Karl Overdick

PhD Student

Category: Year abroad in Russia

Year abroad in Russia from 09/2016-06/2017

Discovering Russia – part 3:

28/05/2017

This is the third of four “Discovering Russia” posts respectively describing journeys I undertook with a travel companion that end in a last post comparing Russia with other countries.

Our third trip took us to another region in Moscow just across the river. Given that Moscow is enormously big, you can spend weeks of holidays in your own city without ever seeing the same things. What was crucial was the bike sharing system in Moscow, which allows you to rent bikes for the whole day for just a few rubles. The limitation on every trip is 30 minutes though, so we went from station to station each time docking in and out just to reset the timer. Our trip took us to the financial center of Moscow at first, where the rise of the cities’ skyscrapers began a few years back. Afterwards we went through the green ring of the city – a ring formed by parks around the inner city. Eventually we ended up in Sokolniki park, the biggest park in Moscow from where we took the Metro back.

This was our nicest “holiday” yet for a number of reasons. First, the weather was amazing. Second, the city is very impressive. Third, discovering it by bike is amazing and my Swabian heart beats higher every time I reset the timer of the bike not to pay more. Fourth, there was no travel involved, we saw all of this right in front of our doorsteps.

Such are the travels that we have undertaken, the next post summarizes the experiences in Russia and compares the experiences made here with what I know about the UK and Germany.

Discovering Russia – part 2:

20/05/2017

This is the second of four “Discovering Russia” posts respectively describing journeys I undertook with a travel companion that end in a last post comparing Russia with other countries.

My state of sun ecstasy is only getting more serious: the weather feels amazing now and not at all like the Moscow I know from winter. Plus, the sun shines from early morning until late in the evening, longer than Europe in summer.

Our second trip took us to the capital of an autonomous region called Tatarstan. Kazan has 1.15 million inhabitants and is the 8th biggest city in Russia. It is known to be wealthy and therefore very beautiful. We found out that going there for 3 days over a long weekend was maybe too long.

Palace of the President of Tatarstan in the Kazan Kremlin

After arriving in the morning on Saturday we went to the main attraction in Kazan: The Kremlin. It was crowded by Russian tourists, somehow understandably because the mosque and church in the Kremlin, joined by some museums and the seat of the president of Tatarstan, are all in all quite nice to visit. The rest of the day we spent walking around on Bauman street, the main shopping street of the city. In the evening, we went to a rooftop bar to look on the city from above and then walked through the city centre at night – like every Russian city I have been so far it is stunning at night because the buildings are lit beautifully.

Buildings in the Kazan Kremlin

Inside the Kazan mosque

Inside the church in the Kazan kremlin

Our second of three days we spent with beautiful sunshine visiting an old village just outside the city centre and rowing on the city’s inner lake. We also visited a friend’s apartment near our hostel and saw his region of town. In the evening, we walked to the Kremlin again, where the mosque is amazing at night. If poetic: streetlamps were shining bright and clear along the street as if each was marking a day of the year abroad in Russia. That night, the Kremlin also looked down on the locals holding their rehearsal of the Kazan Victory Day parade the day before Victory Day.

The last day began with heavy rain. Luckily, a taxi costs you less than the bus fare for two people and above so we ordered one to meet our friend in town with whom we had lunch. Food was generally very good by the way. After spending our afternoon shopping in town, we played pool and then met some friends from the UK before heading back to the hostel.

Such are the travels that we have undertaken, the next post will be about a day we spent discovering Moscow.

Discovering Russia – part 1:

15/05/2017

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This is the first of four “Discovering Russia” posts respectively describing journeys I undertook with a travel companion that end in a last post comparing Russia with other countries.

In general, I am currently in a state of sun ecstasy because the weather has finally turned a little better here in Russia so that the last snow stopped now (in the middle of May). Below is a picture showing how Moscow was covered by snow just a few days ago.

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Moscow in the snow in the middle of May (picture credit goes to Ira)

The first trip was a long weekend I went to Vladimir for with a travel companion that I had only told about the trip 30 minutes before we left as a surprise. Vladimir is a small town, 1.5 hours by fast and 3 hours by slow train away from Moscow (I took the slow train of course because it is so slow it is simply funny to be on it).

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We started our first day in Vladimir by going to two of the most famous places in Vladimir called ‘Dormition Cathedral’ and ‘ St. Demetrius’ Cathedral’. There was a beautiful park surrounding them and the sun was shining in the bright sky above us.

