Nina - St Petersburg University

B Business Management and Arts
Semester 2, 2018
Exchange broadens your horizons, connects you with like-minded people from all over the world, and is a deeply perspective-changing experience.

Academic experience

At GSOM, there is a great range of business and management subjects. I studied subjects such as Technology Innovation Management, International Marketing and Supply Chain Management which I found to be interesting, especially considering we were taught within the context of doing business in Russia. I did a mix of introductory and final year subjects, and it was quite manageable. The classes that were offered to exchange students were all in English which was good, as although my family speaks Russian at home, I could imagine doing all the readings and assessment tasks in Russian would have been a struggle! 

Classes differ very much from UQ as there are no lectures or tutorials. All of my classes were 3 hours long, and were very interactive, taught in a seminar style. It varied from week to week whether we had one or two classes of a subject, what days they were on and at which campus (by public transport the campuses are 2 hours apart), so to attend classes you had to be super organised.

Most teachers loved to give students group work and informal presentations of your discussions to do in class, and although it’s stressful at the beginning, I found it really helps with problem solving and public speaking. Everyone, exchange students included, took study very seriously, as attendance at some of the classes was marked and contributed very heavily towards our final grades.

I found the assessment at GSOM was much less structured than UQ’s, as there was no formal ECP or course profile, or strict requirements for the writing style or assignments. The project outlines were very broad, and almost every piece of assessment was group work, except the final exam.

The timetable scheduling and subject enrolment process was very stressful. Confirmed timetables for the courses that were offered to exchange students were initially available during the introduction week, and were uploaded as PDFs on Google drive (which is quite different to the enrolment process at UQ). Due to timetable clashes and subjects that were approved on my UQ study plan but were no longer offered, I had to resubmit my study plan for approval a week before classes started. It was quite stressful but both the staff at UQ and GSOM were very accommodating, and it was all sorted in a few days.

Personal experience

As my family is Russian, I didn’t have much of a problem communicating or adapting to the culture, although my reading and writing skills improved immensely. The large majority of exchange students were from Europe, so socialising and getting to know people with different lifestyles and values was so interesting. Now I am even more interested in other cultures and language learning. Exchange at GSOM has given me an international network of people that I can connect with and will stay close friends with, even on the other side of the world. You don’t forget people that you bonded with over daily 2 hour commutes and social evenings together in cosy dorm rooms!

Accommodation

I didn’t know until my acceptance that Master students are offered dorms in the city of St Petersburg (close to where the Master campus is), and Bachelor students 2 hours away by public transport from the city centre, in Peterhof, closer to the Bachelor campus (20-30 minutes by bus from the dorms). So honestly, this was quite a shock. Most bachelor exchange students decided to move out within the first week of living in the dorms purely because of the distance issue.

I lived both in the dorms and in an Airbnb in the city during my exchange. In the dorms, I was so very lucky, as the room I was placed in was fully furnished from previous occupants with a kettle, a fridge, dishes and pans, and no one else was registered while I was living there (which meant I had a whole room to myself for the same price). Most of my friends were not as lucky as me, since the rooms only have the basic beds, desks and shelves and are usually fully occupied with 3 people per room. 

Halfway through the semester, a friend and I decided to rent an Airbnb in the city centre to experience the cultural side of St P. We found it was quite easy and cheap to rent out a good Airbnb in the city. The two hour commutes there and back to the bachelor campus were painful, but we were overjoyed that we had a place all to ourselves for a while, and there was no need to share kitchens and bathrooms with a floor of other people.

Costs

In comparison to Australian prices and the cost of living, Russia is very cheap. Dormitory prices in Peterhof were around $90 per month for a place in a room, shared bathroom and kitchen on the floor, as well as laundry machines.

Everything including significant travels to Paris and Moscow, accommodation, food and other expenses totalled to around $7,000 in 7 months abroad in Russia.

Challenge

The biggest challenge for me was a personal one, and it was simply living abroad and being independent, whether it was weekly budgeting, going grocery shopping, or adapting to a new public transport system.

During the first week of exchange, in between meeting so many new people, registering in the dorms and sorting subjects, while still figuring out public transport, it was quite a stressful and confusing period. All the Russian documents you need to sign, photocopies you need to submit and who you need to see for linen is all overwhelming. But in the end, there are always others going through the same confusing situation so you can lean on them and sort it out together. You do get the hang of the Russian way of doing things over time!

Professional Development

During this exchange, it was a necessity that I developed my initiative and independence. It is vital to problem solve when living in a foreign country, and to not get flustered in compromising situations. I have learnt that initiative is essential and is an asset when in a large group of people. Additionally, interacting with so many people from different parts of the world has improved my intercultural understanding and communication, which I believe is an imperative professional attribute to possess.

Highlight

One of the many highlights of the trip was a very spontaneous trip to Moscow. A friend and I were wanting to visit Moscow for a few days, but couldn’t find a window of time between classes that was sufficient enough during the semester. It so happened that one of the weeks, a few classes were cancelled, and so we split second decided we would leave the following day. So, we booked the bus to Moscow, each packed a small backpack, and headed off for 4 days and some intense sightseeing, including the Kremlin, Bunker 42 (highly recommend for Cold War enthusiasts) and the Tretyakov gallery. We returned at 12am the night before classes started again.

Top tips

Embrace the Russian way of living. The dorms, trains and metros are so Soviet chic it's almost disorienting, it’s like you step back in time.

Take advantage of your Russian university student card - there are discounts for tickets and purchases almost everywhere.

Go to performances, ballets and plays. World class performances on historic stages for as little as $15 AUD on theatre balconies is worth it.

If you live in the bachelor dorms and have nothing planned for the day, grab a few friends and head to the hidden gem in Stary Peterhof, Park Sergievka. It’s quite a walk, but in winter, it is absolutely magical.