Sasha Kirkham and David Moor are the students of Manchester University who are now studying Russian at St Petersburg University, department of Political Science as exchange students. Sasha and David shared with us their experience of mastering Russian grammar, finding vegetarian cafes and exploring the city where “you can never get bored”.

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  • Why did you decide to study Russian?

David: I’ve always been fascinated by Russia from a very young age. It started when my dad bought me my first map. I looked at Russia and thought “I like that one: it’s the biggest one on there, must be the best”. Then, when I saw the Cyrillic alphabet, I thought it was much more interesting than ours.

Sasha: My mum and half of my family is Russian. I’ve always had a pretty good grasp of understanding Russian, but I wasn’t good at speaking it. So, I wanted to get more in touch with half of me. Also, as much as I dislike grammar, Russian grammar makes a lot of sense, it is very scientific. I think Russian books are great, I’m reading “Master and Margarita” for the third time.

David:  I have one book in Russian. It’s “We” by Yevgeny  Zamyatin. It’s very difficult to read, I bought it about a year ago and I’ve read only two pages so far.

  • Can you tell a bit about your study program?

Sasha: I really love it! We have courses in Conversation, Vocabulary, Media, Analytical Reading, History.

David: History is great! The teacher is really nice. Before the courses began, we took a test on our level of Russian knowledge and got split into 4 groups according to it. Group one is for people who speak the language almost fluently, and group four is made for Beginners. Every class is taught completely in Russian and, most of the time, you have lectures with your group.

Sasha: I actually really enjoy the fact that the education is completely in Russian, it is more challenging that way. We dedicate a lot of time to studying but it’s interesting. I also receive a lot of homework, the amount is bigger than in England, but we get Fridays off for activities. And also I feel like we both have already learned a lot, especially the confidence in speaking to people has grown greatly.

David: Some classes are quite easy, some are more difficult – it’s a good balance. Media class, for example, was challenging, we once got a surprise test on geo-physical weapons. And we have to talk about complex subjects like “robotics” sometimes.

  • Do you see any difference between the style of teaching in England and in Russia?

Sasha: Here we don’t have that many lectures, the format of teaching is class-like and we get to participate a lot. If you have questions, you can ask them straight away. In England there are more 100-people lectures where you would just sit, listen and take notes, while here it is way more interactive.

David: I don’t think the teachers are more formal here, they are actually pretty similar. We can joke in class and call everyone by their first names.

  • When you were settling in, did the university provide any help and support?

Sasha: Yes! We are always in touch with our coordinator, who has everyone’s numbers. If you have any kind of issue, you can just text her and she replies within a minute.

  • When you were planning your exchange in Russia, you could choose which city to go to. Are there any reasons why you decided to come to St Petersburg?

David: I wanted to go somewhere that was a main city, so either Moscow or St Petersburg. I’ve already been to Moscow previously and wanted to see something new. I also heard that St Petersburg is the cultural center of Russia and that it is a lot prettier than Moscow.

Sasha: I’ve been here a couple of times before and I loved it so-so much! Also, I think for a lot of people who have never been to Russia, coming to St Petersburg could be a good idea because it’s like dipping your toe into the country. It’s not a massive shock like Moscow could be, but rather an easier way into Russian standards.

  • Were there any things about Russia that seemed different compared to England?

David: It’s a lot cheaper here than in England. Also, public transport is amazing. It makes me think about London underground, it has no right to be that bad. Here you pay just 40 rubles to go anywhere from one side of the city to the other.

Sasha: Accommodation is much cheaper. I love the architecture here, I love the canals, it’s quite Western looking. Also, I find that a sense of community is better here, for example, cafes and restaurants are a lot more accommodating, while in England they are a bit colder.

  • Could you tell more about your experience in the city? How do you spend your free time, which places do you like?

David: I think it’s a very pretty city in general, I really like the colors. We go for food a lot.

Sasha: There are a lot of vegetarian options, there is falafel everywhere, and Galeria has just opened up a new food court with loads of veggie choices.

David: And we’ve done some cultural things. Like the Hermitage, which was very beautiful, we went to the contemporary art museum – Erarta, also the Summer Garden. And we’ve been to some really cool places like ETAGI Loft project, Golitsyn loft, Ziferblat, etc.

  • What do you think of the atmosphere in St Petersburg?

Sasha: I think people are very nice, on the whole. There are so many cultural and historical things to do constantly, you can never get bored here.

David: I like how everyone keeps to themselves, people do their thing and everyone around isn’t judging them for it. But when you talk to them, they are always very friendly, open to have a chat. More so on the nights out.

Sasha: That’s another thing, clubbing in St Petersburg is a lot of fun. There are a lot of really cool bars. 

  • Any advice for people coming here?

David: Don’t listen too much to what people are saying about Russia, because there is a lot of misinformation. And try to live on the right side of the bridge:)

Sasha: I think the main one is don’t be too scared about coming here, it’s a lot easier than you would expect.