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Student Profiles

Rebecca and host niece Diana prepare for a feast of traditional Russian shashlik at the family dacha just outside of St. Petersburg.

Overseas Study Program

St. Petersburg,  Russia

Keep in mind that regardless of all of your preparation it is impossible to predict just what it will be like. Have confidence in yourself, make smart decisions, and everything will turn out better than you expect.”

Rebecca Baumgartner

Rebecca’s majors: English and Slavic Languages and Literature

Term abroad: Fall 2009

Reason you chose this program: I was eager for the chance to practically apply my language skills and challenge myself personally. I chose St. Petersburg because, having read much about it previously, I knew it to be a beautiful city rich with history, culture, and its own very distinct atmosphere. 

Describe the housing situation: My host mother was incredible and was very understanding and helpful as I adapted to life in St. Petersburg. Living with someone who speaks only Russian was a huge challenge for me, but learning to communicate with her resulted in the greatest cultural insights and self-growth.    

Biggest Surprise: Before my departure I read a lot of warnings concerning safety in Russia, but I found that St. Petersburg was no more dangerous than any large city, so long as I used common sense. I remained on the lookout for trouble, but I very rarely felt threatened or unsafe.

Experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock: Even though I'd expected it, it was disorienting that Russians smile very little in public and do not recognize the American concept of 'service with a smile.' It did feel rather harsh and alienating at first, but I got so accustomed to the facial indifference that back in the States when waiters, cashiers, and even strangers smiled at me I became immediately uncomfortable and suspicious.

What you know now that you didn't know before going abroad: A semester is so short, particularly when you're wrapped up in so many new experiences. I'm very happy with my study abroad experience, but I do often wonder what a full year would have been like. 

What I wish I knew before I left: I confess that my knowledge of current Russian politics was rather shaky before I left. Though not all students brought up the topic of politics, I was embarrassed by how much the Russian students knew about American politics in comparison to how little I knew about theirs.

Going abroad versus staying on campus, discuss: Going abroad was completely worth it, especially as a language major. It's a little frustrating to feel behind on things that happened on campus while I was gone, but I would not trade my new perspective and experiences for anything.

Fact about your host country that you think people would be surprised to learn: Russians are notoriously superstitious. For example, my host mom made me knock on wood and smile at myself in a mirror before going out in the evenings to ensure a safe return.