University in Moscow

When travelling I like to visit university buildings as they are usually among the oldest buildings of the town and therefore quite impressive. Being a student myself it is always interesting to see other facilities and how well-equipped or not so well-equipped educational buildings in other countries are. As I was taking part in a student exchange in Moscow, I got to see this up close on a daily basis!

Apparently, there are almost 900 universities in Russia, and Moscow is the educational centre of the country, which has been like that since the USSR. There are more than 200 institutes of higher education and 60 state universities and 90 colleges. Most of them are centred around one specific field (i.e. aviation, economics, medicine) and only some of them have a wide-spectrum, such as the State University of Moscow. Russian universities are (mostly?) tuition based, which depends on the subject studied. It starts from 64,000 roubles a year (around 1,000 EUR) to 344,000 roubles a year (5,400 EUR) for the most prestigious universities.

Most of the universities also offer dorms for their students on their campus or near the universities at a relatively or very low price in comparison to the rent of a standard apartment in the city. Another great advantage of the universities in Russia is that they typically have their own sports facilities in order for the students to participate in uni sports teams or  just to work out.

The beautiful one

The Lomonosov Moscow State University – short MSU (or in Russian МГУ because of Московский государственный университет имени М. В. Ломоносова) – is one of the most impressive buildings that I saw in Moscow or even in Russia. The university itself was founded in 1755 by Mikhail Lomonossov, hence the name which the university received in 1940. It offers a wide-spectrum of programmes, so it is not centralised around one specific field.

The main building of the university was designed by the famous Lev Rudner, erected in the 1950s. Not only is it supposedly the tallest educational building in the world, but also the highest one of the famous seven Stalinist skyscrapers of Moscow. Apparently, inside the building there are a total of 33 kilometres of corridors and 5,000 rooms – quite impressive and a lot to walk if you’re an unlucky student. The university itself is home to around 47,000 students.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to just go inside the building as you have to work there, be a student, or have a special entry card, as security in such buildings is taken really seriously. So I only got to see it from the outside which was still worth the time it took to get there. I had to take the red line on the metro to the station ‘Universitet’ and then walk for another 15 minutes in order to reach the main building.

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My host university

My host university from my semester abroad was, however, not the grand State University but the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, short PRUE (Российский экономический университет имени Г.В. Плеханова). It is also one of the public universities of Moscow, and opposed to the MSU the university is one with a narrow specialisation, as the name already tells. The university’s foundation dates back to 1907, so it is not as old as MSU, but it was the first finance-specialised college in the Russian Empire. In the course of the Soviet era, PRUE became bigger and recognised as one of Russia’s most prestigious universities.  PRUE even has its own TV channel which is called ‘Plekhanov TV’!

Plekhanov university has around 14,000 students – not a lot in comparison with the State university – but the building/campus is rather small and the university is specialised. Also, in my opinion the location of PRUE is much better. The university has 8 buildings which are right next to each other, and it is situated in the city center and only two metro stations away from the Red Square. So I could not have been more lucky with its location as I wanted to see as much possible from Moscow without having the need to spend a lot of time on public transport.

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I must say that I was not very impressed by the university building itself, but I was being spoiled with mostly attending ‘brand-new built’ universities so far, and it unfortunately did not have the charm of the ancient universities such as the MSU. Nonetheless, it is the inside that counts, right? When entering the main building (which is building number 3 funnily) you are first greeted by safety gates and columns with mirrors, so students can make themselves pretty for classes I assume ;) Right next to the entrance is a small memorial with an ‘eternal flame’ which can be found on so many places throughout Russia. In general, the building is not bad for a university, but also not impressive in my eyes. I also think that the interior – especially some of the old and very very very uncomfortable wood benches – should be replaced.

University Life

In general, university life in Russia is similar to other universities in Europe, as we had lectures and seminars, presentations, group works, tests and exams. However, in my opinion the academic level is still lacking behind in comparison to the universities that I have attended so far in Western Europe. The system for graduates at PRUE was slightly different as master students only had classes in the evening (Russians usually work full-time during the day) and there is no mandatory attendance (but it helps getting a better grade sometimes).

What I especially liked:

  • My programme coordinator / my programme in general. The people responsible for my programme and us international graduates seemed to be very laissez faire in comparison to the bachelor student’s coordinator. We had more freedom in terms of negotiating certain administrative things and my coordinator even made the schedule in accordance with my wishes of doing additional courses to get more credits. At other universities abroad something like that would have never been possible and I wouldn’t even have dared asking that.
  • Location. My university & the dorm were situated right next to one and very near to another metro station, so travelling was very easy and comfortable for us. Plus, there were many supermarkets, restaurants and bars nearby.
  • The Buddy system. I already touched upon it in this blogpost in which I explained that some Russian PRUE students take responsibility for us internationals and take us places, help us out when needed, and just try to make the best out of our stay. With them we got to see cool places in the city and watch ballets and musical for almost free. Plus, in the end some of us became friends as well!
  • Nothing is set in stone. Just one example: even though we were supposed to have one presentation, a test and en exam in a course that we weren’t even able to attend, it turned out that we only had to listen to a few presentations and do a short test on principles of management. I’m not complaining. Also, I was lacking a few credits (as I couldn’t take one course) they just fixed it for me.

