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Housing: Rules and Choices Dorms, Apartments, and Home Stays Abroad
Most students stay either in a university dormitory or with a local family (a "home stay"). Some students chose to rent apartments. We have listed some pros and cons for both options below in order to help you make the decision that's right for you.
A typical Russian apartment can feel a bit cramped by American standards. However, they are not without a certain homey charm and, of course, homestays are great for understanding how Russians actually live.
I. Home Stays
These are general parameters; the specifics of each host will be individual to the host.
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: Each host is different. Most are older and retired. Homestays can be 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, host families will 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; sometimes they are couches that fold out into a small bed.
Location: We try to place you 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 will have your own key and can generally come and go as you please and invite friends over if you talk with your hosts first. 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:
Rules and Recommendations for Home Stay Students
Most host families are very accommodating. However, it is also important to know that respect is very important in any culture and that most hosts operate on budgets. You should not expect to use anything without first asking permission. Following a few basic rules can help avoid conflicts and keep your home stay a pleasant experience.
Laundry services are not included in the cost of the home stay (unless otherwise indicated) and you should be prepared to negotiate with your host family regarding the cost of service. Alternatively, you can hand-wash your clothes for free. Laundry services average 25 USD per month.
The home stay provides only those meals prearranged according to your contract. You are responsible for any other food. The home stay refrigerator is off-limits to you unless you have permission from the host family. You can purchase supplementary food for yourself but you should ask your host's permission to use the refrigerator and be careful not to "hog" space or leave the refrigerator disorderly. Remember you are a guest and your host family's house is to be respected.
Meals provided are likely to consistantly local in content and portions. Breakfast is light - usually consisting of tea or coffee and one of the following: porridge, fried eggs, tvorog (like cottage cheese), or an open-faced sandwich. Breakfast often also consists sometimes of leftovers from the previous night's dinner; that's normal for Russians. Dinner is heavier, but still light by American standards, consisting of about 150g of meat with a small side dish, salad, bread, and usually tea to drink. Russian food tends to be high in concentrated calories and fat, but light in portions, which essentially evens out its ability to fill you up.
It is your responsibility to let your host family know when you need to eat breakfast and dinner so they can prepare accordingly. This includes if you will be late or if you will skip the meal altogether. This is especially important for meals they have been contracted to provide for you.
You are responsible for letting your host family know when you will return to the apartment. If you will be out late to club, concert, party, or if you will stay at a friend's house for the evening, etc., it is proper to let your host family know so they do not expect you. Many worry about the foreigners that stay with them.
Your home stay is not to be treated as a hotel. You should not invite guests home unless you have pre-arranged this with the host family. Your friends are not allowed to stay over unless you have discussed this with your host family and they have agreed (they may ask you to pay for the extra space). Be especially careful when inviting friends over around dinner time. It is rude not offer a guest food in Russian culture and this may create a large burden for them if they have not prepared and you have not given them added funds to cover the added expense.
Respect, respect, respect! As mentioned earlier you are a GUEST. You must be respectful of your host family's belongings and things. If you should damage something within their apartment you are expected to fix or replace it.
If you encounter problems within your home stay, you should first communicate the problem with your host family. If things are not resolved, then immediately inform SRAS of the situation. SRAS can usually move you to a new host family if things can't be resolved, but it is better for your Russian language practice and personal growth while abroad if you first attempt to resolve any issues on your own. If, for any reason, you ever feel you are in danger at your host family, you should inform SRAS immediately.
II. Recommendations for Those Choosing Home Stays
While a home stay can be exciting and a good way to see how most Russians really live, there are some issues that can strain relations between host families and their foreign guests. Here are some hints to help you avoid some common pitfalls:
Many students have asked us what sorts of gifts they should bring a host family. We've listed some here.
Try to speak Russian exclusively if you are able. There's a chance that someone in your family may want to practice your native language with you. Don't feel obligated to spend a lot of time doing this, unless you want to. Even if someone speaks your native language, try to initiate conversations with them in Russian.
If you have any problems with your host family, or if you are simply uncomfortable with any aspect of your home stay experience, be sure to talk to contact your program organizers as soon as possible. Don't make the mistake of waiting for any problems to fix themselves – be proactive.
Talk with your host family before making any long-distance phone calls from their phone. If you do make calls, have them find out how much it will cost, and reimburse your hosts immediately in rubles. Local calls are free.
If at any time you need help explaining something important to a host, contact your program organizers.
Be flexible about food but be sure to explain any dietary restrictions or likes/dislikes to your hosts. You will likely find much in the Russian diet that is quite foreign to your own tastes but you need to be patient with this. It is part of the cultural experience. It is a nice gesture to prepare a meal for your host family, or to take them out to dinner, at least once during your visit. Vegetarians should expect to define exactly what is and is not acceptable to them.
After you have arrived, you should make sure you know where you are living, how to get to and from school on public transport, your phone number, and how to get into your apartment. All of this information should be provided to you when you first arrive to your homestay. But if it isn't for whatever reason, ask. You should ask (if you are not immediately given) complete set of keys and instructions on how to use them (Russian keys are not always simple). Don't accept an inconvenient arrangement.
