International student studying International Relations in Nizhny Novgorod, Russian Federation

Host country: Russian Federation
Host city: Nizhny Novgorod
Home country: Germany
Department/faculty: International Relations
Program type: Exchange year
Level of degree: Bachelor
Program length: 12 months
Program finished: 2016-06-01

Personal challenges

One of my biggest challenges in my personal life abroad was experiencing the living conditions in the student accommodations. Sharing is great but how much sharing is okay? During my first semester abroad 20 students had to share a kitchen that was equipped with a stove that got one functioning plate, so good luck standing in line to cook your dinner there. Also it seemed to be particularly difficult to share a small room with up to 2 other students – a situation I never experienced before. You have to be really careful and patient, because living so close to each other can easily generate tensions that might escalate in a minute. Luckily I got along very well with my roommates, because they were also very considerate and rather uncomplicated.

Personal takeaways

Even if you are living with complete strangers abroad, you have to find a way to get along with them. The most important thing is to respect each other and each other’s privacy needs right from the beginning. You don’t have to let anyone dominate your personal space and vica versa you should act in a fair and polite manner as well. This might sound impossible, considering that we are talking about a 20 square meter room for 3 people, but in my case it proved to be really helpful that we clarified everything in advance. I suggest that in case you have to share a room with others, divide who can use what in the room. Obviously everyone uses their own beds, but shelf space, desks, mirrors and other equipments may need to be divided because of their position in the room. Clear rules and sticking to those rules should allow you to preserve your own space where you can do whatever you want without disturbing your roommates privacy. Noise is another issue though, you have to try to limit it when you are not alone in your room.

Academic challenges

The teaching attitude at my host university seemed to differ a lot from what I got used to in my home country. Some professors did not feel bothered if classes did not actually take place on a regular basis. Some professors just came to the class, repeated the lectures they gave in the past decade, if you prepared for class at all. Sometimes not even the slightets efforts were made to update facts, defintions or complete set logical of mistakes in the presentation. Of course you will find professors like them in every country, but I had an impression that it was more common, or almost more „accepted” at my host instituion. On the other hand, I also attended courses that were properly organized and we had some amazing, motivated and talented lecturers.

Academic takeaways

Obviously, it is beyond your power to change the attitude of local professors, that is why I decided not to overrate the importance of the academic issues during my foreign exchange semester. I recommend international students to collect information about the host country and host university standards, that way you can set realistic expectations. Once you arrived, you should build on the general experience you get from a different academic structure. In my opinion it is better to put more focus on living in a different culture, meeting new people from all around the world, studying a new language and enjoying your freedom. Strike a healthy balance between personal and academic life and do not overreact to or get consumed by the initially troublesome conditions. That is key to making your foreign exchange semester worthwhile.

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