отпуск в России
July 8, 2008 12:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning on moving to Russia for 4-5 months - Moscow or St. Petersburg?

My plan is to take courses in advanced Russian at either Moscow State or St. Petersburg State from November 2008 to February/March 2009.

I've originally been thinking about Moscow, but I've heard some horror stories about the cost of living. How expensive is Moscow? And how does St. Petersburg compare?

I'll be doing a bit of freelance work, but will not be steadily earning during that time. That said, I've saved up about $15,000 US, which I hope to not completely spend (especially since I plan to travel through the Caucases in May/April).

I'm also curious to hear about other people's experiences studying Russian at either university, and comparative thoughts about St. Petersburg and Moscow as places to live. And hell, if you think there's a better place to live than either of these, feel free to chirp in.

posted by mammary16 to Education (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
St. Petersburg without a doubt. I don't know figures, but Moscow is absurdly expensive. St. Petersburg is a lot, but I don't think it's as bad as Moscow. I've also heard good things about St. Petersburg State...don't know much about Mos State.

Also, visiting the Caucases is a good idea. Very beautiful + interesting.
posted by Autarky at 1:14 PM on July 8, 2008

They're both expensive. From my (admittedly touristy) experience Moscow is where you want to go if you want to have a deeply Russian, very foreign feeling experience, and St Petersburg is a little more “European”.
posted by Artw at 1:14 PM on July 8, 2008

Moscow State is a better university. (I would say that, though, as a born and bred Muscovite!)

Yes, Moscow is expensive--but only if you go to supermarkets and in general pretend like you're living in the West. The vast majority of the city's population uses the still Soviet-era infrastructure of public schools, clinics, small grocery stores, subways, and so on, and subsist fairly well on their meager salaries. The sticking point will be finding an apartment. Moscow resembles NYC in many ways; the housing market is utterly ridiculous and rife with scammers, and the tradeoff is always either living downtown where everything is horribly pricey or living on the edges and dealing with crime and bad train service. (MGU has dorms, but I don't know anything about them.)

I've only been to St. Petersburg twice in my life. All I remember, from a quality-of-life standpoint, is that the public transportation network is much worse--the subway has only 3 lines. (If Moscow is NYC, then Piter is Boston.) On the other hand, it tends to be prettier and more elegant, and there is less of the kind of development-gone-wild that's ravaging Moscow right now. In general, I would say there's not all that much of a cost difference between the life of the average Russian person in Moscow and in Piter. Admittedly it has been 5 years since I was there last.
posted by nasreddin at 1:15 PM on July 8, 2008

I should add, what I wrote is probably more personal preference than objective advice. I don't know your particular needs or anything, so take it with a grain of salt.
posted by Autarky at 1:15 PM on July 8, 2008

St. Petersburg without a doubt. I don't know figures, but Moscow is absurdly expensive. St. Petersburg is a lot, but I don't think it's as bad as Moscow. I've also heard good things about St. Petersburg State...don't know much about Mos State.

Moscow State is the best university in Russia, and the hardest to get into. (This isn't just my bias speaking.)

I wouldn't trust "WORLDS MOST EXPENSIVE CITY OMG" type rankings--as far as I can tell they're not geared to what the life of the average non-expat really costs.
posted by nasreddin at 1:17 PM on July 8, 2008

St. Petersburg is an extraordinarily beautiful city. It's not just the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, the Neva River, the lush, expansive parks, or the incredible architecture and beautifully restored walks. It's all that, and some magic that the city has, that makes it one of the treasures of Europe. Walk through the old city, and you are in the silent presence of history. Turn on the radio at night to hear a message that has been transmitted faithfully since the city's occupation during WW2. The story of how "the city on bones" came to be is as dramatic, incredible, and Russian as its subsequent history. White nights! Supermarkets! Maze-like alleys! The ballet! The philharmonic! The theater! The subway (&, &, &)!

