What is it like to be an exchange student in Russia? Victor Théorêt (Québec, Canada) and Clelia Cuzzolin (Italy) shared their experience and explained why Arkhangelsk is a better choice for foreigners than Saint-Petersburg or Moscow, what they would like to bring to Russia from their home countries, and where the most beautiful places are in the city.
Why did you choose Arkhangelsk? Wouldn’t you like to study in a big city?
Victor: I didn’t want to study in big cities like Moscow or Saint-Petersburg. I want to go through the real Russian experience. Big city is just a big city. Only in small towns you can find true people. I don't have any expectations in my life, but Russia is exactly the same that I was thinking about: warm people, very open. It is so great here. It is a bit dark now, however it is almost the same in Canada: we have snow, rain, slippery roads.
Clelia: I’ve been to Moscow and I can see the difference. I agree with Victor. I am from a small city, Arkhangelsk is bigger, but somehow it feels small. Maybe it is because of the city’s pattern. I feel like I know this city, even better that my home.
Do you remember your first day in Arkhangelsk?
Victor: My tutor welcomed me from the airport and led me to the dormitory. There, I met international students. We discussed famous questions like “why you decided to spent a year in Russia?” Why not? I have an interest and always been curious for Russia. The best way to understand a country is to go there.
Clelia: My first day was different, because I arrived about five days earlier that others. Rain was pouring. The city, I have to be honest, did not look nice at that moment, and there was nobody at the dormitory. I was a bit depressed. But things started changing almost after one day.
How your family and friends reacted to your decision?
Victor: I can say that it wasn’t surprise for anyone. My friends know me very well, so does my family. From Canada to here is almost 20 hours by plane. It isn’t the first time for me to be on the other side of the Atlantic. Usually I do everything that I want, so if I want to go to Russia for a year, I go to Russia for a year! I hope they miss me, I miss them, and I think it's quite normal. I had a choice between South America and Russia, between learning Spanish and Russian. I thought it would be more challenging for me to learn Russian, because French and Spanish are similar. They are Latin languages; however, even in Russian you have French words like “comme il faut”.
Clelia: I have to divide my friends into two categories. My friends from my home town in Italy were a bit shocked, because Arkhangelsk is close to the North Pole. They asked me: “Why? There is so cold!” The second group is friends (from the city where my university is) who study in interpreter school. They are all people who like to travel, go abroad and they said: “Go and tell us how it is after!” Before this exchange I was in Moscow and the US, so they knew that I was fond of travelling.
What problems have you faced?
Victor: I'm here for «Russian studies». I am taking a Russian language course as well. I study every day except Sunday, so it is pretty intense. I am not used to that. Here you have a lot of classes - that is something special for me. I don’t speak Russian well, so the first time I was in a shop I bought a kind of sour milk, instead of the usual. However, it helps to learn new words.
Clelia: I am taking courses with Russian students, I study in Russian. Sometimes it is hard, the thing is, my understanding is much better that my speaking. But teachers understand that I am a foreign student. It is not a problem; I expected it to be worse. I join courses from different years, so I can communicate with different students. I found a friend from Azerbaijan, she speaks Russian. I have no particular problems. It took some time to convert money, but now I know that 1000 rubles is quite a lot (laughs).
Do you have favorite place in Arkhangelsk?
Clelia: One of the first places I visited, and one I really like is a part of the embankment near the theatre. Another place (I don’t know why I love it!) is Gagarin Street. I fell in love with it while walking in autumn. Colorful leaves were falling, blue houses… I like the wooden houses, maybe because they are different from what I usually see in Italy.
Could you describe the best day here?
Victor: The picnic on the island. We took a ferry and went out almost to the last island on the White Sea with Russian students. There were a lot of very old dachas on the island. We met an old man who spoke English, and he brought a table for us. It was a sunny afternoon, the beginning of September.
Clelia: Yes, it was really nice!
What is your typical weekend?
Victor: We are going to wake up somehow. Sometimes we go bowling; sometimes we go outside in the evening to look for the northern lights. We watch movies in Russian! The last one we saw in Russian? It wasn’t “Brat”… it was “Battleship Potemkin”. It’s quite old and really famous.
Clelia: Yes, I still want to see northern lights. I’ve seen it once! It was at the end of August during the Dervish. I saw it maybe for a minute, but it was. We try to cook following Russian recipes as well.
If you could, what would you bring to Russia from your country?
Victor: I've been thinking about it since I am here; it’s maple syrup. It's like pizza for Italians.
Clelia: Yes, I want to bring real pizza and real lasagna. Local is quite good, but it is not the same as at home.
Russia is a perfect place for …
Victor: Going to banya! And maybe to dacha - we don’t have the same country houses in Canada. I would also like to play hockey with Russians; this sport should be really popular here!
Clelia: Going to the theatre. Not because we don’t have it at home, but because I feel that in Russia you are fond of theatre. Once I went to the theatre and there were a lot of people in the audience.