Master’s in Environmental Risk Management of the Arctic

After two months wait, I finally got my invitation letter. I got my appointment with the Consulate on Tuesday, getting my student visa is the final step before being able to purchase my plane ticket. These last few months, I’ve had my ups and downs. Not always easy to deal with the uncertainty. Usually, applying for a university abroad has its challenge, add a pandemic and a country that has a very high number of cases, it’s almost surprising how I managed it after all.

This crazy idea pops in my head around January and I start looking at different programs around the world. I always knew I wanted to go back to Russia. I don’t know why; I’ve always been attracted to Eastern Europe. Sometimes, I get bored of being in a “easy country” where nothing ever happens. Almost ten months later, I’m about to embark in the adventure.

Meanwhile, Delta Variant is hitting hard Russia. They are struggling with the third wave; borders are still closed and only a handful of countries that have direct flights with Russia are permitted to enter. I send a few emails to the international office inquiring what’s going to happen if borders don’t to reopen to Canadians. Nobody knows, we just must trust that all is going to be ok. School starts September 1, takes about a week before I hear back from the program coordinator, she gives me my professor’s email which I contact one by one. I let them know I’m still in Canada and how can I continue my studies without being behind. Afterwards, the Expert in International Mobility gets in touch, she gives me my new school email, access to Sakai (like Moodle Platform) access to teams, office 365, etc.

A girl from my program sends me an email to let me know not to hesitate to contact her if I have any inquiries. The following week, a guy gets in touch. They are so nice, and I do have lots of questions. Usually, you are in the country so it’s easier to find out things. A teacher lets me know that her class will be on Teams and the time difference is not a problem. It’s a bit strange to meet your colleague by voice only as the cameras are off. Another girl gives me her WhatsApp number and she in turn helps me out quite a lot too. Weeks are passing by and I’m finally getting at ease of how it works. I’m added to the social network VK (like the Russian version of Messenger). We are 12 in our program and there is a person responsible of letting us know what our assignments are for the week.

I found out:

  • There is 10 Russians, 1 guy from Djibouti, Africa (who just joined two weeks ago) and me.
  • Most of my colleagues work and study full-time.
  • Two of them live in a different city located 100 km from the university.
  • One has a broken leg so can’t attend classes for weeks so he’s doing his class online like me.
  • I can put a message in VK if I have an inquiry about school.
  • I can text my professors or program coordinator in VK.
  • I need to be flexible, sometimes, I find out my assignment the previous day of the presentation.
  • Professors are laid-back and easy going.
  • All my classes are at 6pm (Moscow time) and Saturday either 8am or 11am.
  • Some weeks, I will have classes 6x a week.

My program is in English, but since there is a majority of Russian, it was previously held in their native language. The professors allow students to make their presentation in Russian, but every time it happens, I’m asked if it’s ok with me. One insisted that the class would be in English only with the occasional explanation in Russian. Most of the documents or emails I receive are in Russian (google translate has been a great friend so far).

I’m even participating in a 2-day activity (Student Barents Rescue 2021) on Nov 2-3. The schedule will be a challenge (3am to 11am). I’m part of the Russian team of course (2 of us in first year and 1 second year student).

  • Barents Rescue exercises are based on “Agreement between the governments in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region on cooperation within the field of emergency prevention, preparedness and response”
  • Barents Rescue exercises participants of the Barents Euro-Arctic Region: Norway, Russia, Sweden and Finland
  • Purpose of the Barents Rescue exercises: Increasing disaster response capabilities in the Barents Region through enhanced cooperation.

Otherwise, if I need clarification, I email the professor, if I still don’t understand, I ask them for a short 30-minute Teams meeting. They always oblige. Most of the time, they reply very quickly even if it’s late evening or weekends for them.

Borders reopened September 1 for all international students, however, there was a backlog of 80 000 to 100 000 students waiting for their invitation letters necessary to apply for our student visa. I finally got mine yesterday. It says Nov 8 as Russia is still struggling with the third wave, it’s getting worse (40 000 cases and 1 200 deaths per day) so the President has instituted a week closure. Shutdown for the whole country. I will try and deposit my student visa application on Tuesday, Nov 2, I will see if they accept it or if they ask me to come back Nov 8. It takes 4 to 20 open days to get it. After that, I can purchase my plane ticket and leave for Russia.

Very few people are vaccinated (30%) as the population doesn’t trust the government. As for me, I’ve decided to continue the different measures (wearing a mask, washing hands often and social distancing) even if I’m fully vaccinated. I’m going to a smaller city so it’s not as bad as being in Moscow or Saint-Petersburg. As we are very few in my program and classes are either held online or in a big auditorium, I’m confident I’ll be ok. Everyone working at the university needs to be vaccinated so that is also reassuring.

I cannot finish this blog without acknowledging the people who have helped me live my dream:

  • Marie-Josée and Bernard who have been letting me stay in their basement until I leave for Russia. The date is finally approaching but having a place to stay in the city has help me quite a lot as I sold my car back in August. Even if I never imagined I would be still here in November, I am still happy to have sold everything and gotten rid of my lease. Mainly, because, it was easier to concentrate in my studies and the opportunity to leave in a few weeks’ notice without worrying about what to do with my things.
  • I also want to thank my cousins Karina and Elvin and my mom for storing the few things I wanted to keep.
  • And all the other friends who lend me their cars (you know who you are), it’s been quite helpful.

I don’t know if I’ll have time to see you each one of you before I leave, but once this pandemic dies down, you are more than welcome to visit me in Arkhangelsk.

One Comment

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  1. Hi Carol,
    I sure hope that you are now in Russia or, at least, that you have your plane tickets! I wish you good luck! Your post and « itinerary » help me in targeting « russian immersion » as my first trip « after the pandemia »!

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