A year abroad: Residing in Russia

Emily Keyes
Staff Writer

When Abbey Wegman chose Russia as her study abroad destination, she knew she could expect to experience a new way of life.

When walking past most American citizens, one can expect a smile to be exchanged, but in Russia, a smile from a stranger is a rare occurrence. Americans are known for their “casual Fridays” and dressed-down appearance, while Russian women wear heels for all occasions, no matter the weather.

Personal space is essential in American society, but according to Abbey,

Abbey Wegman poses in front of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow during her year abroad in Russia.

personal space does not exist in Russia. Waiting in line in the U.S. is a tedious but boring endeavor, while in Russia it involves aggressive behavior; if you want to keep your spot in line, Abbey says, it is necessary to be “almost pressing against the person in front of you.”

Many Americans would find it hard to adjust in such a society, but Abbey says she “never experienced culture shock, or at least I didn’t realize it.” Russia had always been Abbey’s top choice for her study abroad location and immediately upon arriving Abbey knew she had made the right choice.

Her classes, made up of mostly Russian language and International Relations courses, do not fit the stereotype of most study abroad classes, which are often construed as being easy. Abbey describes her courses as difficult, and notes that because her Russian college is the only liberal arts school in Russia, they make an effort to keep a good reputation and challenge their students. Still, Abbey’s workload is not so monstrous that she doesn’t have free time, and many days after school Abbey teaches English at a local school.

Abbey was also able to spend part of her year abroad backpacking through Europe, visiting the capitals of Italy, Germany, England, Spain, and France in a five-week span. Her study abroad experience has exposed her to many new cultures and experiences, and has also served as a reminder of just how different each country can be.

After spending two years at Goucher, Abbey was used to belonging to an accepting community, and was therefore shocked when she first experienced the anti-gay climate of St. Petersburg. During her stay in Russia, St. Petersburg passed a bill that made homosexual propaganda towards minors illegal, an action that essentially outlawed open displays of homosexuality.

“My first couple of weeks here, I saw two or three lesbian couples holding hands, but now, I don’t see any,” Abbey recalls. These societal differences are what make it hard for many students to adjust when studying abroad, but Abbey seems able to overcome these and enjoy her stay.

She has had a chance to experience the food, drink, and nightlife of Russia, and confirms that all three are much different than their U.S. counterparts. When asked about the famed Russian nightlife, Abbey confirms the rumors that it is in fact “crazy.” Alcohol is much less expensive in Russia than the states, and is sold in larger quantities, which makes it more accessible for students on a budget.

Food in Russia, according to Abbey, is “very bland,” with the main dishes including meat and potatoes and “pickle-flavored everything.” Eating out on the weekends is therefore not as popular as in the states, where a meal can in and of itself make for a fun night.

In Russia, however, clubbing is the main source of entertainment on the weekend, though Abbey recalls nights where clubs were not necessary for a fun time. When asked about one of the craziest things she has done during her stay in Russia, Abbey immediately references the time she “climbed five stories of a building,” and while she does not go into great detail about the story, it is clear that Abbey is finding ways to enjoy herself.

Abbey makes it clear that Russia was the best choice for her study abroad experience. It has opened her eyes to a new culture, helped her gain fluency in the language she is majoring in, and has allowed her to see how another culture lives and thrives. Though she won’t see her American friends or family until June, Abbey seems content in her study abroad program choice.



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