5 not-so-obvious reasons to go to the largest country in the world to study, and stay a while longer
They come to Russia to study, for reasons of nostalgia, to stay with their relatives, or in search of good education at a reasonable price. However, prospective students don’t usually anticipate that they will earn their diploma while enjoying the fantastic experience of living in a country of “hot” winters, deep friendships, wise grandmothers, and a luxurious metro system.
Winter is always coming…
…but there is no reason to despair. Actually, Russians would love winter, were it not so long. In November or December, when the first snow falls, it’s as if you become a character in a grand holiday show – everyone around you cheers up at the autumn mud giving way to beautiful white powder, and the New Year – one of the main and most joyous Russian holidays – is just around the corner. Ornaments, decorations and bright lights begin to transform the streets almost a month before New Year’s Eve, and the holiday celebration itself lasts a whole week as the entire country changes its focus to gathering often with family and friends.
In contrast to Europe, central heating keeps Russian homes toasty. You might find a visit to your grandmother’s place feels like spending time in a sauna, with an open window being the only thing saving the old lady from a heat stroke, despite the -20 degree temperature outside.
The outdoors also offers plenty of winter entertainment, such as skiing, skating or sledding. Many Russian towns, in particular those known as the Golden Ring, turn incredibly beautiful in winter. And no less glorious are the snow-covered Russian forests. When you have some free time – such as the long New Year holiday – travel to frozen Lake Baikal and have a stroll – or better yet a slide – on an endless icy plane. Wow!
Find your people
It’s hard to believe when coming to study in Russia that such a chilling – ugh! – climate can be home to such warm and heartfelt people. Curiously enough, this is exactly the case. Rest assured, no one will smile at you in the street for no reason. A walk outside, especially if taken in gloomy November, might make you think the people around you suffer from acute clinical depression. Enter into a store to buy a bottle of water or a soda, and a clerk will look at you as if you are an archenemy and your mere presence is a disturbance. But this icy outer crust of grumpiness thaws quickly, as soon as you buddy up with some Russians (drinking together is not necessary, however if your goal is a global warming of relationship, then a drinking glass will speed up the thaw time).
Foreigners often believe Russians do not like other people. Nonsense! They are just not used to showing affection to everyone who crosses their path. For a Russian, the world is divided into “us” and “them”, but not on the basis of nationality, rather on the basis of acquaintance. As soon as you take a leap of faith into the “us” category, the Russian mentality will open up its warm and incredibly friendly interior to you. You can expect warm welcomes, a seat at abundant and elaborate dinner tables, discussions that last until the early morning and heartfelt sharing of personal experiences. In Russia, a good host is one who welcomes a guest with homemade food and comfort. You would be hard pressed to find more sincere and cordial friends anywhere else in the world.
Having a chat with Russian grandmothers will boost your wisdom for many years to come – after all, they are savvy both in cooking borsch and economic recovery. Plus, you can always go to them for the latest gossip about popular culture.
Like the culture, the local cuisine has been shaped by cold winters. Food should warm you up! Russians are fond of meat and all sorts of pickled products (remember that episode of “Rick and Morty” when Rick turned himself into a pickle and had the Russian mafia call him Pickle Rick? There you go). Pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic and pepper, soaked apples and pears, are all stored for the winter. A housewife raised in the USSR will store a variety of fruits and vegetables in glass jars on her balcony, ready to serve them when the time comes to share food over true stories and heated arguments about global affairs.
Sliced bread with butter and caviar, or jellied meat, is a popular treat. Buckwheat, an exotic cereal in many countries, is consumed on a daily basis. Russians love mushrooming and making dried-fruit drinks – all of the above characteristic of life in a Russian “Dacha,” or country house. In fact, the country houses of the residents of Moscow and Saint Petersburg are their own worlds to escape to during the summer. You have a good chance of being taken along, too. Quite often, Russians grow their own fruits and vegetables there and, even when the harvest is slim, they would be proud to give you a cucumber grown with their own hands, hoping you will truly enjoy it.
The country of peoples
Good news: racism is practically unheard of in Russia. A Russian might become irritated if you intrude on their personal space or act obtrusively, but any foreigner who respects the hosts and local lifestyle will receive more than their fair share of hospitality.
Though Russian is the only official language, Russia is home to as many as 27 official regional dialects and about two hundred nationalities. Today, it is more and more common for foreigners to come to Russia to study or work. Russians have become accustomed to living side by side with various ethnic groups. The USSR even had a strong ideological value – the friendship of peoples – which is still held by many and can cause the older generation to shed a nostalgic tear.
The Russian higher education system welcomes international students as much as any other country, including the youth from the former Soviet republics, Asia, and even the U.S., who come over to study as doctors, engineers, agricultural or oil production experts, or even fashion photographers. And if you would like to do business with China, Central or Middle Asia, studying in Russia can give you a head start. Russia is a major economic partner for neighbouring countries, which has led to the development of specialized international business programmes. For example, this November the Russian business school SKOLKOVO and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) will launch the joint programme EMBA for Eurasia, designed for business developers in Eurasia and China. Leading professors from all over the globe – Kazakhstan to Switzerland – will serve as mentors, and the programme will allow students to make practical business contacts with top industry professionals right then and there as you study.
Empires within the Empire
Just as there is a “them” in the context of Russian friendship, Russia has some internal divisions between cultures. The two capital cities – contemporary capital Moscow and former-capital Saint Petersburg – are considered to be empires, in their own right, within the empire of Russia. “Peter,” as Russians often refer to it, is arguably an enormous open-air objet d’art – the architecture is completely European and home to a mind-blowing number of museums that will make your head spin. The Hermitage, alone, would take a lifetime to fully explore! Luckily, a wide variety of unusual cafes and restaurants will give you sustenance on this never-ending exploration. If you live and study in Saint Petersburg, you’re likely to visit your friends in the former residences of the aristocracy with high ceilings and stucco molding. The friends themselves will almost certainly be art connoisseurs and able to arrange a rooftop tour of the city.
The largess of Moscow is made easily navigable by a uniquely magnificent and practical metro. The metro feels more like an underground residence for Soviet elites than a means of transportation. Statues, mosaics, stucco, and now even coffee shops and secret bathrooms, are characteristic of the Moscow metro! For a while, Dmitry Glukhovsky’s “Metro 2033” became popular in Russia. His novel is about Muscovites creating micro-states in the metro system after surviving a nuclear attack. Not bad for a survival idea, huh?
To sum it up, going to Russia to study will teach you a lot in the school of life – you will learn to enjoy extremes, such as cold yet postcard-perfect winters, and the art of turning a surly companion into one’s best friend. After all, as they say in Russia, “don’t judge by clothes.”
This post was guest-written by Daria Lavrentieva, Communications manager at EMBA for Eurasia program by SKOLKOVO Business School & HKUST