Emma, Cambridge: Ekaterinburg Feb-July 2017

Organisation of university: okay – the государственный and федеральный universities recently joined to make one big UrFU and their channels of communication have not yet reached optimum efficiency… Lots of being sent around to various offices and waiting undetermined amounts of time for things to be ready (though this is really just Russia). But very well organised buddy system – they meet you at the airport and help you as you get sent from office to office to office. The whole buddy system is a big plus.

Quality of teaching: I was able to plan my own timetable and pick how many lectures/language lessons I wanted to attend, which in principle was great. The only problem with this was that it took a couple of weeks at the start of term to find out all the information/plan everything and my languages lessons were when all the good lectures were.

Language lessons: after placement test you get put into classes of around 8 people. Grammar, Speaking, Reading, Listening, Literature, etc.. Lessons were good, but not much chance for speaking practice. Language school is 45min bus journey from Dorm No.5, lectures 20mins.

Lectures: Level is lower than in Europe – first year lessons are a bit like being in school. Higher year courses are more intellectually stimulating. Everyone says the quality depends on the lecturer – so when choosing, ask about the teacher. The coordinator asks about the ‘speciality’ you want and gives you the timetable (I was with the Russian linguistics department). You can attend as many or as few classes as you want, so just go along and try them out – it’s a good way to meet Russians. I met a load by just walking in and asking someone if it was the right room.

Communication and visa support: quick replies, but at first they didn’t send me an official invitation, just an ‘invitation letter’, which made it take longer. Time from first communication (September) until arrival of invitation was about 3 months (received it in December). They didn’t know information like exact start dates of the semester…

Russian opportunities: go to lectures and chat to people, they’ll love you. Also, UrFU has a great buddy system so you have at least one (Russian) friend when you arrive. There are some Russians in the dorm who you can attempt to befriend in the kitchen.

There aren’t so many international students, most are Chinese, but we all spoke English because not everyone speaks Russian. I lived with a German and I probably got more German than Russian practice.

Atmosphere/ likability of city/town: in the snow it’s really pretty but when it’s -25 outside you don’t really go outside that much.. Then in the time between winter and spring when it melts everything is a bit grey and depressing, but in summer it’s very pretty! Lakes, trees, etc. come back to life (though only in May). In general, interesting history and plenty of museums/bars/restaurants to check out. More like the ‘real’ Russia, unlike Moscow/SPB. Useful location for exploring more of the Eastern parts of Russia.

Accommodation You can stay in a dorm (dirt cheap), with a host family (didn’t thoroughly investigate this) or rent a flat (20,000ish rubles/month), I picked the общежитие.

There are a few dorms around the city, most international students end up in No. 5 – which is known as the best in town. This is because it was built in 2013 and is so supposedly the most modern (though it was built on the skeleton of the building before and a lot of things are broken – think plugs hanging out the wall, damp in some of the bathrooms). It’s also because you share a toilet and shower with up to 6 people rather than a whole corridor. Students share rooms with two other people (there are 3 of you in a room – this is challenging, especially personal space/privacy-wise) and two bedrooms make up a ‘flat’ with its own toilet, shower and hallway with a (usually functional) fridge. Essentially, it’s comparable to living in a youth hostel.

Each kitchen has two ovens, some have a microwave. People buy their own kettle/kitchen things. The ovens work, but normally only two of the hotplates do (ask your roommates which are the most efficient). A friend of mine bought a cheap stove of their own which we all shared, which was a good investment if you like to cook.

Curfew is 1am-6am, which is annoying for socialising, but there are a couple of ok bars nearby which means you can head back slightly later than if you go to the centre (which is about 20-30mins by public transport). Alcohol (even being under the influence…) is banned, though this doesn’t stop people drinking inside. Military guys make an inspection through the corridors at 1am every day, which added to my sense of no privacy.

In one sentence: Good for making friends, but dirty and no freedom.

Things to do Everyone will tell you to go to the Yeltsin Centre (to be fair, it’s an impressively good museum). There’s also Ganina Yama – where the Romanovs were buried (need to go by taxi – 600ish rubles return), Shartash lake, a snow park for skiing/snowboarding (there’s also a small ski resort nearby)

Affordability Accommodation affordabilty 10/10: 3000 rubles for a semester in the dorm. One public transport trip is now 28 rubles (was 25 in 2016). Lots of cheap places to eat – even in the rooftop bar Высоцкий I paid 990 rubles for 2 courses and a cocktail.

Insider tips/ favourite places/food:

  • New Bar (also do concerts) – go into the courtyard between Шоколадница and McDonalds and turn left to find the door
  • Misanthrop bar (has no sign, opposite the Burger King on Малышева there’s a big keyhole shaped hole in a door)
  • Штолле near the river has the best pirogi in town

Final comment:

My experience was marred slightly by the atmosphere in the общежитие and not feeling like I was getting as much speaking practice as I thought I should/would be getting (though I could have made more effort to socialise with Russians). My friends studying courses in English (e.g. business) were not so keen on the city/uni, but imo Ekat has the possibility to be a nice city if you are there for the Russian experience and try to make the most of all the opportunities here.

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