St. Petersburg, Russia - unpredictable, impressive, cultural, friendly, contrasting
Landing in a far flung country like Russia for the first time is incredibly daunting to say the least! After the initial panic on the first evening (cue tearful calls home and feeling very alone), a friend and I decided to use the time we had until university started to explore and get to know the city. It’s great to arrive a few days before, just to get to grips with the layout of the town and check out a few hotspots! This initial venturing proved truly invaluable as we were then treated as the experts of St. Petersburg – having read the guidebook cover to cover also didn't hurt! I had an amazing four months in the end and met a brilliant group of people with whom I shared many cultural experiences, bizarre treks trough the Russian wilderness (I still swear I saw a bear) and many, many laughs at the vast array of mullets on display.
Useful local words: 'тема', 'Класс', 'оцтой'.
What not to pack: Thermals (a good coat is all you need for outside!), HIV test certificate (you can get one done here, cheaper and certified by Russian bureaucracy), a hot water bottle.
What to pack: A warm coat (not necessarily fur!), a hat (or many, to vary), DVDs, a laptop (most houses don’t have internet and barely any uni computers...).
Couldn't have done without: Skype and an affinity for mullets.
Word of advice: The prices in most museums and other attractions are different for Russian residents and foreigners. Use your Russian student card as often as possible, for considerable discounts. You should go to a ballet at the Marrinsky—not to be missed and the perfect treat for parents and visiting friends!
Alice Genge, French, Russian and Arabic, Durham University