I'm biased. It's my native city. Here is a savings of some thousands of words:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
posted by prefpara at 1:26 PM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I spent a semester and a summer studying in St. Petersburg. I made a few trips to Moscow and though I liked some of it, it was pretty overwhelming. St. Petersburg is beautiful and manageable, and I was really glad I'd chosen to live there. It's true that the subway system can't hold a candle to Moscow's, but I honestly never had any trouble getting around. With the subway, buses, marshrutkas, cabs, and chastniki, I always had options.

If you like art, the Hermitage could clinch it for St. Pete. I went all the time and was always mesmerized.
posted by ORthey at 1:27 PM on July 8, 2008

I've done work tours in Moscow extensively, 6 weeks, and 6 weeks at a time. If you're not Russian, the city is crazy expensive. I paid more for my moscow apt. than an apt in NYC. Getting a cheap ghetto place wasn't an option- the moment the landlords see that you're American, prices jump up.

I think St. Petersburg would be a better fit because it's also a lot more cultural. You can do all the sites in Moscow in 2 or 3 weekends. If you're going to be there 6 months, man, you better keep yourself entertained. Moscow is full of hookers, high-end bars, mafia men, and old ladies who yell at you in Russian all the time.
posted by unexpected at 1:29 PM on July 8, 2008

BTW, I hope you speak Russian, because the traditional method for establishing communication with people who do not speak Russian seems to be to shout the same thing at them, louder and faster, which could be a little problematic if you’re used to tourist miming and phrasebooking your way through things.
posted by Artw at 1:33 PM on July 8, 2008

Oh, and I should say that there is some rivalry between the inhabitants of the two cities, and some dispute as to which is the more authentically "Russian," which has the most/best/___est "culture," and so on. St. Petersburg is definitely more European, as Peter the Great explicitly intended it to be, but don't mistake this for a blemish on its "Russianness."

In any case, be aware of the debate, because if you are asking this question, you're going to get some biased responses (like mine). I tried not to say it explicitly, but of course I began with the assumption that the seat of Russian culture is OBVIOUSLY in St. Petersburg.

My advice: ask Americans who have been to both cities. Asking Russians is like asking Americans which sports team to root for, Yankees or Red Sox. Only, in this America, there are no other teams. (I kid, I kid, visit Odessa, etc.)
posted by prefpara at 1:34 PM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

My advice: ask Americans who have been to both cities. Asking Russians is like asking Americans which sports team to root for, Yankees or Red Sox. Only, in this America, there are no other teams. (I kid, I kid, visit Odessa, etc.)

Agreed on both counts. (But Odessa is in the Ukraine. And there really are no other cities that aren't complete provincial backwaters. Even Pskov, Novgorod and Ryazan feel like Bumfuck, Nebraska, despite their wealth of cultural heritage.)

(I personally prefer the Tretyakovka to the Hermitage. Don't forget that Moscow has its share of good museums.)
posted by nasreddin at 1:45 PM on July 8, 2008

Side question by non-OP: Hows Vladivostok compare?
posted by Artw at 1:46 PM on July 8, 2008

Side question by non-OP: Hows Vladivostok compare?

Never been there and don't know anyone who has. As a general rule, bumfuckiness in Russia increases in proportion to the square of the distance from Moscow. (Piter excepted.)
posted by nasreddin at 1:53 PM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Moscow (full disclosure: I was born there).

I really do not agree with whoever upthread said that you could see everything in Moscow in just a few weekends. Maybe you could see "everything" that a tour guide would take you to see but that's not at all everything there is to see.

The Metro system in Moscow is brilliant: you can get everywhere, the stations are beautiful, you could probably spend a year visiting and photographing every station. They are like miniature museums. Seriously. Plus, of course, for transportation you can also take buses, trolleys, hail cabs/cars on the street, etc.