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How nice! After a brief rest, we went along the main street next to them. The street was calm and peaceful enough to make us think this is not like Russia that we’ve known so far from the busy streets in Moscow, until we went through an alley. It went into some of the living areas in Vladimir and as such was not in that good of a shape.

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Generally, Moscow is a lot more advanced in terms of infrastructure and appears more European. The differences begin with the cars in the cities and extend to public transport that is mostly relying on old buses in Vladimir. However, that of course has its very own charm and the air in Vladimir was simply amazing. In addition, the prices are also lower in Vladimir by roughly 30%. And, Vladimir even has its very own chocolate museum that we visited. This was not the only surprise Vladimir had for us. It also has an English Pub that could easily compare to any of the pubs I visited in London.

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The next two posts will be about a trip to Kazan (a city in Tatarstan closer to Siberia to the east of Moscow) and about the weekend we spent exploring Moscow more.

Cooool times abroad

09/02/2017

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A friend asked me why have I been writing this blog ? I think it shows a few thinks that are worth encouraging: 1. Open world-view 2. Understanding between different people 3. Going beyond your comfort-zone and so on 🙂 The reason why I initially built the website was that I am still working on a larger project that involves a website so I was interested in seeing how it works. Lastly, it also just keeps everyone up to date and I am fascinated by the number of people one can reach with one post, it would take so much longer to update everyone individually.

Let’s move on to what has been happening since the last post. I had a very interesting few months and will now talk about each of them in turn:

1. November:

This month and the next didn’t have much to do with Russia and Moscow because I was mostly studying. The aim I had was digitalising all my notes for uni, meaning being able to study completely without paper. To that end, November was a lot about setting up the new devices I had acquired with that aim in mind. The reason that is interesting in the context of Russia is because internet is comparatively cheap. I now have limitless LTE internet on my 2 in 1 device that costs me roughly 10 Euros a month. In Germany and the UK I am not even sure whether an option like this exists, if it does it is way more expensive. Great side effect of having limitless internet everywhere on your laptop is being able to work a lot and everywhere you are, which would come in handy in December, maybe one of the busiest months in my life as a student so far.

2. December:

The peak in terms of exam craziness was writing 2 exams on one day, going to a party that evening and then holding a presentation the next day. I could of course not have gone to the party but I felt it was important to go because it was organized by a friend who manages a company and promised to bring many new and interesting acquaintances from the Russian business scene. It ended up being very interesting and confirmed some of the stereotypes we have around how Russians do business. At university, I had 7 exams overall I think and they all went reasonably well. HSE is a little more relaxed when it comes to how exams take place: you sit next to others and getting some extra time upon request was also possible for fellow students. This is a stark contrast to what I have heard about universities in Europe, at least in the UK and in Germany.

I also took the time to attend the meeting of DAAD scholarship students in Russia (students who are receiving a scholarship by the German Academic Exchange Service). Among others, we had dinner together in the former embassy of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) that is now the Goethe Institut (Germany’s “language school association”). It made me experience history with its architecture and also wonder what decisions had been taken in these rooms before Germany’s reunification. Our host told us about how he found a rifle in his closet when moving into his flat that formerly belonged to a diplomat of the GDR; what was its use in those times? Finally, a traumatic christmas (abroad on the 24th for the first time) was brightened up by some green, a few cookies and a candle my grandmother had given to me (what would we do without them).

3. January:

It always feels weird to come back to a place that you know and see completely different people. Most of my friends only stayed for half a year and had thus left already. Therefore, it was time to make new friends (interesting btw how everyone is stressed about doing so at the beginning when coming to a new place). Another aspect I had to renew was my course choice. I did something similar to what was just introduced in Harvard; shopping week for courses. That meant just looking into all kinds of interesting courses, sometimes just for a lesson or two and sometimes for longer. It has also gotten so cold in the meantime that it is important to leave indoors with a smile on your face, so that your frozen face expression outside is a positive one. For example, during one run outside my eyelids froze together at the outer ends while I was running. One of my highlights this month was the first dance lesson this year. Dancing is one of the things I would like to improve on during my year abroad, which is why I visit the dance lesson offered by my university. This time we really learned a lot and it is starting to get interesting. Movements are no longer just standard but actually challenging for the first time.

