Apparently registering is part of general life in Russia, at least, it is for foreigners. Also, you have to carry your documents around with you everywhere you go because we’ve been told that the police are allowed to stop you at any moment and ask to see them. It’s all part of the bureaucracy (took me ages to try and spell that word!!). So that includes your passport, your migration card, your insurance policy (travel and health – especially health), your student card… everything. Although we were told before we came in our pre-departure talks in Exeter to take a load of photocopies so that we can leave the original documents at home so they won’t get lost or stolen.
Oh yeah, that’s another thing we’ve been briefed on. Pickpockets are a thing, so we have to watch our bags and be careful in crowds. Apparently the police and thieves have an understand here; this works out practically where if there’s no violence, a certain amount of crime is tolerated. So you won’t get mugged, but you could still get your purse stolen. Silver linings and all.
In the talk they also explained some of the process of getting our visas converted to multi-entry. You arrive in Russia on a single entry visa. You can’t leave basically, unless you don’t want to come back. I was sorely tempted on Sunday… but don’t worry I’m sticking it out!! I’m still here! 😉
In 2 weeks (from the 18th) we have to bring our passports and migration cards, 1600₽ (roubles), 3 black and white photos and printed proof of insurance with us to the office at the uni and they will then begin the application process to get the visa extension (So that we can stay for longer than 90 days – forgot to mention that you enter with a single entry 90-day visa) and to convert it to multi entry so you can hop over the border etc.
A photo booth that takes black and white passport sized photos is not easy to find – but the uni pointed us to a certain shop just off of Suvorovsky Prospect (Суворовский проспект) which is attached to Nevsky Prospect (Невский проспект), the main kind of ‘high street’ in St P. I went with some friends to get mine done and my word was it an experience. We had the photos taken, then the lady in the shop plugged the camera into her computer and began to photo-shop my face right in front of me!! She literally removed every blemish and even squashed my hair in and removed any flyaway strands. She made my neck longer and moved my shoulders around to fit the frame properly, and when she was happy she pressed print and charged me more roubles than the poster on her wall claimed I’d have to pay for the 3 photos I’d asked for. I was so stunned at what was happening that I didn’t say anything… but the same happened to my friend as well straight after mine were done. The photos don’t even look quite like me anymore!! I guess this is how celebrities must feel.
The last thing that was touched on in our talk on Monday was advice specifically for women. They let the men leave and then told us that we had to always try and go out in groups, and if a man approached us that the best thing to do was run away. Also to not get into just any taxi or even into an Uber/Yandex taxi alone if possible. They told us to be careful when drinking in clubs and bars because spiking drinks is quite common, but apparently more so they can steal your wallet than sexually assault you. Again with the silver linings…. I guess getting robbed is better right? Maybe I’m making this sound worse than it really is; this advice probably goes for most big cities. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve only ever lived in smaller cities my whole life.
Before the talk from our reps, we were all given a little interview with a teacher from the uni. I felt like mine went really well, it was only about 10 minutes and I was asked questions about my name (always the conversation starter, especially when I was able to tell her that it’s Greek but no, I’m not Greek…). Also questions about my family, and you can kind of steer it a bit so I was able to talk bout how I’ve lived in Spain.
I’m generally just so surprised and relieved at how much Russian I seem to know and understand. I still have some holes in my vocab and I could do with going over some of the grammar again but I think I’m on the right road to getting pretty good at Russian. But hey, it’s early days yet, and the thing they did warn us about with RLUS courses is that there will be a lot of other English speaking students taking the course with you. 4 other people from Exeter that I know from my class there are here too… and so far I have spoken quite a bit more English than I’d have liked. But I’m hoping that it’s just for the first week or so while we all find our feet and settle in. Something to bear in mind when choosing between St P/Moscow and Kazan or anywhere in Siberia. More on this to come!