Also, Moscow has more life. I've visited St. Petersburg twice and it's been gloomy and dreary. The Hermitage and other cultural things were amazing, yes, but the city itself was depressing. Moscow seems vibrant and big-city-esque (an aside: if you are directionally challenged, maybe St.P is for you as, IIRC, the streets are laid out more logically, rather than Moscow which just grew and grew).

To address the expensive vs inexpensive thing - I agree with previous comments. Life is as expensive as you make it. If you're going out drinking in a club every night you won't be able to afford Moscow. On the other hand, if you buy some inexpensive (but still premium) vodka and go sit with friends and drink, eat, and make merry, you shouldn't have many problems.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 1:56 PM on July 8, 2008

Asking Russians is like asking Americans which sports team to root for

I agree with this, and I would specifically suggest asking Americans who have taken courses in advanced Russian at either university. As fascinating as the cities are (I've been to both), you want to make sure the program is right for you, and general statements like "university X is the best" aren't really relevant.

Also, try to read as much as you can about both cities before you make a decision; you may get a strong feel for which is likely to appeal to you more. (For me it's SPb—sorry, nasreddin!)
posted by languagehat at 3:55 PM on July 8, 2008

Best answer: I am an American who studied in St. Petersburg for a year (about five years ago, for reference) and I would definitely recommend it over Moscow. Besides the expense and the subjective feeling that Piter was "home," there was the simple fact that whenever living in Russia got to me, in St. Petersburg there was always something to do. I spent insane amounts of time at the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, and the Museum of Ethnography; there are tons of tiny museums; and the palace-park complexes outside Piter are really interesting places to go and wander even if you skip the museums. And, to be completely honest, it was really easy to get out of the country if I just couldn't take it any more. Estonia is cheap and easy to get to and just western enough that you can sit, sip your decaf coffee and listen to the British tourists for a weekend and then go back. Basically what it boils down to is that there were lots of ways for me to go and entertain myself in St. Petersburg, whether or not I felt like dealing with other people or the language issues (sometimes I just couldn't take it any more), and in Moscow (which I visited frequently) that felt harder. Also, you are much less likely to get run over by a limousine in St. Petersburg.

Getting around was not difficult although one relied on buses and marshrutki more than the subway. I did not study at St. Petersburg University, although I have friends who lived in their dorms (my recommendation: do not live in their dorms) and I studied at an affiliated program (and was underwhelmed by their Russian courses). I would advise doing some serious investigation into the language programs; remember that the Russian style of teaching is very different from the American. It's not like going to Middlebury or something.

I would also advise not bothering with anywhere except Moscow or St. Petersburg unless you are looking at former Soviet republics or something. I have friends who studied in Irkutsk and Yaroslavl and they all wished they hadn't. Travel between Moscow and St. Petersburg is relatively easy, giving you the option of living in one city and checking out the other over three-day weekends, but have you ever tried getting anywhere from Irkutsk?
posted by posadnitsa at 5:42 PM on July 8, 2008

I'd suggest St. P over Moscow.

2 other words of advice:

- November - February is about the worst time to visit. Not only is it super cold and dreary, but with New Years and Orthodox Christmas, in January will be very difficult to get anything done.

- Base your decision on the experiences that other people have had at the Russian classes at both places. They could really vary for all you know. I've found that most Americans prefer to do private tutoring, especially at advanced levels.
posted by k8t at 1:44 AM on July 9, 2008

Perhaps this is only because I studied in Moscow and have only visited Petersburg as a tourist, but Moscow feels like a more interesting and functional city, even if Petersburg is a more beautiful city. Petersburg is somewhat more European in style. I studied in Moscow nearly 10 years ago, and at that time, there were essentially two economies: the expensive western/"New Russian" economy and the everyday standard one, with what seemed like an order of magnitude of difference in prices.

I'll also agree that you don't want to consider any cities but Moscow or Petersburg. And November - Feburary will be cold and dark. Very cold and very dark.
posted by andrewraff at 9:49 AM on July 9, 2008

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