I decided to study abroad in Moscow, Russia during the Spring 2014 semester on a program called Math in Moscow. I chose Math in Moscow for two main reasons. First, regardless of math, I wanted to go somewhere that wasn't a popular study abroad location. Specifically, I wanted to go somewhere Russian-speaking since I can speak Russian. Second, I needed to take math courses to fulfill F&M’s math major requirements, so I especially needed to study math if I went abroad.
Math in Moscow couldn't have been a better fit for me. The program offered a wide variety of very advanced math courses, ranging from Basic Algebra (essentially abstract algebra) to Knot Theory to Mathematical Catastrophe Theory. The program also offered several Russia-related courses, such as Russian Language, History of Russia, and Russian Literature. With my background at the time, I took three basic courses and Russian Language. The classes, even the non-math ones, were all very fast-paced and covered at least two or three times as much material as an F&M course.
The professors were highly qualified and were very passionate about the material, so they were always around for help when I didn't understand something. Also, I didn't have any extracurricular activities to worry about while abroad, like clubs or jobs. So, I had much more time to focus on my classes.
Of course, though, I studied abroad for more than just a different classroom experience. Life in Moscow was so much different than back in the U.S. For one thing, English is hard to come by in Moscow, unlike in most other European cities. Knowledge of Russian was not a requirement of the program, and only a few of us actually had prior knowledge of Russian. During the first two weeks, everyone was taught a crash course in basic Russian so that we would be able to get by in most situations. It was a very surreal feeling to actually be across the world in a totally different country like Russia, but I loved every minute of it. I completely embraced Russian culture and only ate Russian food the whole semester.
I also happened to be in Russia at the time of some important world events. The Olympics began just three days after I arrived, and the Russia-Ukraine crisis began unfolding just after the Olympics had ended. So, I had some much more interesting experiences than just studying math.
Coming back to America, I experienced a bit of reverse culture shock. Life isn't as fast paced in Lancaster as it is in Moscow. Also, everyone here speaks English, of course. My math knowledge increased tremendously through the program, so I felt very well prepared for my future math classes at F&M. One of the things I miss the most is being able to take the metro to anywhere in the city. I also miss being just ten minutes away from world-famous landmarks, like St. Basil's Cathedral and the Kremlin.
Being in Moscow definitely changed me as an individual. I feel so much more independent, confident, and well rounded as a result of my experiences in Russia. On campus, people seem to really enjoy my photos and stories, since not many students have been to Russia. Studying in Moscow definitely changed me for the better, and I hope to return to Russia some day and relive the experience!