Living in a Dorm in Russia

Living in a dormitory with Russian students is a fascinating experience. As with many other situations in Russia you are surrounded by busy and enterprising people with stern, serious expressions on their faces. With all the people hurriedly bustling about to and from class or off to a night out, it is easy in such a situation, especially as an introverted person, to at first feel like an observer closed off from society around you.

However, all it takes is something as simple as leaving your door open to coax in the evening breeze to realize that these students are often just as curious and friendly as you are. Seemingly out of nowhere you will hear a knock on the door and see heads poking in from the hallway asking who you are and before you know it you might be two hours deep into a multilingual conversation comparing Russian and English grammar. Keeping an open door and an open mind seems to be the key to getting settled in here, what might at first be a frustration like the wifi not working super well in your room may turn out to be a blessing as you really are better off hanging out in the common area with the other folks on your floor, a place where the conversations and the gigabytes both flow far more easily.

Day to day dorm life is a study in contrasts. We all sleep 2-4 to a room (or suite) in 2 bedroom 1 bath apartments. The beds are springy and washing machines are generally unavailable, and there is one communal kitchen for all the floors. You soon become self-reliant, competent at washing your clothes by hand in the bathtub and drying them on hangers in the warm air of the Moscow summer, a far cry from dorm life in America. (As a student of Soviet history I find the experience authentic and cool.) Yet at the same time your floor is supervised by a housekeeper who tidies the rooms and washes your bedding, a total luxury by standards back home.

Dorm life can also be a great vocab building experience. Back home I never used the word ‘navolochka’ in a class conversation but as I received my bedding for the week and realized it was short a pillowcase I quickly had to dig up and use those simple words from first year Russian back in the U.S. Some words will throw you for loops trying to find a Russian equivalent for something like a fitted sheet, braving multiple puzzled frowns only to find that in Russia it has a simple and functionally derived name that doesn’t involve the word sheet, rather going by the name ‘namatrasnik’.

Adjusting to dorm life hasn’t been entirely intuitive at times and requires active and open minded adaptation, but if approached with curiosity and patience you will find all sorts of benefits waiting for you to take advantage of them. Whether it’s the chance to meet many people of your own age or simply to add some exercise to your daily routine by taking seven flights of stairs to your apartment. Living in the dorms over the summer promises to be a fascinating experience and I can’t wait to compare it with living in an apartment with a host family come fall.

By: Nicholas Ingersoll

Program: Russian Language & Area Studies, Moscow, Russia

Term: Summer 2019

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