A Word of Advice

May 18, 2012

For all you students coming to Yaroslavl next September or in semesters to come, here’s some advice from a девушка who just finished Middlebury’s Yaroslavl program today! These are based off of personal experience and observation during this long, lovely year abroad. Sorry, boys–a bit of this is lady-specific, but there’s plenty in there for you, too!

  • Don’t bring: ski gloves (unless you’re actually going skiing), long underwear (buy it at the market here for 5-10 USD per pair), open-toed shoes (you’ll only wear them for a cumulative month, and that’s if you stay all year), school supplies (you can get them here at least as inexpensively as in the States), shampoo/conditioner/hairspray/etc (it’s just more stuff that’ll explode in your suitcase and you can buy it here), shorts, a hairdryer
  • Do bring: an adaptor or two (they’re hard to find here and VERY important!), your laptop (despite what the handbook says, you’ll need it for papers and powerpoints), a host gift (something from your hometown is always nice!), little gifts for future friends (small tourist paraphernalia from your hometown are great New Year’s/Birthday gifts here) a pocket dictionary, pajamas (another thing that’s just sort of important ;)) tops that you can comfortably wear by themselves and under layers, lots of sweaters (you’ll wear them every day inside the university in winter), a pair of black pumps, one nice outfit for going out at night, close-toed and maybe heeled shoes or boots (you’ll wear them all fall and spring), wool socks, your make-up (it’s a bit pricey here), your vitamins, standard medicine (Tylenol, cold medicine, etc), and a sense of humor! This isn’t a complete packing list, but it covers the essentials
  • Looking stylish and being warm are not considered mutually exclusive in Russia. If something doesn’t look “put together”, expect to stand out. If it isn’t very warm, don’t expect to wear it in the winter.
  • If you’re planning on splurging on a winter jacket or pair of boots before coming to Russia, stop! Don’t do it. Use the money in Russia to buy something that’s actually fully suited for the weather and that will help you to look less foreign. If you already have something, then bring it. There’s no point in spending more than you have to! And on that spending note, remember that when shopping, you can spend money, or you can spend time looking for something that costs less.
  • Be very careful of crossing streets here. You’re just as safe jaywalking as crossing legally–though jaywalking might actually be safer because you’re more likely to pay attention to cars.
  • Watch out for potholes. I mean it! They’re often sunken in, unattached, breaking, or not there. Don’t become the front page of your school paper because you weren’t looking where you were going.
  • Be polite but honest with your host family. If you can’t possibly eat another bite yet they present you with plate upon plate of food, praise their cooking and emphasize how well they fed you when you turn down round 8 of your babushka’s pelmeni!
  • Remember that you’re not abroad to preach the American way to the Russians. You’re there to study and learn about them. While this will be hard during the culture shock phase, keep things in perspective and keep an open mind. You don’t have to agree with everything people say, but at least give them a chance to say it.
  • Anticipate that people may have a different sense of personal space, idea of polite topics of conversation, and meaning of ‘privacy’. Respect their culture, but do still make sure that you’re comfortable. Assuming that everyone will just start doing everything your way (because it’s obviously better, right?!) is how you become “That American”. That isn’t a good thing.
  • Stay active! If you’re doing some sort of exercise, you’ll be happier and healthier. I loved my dance classes here, and they presented a great opportunity to meet people.
  • Stay busy! It’s harder to be homesick if you’re too busy to remember to be homesick. You can meet people, volunteer, do an internship, explore with friends…. There’s no limit to how busy you can be!
  • Get internet asap. I would recommend skylink. For details, check my post on How to Get Internet in Russia. I have instructions on how to get skylink written in the comments.
  • Just roll with it. It’ll all be good!

Enjoy the city!
Sarah

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