Zoe - Lomonosov Moscow State University

Bachelor of International Studies
Semester 1, 2018
If you’re ever in Russia and you see something strange that you don’t understand, ask the nearest Russian about it. The answer is always the same: ‘this is Russia’. But the only way for you to truly understand what that means, is to go to Russia!

Academic experience

I studied Russian Language through the Faculty of Foreign Languages. We had four classes with around 12 contact hours per week. The classes you took depended on your language level on arrival. We sat a general exam at the start of the semester (written and oral), then we were sorted into groups based on our level. A lot of people moved around after the first week either because the teachers thought they were more/less advanced than the class, or because they were seeking more of a challenge/easier experience. 

There were five groups: Group ! was for students who were basically fluent and worked mainly on Russian culture, literature and advanced grammar. Group 2 was for students who were nearly fluent. Group 3 was for students who were around B2 level, for whom it was assumed that they had been exposed to all the difficult aspects of Russian Language (cases, verbs of motion, aspect, participles, gerunds), and were simply refining their knowledge. Group 4 was for students who had been studying Russian for 1-2 years and likely had not studied participles or gerunds, but were familiar with other aspects of the language and worked to cement this knowledge. Group 5 was for absolute beginners, but the progression was quite fast. By the end of the semester, the Group 5 students were at the level of Group 4 (at the beginning of the course, obviously), so in 3 months they were at the level of 2nd/3rd year international students. 

I was placed in Group 4 which was the perfect place for me. By the end of the semester, I was much more confident in my language skills, especially speaking. We used many useful materials (textbooks, comics, poetry and literature books) which I have brought back with me to Australia and am looking forward to sharing with my Russian class at UQ. 

The biggest challenge for me was that we were not provided with a syllabus. At UQ, you will always have the ECP which will tell you exactly what is expected of you, and also what you can expect from the course. At MSU, we were given a timetable and told to buy a textbook if applicable, and that was it. I like to get ahead in my courses at UQ so it was difficult for me not knowing what to be prepared for. In the end, however, it helped me to focus more on the task at hand, and spend more time reviewing and cementing the material we were working with in each class.

Personal experience

I made many friends while I was in Russia, but the difference is how close we became. I have friends from uni in Australia, but I don’t see them every day, or eat lunch with them, or live with them in a dormitory. I feel like all of us went through enormous changes together while we were on exchange, and we all supported each other and we are better people because of it. 

I made friends not only with international students, but with Russian students as well. One of my friends invited me to his home town where we met his family and visited his uncle at the dacha (summer house). We ate shashlik and sat in the banya all day. That is one of my most treasured memories from Russia. I feel so humbled that my friend even invited me. The friends I made at Moscow State University will be with me for life.


I lived on campus in the dormitory. I would definitely recommend living in the dorms, even though they are quite old. I was lucky to be put into a room with three other girls because they gave us the biggest room in the building, which happened to be on the top floor. We often invited our friends over for parties where we played games and ate sweets together.
We did pay nearly double the amount that other students paid for a double room (with a wall in between so you got your own small room). However, for the whole semester, I only paid $500 AUD for accommodation. 

My favourite part about living in the dorms was the community of people there. Every floor of the building has its own dezhornya - like an administrator who hangs out in the living room. All of our dezhornaya were really cool, and one of them lived in the dorms with her family (husband, three daughters and a baby). We also had a family room with a piano and a big dining table, and a cat named Archie. He would often come into our room to hang out with us. 

We were lucky that we were in Sector E and had that community in our dorm. Some of the other students didn’t have a living room on their floor. My advice to future exchange students would be: if there is a living room on your floor - use it! Do your homework out there and get to know your neighbours. We got heaps of language practice playing cards with other students and the dezhornaya.


It was a lot cheaper than I anticipated. I budgeted $10,000 for the whole trip including flights and travel after the semester finished. I traveled from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian, which took about a month because I stopped at 12 cities and stayed a couple of nights at each. From Vladivostok I flew to Tokyo and spent two weeks there before flying direct to the Gold Coast. I was able to do all that because I only spent around $6,000 during the semester.

