Studying Russian in Russia for a month

I stayed in Russia for a month in order to study the language through language courses and immersion. It was an amazing experience that I would recommend to anyone wanting to learn or improve their language skills, as immersion proves to be very useful to truly learn a language.

This experience was very different from anything I had ever done, and I wanted to write about it for myself, as some sort of recap, but it might also be of interest to some of you.

My first introduction to Russian

I started to learn Russian a few years ago, as a hobby. I picked Russian because I wanted to challenge myself with something quite difficult, and learn a new alphabet. My interest for the culture and the country did the rest. So, I bought some books to learn Russian, tried to be disciplined and study regularly, without signing up for a course or anything else.

Things didn’t really go as planned. On some months I would study every day, then do almost nothing for weeks. Even though I was motivated and truly liked learning the language, I just lacked self-discipline and it is truly difficult to get a grasp of Russian grammar without having detailed explanations.

Anyway, I soon realized that I needed more and that I couldn’t really do it by myself. I was working as a freelance at the time so I decided to attend language courses in Russia, and started to do some research in order to find the perfect school.

How I picked the school

I asked friends for recommendations and used Google to find a variety of schools I could choose from, then I wrote everything down on a chart to have a good overview of everything. Here are the things that I felt were important and that helped me to pick the school:

  • Prices: It is obviously important. However, I didn’t let the price of the courses/accommodation decide of the school as I didn’t want to compromise on the quality.
  • Courses: I wanted to do an “intensive” language course and still enjoy the city so I looked into programs that had 20 to 30 hours/week. Some schools offered “modules” that focused on grammar, speaking or culture, and I really liked that as it also offers some diversity in the program.
  • Activities organised by the school: Having high-quality courses is of course an essential aspect of learning a language, but being in Russia was also the perfect opportunity to learn more about the country, its history and its culture, which is why it was important to me to go to a school that would also offer some activities to explore the city more in-depth.
  • Visa stuff: I wanted a school that could help me with this and provide an invitation letter (mandatory to get a Visa).
  • City: The environment is obviously very important as you are not going to study at home the whole day. I wanted to be in a big city and first picked Moscow. However, in the end, I went to Saint Petersburg because the school that I liked the most was there, and it is still an amazing city that I wanted to visit.
  • Accommodation: I knew I wanted to stay with a host family for a greater immersion. Booking the accommodation through the school seemed “safer”, and they guaranteed a nice welcoming family. I am still really happy with this choice and would definitely recommend it, especially for a short stay.

All of the elements above helped me pick the Derzhavin Institute in Saint Petersburg. It had a lot of course options, a great activities program and helped with admin stuff. It is very well located, the facilities are nice and clean, and the staff and teachers brilliant.

My experience at the Derzhavin Institute

On the first day, I had to take a short oral test in order to be assigned to my group level. I was assigned to a certain group, but after the first class, as I started to remember everything I had learnt so far, I was moved to a higher level which was perfect for me. Every language level (A1 to C2) is divided in sub-levels (A1.1, A1.2, A2.1, etc) so that the courses are as close to your level as possible.

Because of the course options that I picked, I had 2 to 4 busier days during the weeks, finishing at 3 pm, but I finished at 1pm the rest of the week. On top of that, I had homework every single day. Every Friday we also had a test that helped us to keep track of everything we did during the week. A bit stressful, but useful!

On the first week I struggled a bit to find a balance between my obligations at the school and social activities/visits because I wanted to see every single thing in the city. But I soon realized that I had plenty of time to do both: discover Saint Petersburg after class then go home and do my homework.

My days were then divided between studying a language that I love and walking around the city, visiting museums or churches, and meeting up with friends.

First impressions of Russia and daily life

Russia is definitely a very different country from the ones I knew. Same goes for the people there. My first impression was then that everything was overall a bit cold… and everything seemed so big!

However, as the days got sunnier and my confidence with Russian improved, I started to see things differently and really enjoy my Russian life. You might not be greeted by a huge smile from the waiter in a restaurant, but they are still welcoming in their own way.

As for my daily life, I was living with a very nice host family that welcomed me into their home and gave me a lot of food: breakfast in the morning and dinner at night. They spoke very little English so sometimes communication was a bit hard, but even though I didn’t understand everything, I still really enjoyed the evenings where my “Russian mum” and babushka would tell me stories about their life.

My Russian improved a lot, as well as my ability to smile politely and look interested even when I couldn’t understand a single word.

I really loved this experience and I would recommend it to anyone learning Russian, or learning a language in general. I could notice an improvement from day one, it helped me consolidate everything I had learnt so far and gave me the extra boost and motivation I needed in my language practice.

I absolutely loved Saint Petersburg and met amazing people from all around the world. I am already thinking about going back there next year to keep on improving my language skills and maybe discover another part of Russia!

Have you ever studied a language abroad? Is it something that you want to try?

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Responses to “Studying Russian in Russia for a month”

  1. With love, Caroline Avatar

    Great post!! It’s an amazing experience to travel abroad to study a language and definitely one of the best ways to learn it, in my opinion! I’ve spent 2 to 3 weeks in London to improve my english a few years ago and I love it! Though, I think the more you already know the language, the more time you should spend in the country because you reach some sort of “learning plateau” that takes time to be overtaken.
    Thank you for sharing! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Juliette Avatar

      Totally agree! And by going abroad at a very basic level you really improve a lot so it also makes you feel better haha

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lashaan Balasingam @ Bookidote Avatar

    I’m stunned by your initiative to study a foreign language abroad. I can’t even get myself to go across the street to learn a new language. Bravo on the whole experience, especially in studying a language like this one! My brain hurts just thinking about Russian. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Juliette Avatar

      Thanks for your comment! Russian is really hard yes, but that’s why it’s great to study it in Russia because you’re forced to do it haha 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. ourcrossings Avatar

    Wow, I can’t believe that out of all the languages you picked Russian – it’s one of the languages we had to learn in school, and I still remember my struggles with it! I applaud your efforts, girl! Well done

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Juliette Avatar

      Wow you had to learn Russian in school? That’s amazing! I don’t remember what exactly got me into starting this language, maybe some sort of fascination about the culture and language… But after this month I loved it even more 😍


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  7. Toma Ruh Avatar

    Oh wow this is amazing! I have a weird obsession with Russian language and really want to visit there! It’s awesome that you had this opportunity! And I know what you mean about speaking part of learning a language hihi. I’m studying in Sweden and learning Swedish. I can understand everything when I read and my writing is pretty good, but when I have to speak during an exam my palms are sweaty mom’s spaghetti. The language skills become non-existent!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Juliette Avatar

      Russian is such an incredible language, and so much different than the other languages I know, but I love the challenge 😊 You should definitely go to Russia one day. I went to St petersburg and loved it!! It’s great that you are learning Swedish, it also seems like a pretty hard language to learn! The key to speaking is practice but it’s hard when you’re shy! I’m sure you’ll keep improving 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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  10. Stuart Danker Avatar

    It’s interesting to read this in today’s climate. I tried learning Russian once, because ‘so much great English literature was written in Russian and I want to experience it in its original form’.

    But boy is Russian tough.

    Until today, my most competent parts of the language involve asking if you’d like something to drink, where’s Red Square, and if you speak English, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Juliette Avatar

      Ah yes, I was actually thinking about my time in Russia just the other day and missed quite a bit. Russian is indeed not an easy language at all, and I am still learning it on a daily basis! Ahaha at least with the sentences you know you’ll be sure to find your way in Moscow 😉 Thanks for stopping by!


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