4. February:

This has been my “holiday month” in the first week. I finally went to the biggest ice rink in the country in an exposition area in North Moscow called VDNKH. Amaaazing, It’s incredibly big. One round takes you several minutes with reasonable speed and there are several different routes, so it was completely different from the small rink we are used to in Europe. I also went on my first day-trip with the local student organisation to a city called Sergiyev Posad. That is the “spiritual center” of Russia where you can see lots of churches in one of the biggest monasteries in the country. Almost as interesting as the destination is the trip itself on the train. First, Russians heat very well generally, in case of trains so well that you get a sore throat because of the heat coming up from the heating under your seat. Second, trains in Russia “walk”, both literally in the Russian language and speed-wise, so that a trip within the borders of Moscow took 1.25 hours. I mean Moscow is big but not that big.

Such were the last few months I have lived here in Moscow. Just recently, I realised how different my time here is from my life in London. London is full of international and exceptional people that have taught me so much. Here, I am the coolest and nobody can teach me anything (*disclaimer* this is a German making an ironic joke). Joking aside, students here are incredibly nice and because my Russian is getting there it is more and more fun to converse with them in their native language. I guess the main difference I am alluding to is that uni is different and people are too, although by no means less interesting. It was also interesting to watch as an “insider” (I can still remember how I struggled when I arrived) how international students face a sometimes massive culture shock when arriving here. For example, I calmed a few new students that were devastated by Russians being completely direct with them. I explained that that doesn’t mean that Russians would not forget about their temporary mood and complaints after a few hours (and sometimes minutes). All in all, very exciting times that make me look forward to spring time here.

Second month in Russia, and…

16/11/2016

I still did not turn into a frozen snowman standing alone somewhere out in this snow desert, even after a week of discovering Saint Petersburg and Moscow actively on foot. Maybe I am exagerating and it’s just me but it is really cold outside (minus range already) and we have been seeing serious snow since the end of October now. Besides being a proof that I am still doing well despite the cold, this post is also a response to what a friend from China asked me: what’s happening and what are you eating?

What’s happening:

Generally, I am mostly studying for uni and preparing my plans for next summer. However, last week my family came to visit and therefore we were out and about almost every day for the last 7 days. Therefore, I was able to collect a few more impressions from Moscow and Saint Petersburg that you can try and grasp in the pictures below:

Moscow:

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Saint Petersburg:

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The weather is not very pleasing as you might imagine (and see on these pictures) and I guess I knew what I signed up for.  At the end of October, it seemed like I would mostly stay inside for the next few months. However, in the meantime, Moscow has really turned into a snowy winter wonderland during the last few days because snow is not melting that strongly anymore. Or maybe I have also just become more accustomed to the cold.

What am I eating?

A lot of different things. Although Russian “cuisine” is in my experience not always the healthiest, it can be very tasty, especially its soups and its bakery. When trying, one can also successfully avoid getting a mountain of mayonnaise  onto a salad or whatever else one orders as a sauce replacement. Still, the mayonnaise section has its own little area in the supermarket, which shows how important it is here. When it comes to bakery, Russians seem to love to stuff rolls with all sorts of things, cabbage for example, which is called pirozhki. Unlike generally, last week I also ate out more with my family, so here are some pictures of food that we enjoyed last week:

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I do not want to say that the bakery stuff above is exclusively Russian but it is often sold around Moscow. What you see in the lowest picture is the Russian equivalent to bao tse (dumplings), it is called pelmeni and sold in all kinds of variations.

I hope this was a good answer to your question JP. Generally, this will be my last post for a while and I look forward to hearing from all of you to see hear about what I am missing while in Moscow.

Year Abroad in Russia – First Month gone by

30/09/2016

Structure:

  1. Intro: Why go to Russia?
  2. Organising life
  3. Starting at uni
  4. Impressions and highlights
  5. Some pictures from Moscow
  6. Conclusion and preview

1.  Why go to Russia?

Who has ever been to Russia and lived there for a number of months? Very few people. I guess the number of people that speak fluent Russian in addition to other languages is even lower. But those were not the only reasons for my decision to pursue exactly that. For me, another reason to pursue Russian was also the choice I faced at the beginning of my studies. My program at UCL combines Economics with a language from Europe. I think I would have chosen Chinese above Russian if given the choice, but since I was limited to Europe I thought Russian would be interesting for two main reasons. First, that I had not really gotten to know Russia at all. Second, that the language is sufficiently difficult and thus worth being studied for 4 years. Spanish, French, Italian and others can be learned in a much shorter time period. All this is not to say that I was completely sure that I would enjoy my year abroad and learning Russian, especially considering that I will be here for a long time until June next year.  Looking back however, I absolutely didn’t regret my choice; here is what I think now after having lived here for a month.

