The article has been automatically translated into English by Google Translate from Russian and has not been edited.

"The longer I live in America, the more I love Russia": Muscovite about life in the United States



The track record of Anna Urnovoy is impressive. The girl was an adviser to the vice-mayor of Moscow, headed the office of Sergei Kapkov in the Department of Culture and implemented the opening of the new Museum of GULAG History. But a few years ago, she decided to take a break and become a student again, but not in Russia, but in America, where she entered Georgetown University. In 26 years, Anna found herself in an unfamiliar country without friends, a job, a loan for education and vague prospects for the future. I had to put it mildly, not easy.


I know what I want

Entering Georgetown University is my second attempt to get an education abroad, Anna said I took the first right after graduation from the HSE, but then I couldn’t go to America because of visa problems. Now, being already a certified specialist, I can say with confidence that it’s good that everything happened that way. In 26 years, I knew much better what exactly I needed, what teachers I want to talk with, what research to take part in, etc.

There were only seven people in my group. Three entered the magistracy immediately after graduation, and four, including me, had work experience. We were very different from each other. The former regarded learning from the position of “put everything in our mouth and chew,” and the latter clearly knew what they wanted, understood the value of money and time. This is an absolute advantage. The training system in the USA is built in such a way that you gain knowledge only if you want it yourself. Here, no one will shove them into your head, and then gently tamp, even under the condition that you pay a lot of money for the magistracy.


In the American magistracy initially there is no equal curriculum for all, which runs counter to our education system. You are given only one or two compulsory classes, the rest must be chosen independently. This is a rather complicated procedure, because there are more than 600 classes, but you only have one week to decide. In this case, you can take a subject from another department, too, if you can justify your desire to study before a special council. Naturally, I used this option.

In fact, in America you choose not so much a class as a professor who leads him. All graduate teachers are practicing people who are successful in their field and are pretty contact. You can easily invite the right teacher for coffee and discuss with him your questions. We had a professor who even arranged thanksgiving dinners and invited students. Here it is absolutely normal. Almost everyone communicates as equals. But there are exceptions. For example, I had an 89-year-old female professor, an old-schooling Republican who in principle did not like foreigners and remembered the times of the Cold War. Of course, she had to be treated with a gasp.

open your mouth

In America, the assessment is not only for the final work. One of the important components is activity in the classroom. I, as a person who, from childhood, was driven into the head "shut up, go smart," it was difficult to get used to it. The first time I was afraid to raise my hand. But in the United States with such an installation you will not get far, another principle is used here: "Speak, even if you have nothing to say, the thought will come in the process." Of course, problems did not arise only in me, almost any foreigner feels discomfort, because there is a lag in the language and the fear of saying something wrong. It is for this reason that for the first two months I kept silence and only occasionally inserted some replicas. But then she got involved. My advice is for those who are just planning to enter a foreign university: at first you don’t need to think about what to say, you just have to say. The main thing - open your mouth. A lesson is not a lecture, it is a discussion. And you have to express your opinion all the time. If you don’t do it, you just won’t get a good grade.

Hack system

When admitting students, American universities pay close attention to letters of recommendation. Your task is not just to provide a recommendation from a famous person - it is very important that he necessarily knows you personally, because as soon as you submit the name of the referee, the university sends him a special link to the post office, and only after passing through it can you submit a review to the applicant . I’ll say right away that a recommendation is not three sentences, but a full story describing where the referee knows you, what you are unique for, why he supports your desire to act, how it will help you, etc. To write such a letter is a whole science, which, unfortunately, Russia does not receive due attention, unlike America. It is for this reason that I had no choice but to “hack” the American system and, in fact, write the letters of recommendation on behalf of the people with whom I worked. Naturally, I warned them in advance, they got acquainted with the text and were not against help.

By the way, in this sense we are very different from the Americans, who always act within the framework of the law - neither a step to the right nor a step to the left. They should have everything according to the instructions: if it is written that the mustard plaster needs to keep 20 minutes, they will keep it exactly 20 minutes, whatever happens. Unique people in the US are those who understand how to get around the system. We are taught this almost from childhood, and this talent allows us to quickly move up the career ladder in America. As soon as you show people that you know how to bypass the system, not to violate, namely, to bypass, you will become a valuable frame.

Photo: Anna Urnov personal archive

Credit history

In America, there is practically no free higher education. But there are so many grants. Given the cost of training, of course, it would be worth trying to get such a benefit, but I simply did not have time for this. I was fully loaded with work, and the grant documents need to be submitted in approximately one and a half or even two years. In such a situation, the following development is possible: you either use personal savings or take a loan to study in the United States. Why not in Russia? Naturally, the matter is in percentages and conditions. Credit in the States is given at 10-14% per annum, which is on average three times higher than the rate for Americans themselves, but while you study and another year after graduation, you are not charged interest. In addition, you can, without leaving your home, reduce or increase your loan payment, it is very convenient. The main thing is not to change the amount for a month, but it is more profitable to change, for example, immediately for half a year.

In the USA, it is very important to have a good credit history, without it you cannot rent a decent apartment, get a credit card, pay utility bills, etc. A study loan is a great way to create an impeccable credit history for yourself, and it’s foolish not to use this chance. I had the opportunity to pay my debt in a year, but I deliberately left it for 5 for years because it forms my credit history. So, in the future I can rent an apartment better and cheaper, I can get a credit card with more favorable conditions for myself, etc.