The dormitories for the Higher School of Economics (above) have been recently renovated.
The facilities at the London School in Bishkek are also recently renovated.
Cost: All base prices for SRAS programs include dormitory accommodations. (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 but is generally quite small as the dorms are fairly cheap housing.) 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 or bus ride from your classes. A noteable exception are the dormitories in Irkutsk, which are about 20 minutes from classes. Dormitories generally have an Internet cafe nearby or Internet available in the dorm.
Space: Most dorms offer shared rooms. A few offer private rooms. 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 or nearby 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 nearly always someone to do something with or just hang out with if you put yourself out there. This can be a detriment to your Russian practice, however, as it is very easy to start hanging out mostly with English speakers. In Vladivostok and at HSE in Moscow there are options to have a Russian roommate.
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.
Dorm Rules: You will be required to abide by the following list of simple rules:
Basic Rules for Those Living in the Dormitories
Make sure you always lock your dorm room door as you leave, even if you will only be out of your room for a few minutes or will remain close by. Neither SRAS, the dorm staff, nor the university are responsible for items lost or stolen from your room.
Quiet hours (meaning no disruptive music, large groups in common areas or dorm rooms, loud voices, etc.) generally begin at 11:00 pm.
Some dorms have lockdown hours - meaning you may not be let back into the dorm if you arrive during lockdown hours. If your dorm has lockdown hours (refer to your Orientation Guide or inquire with SRAS), they are usually from 1 am - 5.30 am.
Comply with fire safety rules. There is no smoking anywhere inside the dorm - if you see other students ignoring this rule, do NOT follow suit - it could get you evicted. Unplug all appliances (especially things like irons and hair dryers) when you are done with them. The wiring in most dorms is fairly old and leaving appliances plugged in can risk damage to the appliance or risk starting a fire. In some dorms it is not allowed to use electrical appliances like electric kettles, stoves, or microwaves in the room - before purchasing/using such an item make sure it is permissible.
Any damage caused by you to university property will be paid for by you. This includes damage to the furniture, linen, lamps, heaters, or anything else in your room that is not your property, as well as to items in the common areas.
Should maintenance problems arise with the dormitory facilities (e.g., light bulbs burning out, toilets backing up, etc.), advise your dormitory attendant or your housing coordinator (listed on the pre-departure materials you will be issued), and they will work with the staff to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
It is your responsibility to maintain the room in good order. While you may not feel it is the business of the dorm administration how you keep your room, please realize that they actually are responsible for things like overall sanitary conditions, pests, fire, safety, etc., and not maintaining your room in good order can result in eviction from the dorm.
The cleanliness of your room, shower, and toilet is your own responsibility. These are facilities shared between college students and, as such, may be dirty even upon your arrival. If you find their condition unacceptable, it is, unfortunately, your own responsibility to clean them and/or to arrange with the students sharing the facilities to help clean them. If you find your roommate/blockmate is unreasonable about cleanliness issues, you may request with the office in charge of your housing (listed on the orientation guide you will be issued before departure) that you be moved to a new room.
All public places, such as kitchens and washing areas, should be in the same or better condition when you leave them as when you came to them. You are responsible for removing your own trash and cleaning any messes. Kitchens are public and while they are cleaned regularly, they can become dirty quickly due to the amount of people that use them. Besides doing your cooking early, you may also politely request of others sharing the space that they be more careful in cleaning after they use the facilities. In extreme cases, contact the dormitory attendant or your or your housing coordinator (listed on the pre-departure materials you will be issued) and explain the issue to them.
The dorm provides linen and towel changes periodically – usually every 10-14 days. (Note: the university in Vladivostok does not provide towels.)
Above all, remember always to be respectful, kind and considerate with your blockmates. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Requests for quiet or cleaning are not personal attacks, but simply requests.
Most dorms generally allow you to have guests, but some (MGU especially), can be so difficult with how to get the proper permissions and entry slips that it is generally not advisable to go through the trouble. If they gain entry, guests must leave the dorm by 11 pm. No overnight visitors are allowed.
It should go without saying, but drugs, violence, harassment, and other illegal activities will not be tolerated. Students involved in such activities will be expelled from their programs without refund and may be held to prosecution under the laws of the Russian Federation.
These are general rules - some dormitories will issue other specific rules that you will be obliged to follow in addition to these.
III. Renting Apartments and Rooms
Students staying long term may wish to rent an apartment or private room. Note that this will most likely be considerably more expensive than dorms or homestays. Most former students who have done this recommend staying in the university dormitory for a time 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 than sifting through ads that are mostly from agents anyway. Also, as you will quickly discover, most online listings are already taken. Note as well that although dormitory cost is included in SRAS programs and while this charge is refundable if you do not stay in the dormitory, the dorms are also very cheap and thus the refund will be small - much smaller than what you pay for an apartment. For more resources to help you with this, see our Travel Resources Pages.