The Mole Diaries: Petrozavodsk

Statue of a rooster in Petrozavodsk. by Mikhail Kryshen

This article was written by Eilidh Oliver, published on 19th September 2012 and has been read 3176 times.

Eilidh is a third year student from The University of Edinburgh studying Single Honours Russian Studies, and she is splitting her year abroad between Petrozavodsk and St. Petersburg. Here she gives us a frank look at her initial introduction to Petrozavodsk and a few of the cultural differences she's experiencing, alongside some top tips. We look forward to seeing how she settles in...
I chose Petrozavodsk mainly because I knew it would be cheaper to live in and nobody I knew was going there. I hoped that would mean I would speak more Russian. I then chose St.Petersburg because everybody I know who's been to Russia or is Russian loves it. It's also pretty convenient for people to visit, particularly compared to Petrozavodsk. My first impressions of Russia were that it rains lots and the toilets aren't always very nice. I recommend having some tissues on you just in case.

Arriving in Russia

First, there was passport control. Don't look at the passport officer and be prepared for questioning if you are any shade darker than white. Then, there was baggage reclaim. Don't be surprised if they've lost your luggage, apparently it happens a lot. Keep a copy of the university address in Russia in case you have to fill in forms. It's also worth having basics such as underwear, phone chargers etc. in your hand luggage, just in case.

If you're going to Petrozavodsk, it is fairly likely that the journey will take longer than expected. Take advantage of chances to buy food and go to the toilet. We ended up standing by the side of a road, in the middle of the forest, for an hour, in the middle of the night. Welcome to Russia! We arrived a full 12 hours after landing in Russia. Luckily, lessons for the next day were cancelled.

What to pack

A waterproof jacket. It will rain and it will also be a while before a proper winter jacket is needed. Jackets here are pretty expensive, so it's best to bring one.
A laptop. Even if you don't have internet access where you're staying, wifi is available everywhere but I've not come across a single internet cafe or computer lab.
Plenty of underwear. You can buy any amount of fancy underwear here but it's expensive and there is no such thing as Primark or Marks and Spencer's basics here.
A smallish dictionary for classes and when you're trying to communicate with your host. One of those pocket ones, which would never fit in anybody's pocket, is about right. Anything smaller will be too basic for classes.

Top tips for settling in

People will stare at you, you do get used to it but it's worth trying to blend in. Most obviously, don't talk too loudly in the street. This particularly applies at night. In fact, it's best to either talk Russian or stay silent if you're walking late at night. If there's a crossing, wait for the green man. If not, cross. The cars will stop. Don't tip. And try to have the correct change. If you don't, just firmly say нет and they shouldn't look at you like you're an alien. Girls here wear skirts or skinny jeans and high heels, but remember that you'll need something easy to walk in because the streets are terrible. Don't smile in the street. Put on the grumpiest face you can summon and that should be about right. When answering да or нет don't add спасибо or пожалуйста. Apparently these aren't necessary and make you sound foreign. Don't be offended if people seem rude or push past you, this is completely normal. Once you get your student card, take it everywhere you go. You never know when you'll be able to use it to get in somewhere for free. If your host offers you food, accept. If you don't like it, just say so but it's polite to at least try it. And finally, don’t drink the water unless you’ve boiled it first.
Read Eilidh's article 'A week in the life of a Petrozavodsk student.'

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