Well It Is Called “Study” Abroad

November 11, 2011

Although we technically saw some flurrying late in October, the first real snowfall (that stuck) brightened up my day today. As Nate said, the view from my window looks straight out of a Mosfilm classic – and boy, are grey buildings much more pleasant with a dusting of snow! When I mentioned at soccer practice that I was so happy to see snow, the goalie for the men’s team was quick to inform me that this wasn’t even snow, and that by December I would not be so happy about it.

I realized none of us have talked much about our academic lives here in Russia – maybe initially we thought they would be less interesting than our adventures on our city streets, but the cultural differences between the Russian and American educational system are quite fascinating. Professors for our classes with the Middlebury program have often taught in the U.S. or are at least more aware of these differences, but when we get into the mainstream classes, it gets interesting…

Russian “normal”:

  • Russian students don’t handpick each of their classes as we are used to in the US (and as we foreign students still do here). Students in the same кафедра have all their classes together within the “department” they study in, following a common schedule.
  • In the US, the most common question college students receive inquires about their majors. Here, I am more commonly asked the equivalent of  “what are you studying to become?” A Russian student’s faculty is much more closely tied to their future career than in the US, especially compared to we liberal arts students. (I tried once to explain the concept of a liberal arts college to a Russian friend, and promptly decided to never try again.) It is both a more scarily rigid track and more comforting (this coming from the Russian and Political Science major who, if unsuccessful in her Peace Corps application, will be quite lost after graduation…)
  • Professors answer phones in the middle of class (often multiple times) – since phones are THE means of communication here, apparently a missed call in the middle of giving a lecture is unacceptable.
  • Professors read aloud quiz or test results of every student to the entire class – no “grades are individual” shenanigans here! Classes in Russia are moved, postponed, or cancelled by the professor for various conference, business trip, or health reasons much more often than occurs in the US. This week I literally only attended my grammar and Diplomacy classes, as the meetings for the other three were cancelled for various reasons (conference, symposium, and business trip). It’s nice to have a day to do yoga and read, but honestly, I don’t need four-day-weekends after a week in the Baltic states and another week of vacation.

On the whole, coursework is much less demanding than the Midd usual (which is both a welcome break after two years of nose-to-the-grindstone and also difficult to adjust to). It is amazing to have time to read for pleasure – still in Russian, of course! (Parents, teachers – this does not mean I’m not learning a lot of Russian just by living here…) Nate and Sarah – is this just Moscow laxity and celebrity professors taking liberties or this just a Russian education?

Until I attend another class,



3 Responses to “Well It Is Called “Study” Abroad”

  1. Except that students do hand pick their classes, all of those things are true in New Zealand University as well. Professors often did not show up to class without any forewarning or explanation, grades were put into a spreadsheet by last name and emailed to everyone, and people were often confused when I told them I was a Conservation Biology major at home. A friend of mine who studied abroad in Chile said it was similar there as well. Maybe it’s just the US that’s strange.

  2. nateinsiberia said

    Considering my brief experience at a British university, I would agree with Carly. Also, funny that you mention “liberal arts” being lost in translation. Did you know, Hill, that your Russian State University of the Humanities was founded as a first attempt at liberal arts in Russia? I think I read that somewhere, maybe Russian Mind. Given the name, maybe that’s obvious—one of few with no location in the title, probably the only including the word “humanities.” Needless to say, it didn’t go over well. The Smolny Institute in Petersburg has a similar aim that, unlike at RGGU, apparently is not yet a lost cause. Then again, Smolny has ties to Barnard College or some other US institution, so maybe it’s really not the same thing..

    No, it is not just Moscow. In fact, the only thing I can’t relate with in your posting is what you said about your Midd program professors being somewhat in tune with the US and its education system. Not the case here. But teachers answer their phones in class, text us on our phones (I still find that funny), show up late, switch class times around, the whole deal. And the workload is not like we’re used to, but the students here are in class much more than we are back home. I checked out the schedule, and it looks like the kids in the Philology and Journalism faculty are in class up to 28 hours a week.

  3. sarahinthegoldencircle said

    You see both students and professors answering phones in class at ЯГПУ. Don’t tell, but it can get a little entertaining when the professor misplaces the phone, leading to a purse-jacket-pockets scramble as the phone rings and rings. In the US, that would be a sad sight because you would be watching something really uncomfortable: oh my gosh, the professor forgot to turn of their phone! How embarrassing; I feel so bad for them! Here, it’s a little funny because you know the professor is just anxious not to miss the call.

    I don’t bother trying to explain liberal arts education any more, unless it’s to someone who might really be interested and willing to listen for a little while. It doesn’t seem to be the best small-talk topic….

    Also, in Yaroslavl, it depends on the professor as to whether or not your grades will be read aloud. It does happen, though.

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