Back in July I was lucky enough to go on a week-long trip to Russia to attend the Island.22 higher education conference in Moscow, spending half of the trip in Moscow and the other half in St Petersburg. In both cities I met and chatted with a diverse range of international students, some coming from locations as close to home as Ukraine while others hailed from much further away, like Nigeria or the US. But why did they choose to study in Russia, and what advice would they give to international students considering it? Read on to find out what they had to say on their experiences.
Why study in Russia?
So first things first, why Russia above any other study destination? What does Russia have to offer that other locations don’t? A big attraction that we heard from several students was the diversity of the country. For example, Osei Richard, from Ghana, is studying a bachelor’s degree in commerce in Russian at Plekhanov Russian University of Economics in Moscow and told us: “I wanted to meet new people, it’s a new experience and new culture. For 18 years I’d been used to life in my country, and it was already getting boring so I just wanted to try something new. I really liked the Russian culture, and Russians seem to be nice people. The education is one of the best for me as well.” Meanwhile, Fatima, who’s from Lebanon and is studying a master’s degree at St Petersburg Mining University, says “I think coming to Russia is really worth it because you get to know new people, new cultures, so many different ethnicities in Russia.”
Nawar, from Syria, who’s studying a PhD at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) says he was attracted to the extra resources and investment into scientific research in Russia, commenting “I decided to go abroad to have better chances. I chose Russia in particular because it has more chances for students like me, and because life in general is cheaper in Russia, when you compare it to Europe or America. And they also give away scholarships to international students, so I can study here for free.”
How affordable is it?
We heard very mixed opinions on how affordable it is to study in Russia, with Osei Richard, from Ghana saying he finds Moscow very expensive, whereas in St Petersburg, Sarah and Mathias from the US said they find Russia very affordable. Himanshu, from India, who’s studying a PhD at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) said: “The only problem is with the housing, especially in Moscow is very costly. But the university provides dormitories for a very cheap price, which is fantastic.” Himanshu and fellow PhD student Sanjeev told me about how their PhD program is fully funded, and “We have a stipend of 9,000 rubles from the government for PhD students. It’s not a high amount, but with that much we can at least pay for our accommodation and some food.” Meanwhile, Donghee, from South Korea, who’s studying at St Petersburg Mining University, says “Russia is very cheap compared to other countries, I think you can get by in St Petersburg with about US$300 to 350 a month.”
And Mathias, who’s studying a summer school program at the Saint Petersburg State University of Economics, told us he loves how affordable it is to go on a trip to the ballet or opera in St Petersburg: “The costs compared to what you’d have to pay for that kind of quality of art in the US is dramatically less, so we love the access to that here.”
To make studying in Russia even more affordable, students can take advantage of benefits like an unlimited monthly metro card for just 395 rubles in Moscow (about US$6), and can show their student ID card at shops, services and tourist attractions for discounts and promotions.
Is there a language barrier?
If languages aren’t your forte and you’d prefer to study in Russia in English, the good news is there are plenty of universities now offering English-taught courses, which are mainly found at postgraduate level.
But if you do study in English, how easy is it to get by in Russia with little to no knowledge of Russian? Nawar told us: “When I came here I couldn’t speak Russian, and I didn’t meet many people who spoke English, but people were very helpful, they tried to help me in every step in my first days, they are generous and very helpful”, and Himanshu, from India, told us “After six months I knew the basics to communicate with people, like how to ask for directions, so for normal life that’s sufficient.
Study differences to get used to
As well as settling in with daily life in Russia and encountering any cultural differences, it’s also worth bearing in mind that the teaching and assessment methods used at universities in Russia may be somewhat different to what you’re used to back home. For instance, Romane, from France, who’s studying a master’s degree in advanced metallic materials at National University of Science and Technology MISiS in Moscow, told us: “The teachers gave us the questions before the exams, which was really strange to me because in France this would never happen. It meant that the classes here are a lot easier than back in France, I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing.”
Meanwhile Sarah, from the US, who like Mathias was studying a summer school program at Saint Petersburg State University of Economics, told us: “Back home the classes are like 50 minutes’ long, maybe an hour and 15 max, and so the amount of contact you get with professors each week is so much less than here, so it’s much more immersive. So I’ve enjoyed that, even though it’s kind of draining and kind of an adjustment.”
What to know before you go
So, looking back on their experiences, what other pieces of advice would the international students we interviewed like to offer?
“Take an umbrella” Sarah laughs. “And be willing to try new things, sometimes when you order at a counter and try and order in Russian people will switch to English to help you out, but if you can power through and continue to use Russian then that’s how you’ll get better.”
Nawar says: “I would advise students to try studying in Russia, it’s now very different and it’s getting better and better. It’s a new experience, and the Russian culture is very attractive.”
And finally, Fatima advises “If you come here you should be very responsible and strong because you will be alone, and this will be hard at first until you get used to it. Also, bring warm clothes, because it’s really cold here!”