Flights were around $1,500 and accommodation ended up being only $500 for the 4 months. Meals at the cafeteria were ridiculously cheap, I spent around $3-$5 per meal with soup, salad, meat/fish, pastry, kompot, and tea. Dining out and drinks were a lot cheaper than Australian prices. They have uber in Moscow. I always caught one home from the city center for less than $5. 

I would recommend to budget a lot for travel during study breaks and at the end of the semester. I missed out on a few trips during the semester because I was worried I wouldn’t have enough money for my Trans-Siberian trip. In the end I had so much left over that I could go to Japan as well.

Professional Development

Of course my Russian language skill increased immensely. There are some things that just can’t be taught in a classroom, that have to be experienced in the real world. There were some situations where my only choice was to use Russian to solve problems, which always turned out to be the greatest learning experience possible. 

Getting used to life in a foreign country is really difficult. I know it’s cliche to say that, but that’s because I don’t know a single person who adapted with absolute ease - there is always a learning curve. But once you get over the hump, it is such a fantastic feeling to be making it on your own in a foreign land. 

I was in contact with vastly different people every day, trying to communicate with them in a language that does not come naturally to me, and trying to navigate the waters of cultural difference. There were many situations which were awkward, and some that were shocking or offensive, but those situations are the ones I learned the most from. I feel more conscious of cultural difference now that I’m here in Australia, and I feel much more able to handle awkward and shocking situations in the future. 

There is one skill that I gained on exchange that really surprised me. Before I left, I was working and studying full-time, which meant I was extremely organised with an incredibly strict schedule. I even scheduled time to relax, which meant I was never able to fully relax. I was never burnt out, but looking back on it, what I was doing was definitely not healthy. Being on exchange helped me stop to smell the roses. I got rid of my schedules (which was really strange at first), I stopped worrying about deadlines and duties, and started really spending quality time with my friends. It was liberating to be able to re-evaluate what’s important to me. I have gotten back to scheduling now that I’m back at work and uni, but I’ve started giving myself nights ‘off’ where I don’t have to do anything in particular, I can go to the river and ride my skateboard with my friends, I can see bands, I can just have fun. It has helped with everything: my mood, sleep, social life, work relationships. It’s something that I never thought of before, and I’m so grateful to have had the experience on exchange.


I saw Anna Karenina at the Bolshoi Theatre for $2 AUD. The process to get that ticket was so ridiculous, it was definitely something that would happen only in Russia. 

They sell 100 student tickets to shows on the same day, but you have to go to the ticket office in the morning to put your name on a list, then come back in the afternoon when they start calling out peoples’ names to come and buy their tickets. Then you come back in the evening to see the show.
My friends and I got up early in the morning to get to the ticket office, of which there are three. We lined up at the first ticket office, but everyone else in the line was old and it turned out they were getting pensioners tickets to a matinee. The attendant told us to go to the other building to buy student tickets. We lined up, but the attendant told us that we have to go to the other building to buy tickets. We didn’t know that there was a third office, so we went back to the first place, and the attendant told us again to go back to the other building. This exercise went on for about half an hour until we decided to give up, and ended up walking past the third office. There was a guy there with a piece of paper, he told us to write down our names next to numbers 8,9 and 10, then come back at 4pm to buy the tickets.

When we got back there at 3:30pm, there was a huge line outside the office. There was maybe 200 people outside. We got in the line, expecting the guy to come out and start calling out names at 4pm. We started asking people what number they were on the list, but nobody around us had even heard of such a list. At 4pm, the crowd just swarms the door to the ticket office. It was like a mosh pit. We grabbed onto each other so we wouldn’t get separated. We were determined to get these cheap tickets, so we just started climbing through the crowd. They were letting in only 5 people at a time because the admissions office was so small. Eventually two of us got inside, but my other friend pulled out because she couldn’t handle it. After securing our tickets, we went home to change.

We got really dressed up, wearing heals and cocktail dresses. Our tickets were in the balcony with the rest of the students. When we got up there, everyone was wearing comfy clothes and sneakers. And there were no seats. The student tickets are standing only. So we checked how long the show was set to go for: 4 hours. It was the longest ballet I’ve ever seen, but it was so worth every struggle we went through to get there. I will never forget that show.

Top tips

Just do it! There is nothing like it, and you will get so much more out of it than you expect. Start saving today and just go!