2. Organising life in Moscow

Living in Moscow is nice and easy. If there was not my uni that is spread all over the city. I spend an average of 45 minutes getting to classes and the same on the way back. Moscow metro stations are extremely beautiful as you can see below, but that is not enough of an incentive to spend an hour and more in them every day. But apart from that, everything else is nice: the supermarket is close, we live in a nice dorm and although we are in double rooms my roommate is really cool so that it works out well. Furthermore, living costs are reasonable and my monthly rent amounts to less than I would pay in London for a day (although that is because it is subsidised I think). Lastly, the people I have met here are all extremely nice. I have met two kinds of people mainly. First, the dorm is full of international students that come from Europe above all others. Second and even more interesting: the Russian students at my uni are all very nice and interested in hearing from foreigners. I speak with them in Russian in the most cases, which is great practice on top of being great fun. When you find out more details of a language and understand more you discover more features of a country and its culture.

3. Starting at uni

I study at the Higher School of Economics and at the New Economic School. Both of them were founded just a couple of decades ago to provide western high quality education to Russians. When arriving on the 1st of September, I had a very hard time choosing courses for several reasons. First, the number of possible courses was very high. Second, there was no way to know how the courses would be like and whether they would fit to my preferences. Third, the process of choosing and visiting courses involved a lot of difficulties with finding classes and others. Therefore, the first 2 weeks at Uni were a hectic time full of prioritisation and trying out. Of course, that was also exciting in that I had the chance to go “shopping” in some way and tried out a number of courses. For example, basics of mobile app development was already too advanced for me but I found a different programming course instead. Moreover, I also changed my Econometrics course from one faculty to another, where I now have lectures more similar to UCL and in Russian to practice listening and speaking skills (although all the material is in English). In general, the courses I take now range from Behavioral Economics to Statistical Learning Theory. In addition, I also take private lessons to improve my Russian. Overall, studying works really well here and the things I learn are fun and interesting. I am looking forward to seeing how the further experiences compare to what I know from University College London. So far, UCL seems far more international and organised to me, while uni in Moscow is more flexible and more innovative when it comes to assessment: we do not only have one exam at the end but also have other tasks during the year.

4. Impressions and highlights

My highlights so far have all been connected to people I have met here and the opportunities I have enjoyed with them. Here is a very small overview over some of them. First, my professor in Economic Growth is really good, which makes the course and the academic development in it challenging and rewarding. Second, I met some old friends I had already gotten to know during my first visit to Russia. Third, me and some newly gained Russian friends were at a concert by a very famous Russian band called Sveri. Fourth, I have been participating in student societies for banking, finance and consulting where I have met very motivated students that where all happy to help me get settled. Fifth, I visited ultimate frisbee once and had great fun there, I even know how to throw a frisbee properly now. Sixth, I enjoyed talking to students interested in studying abroad on the open day of my university, where I was helping the uni’s year abroad team. Seventh, I volunteered at a 5k run helping with the organisation and everything. My personal highlight there was someone thinking that I am Russian even after I had talked to him. Eigth, I have just enjoyed being very busy: I leave in the morning, experience lots of interesting things and then come back in the evening. The only quite time I have is usually from 5:30 to when I leave in the morning. This has meant that I have been using my time very carefully in order to manage to do everything on the list. In order to prepare for more highlights, I have already applied for opportunities this summer and have also organised some other the activities I want to develop in: swimming starts tonight.

5. Some pictures from Moscow:

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6. Conclusions and preview

All in all, the end of this 1st month marks the transmission from the hectic time at the beginning to the actual study phase and some kind of regular weekly schedule. I am looking forward to seeing what I can still fill it with, but if everything works well I would like to catch up on everything at uni, meet as many people as possible, learn some new things (like dancing, which starts on Saturday) and prepare my summer and the 4th year well. The last 4 weeks have shown that I can expect to have a lot of fun along the way.

 

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