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FLAS Notes from the Field: Russia’s Great Cities

The GUM facade

August 22, 2016

UW junior and electrical engineering major Molly O’Brien is currently on a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship (FLAS) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where she is studying at CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange). During her studies, she is also exploring Russia’s other cities, learning about their pace of life and even how their citizens take their coffee.

“This week I returned to St. Petersburg from my long weekend in Moscow. Both cities are so Russian in nature, but such a stark contrast appears between them. The street sign marking Red Square has the number 1, meaning that all streets radiate out from the Kremlin, a typical layout for such an old settlement. St. Petersburg, established many years later, resembles a planned grid. Street sign Red SquareThe political and economic center of Russia, Moscow conveys a fast-paced lifestyle; while St. Petersburg, considered to be the cultural center, is not so focused on efficiency. Coffee “с собой” (to go) is available here these days, but Peterburzhtsi (Petersburgers, perhaps?) are not eager to embrace the idea. Both cities represent different perspectives, but I found myself more inclined to call Petersburg home upon returning.”

Russia’s two most major cities have distinct personalities and enjoy a spirited rivalry, as suggested by the joke one of Molly’s professor’s shared with CIEE students:

“A young man is sitting on the subway. An old woman gets on, and he stands up to offer his seat. “Садитесь, пожалуйста.” (Please, have a seat). The old woman sits down and tells him that he must be from St. Petersburg, since in Moscow, they would never say “Садитесь, пожалуйста.” A few minutes pass, and the young man remarks that she must be from Moscow. She confirms this, and asks how he knew. He replies, “В Петербурге, все бабушки говорят ‘спасибо.’ ” (In St. Petersburg, the old women always say ‘thank you.’)”

Molly’s participation in the eight week Russian language program in St. Petersburg has been made possible by a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship (FLAS), which pays tuition and a stipend. Qualified graduate and undergraduate students of every major are eligible for FLAS fellowships to study abroad and also at UW. Learn more about the FLAS program and how to apply here.