Reason you chose this program: I was eager for the chance to practically apply my language skills and challenge myself personally. I chose St. Petersburg because, having read much about it previously, I knew it to be a beautiful city rich with history, culture, and its own very distinct atmosphere.
Describe the housing situation: My host mother was incredible and was very understanding and helpful as I adapted to life in St. Petersburg. Living with someone who speaks only Russian was a huge challenge for me, but learning to communicate with her resulted in the greatest cultural insights and self-growth.
Biggest Surprise: Before my departure I read a lot of warnings concerning safety in Russia, but I found that St. Petersburg was no more dangerous than any large city, so long as I used common sense. I remained on the lookout for trouble, but I very rarely felt threatened or unsafe.
Experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock: Even though I'd expected it, it was disorienting that Russians smile very little in public and do not recognize the American concept of 'service with a smile.' It did feel rather harsh and alienating at first, but I got so accustomed to the facial indifference that back in the States when waiters, cashiers, and even strangers smiled at me I became immediately uncomfortable and suspicious.
What you know now that you didn't know before going abroad: A semester is so short, particularly when you're wrapped up in so many new experiences. I'm very happy with my study abroad experience, but I do often wonder what a full year would have been like.
What I wish I knew before I left: I confess that my knowledge of current Russian politics was rather shaky before I left. Though not all students brought up the topic of politics, I was embarrassed by how much the Russian students knew about American politics in comparison to how little I knew about theirs.
Going abroad versus staying on campus, discuss: Going abroad was completely worth it, especially as a language major. It's a little frustrating to feel behind on things that happened on campus while I was gone, but I would not trade my new perspective and experiences for anything.
Fact about your host country that you think people would be surprised to learn: Russians are notoriously superstitious. For example, my host mom made me knock on wood and smile at myself in a mirror before going out in the evenings to ensure a safe return.