I had been studying Russian for a year when a friend encouraged me to apply to Northern (Arctic) Federal University in Arkhangelsk to do the non-degree program “Diverse Arctic”. There are some really good specialists in this area at NArFU, and it seemed like a good opportunity to improve my Russian language skills, so I was eager to go.
As I am from eastern Finland, I spent my childhood next to the Russian border and had visited Russia a couple of times, so going there wasn’t a completely new experience. The only problem was organizing daycare for my son. The coordinator from the University of Lapland contacted the International Office of NArFU asking for help, and luckily they found a nanny for him.
My first impression was that people were really helpful, open, and taking care of me and Nuutti. For example, once we were waiting for a bus in the city center. It was freezing, and the bus did not show up for a long time. When it finally came, it was completely full. We couldn’t wait for the next bus, so trying to get inside I just pushed Nuutti forward. Suddenly some old ladies yelled, “Little boy is here!”, and Nuutti was immediately taken to the safe side of the bus. People were really interested in us and asked why I had decided to go there with a kid. I proudly answered that it was a really good decision.
Sometimes living in Arkhangelsk was challenging because only few people spoke English, but things got easier as my Russian improved. I suppose it was even more difficult for Nuutti – the only words that he knew to talk to the nanny were da (yes), niet (no) and moloko (milk). Nevertheless, to be a parent in Russia is quite similar to what it is like in Finland. In Russia it’s normal to have only one day off per week, but we spent our free time very intensively: going to museums, shopping centers and the skating hall, eating Russian food, meeting other students from all over the world. Nuutti often played with his nanny’s grandson and children on the playground. International students liked him very much as well.
A little piece of advice for those who are going to Russia: remember that everything is possible. If someone tells you that something is impossible, just ask another person or, even better, ask the director – it might even take you to the roof of the skyscraper! All in all we had a good time in Arkhangelsk. This is a city where you can do a lot of different things, depending on your interests. In addition, I really felt the warmth towards children and families in this city.
To encourage parents who are considering an exchange with children, I would say: just go! It’s a really good opportunity to experience different cultures together with your child. I also believe it’s a good way them to start learning new languages. For example, now Nuutti understands not only Russian but some basic English too. Of course, the adaptation takes some time, but children are usually really quick in it. You can always come back home if things don’t work out, but it’s definitely worth trying!
[Originally published in 2015 Shared Voices magazine]