This summer, prior to my departure for Russia, I have been avidly preparing for my year-long sojourn in the great north. And while much of this preparation is what you would expect – stocking up on thermals, buying woolly socks and generally getting ready to face the inevitable cold – most of my time was taken up with everyone’s favourite pastime…paperwork.
Russia, like many other countries in the world, has an absolute obsession with bureaucracy and paperwork. In fact, there is very little you can do in Russia that does not require you filling out a form. Just getting a student visa requires having: a letter of invitation from the institute you intend to study at, a letter of introduction from the institute you currently study at, a certificate proving you are HIV free, about 6 pages of forms detailing everything from your age and ethnicity to whether or not you have been convicted of war crimes, a passport sized photo of yourself, and last but not least your passport. Even just writing all those down, and I imagine reading them is fairly exhaustive so I’m sure you can imagine the chaos of trying to collate them all. While I am not particularly averse to paperwork I have to say that even I struggled to trudge through the overwhelming amount of it. However I did do it all, admittedly slightly later than planned, but it was all finished in time for me to fly out to Russia. Blissfully I arrived in Russia feeling I was finally freed of my bureaucratic duties. Not so. Upon arrival, I had to make sure my Landlord went to the police station within 24 hours of my arrival in order to register me. he paperwork, it would appear, is unending. I must say though that Russia is not exempt in this love of bureaucracy, though I cannot write you a comprehensive list of those countries that are similarly enamoured I can confirm that India also enjoys a form or two.
Despite all this paperwork and bureaucracy, I have against all odds made it to St Petersburg. I must admit that in my first 24 hours I have done little due to a large amount of unpacking and overwhelming exhaustion, hence the slightly boring post regarding paperwork. But having completed my registration in the city, I then had to move on to the task of registering myself at the university, a task that should have been the easier of the two but that ended up being far, far more difficult. So in order to register you need (deep breath everyone): your passport, your immigration card, your proof of registration, 2 passport sized photos of yourself and your health insurance details. At this point, I have become pretty good at ensuring I have at least a few of those documents on me at all times so that was not really the difficulty. The difficulty came in trying to actually locate the building in which I was to register. Initially, I went to the main University building on the embankment. Before I even made it in the door I saw a large sign stating that foreign students and exchange students needed to go to a different building to register. So, I continued down the embankment to the aforementioned building only to find it looking distinctly closed. Now I had gone fairly early to register in the hopes that I would be done by nine which is when classes start. This, however, was not meant to be as a lady opening the building to clean it informed me that the building did not, in fact, open until ten o’clock. Two hours later having very slowly drunk a cup of coffee in a nearby cafe with Wi-Fi, I returned. There was indeed someone in an office who asked me if I was a foreign student. I confirmed that I was and having scanned my passport she told me I was actually in the wrong building and promptly sent me back up the embankment to the main University building I had been at earlier. There, I was sent to room 14a where I was told a woman would come shortly to register me. Half an hour later, having hovered near this woman’s desk uncomfortably she arrived and, lo and behold, told me I was yet again in the wrong building. So off I went again back down the embankment, past the building I had been in previously and finally found the right place to be, whereupon I was asked why I had come so late in the day. By this point, my sense of humour was really starting to falter and my Russian was not nearly advanced enough to explain the whole saga to her so I shrugged vaguely and said that I was sorry but that I got lost in the new city (vaguely true). It is also important to remember the added complication of these events taking place entirely in Russian, a language that I am still very much a beginner in and a language that I had not even thought about, let alone spoken, since May (four months previously). Nevertheless, the tirade of paperwork seems to finally be at its end. I have finally started attending classes and seeing the city (which is absolutely stunning) and I will endeavour to find some more entertaining and less bureaucratic tales to recount to you all in the future.