- Name: Kendal Karstens
- Country/place of origin: Maryland, United States
- Where you studied abroad: Saint Petersburg, Russia
- When you studied abroad: Spring 2017
- College/university that you studied abroad with: High Point University with the AIFS Program
- Describe your study abroad experience in 3 words: Unexpected, challenging, beautiful
Why did you decide to study abroad? Why did you go where you went?
I studied abroad in high school for an entire year, so I knew study abroad must absolutely be part of my college experience. I decided on Russia for three reasons:
- Since high school, I have had a deep curiosity and interest in Russia’s culture and history
- Traveling to Europe is simpler than other regions of the world, so I wanted to travel somewhere not as accessible
- Few Americans will ever have the opportunity to live in Russia.
Where was your favourite travel destination while studying abroad?
Saint Petersburg is magical, but Kazan is a close second. Islam and Christianity meet peacefully in Kazan. It was beautiful and inspiring to see coexistence in practice.
What is your most embarrassing/craziest study abroad moment?
While sitting in the Kazan airport waiting to catch a connecting flight in Moscow a man asked me a question in Russian. I had no clue what this man asked me, but I assumed he asked where the flight was going. I replied Moscow and he bust out laughing. Not until later did I realize the man had asked me where the devil lives.
What was the best thing you ate while studying abroad?
Russian food is amazing, however сырок (pronounced ‘sirok’) is something I will miss at home and cannot cook on my own. They are frozen cottage cheese desserts usually covered in chocolate or caramel. If you like ice cream you will be as obsessed as I am with these little treasures.
What did you miss most about home when studying abroad?
Running outside. Most days are below freezing and icy, conditions I am not comfortable running in. Russia had an uncharacteristically lengthy winter the semester I studied abroad; it was not until the last week I was able to run outside a few times. The day before I left in May, it snowed again!
What was the biggest challenge you faced while studying abroad?
Adjusting to the drastically different culture. At first glance, Russia seems not so different. As you live in the country longer, you realize just how many drastic differences there are. There is nothing right or wrong about Russian culture, it is just different. It took some time to roll my eyes at some things and move on.
What is your fondest memory from studying abroad?
My first weekend in Russia, a bunch of the students decided to walk around Nevsky Prospekt at night and to see the city’s lights. We noticed locals playing on the frozen river and decided to join them. Dancing and skating on the frozen river is a memory I will never forget.
How has your study abroad experience impacted your life?
After studying abroad in Russia, I have a new understanding of this often-demonized country. People are people everywhere; we all want to have full stomachs and a safe place to rest our heads at night. We are not so different after all.
Any last words of advice for people planning to study abroad?
Challenge yourself before, during, and after studying abroad. Go somewhere you never would have considered, learn as much as possible about your new home, explore every week, try new things, and keep learning once the experience is over.
Have you studied abroad in Russia? Or are you considering studying abroad in Russia? Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions in the comments section below!