In the two years I spent, I spent about 200 000 dollars. This amount includes tuition, food and accommodation. The study itself cost about 70 thousand per year. By the way, on the websites of some universities there are special calculators with which you can calculate the amount of money that will be needed for living in America. This is very convenient, because some expenses will be a real surprise for you. For example, in the United States are very expensive books for higher education. In the semester, this item of expenditure goes from 3 to 5 thousand dollars! True, in my case, the amount was about 500 dollars. First, you can always resort to using libraries, rent a book, buy one for several people, purchase a used or electronic version (which can always be copied). In general, there are plenty of options to not pay a lot of money.

"Frauds" with real estate

For a while I lived with friends in Baltimore and went to the university from there, spending about two hours on the road in one direction. But if you consider that you spend about 9 hours on campus a week, 3 hours a day 3 hours a day, in principle, it’s easy. Of course, in parallel, I was looking for an apartment. To remove a good option, credit history was required, I did not have it then. As a result, I rented a house through my acquaintances - a double version with a parking space for 1800 dollars per month. I immediately told the landlord that I would look for a neighbor, because for me this price was very high. He was not against it, because on average people pay for housing in Washington 1000 - 1200 dollars. With the advent of a neighbor, my housing costs have dropped to 700 dollars per month.

By the way, when I went to Russia for the summer, I rented a room through Airbnb. From a financial point of view, it was quite profitable, because in three months I paid back approximately 5 months of rent. Naturally, I coordinated this question with my neighbor, fortunately, we were in excellent relations with her, the landlord did not know anything about our agreements. But not all states can easily rent an apartment on Airbnb, for example, now I live in New York. Here, such things are fraught with the fact that you can just be evicted from the apartment.

Get out of the comfort zone

The first 3 of the month my phone was silent and became an ordinary toy, because due to the difference in time zones, it was difficult to phone with friends from Russia, and I hadn’t got a new one by that time. As a child, you can go to the girl in the sandbox without any questions and suggest to be friends, and when you are an adult, finding friends in a foreign country is a real problem. I tried to solve it with the help of various dating apps and searching for friends, clubs by interests. If you want to adapt faster, you need to overcome yourself and leave the house more often. Studying abroad implies that you have to leave the comfort zone.

New life in America, of course, was difficult, but I enjoyed it. In Russia, I very quickly took a high position, my career developed rapidly, so there was no relaxed period after graduating from university when I could walk and relax, it was just here in America. I was not quite ready for this. I didn't even have clothes to go to class. The wardrobe consisted solely of suits, dresses and pumps with heels. I had to change everything to match a relaxed student atmosphere: jeans, sneakers, a backpack, etc. As soon as I allowed myself to relax and be a student, I even looked younger! Now that I’ve already graduated from the university and started working, I understand that the abrupt change in social status that I had to go through really helps a lot in the profession: I value my time and others ’time more, I treat the staff better and teach them, and my speed Adaptation to any situation has grown at times.

Photo: Anna Urnov personal archive

Be a secretary

When I became a student, I had a terrible complex that I was not making money. For about a month I even tried not to use public transport, because there was a fad in my head - it’s better to walk than to spend one and a half dollars on travel.

Unfortunately, Russians rarely get a visa that allows them to work officially. But while studying you can earn money on campus. There is always someone required: a laboratory assistant, a gardener, an assistant teacher, etc. Naturally, these vacancies are paid very modestly, although employment is maximum.

Another opportunity to earn, which I discovered for myself only in my second year of study, is participation in various studies. There you can get good money, because you are not speaking as a student, but as a participant in the study, your name will be indicated in the publications. In addition, it is quite interesting. For example, I was in the class of a professor who won a multimillion grant to change the interface of the control room at NASA. Many dream to work in such a project.

As for practice, I did it in a large New York holding Brookline Sport and Entertainment and because I was a foreigner, I could take an internship only as a subject. This meant that they would not pay me for it, but I would have to part with the round sum. 6 thousand dollars I paid only to the university, plus I spent at least 3 thousand dollars for the whole summer, while the internship lasted. In addition, I 6 once changed housing during this time, moving from the sofa to the sofa in the apartments of friends and acquaintances of my friends. So the first decent experience in the States cost me 9 thousand dollars. But it was worth it.

The first time in practice, you wear coffee, print papers, perform the functions of a secretary or postman. Of course, this is not the most pleasant part, but you have to be morally ready for it, you will have to go all the way exactly. Fortunately, my “secret post-post” period ended in about three days.

Once I talked to my boss, who at one time was Joe Biden's main speechwriter (US vice-president under Barack Obama - ed.), And asked her why she took me to her department. She replied that a person with my experience should receive 70 000 dollars a year, and she got me absolutely free of charge and at the same time I work like a horse, and not cool off. Which employer will refuse such an opportunity?

I love Russia, I live in America

When I finished my studies, I had a rather difficult period - the decline of faith in myself. I think that absolutely all foreigners go through this - you complex, comparing yourself with the locals. Then I was almost ready to become the "third assistant to the fifth shoemaker." But at some point I got together and decided: yes, perhaps the local people know the language better, know the market better, but I’m smarter and faster, I have two higher educations, vast experience in working abroad, two working languages, or even three. I'm not just a girl who graduated from high school yesterday. And now I understand that it is very important to believe in yourself!

Initially, after training, I planned to return to Russia in order to apply my knowledge gained in practice there. But in the end in America I was given a very interesting job offer, which I could not refuse. The employer offered to sign an open-ended contract, but I insisted on an urgent one so that I could understand, after a while, whether I want to continue to remain in the States. Still, I love Moscow very much, I am a wild patriot. By the way, the longer I live in America, the more I become a patriot of Russia. Ideally, I would like to live in two countries, or be able to come to Russia often.

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