 

What I especially did not like:

  • The complex university building. I never got the knack out of it in which direction inside the main building I have to go in order to get to the room that I had been going to for weeks. Of course I remembered which floor to get on (most of the times) but I could never recall if I should turn left or right. Plus, come on, where were the toilets? There was none for women on the fourth floor, there was one on the third (or was it on the fifth?) that was always locked, and one did not have a sign. Or am I mixing it all up now? See, I am still confused with the stupid building and yes, I know, it is probably just my own fault and the poor university cannot take responsibility for stupid people like me.
  • Bureaucracy. A major downside of Russian universities that we exchange students experienced was the immense bureaucracy of the country / university. Getting something done like getting a signature, extending our visa, or even paying for the dorm could take hours, days, weeks or even months! I ended up not applying for the ‘social card’ which is a metro card for a very cheap price for students as my peers only got theirs at the beginning of/mid-December and I was about to leave by then already.
  • Nothing is set in stone. Up until one week before the end of one course no one knew how we would get our grades – not even the professor as someone else was giving instructions to him but they neglected to do that in a timely manner. So one week before the last class we got the news that we had to write a group paper and prepare for a presentation plus something like an oral exam/questioning thing. Fun times.

 

There are lots of other things that I liked and disliked but I just picked the ones that stick out in my head the most. I met great people, and I had a few really interesting courses with interesting professors. I also had courses that I did not like, professors that obviously had no idea what they were talking about or who did not once accept a different opinion on a subject. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world. For me, a study exchange should never only be about the academic side of it but more about experiencing and getting to know another country and culture and the people who live there!

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Moscow Diary.

So far I’ve been enjoying my stay here in Moscow. I’ve met so many people – both Internationals and Russians, I’ve seen quite a bit from the city already, and my courses have already started. There’s actually quite a lot going on at the moment. But one after the other ;)

University
I was really excited for my university to start, and I have heard so much from the bachelor students already (their semester started 1-2 weeks before the master student courses). Most of the exchange students had (and still have!) quite some troubles with the courses – they were totally different from the ones that got sent out beforehand, so many timetable clashes, no information on the second half of the semester and so on. However, our faculty just handed us a timetable for the first half of the semester and that was it. So actually quite different from the experience of the bachelor students, but also not perfect and it is still a work in progress. I have already sent numerous mails and have had numerous talks with my faculty coordinator that I already assume that she dislikes me. But yeah, that’s Russia! The funny thing is though – one of my courses is already over and I have my first 3 ECTS! I still don’t know yet if my home university will approve them, but yeah. :D

The City
Moscow has turned out to be the ‘perfect’ place for me to be at the moment. It has a great size, and I have always wanted to live in and experience a huge city like Moscow. There is so much to see, so much to do! The architecture is great – I love the mix of Soviet and grandeur. The downside of the city’s massiveness is that all the places are kind of far away from each other, so you really have to carefully calculate your time. One example: my university is only two metro stations away from the Red Square, but you’d walk for more than 45 minutes to get from one to the other. But even when going by Metro it takes you around half an hour, as it takes forever to even reach the actual metro train due to the fact that Moscow’s Metro is one of the world’s deepest. Usually the Metro is always full of people and superhot. I am already predicting that I will get a cold quite often, especially during winter… yay me!

Another not so yay fact is that hardly anyone speaks English. Don’t even think about asking for directions. Most of the time they will just talk in Russian, even though that they know you won’t understand anything that they are saying. Luckily I speak a bit and understand quite a bit, so that’s okay. Also, Russia is one of the cheapest countries in regards to phone plans, so with unlimited data & so on it is pretty easy to find mostly everything online if needed.

People
By far the most important aspect of my exchange are the people. As I live in a student dorm near the university (quite the opposite from my ‘former’ life in Copenhagen I must say!) I am ‘confronted’ with people on a daily basis. Almost everyone on the international floors (we occupy two) is from a European country, except a few Singaporeans. There are quite a lot of French people here, but also Germans, Dutch and Austrians (I think we are 5?). (Almost) Everyone is (or at least tries to be) super friendly to each other, there’s always something going on. It never gets boring. However, the first few ‘dramas’ have already taken place, but that’s just natural in a student dorm with so many people; and you never really have your privacy or a true quiet time.

Also, the university has a great buddy systems, with buddies who are really interested in us and are doing everything in their power to make our stay the best. Pick-up at the airport, holding our hands during official stuff, planning trips, tours through the city, going to special events with us, hockey games for free, and so on. Plus, they set up a language buddy project, so I have a tandem partner who I will teach German and she will work on my Russian. Yay! :)


I can already say that I never want to spend the rest of my life in such a huge place, but for now it is great. Moscow is super interesting and very beautiful. Even though Russians don’t or hardly speak English, most of them try to help you nevertheless. Some of them are really interested in you (or foreigners in general) and want to know more about your country and why you’ve decided to come here. I’ve also learned that Russian bureaucracy is a b****, it sometimes can take up to an hour before it’s your turn at the post office (partly my fault though maybe?), and nothing’s set in stone – not even at the university :D