Where can you see the oldest periodic table of the elements?  What sculpture in the courtyard of the Faculty of Philology should you pet if you want to do well on your exams?  How can you get a taste of Russian culture?  Exchange students found out the answers to these questions during Welcome Week.

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For those who take part in academic mobility programmes, there are special events at the beginning of every semester.  They help foreigners adapt more quickly to life in St Petersburg and to learn more about the University.  These events include not only the traditional sightseeing tours around the city and Speed Friending, but also a quest at the Twelve Collegia Building and a gastronomic evening. 

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This year, 549 students from 40 countries have come to study at St Petersburg University for the autumn semester.

Participants in the quest form teams, and then they go from station to station with a map of the campus and complete tasks.  During the course of the game this autumn, the international students were told the story behind Tonya the Hippo, a sculpture in the courtyard of the Faculty of Philology.  As the organisers of the quest explained, legend has it that once upon a time hippopotamuses could be found in the marshlands and tributaries of the Neva.  One of them – Tonya – saved two lovers who had thrown themselves into the river because their parents were against their marriage.  The young man grabbed hold of the hippopotamus’s left ear and the young girl, the right one, and so, thanks to this magnificent beast, they survived.  Some students at the University believe that if they touch the hippo’s back, they are bound to ace their final exams, and if they rub her ears, that is a sure-fire way to find their true love.  The exchange students did not hesitate to give the sculpture a rub on the back.

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Students from all over the world have become a part of the tightly knit family of those who study at the University, and they come from such countries as Austria, Albania, Belgium, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, China, Mexico, Norway, the United States, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Estonia and Japan, among others.

In front of the Rector’s Wing, the foreign students were told which writers from the Silver Age had been associated with the University and, in addition, they were informed that the Russian poet Alexander Blok, who graduated from St Petersburg University, had been born within the walls of this building.  While they were near the Dmitri Mendeleev Museum Archive, the students heard about the great chemist’s work as a professor here and were told that St Petersburg University houses the oldest known periodic table of the elements, which is kept in the Grand Chemistry Lecture Hall.  It dates back to 1876 and was made at the behest of Mendeleev himself. 

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Welcome Week is organised jointly by the University’s International Academic Cooperation Department and the ESN student organisation at St Petersburg University, formerly known as the Student Union.  Less than a year ago, this association joined the Erasmus Student Network, the largest international student organisation, with representation in 40 European countries.

Mariia Patrikeeva, the president of the St Petersburg University chapter of ESN, is convinced that, for foreigners, the quest is important not only because it gives them a chance to familiarise themselves with the University but also to display their intellect and creativity.  “For example, several participants in the quest were able to guess the exact name of the sculptural ensemble “In the Garden of Gethsemane”, which was quite a challenge.” 

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As a rule, however, the most impressive and memorable event during Welcome Week is the evening of international cuisine, to which each of the participants contributes just a little taste of their country’s culinary traditions.  This year, the exchange students regaled each other with Norwegian Rice Pudding with Almonds, French-Style Vegetable Ragout, Finnish Liquorice Sweets and German-Style Baked Potatoes.  Russian cuisine was also given a place in the sun:  local students wowed their foreign counterparts with Dressed Herring, Olivier Salad, blini, kvass and Russian soft drinks (Baikal and Tarhun).  In keeping with the tradition of these evenings of international cuisine, there was a cooking contest in which fifteen teams took part, one from each country.  The winners were the students from Germany, whose dish was deemed to be the best by acclamation.

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Welcome Week is beneficial not only to foreign students but also to Russian students who volunteer to work as organisers.  Valeriia Bogachova confided it was her future career in international relations that prompted her to take part in the buddy programme.  “I don’t know yet who I want to be, but I assume that I will be working with foreigners, so I decided to get a head start.”  Valeriia is sure that it is a good idea to have friends all over the world.  “Even if you fall out of touch at some point, you still know that you have a friend in another country, and if you go there, you’re bound to get together for at least one evening.”

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