During the Spring 2017 academic semester, I studied abroad in Saint Petersburg, Russia with AIFS. I was nervous to study with a program I knew little about, so today I’m sharing my AIFS review of their Saint Petersburg program so you feel more at ease.
Cost and Inclusions
One semester in Saint Petersburg with AIFS costs $11,995, which is one of the cheapest programs to Russia available.
Students receive a monthly meal stipend, equalling $800 during the semester. The dollar is stronger than the ruble, so if you don’t enjoy cooking (like me) have no fear. I ate breakfast and lunch at the university’s cafe or at the nearby mall’s food court nearly every day and paid my host grandmother to cook dinner nearly every evening. Plus, I was able to buy essential groceries (pasta, bread, pesto, etc.), eat at a lot of cafes and restaurants, too.
The AIFS fee includes more than food. There are also weekly excursions (breweries, castles, and more), a pre-departure London excursion, a spring break Moscow excursion, round-trip flights from London to Saint Petersburg at the beginning and end of the semester, included homestay or dormitory cost, and extensive visa assistance. I don’t know any other college study abroad program which includes all this…and for under $12K.
You can purchase a round-trip flight package to Russia through AIFS. Although companies usuallly upcharge a lot, AIFS’ flight packages were reasonably priced. I saved hundreds of dollars booking my flights independently, but many of the other students booked the flight package.
For about the first month, all students must live in the university’s dorm due to visa regulations. Students may choose to move into a homestay after this required period of time.
AIFS offers basic kitchen utensils to students to help with their transition to the dormitories. They also explain the dorm procedures in English since many of our Russian wasn’t great and there are a lot of rules.
If you want to live in a homestay, AIFS organizes it for you. They choose families through personal connections, which means students rarely have problems with their host family. Homestays are perfect if you want to improve your Russian and explore Russian culture further. I lived with a бабушка (grandmother) and adored her. We bonded over our love for reading, learning languages, and traveling. I think she enjoyed the companionship, too.
Classroom sizes are small, allowing for a lot of practice and personal attention. This is not the study abroad program for you if you’re not really interested in learning Russian. Our smallest class size had four students and the largest had eight. Classes only include other AIFS students.
Russian language courses are 90 minutes each with a 15-minute break. Elective courses are 60 minutes plus a 15-minute break.
This program doesn’t provide many opportunities for AIFS students to integrate with other Russian students. Many of the opportunities I found were from my own research and student suggestions.
AIFS could better advertise the different community and university events, club meetings, and sports teams. At the end of the day, though, students could easily ask the AIFS staff members at the university for help integrating more.
“Adventure” best describes studying abroad in Saint Petersburg. Every single day is a grand, hilarious, unexpected, and awesome adventure.
I remember nervously standing in line before the unfriendly-looking visa processing station with my fellow exchange students wondering if someone would be denied access. Spoiler: Everyone easily entered the Russian Federation.
The elevator didn’t stop on the third floor, where all the AIFS students lived. You could take the elevator to the fourth floor, then walk down a flight of stairs, or ride the elevator to the second floor and climb up a flight of stairs. “Only in Russia,” we’d joke.
My friend and I couldn’t find chickpeas at the store and asked the grocery clerk for help. Except, Google Translate failed us and translated chickpeas to “Turkish chicken.” The clerk’s confusion was priceless.
My Canadian friend will always poke fun at me for telling the drunk and flirty Russian at Burger King that I’m Elizabeth from Toronto in a very non-Toronto accent.
This AIFS review is quite basic, but, hopefully, it answers your questions and eases your worries of studying abroad in Saint Petersburg or with AIFS. I loved studying abroad in Russia, and AIFS made it easy. The point of this AIFS review? Do it. Go to Russia. You’ll love it.