Studying Abroad: UKRAINE

Checks&Balances is, as of this moment, starting a series of blogs from IRIO students studying abroad. Lina Rusch is currently studying in Chernivtsi, Ukraine.

Welcome to Ukraine

At some point I lost count of people who would suprisedly ask “Why?” after I told them I was going to Ukraine for my semester abroad. Most of them would also automatically assume that I’d be staying in Kiev, when in fact I was going to a Groningen-sized town called Chernivtsi near the Romanian and Moldovan borders. Few were able to relate to my little rehearsed-sounding speech I would give explaining why I thought it was actually kind of a cool plan. I guess I wasn’t entirely convinced of that myself. The weeks before my departure I spent worrying about whether my earlier trips to the post-Soviet sphere had prepared me enough for what was to come.

I entered Ukraine without a visa because the authorities had refused to grant me one. Apparently, visa law allows foreign students only to come to Ukraine at the beginning of the academic year. The whole Erasmus business is still new to the country and, as it turned out later, I am actually the only exchange student at the whole university.

Besides the formalities settling in the new environment was interesting. With the knowledge from two semesters of Russian courses in Groningen stored in some far-far-away section of my brain, I found a country where hardly anyone speaks a word of English or German. Chernivtsi is in Western Ukraine and consequently very few people speak Russian in everyday situations. The first weeks I spent studying Ukrainian and painfully realising that Ukrainian is in fact much less related to Russian than I had hoped. The semester wasn’t due to start until mid-February, allowing me to spend a few weeks observing people and places.

Not having travelled for a while I had to get used again to lowering my expectations about the quality of roads, the aesthetics of Soviet architecture and the quality of public transport. The first days I even spent without heating and running water. The city had some positive surprises to offer, too, though. The city centre is (sort of) well preserved and picturesque. The region used to be part of the Habsburg Empire, which is reflected in the typical Central European architecture. The main university being something like my childhood dream of Hogwarts gone oriental (see picture).

The biggest challenge – and I’m embarrassed to admit it – has been adjusting to the shopping situation. Therefore there hasn’t been a day in the last month thankful for IKEA, H&M, Albert Heijn & co. I think of their well-stocked shelves and racks with colourful, stylish products and the sheer abundance everything you might possibly need. I look at the people and ask myself how they can possibly manage to lead a live without all of those? Then I realise that I’m nothing but a spoilt brat.

Due to the fact that students are not allowed to stay in the dorms during the winter holidays (to save electricity and heating costs!) and uni didn’t start until recently, I haven’t had a chance to meet a whole lot of people and experience the real student life. Hear about those topics next month.

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