I am a 25-years old third year student of University of Lapland who has always been interested
in remote places. I’m doing my bachelors in sociology and went to exchange for a spring
semester 2012. I did my exchange in North-Eastern Federal University of Sakha Republic.
It was very clear option for me to drift myself over there because of common interests and studies
as well. I have been wondering around Russian territory for 10 years now but never really forced
myself to study language even in the level of small-talk. Various eye-to-eye discussions without
sense always made me think of studying the Russian language even a bit because I also knew Russian country being place to go again and again.
First impression of Sakha Republic I got looking out of airplane window was land covered by thick fog that painted scenery bright blue and white. Second impression was very polite and smiling people in University and streets of Yakutsk City. Everyone is very interested in foreign people and it is easy to make friends here despite the fact my Russian was on the level next to nothing at first. People are very patient with foreigners' poor language skills and help in building the words. Since the beginning is good to be prepared to question: “How is Yakutsk, cold, yes?” They can't think how much times a day you might be answering to same question.
I applied for an exchange here without knowing other person being here before or coming at the
same time with me. Still accidentally one student from University of Lapland happened to apply to
the same semester with me which was a positive surprise. We arrived at Yakutsk in the middle
of January just after cold period so the famous -60 Celsius really didn’t hit us. We are leaving in
the beginning of June before the time it should be according to everyone very nice and goosy.
I think it is more interesting in wintertime to throw water in the air during the cold day and
listen to it making jingling sound.
Student life in Yakutsk is nice and peaceful. All international students are placed in
dormitory that is biggest and most beautiful of all around. Campus area is small and active but
strict by its rules. Other students are mainly very young and the Head of University really appreciates healthy way of living which is clearly visible in dormitory rules. International students are placed to same floor with each others and together they share washing room and kitchen. Don’t bring your own pots or pans, kitchen is already well equipped. International teachers also lives in same floor but in different wings. Every year students have a good team spirit and give support to each others. No one here feels lonely and there is something to do every day. If there happened to be a day without goes it only feels nice and earned. In Russian education system one really nice side is a very rich variety of different sports to do. The University offers free sport classes in almost every sport you could imagine. It is easy to go and try new activities here. Personally I ended up buying a unicycle because of one friend who does it. It is nice to raise interest in downtown by driving unicycle.
Life is very safe inside the University territory but if you stick inside the campus something essential might have been out of the experiences. Very much depends on independent initiative. There are possibilities for everything and local students and other friends are also happy to show places for foreigners. Very fascinating things to do is to take a visit outside the city to towns where people live their lives in a different way. In villages they are not less friendly than in the city. They are even more. International Office offers some trips into the country but personally I didn’t managed to go there but next time I will be more wise. I will bring trekking equipment for sure.
This year we had a conference trip to Njerungri in Southern Yakutia which was very kind of International Office. It is always possible to consult International Office about all the interests you have. Usually in every classes where needed there is a translator available.
Each year there is Political science course for international students where they can participate in planning the course themes. Also there are interesting multidisciplinary courses of lectures on Yakutian land and people, and the Russian language as well which are worth to visit.
Yakutsk is very good place to learn the Russian language. Teaching is organized according to skills
and groups are ideal sized. This year there were three different groups for foreigners and in all
teacher was amazingly good. My teacher was a person who took every student as individual
and created unstressed atmosphere since the beginning. All students in my group wanted to study
language also because they didn’t want to disappoint the teacher. She is the person I
definitely will keep contact by correspondence.
Not less important than learning the Russian language is to enrich knowledge of the vital culture
of the Sakha which is even more interesting than the Russian one. In my studies I’m focusing
on northern issues so the experiences earned here will be useful for future academic plans.
I think even more interesting and more real is to have a chat with locals and ask their opinions of
certain topic. I received more perspective of indigenous people policy from local reindeer herder
than from the books written.
After being here I’m more sure to study Russian indigenous cultures and environment further.
Right now I’m thinking of coming back because this place has still much to offer. One semester
is really not enough time to cover this little state of Russia, and especially if interests are around
the language two semesters feel like an idea. In future I hope to explore mountain areas and visit
reindeer herders in the South fighting against the gas pipe in their lands. Exchange time in North-Eastern Federal University gave me very good experience although in future I would do some things in a different way. It is reasonable to think what you really want from exchange semester so everything comes easier to reach.
I want to strongly recommend NEFU for foreign students despite the major subjects in home university or level of the Russian language. It will be nice experience for all to travel here in the middle of Siberia and live through everyday life in the most extreme city on the Earth with nice people around.
University of Lapland