So I've now been in Russia for three weeks (I haven't yet blogged due to a series of unfortunate events which I'll relate in my next post) and I feel relatively settled here. As I said in my last post, this country is completely different to anywhere I've ever lived before, so it's been an interesting experience – but surprisingly easy.
The natural starting point in the discussion of settling in is probably registration, which is actually probably the scariest thing I've yet encountered here – simply because our reps at the Benedict School, the RLUS language school in St Petersburg, have to make sure that we have fun here, but also that it's safe, legal fun. We've been given all the obvious warnings about places and people to avoid – certain canals, for example, are not sensible places to walk alone at 3am. Behaviour is also a big issue in general, as being loud and British does tend to draw attention, some of it unwanted. Even a conversation in English in the supermarket can cause people to turn and stare open-mouthed, so being drunk and obnoxious late at night is evidently not a good idea.
That being said, these are problems that you encounter in any country – in fact in London there are numerous places I wouldn't walk at night, and while being British isn't so much of an issue, there will always be groups of people who can find a problem with you. However there are also legal issues that don't crop up in other countries that you need to be aware of. Police can at any point request to see your documents, which means that you need them on your person at all times, mainly because it's illegal not to, but also so that if you need help, you can get it. You aren't obliged to carry originals, so it's better to leave your passport at home when possible, because losing it and getting a replacement is a nightmare. Otherwise, you should carry a photocopy of your passport, visa, registration card and migration card. You will fill in both halves of the migration card on the plane, and the arrival one is taken from you at Customs – do NOT forget to take the departure half with you from the airport. The registration card is even more important, but that will be filled in either by the Benedict School or by the hotel in which some students live (see accommodation blog, to be written soon...)
Of course, all these documents should match up with names, passport numbers etc, and should be enough to satisfy the authorities.
Just in case this ISN'T the case, it's a good idea to obtain a Russian phone as soon as possible and save all the numbers of reps and emergency contacts in it. This is simple compared to everything else – the language school gave us all a free Beeline SIM card which fits most unlocked European phones. Topped up in the street, these SIMs are ludicrously cheap compared to British rates, with one text message costing around 0.02p, and international calls costing about £2 for 10 minutes rather than the £1.20/min of some British companies. Internet is equally easy to sort out – as soon as you purchase a dongle from Beeline or MTS you have unlimited internet for around £9 a month.
Once you've registered, connected to the Russian-speaking world, and re-connected with the English-speaking world, you can start to learn the language and explore the city. It does feel very, very different from England, but it isn't actually that hard to settle in. The administration side of things is sorted out pretty quickly and after that life gets much easier. Oh, unless your laptop dies in the third week of term. More on that, and other aspects of Helen's Week From Hell, next time...