I completed the Russian Area Studies Program with CIEE St. Petersburg in spring of 2017. I had wanted to study in Russia, and specifically St. Petersburg, due to a fascination for pre-revolutionary Russian history as well as a love of Dostoevsky's classic novel Crime and Punishment. CIEE's program was the only program in St. Petersburg that was pre-approved by my university, so it was an easy choice. I had originally wanted to do the Russian Language Program, but since I had only taken three semesters of Russian, I didn't qualify for it so I applied for the Area Studies program instead. It was one of the best choices of my life. Not only is the city full to bursting of palaces, museums, and art galleries (not to mention the historically preserved architecture of the city centre), but the CIEE program was well organized and super fun. The staff was extremely helpful and approachable. Excursions--ranging from optional walking tours of historic sites to mandatory trips to Moscow and Pushkinskie Gori--were offered extremely frequently, often with tours available in both Russian and English. Although the St. Petersburg weather lives up to its reputation as unpredictable and often downright unpleasant, the days spent at the Smolny campus more than made up for the conditions outside. This program gave me the opportunity to live with a host family, improve my Russian, and learn more about this complex country and the city I resided in. I made tons of new friends and everyone on my program were super tightly knit. Although I have many favorite memories, one that will particularly stick with me is when we took a bus tour of the city during one of the very first days after arriving in St. Petersburg. It was the first glance we got at the city centre. As we were driving back to the orientation hotel, at barely 5pm, the sun was already set. We drove down Nevsky Prospekt, the main thoroughfare of the city. All of the buildings were lit up, and it started to snow. I realized that the city, although very good looking at all times, was most beautiful at night, as people bustled along down the sidewalks under the glow of the lights and the freshly falling snow. It was a good start to a fantastic semester.
How can this program be improved?
I often did not feel challenged enough academically. However, I think part of this was due to the fact that my classes were in English and not in Russian (the Area Studies courses, with the exception of the Russian language courses, were all in English, while the Language Program courses were all in Russian). Other than that, I have basically no complaints.
Would you recommend this program?
Yes, I would