Lasse Rautio Marcus, Finland
Vladivostok destroyed all the stereotypes about Russia
Although Russia and Finland share a long borderline, few Finns speak Russian because it is too difficult to learn. But employees with a good command of Russian are in great demand with businesses, especially tourism-related business, and I thought it would be useful to learn the language.
However, despite my intensive classes, I really felt I lack communication skills in Russian. A couple of years ago I thought a lot about going to Russia as an exchange student but did not apply then due to some stereotypes about the country which are typical of Finns.
Like many of my fellow countrymen, I thought that in Russia I could be robbed while crossing the border or that I could become a victim of the Russian mafia. Not to mention the outrageous bureaucracy and the police, which should not be trusted.
But then I grew older and wiser, and I decided simply to ignore all that and go to Russia.
But I had to decide where exactly I would go. Most often Finnish students go to Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Petrozavodsk, or Murmansk. 99% of the population of Finland never think about the existence of any other Russian cities.
I was always attracted to exotic things, and I also wanted to go somewhere where no other Finn had ever been. So I took a map and found the farthest place which has a university with a Department of Chemistry. And I found that in Vladivostok. I was especially charmed by the fact of Asian influence on the city.
It felt like an adventure from the very beginning. The trip from Moscow to Vladivostok, which is more than 9,000 km along the Trans-Siberian Railway, was a truly extraordinary journey, during which I gasped in surprise every now and then. During the six days of the trip, I saw so many beautiful places and diverse nature that I sometimes wondered whether I was somehow teleported to Northern Norway.
What was my first impression of Vladivostok? Sopkas. A lot of them. Mysterious atmosphere. A combination of Asian architecture, Stalin-era high-rise buildings and ultra-modern ones. It felt like home for me at once.
Far Eastern University also made me forget all my ideas about Russian higher education, which I envisaged as a cold, concrete industrial training areas and lecture halls, where a professor may behave like an angry god. But I didn't see any crowded dormitories in Vladivostok, nor any cockroaches in the dorms.
In FEFU dormitories I felt like a guest at a hotel. There are even carpets in the corridors (in Finland, these are only found in hotels), and the rooms are being cleaned. When you add a sea view to all that, it feels like a real resort. By the way, the fact that a cleaning service is provided here caused the most envy and jokes from my friends in Finland.
The learning process is very effective, the teachers are very friendly and down to earth, and they put up with my Russian language, which is, to put it mildly, not very good. The same is true for other university stuff: I did not have any difficulties with settling down, issuing documents, or communication. I always got assistance, and if I could not describe what I needed in Russian, I switched to English, and this was not a problem.
One more old Finnish stereotype, the one about Soviet-style bureaucracy, was destroyed too. Officials from hell who make you run to fetch more and more documents have obviously disappeared together with the Soviet Union.
But the most pleasant surprise during my residence in Russia was the people. Whatever I asked them, they were always very friendly and helpful.
I hope I will manage to destroy the stereotypes about Russia and help to attract as many people as possible to study here. I was the first student from Finland who studied in this wonderful place, Far Eastern Federal University, and I will do my best to make sure that I am not the last.