St. Petersburg is Russia’s version of a European Cultural City. Planned and built by Peter the Great after his trips to Europe, St. Petersburg was designed to be the grand gem of architecture, art, and culture for the largest kingdom in the world. Today, culture and art is everywhere, but St. Petersburg is also a center for commerce, finance, and politics. The majority of academic study abroad programs in St. Petersburg are focused on the Russian language and area studies, but students can find a range of opportunities in this Russian gem.
Subjects & Courses
In general, semester study abroad programs in St. Petersburg offer Russian History, Russian Arts and Civilization, Russian Literature, and Current Events. Focused classes, like Post Soviet Politics, Imperial Russian History, Russian Ballet, or the Rise and Fall of Communism, are also offered through specialized Russian studies programs.
Russian Language. While Russian language study abroad programs exist throughout Russia the majority of the programs are situated in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Moscow might be considered slightly less charming and carrying a little more of the hardened personality of the Soviet days and culture, but St. Petersburg proudly clings to much of their pre-Soviet history and culture. In recent years Russian language has experienced some decline as a foreign language for U.S. students, and recent friction with Ukraine and impressions of Putin in the west haven’t helped. Still many students recognize the importance of studying the Russian language, for politics, business, and world affairs.
Fine Art. The arts have been a part of St. Petersburg since the fall of the Romanovs, and have managed to survive, and perhaps, flourish during the Soviet era. The Mariinsky Ballet Theater is St. Petersburg’s equivalent of the Bolshoi. Not to mention, the art of the Hermitage and the symphony can all be had at a reasonable price by students studying in St. Petersburg.
Institutions. There are a handful of study centers which come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including the international colleges at Smolny Monastery, where classes in a variety of topics are offered in English. Many international program providers have study centers based in St. Petersburg, and offer courses, like international business, art history, and political science, in English that are designed specifically for students studying abroad in St. Petersburg. There are also multiple Russian universities that offer numerous courses in St. Petersburg for international students, such as St. Petersburg State Polytechnical University.
Degree Program. The final option is to enroll in a full degree program in St. Petersburg, this however requires a proficiency in the Russian language most often. Higher education in Russia is demanding and direct enrollment requires not just language proficiency but also a proficiency in the technical language of the material covered, like chemistry or finance.
Life in St. Petersburg
While the city, formerly known as Leningrad, is painfully cluttered with the ugly and stark massive Soviet block housing, the gems of imperial Russia are still evident everywhere. From the Copper dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Winter Palace and the Hermitage, Catherine the Great’s greatest private art collection for her eyes and the eyes of the mice only, and St. Petersburg has plenty to show international students. Other Czar Palaces, from Peter all the way to Nicholas, surround the capital as well. The Russian Museum, the Peter and Paul Fortress, Pavlovsk, and Peterhof are all architectural gems from the lost Romanov Dynasty.
Known to have a crazy nightlife, going out in St. Petersburg can be dangerous and excessive, with bars offering free drinks during some happy hours and the constant availability of vodka. Students who study abroad in St. Petersburg should be mindful of their alcohol consumption and learn to ins and outs of staying safe while enjoying the nightlife of the city.
St. Petersburg is close to Finland and even closer to the Baltic states, with a weekend excursion to Tallinn being very easy. Side trips to Novgorod are also accessible and the overnight train to Moscow can be a challenging adventure, but is well worth it.
Scholarships & Costs
GoAbroad’s Scholarship Directory lists over 150 scholarships available for students who want to study abroad in Russia, be sure to check them out! Some are very specific awards, such as those sponsored by the U.S. government that are intended to expand the number of Americans that are experts on Russia and Russian.
Studying abroad in St. Petersburg ranges from short programs, like faculty-led study abroad programs, to year-long, intensive language programs. Therefore, the prices vary, with costs ranging from a thousand dollars to$10,000 to $15,000 for a semester-long study abroad program in St. Petersburg.
Accommodation & Visas
There are three housing options for most students who study abroad in St. Petersburg: homestay, shared apartment, or dormitory. Homestays are typically in a shared flat and often includes some meals. Though homestays are a relatively new concept in Russia, it is a great vehicle for meeting locals and networking through extended family members and family friends. Apartments are often small and typically include only bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a shared bathroom. Dormitories are more common at larger universities, like St. Petersburg State University.
Student visas are required to study abroad in St. Petersburg. This includes a letter of acceptance or invitation from a host school in Russia. Students should speak with the university or program provider early on to ensure visa arrangements are in order before arrival.
Benefits & Challenges
History. Russia has spent the better part of the last century in a cold and practical communist state. There are many leftovers from this era, including a lack of customer service in many businesses and in university bureaucracies. However, times are changing and many universities recognize the value of international students, and also recognize the power of providing student support services, engaging excursions, and unique housing options.
Russian Cuisine. Student cafeterias have a reputation for basic Russian fare. Russian cuisine for the masses grew out of long winters, so canned vegetables and loads of beets are extremely common.