Home Stays, Apartment Hunting,
and Dorms in Russia
As a student, your most likely choices for housing will be either a university dormitory or staying with a Russian family (a "home stay"). We have listed some pros and cons for both options belofsw in order to help you make the decision that's right for you.
I. Home Stays (Recommended)
These are general parameters because we cannot identify a specific host until one is requested.
Cost: Varies by location but, on average, home stays cost $200-250 per week (includes breakfast) in addition to the base price for most standard SRAS program in locations other than Ukraine. A fuller package is available for approximately $220-300 per week with 1/2 board (breakfast and supper). Home stay is a supplemental fee to the base program costs for most SRAS study abroad programs.
Community: Can also differ based on the host that you are paired with. Most hosts are older, often retired and most accept foreign students with the idea that they will be a guest in their home, essentially being "part of the family," temporarily. This is great if you want to immerse yourself more in the language and daily culture. Although you will have your own room, it is likely that you will be living under fairly crowded conditions, at least by American standards. Be ready for this, and try to be flexible.
Space: You will have your own room, but will share the kitchen and bathroom with the host. Russian apartments as a rule are not large. Your room will probably be a bit larger than the dorm room, but whereas the dorm room is empty upon your arrival, a host families rooms generally have things in their "spare room," though they will make room for your things, of course. You should also be aware that beds in Russian apartments are very often quite small - and often they are "divani," small couches that fold out into a bed.
Location: We try for near the university, but cannot always guarantee this 100%. It may or may not be near an Internet café (a relatively small percentage of Russians have Internet in their homes). It may or may not be convenient to a sport club.
Restrictions: You have your own key and can generally come and go as you please and invite friends over if you talk with your hosts first. (Some host families may not appreciate guests that they have not been told about in advance – but most won't mind.) However, do not be surprised if your host family is just like a family, telling to you to clean your room, be home for dinner on time, call in when you will be late, and not to come home late too often.
Home Stay Rules: You will be required to abide by the following list of simple rules.
Testimonials from past students:
"... I come home from my day of classes and my host mom is making Blini. She managed to communicate with me (mostly through a dictionary and a friend of her son's who spoke a little English) that she was making a ton of blini for the banya party that night.... they were having a going away party for her son's friend who was leaving for Europe the next day. They told me I was coming too ..." - Monica Belz, 2003. Read the full interview.
"... So, I very quickly came to understand the Russian way of life in practical sense. I also began to understand the Russian people and the Russian way of viewing the world much better through extended conversations with my khozaika (host-mom), my teachers at the university, and my Russian friends. They were able to show me a Russia that very few foreigners come to understand ..." Holly McMurtry, 2001, Read the full interview.
Cost: All base prices for SRAS programs include dormitory accommodations. (The cost for home stay is in addition to this base charge. If you find other arrangements, such as your own apartment or staying with friends [see below] the dorm stay will be refunded. This refund will vary by location.) You will be issued a printed guide for your particular university that will explain how to make the most of your dorm.
Location: Usually on campus and a short walk from your classes. Noteable exceptions are the dormitories at St. Petersburg State and Irkutsk Linguistic, which are about 20 minutes from classes. Dormitories generally have an Internet cafe nearby.
Those staying in the dorms will be expected to read and follow these rules.
Space: Sometimes you get a private room (such as at MGU) and sometimes a shared room (such as SPGU). In both cases, however, you can generally count on about 9 square meters of personal space furnished with a bed, table, and cabinet. You will, in either case, share toilet, shower, and kitchen facilities. In the dorm there are also generally cafeterias, snack bars, and/or cafes. Please note as well that the beds in dormitories are generally quite small, very often no more than a cot.
Community: In the dorm there are plenty of other students, both Russian and foreign. There is always someone to do something with or just hang out with. This can be a detriment to your Russian practice, however, as it is very easy to start hanging out mostly with English speakers.
Restrictions: Theoretically, you can come and go as you please, but most dorms lock down at night and you’ll have to wake up the guard when coming home late. Furthermore, getting guests in can be difficult, because one needs to show student ID to enter and "visiting hours" are restricted. Sometimes dorms can be noisy at night.
III. Renting Apartments and Rooms
Most former students will recommend staying in the dormitory at least two or three months to meet potential roommates and take time to search for a good apartment. Finding such an apartment can be either tedious or a matter of luck. You should also be aware of the legalities involved before deciding to rent. Most private ads in newspapers and on the street are actually from agents who will require one month's rent as commission. This may seem expensive, but in the long run it is a better choice. As you will quickly discover, most online listings are already taken (listings posted in English go quickly).
For more resources to help you with this, see our Travel Resources Pages.