«Study experience at NEFU»
The following report summarizes my experience about my semester abroad at North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk. It was the summer semester of 2016, which was supported by a scholarship as part of the joint research program of the International Bureau at the University of Innsbruck.
After submitting the application in the spring of 2015, I immediately began preparing for my trip: all documents (application for a scholarship, an invitation from a partner university, insurance, medical examinations, a visa). For me, it was a great help to take advantage of the experience of Jacob Lorenzi, who himself spent a semester in Yakutsk in the summer semester of 2015 and kindly shared his experience with me. So I was able to go to Yakutsk on 28 February 2016 without any problems.
Direct contact for my stay in Yakutsk was the local international office, where NEFU exchange programs are coordinated. Already in advance by e-mail and of course on site, the university tried to make staying in Yakutsk as simple and convenient as possible.
I received the necessary invitation for a visa on time and without further problems. At the airport I was waited by a university employee and he drove me to the hostel. Subsequently, all procedures, in particular, registration and extension of the visa, were carried out by the NEFU International Office.
In addition, each foreign exchange student was assigned a NEFU student as a “Buddy” who accompanied me during the semester, but I only used this service at the beginning because I wanted to resolve issues on my own, which, fortunately, I managed to do.
Yakutsk city and weather
The university is located on campus, from which you can easily reach the city center in 15 minutes on foot or on one of the minibuses.
The city itself is convenient in terms of the location of streets and roads. They are parallel to each other, so you can quickly find your way. Yakutsk is not what is commonly thought of as architectural "beauty." There are very few old buildings, as they were mostly wooden houses, which eventually disappeared. Therefore, in Yakutsk dominated by large block houses. But the city of Yakutsk is in a secluded place among untouched nature, so you should definitely take the opportunity to leave the city during your stay in Yakutsk.
The temperature in Yakutsk was initially very low, as expected. In the beginning there were temperatures from -45 to -48 degrees Celsius. Therefore, appropriate clothing was necessary. However, the conditions were not as bad as I expected / feared. Since the hostel was located right behind the university, the stay in the «fresh air» was in any case limited.
It is also very dry cold, which is well tolerated with appropriate clothing. Already at the end of March it became very warm, and the period of thawing began with many puddles and mud pits, which made me miss the frozen ground. For this time you need waterproof shoes.
It should also be noted that due to the northern location of the city, the days in winter are very short and very long in summer. Therefore, if you are a night owl, you must be prepared for the fact that in May the night will end before you go to bed.
During my stay, I lived in a hostel in the immediate vicinity of the university (two minutes walk). The hostel was properly furnished and very neat and clean. We shared my double room with a local student, which certainly was useful for my language development.
The bathroom and toilet were shared with the next room, and the kitchen was shared for six rooms (about 12 people), we had a cleaning schedule. If you did not want to cook on your own, you had the opportunity to eat relatively inexpensively in the dining room on the first floor of the hostel, open from 9 to 20 h.
In addition, around the campus there are many other canteens and shops (working 24 hours a day) with food and other household goods. On the ground floor of the hostel there was also a reading room with Wi-Fi, a gym and a laundry, although washing machines often failed, so you had to wash it by hands.
The main purpose of my stay was to improve my knowledge of Russian. First of all, I attended relevant language courses, which took place from Monday to Thursday, three hours a day. The language group consisted of 8-10 students from China, Korea, Japan, Germany and the USA, but then students from the other groups joined, so that within a short time there were up to 18 students in our group. The lesson focused on the practical use of the language, as well as the development of grammatical skills. In addition, on Wednesdays there was a «local history» course in which we attended cultural institutions, such as various theaters, museums and exhibitions in Yakutsk. In addition to language courses, I also attended courses in the Yakut language, and also participated in events organized by the International Scientific School, in which speakers gave lectures in English on topics such as climate change, the political system in Russia, etc.
Leisure / Extracurricular activities
Outside the university courses there are also many ways to get to know Yakutsk better. The international office once again made every effort to offer exchange students a variety of leisure activities, such as student discos, movie nights, etc. Among other things, I visited the UNESCO World Heritage -Lena Pillars Nature Park.
In addition, the International Office has always been asked to contribute as a foreign student in Yakutsk. For example, I gave interviews for evening news on local television, worked as a jury at an English language competition in one of the city’s schools, and attended other schools where I talked about my life and studies in Innsbruck, in Austria and Germany. Although sometimes it was a bit troublesome to prepare for such events along with university courses, but it also provided a unique opportunity to get to know the locals better.
In general, I can say that my Russian language skills have improved markedly. I was finally able to successfully pass the TORFL-2 exam (GERS B2 level). Thanks to this, I achieved my main goal - to improve my language skills. In addition, I also managed to get a lot of experience, which expanded my views on Russia in general and on Yakutia in particular.
Unfortunately, four months passed in Yakutsk too quickly, and I would gladly have immersed myself even more into the unique Yakut culture. I can recommend to all students who want to go abroad to visit the Far East of Russia.
Franz Staudinger, student of the University of Innsbruck (Austria)
Internship from February to June 2016