A Breakdown of Indonesian Students’ First Week in Russia

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You’ve secured a spot in a Russian University, you’ve prepared all the necessary documents, and you finally step out of that airplane to breathe the cold Russian air. Your dream has finally come into fruition – and yet you might come to wonder: What should I do now? How do I get everything sorted to settle easily in this country? Read on to find out Ahmad Fajar’s breakdown of what your first week as an Indonesian student in Russia should look like to ensure a pleasant stay throughout the duration of your study.  

I still remember vividly my first days in Russia, this new person in town who has yet to understand the Russian language. And yet, at the time, I had to go to a Russian Hospital to handle a few documents. I remember only being able to speak one sentence which I deliberately remembered since before my departure to Russia: “Я не понимаю говорит по-русски” (I don’t understand and speak Russian). I said that sentence to the administrative officer, hoping she would reply in English which I could understand better. With a typical Russian demeanor, the old lady replied my greeting in Russian which I could not understand. Around me there were a few young locals. I asked them, “Can you speak English?” In response, they just shook their heads. I was frustrated, how could I communicate with this hospital officer when I could not speak Russian and she could not speak English? Luckily, I managed to find myself a solution: google voice translate. It was a valuable lesson for me. If you want to study in a non-English speaking country, it is best if you speak the local language (although this is not obligatory, of course) and you should have a strong mentality to deal with the frustrations of not being able to communicate easily with citizens who lack the ability to speak English.

A good preparation decreases the chance of you encountering problems here, especially in your first few weeks. One or two suitcases may not even be enough to fit all of our needs to survive in Russia! Preparing to study in Russia might be overwhelming, but having a good plan for your first seven days in this “Beruang Merah” can help ease your worries and ensure you a pleasant stay for the duration of your study. Here is what I envision as the ideal first week of Indonesian students in Russia:

Day 1: Arrival in Your Destination City

You might be excited to start sightseeing – soaking in the new sceneries, enjoying the novel cultures, and tasting all the new kinds of food Russia has to offer. But, the first thing you have to do before doing all of the aforementioned is to actually make sure that you have a room for for your first night or at least a place to securely store your baggage, and of course a place to stay throughout the duration of your study. You have to go to the commandant or Head of your Dormitory, and they will ask you for documents such as passport, immigration card which you received at the Airport (you must not lose this), and a few translated documents (diploma, transcript, medical certificate, etc.).

After confirming your arrival, I think it might be best for you to inform your family that you have arrived safely and let them know how things are going in Russia. For this, you need to buy a new SIM card. Russia has several telecommunication providers, namely Beeline and MTC. I myself use MTC (read: MTS). Russian providers have schemes which are different to Indonesia. For one, if you use the “Pra Bayar” system in Indonesia you cannot do anything like browsing or chatting if your balance is zero (0). Yet, in Russia, there is a loan system for telecommunications which means if your balance is zero (0) you can still use your phone for SMS or phone call but then your balance becomes minus (-xxx e.g. -240). In Russia, you have to go to the mall to obtain a SIM card. Do not expect to see warung pinggir jalan like ones you see in Indonesia.

Day 2: Hospital

If you have yet to formally register in the International Office, here is your chance to do so. Then, after that, you should got to the hospital. The the first thing you do is pay the insurance, approximately 6000RUB for a year. The health of your lungs, blood, urine, and feces will also be checked. It can take 2 days or more depending on your time management.

Day 3: Hospital – Immigration Office

The medical check-up could continue to your third day. You might want to go to the money changer if you have US Dollars in your pocket. Definitely do not change your Dollar at the airport as it more expensive than in the city. There is always an option of withdrawing money from your account in Indonesia at the ATM, but remember you will be charged around IDR 25.000. Even if you only want to view your account balance, a fee will still be imposed.

Day 4: Supermarket

I live in St. Petersburg, the second biggest city in Russia. It is only normal then that the living cost in here is more expensive than other cities, including for food. Eating at home saves me a lot of money, but that means I have to cook myself as I cannot ask anyone to cook for me. Only very rarely do I go to the Chinese restaurant and buy whatever is the cheapest on the menu. That is precisely why I regularly go to the supermarket to buy cooking ingredients for a week.

Ahmad Fajar IM Photo 3

Day 5: Campus Tour

I suggest you to do a campus tour, it useful to know the precise location of your classrooms. Just enjoy your fifth day here in Russia, feel the weather and make lots of new friends. You could also bring yourself to enjoy the sport facilities with your new friends. During my campus tour, I found out about the long rich historical background of Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. Some campus spots could only be accessed with a student ID, so remember to get one before you do your campus tour.

Ahmad Fajar IM Photo 2

Day 6: Rest Time

To make sure you are fresh for your first day of study, you could take this sixth day to rest in your room or expand your network by introducing yourself to your neighbors. Moslem males could also go to the Mosque at the city central if this day happens to be a Friday.

Day 7: City Sightseeing

Before you start your first day of studying in Russia, you must make sure you spend a day of sightseeing! Not only for fun, but also as an opportunity for you to know how to use the local transportation and get to important places. You should also try and get a chance to talk with Russian locals.

Ahmad Fajar IM Photo 1

My first week in St. Petersburg taught me a hard lesson about studying abroad. It is not always going to be seamless and full of laughter like what Instagram pictures usually display. I know that unexpected circumstances can still occur, but in the face of adversity remember that overcoming challenges actually helps strengthen your mental fortitude and character.