The next crucial step was preparing for the weather. Russia is known for its brutal winters. However, unlike Moscow, St. Petersburg does not experience a large amount of snow in the winter. And by Russian standards, the city does not get extremely cold in the depths of winter, rarely dropping below -15 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is still much colder than even the harshest Maryland winters. The city can also be extremely humid and receive a large amount of rain. These weather conditions make it essential for me to find a warm winter coat and waterproof boots.

During my semester at St. Petersburg, I will be living with a host family. Our program coordinator reminded us that it is customary to bring our host family a gift. The gift can be something simple and should represent the region that I am from, such as a calendar or book of pictures.

Now on to the next phase of preparations: reviewing my old Russian textbooks and making the final travel arrangements for my journey abroad.