All School in Russia students are placed in homestays or housing with locals, to maximize immersion in the local culture. In Moscow, it may be possible for students studying at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) to be housed in an HSE dorm with a Russian roommate. Students are housed based on information they provide on a questionnaire prior to departure. All hosts have been personally recommended to the School in Russia and are pre-screened by our staff. Homestays will be guaranteed by Middlebury through the end of December/May; for mainstreaming students through January/June.
The cost of room and board is not included in the program fee, but will be paid by the student to the host directly. Students will be required to sign a housing agreement between themselves and their landlords upon arrival in Russia that will outline all the details of their accommodation. Students are to pay their landlords in cash (dollars or the equivalent ruble amount calculated on the basis of the central bank of the Russian Federation exchange rate on the first of the month).
Room and board includes two meals/day during the week and three meals a day on the weekend. Lunches during the week are taken on your own, either at the university or elsewhere in town. Hosts will always attempt to accommodate your tastes and requests, but you should generally expect a very “Russian” menu. Lunches on your own can provide an opportunity to supplement your diet with other things, particularly when pelmeni and borsch become tiring and you want something to drink other than tea!
The composition of host families and location of the homestays vary. As in the U.S., family structure and lifestyle also differ. Some hosts may be young or middle-aged couples with children, though today, such “traditional” families are even less common in Russia than in the U.S. A greater number can be widowed ladies, while others may be single mothers. We try to choose hosts with maximum potential for interaction, but we cannot guarantee your version of an “ideal” situation. Certain homestays, particularly in Moscow, may also require lengthy commutes (as in new York City, a commute of an hour or more is relatively common for Muscovites). Regardless of the arrangement you find yourself in, the placement will be a hospitable, Russian-speaking environment in which you will live as if you were Russian.
From a cultural perspective, home-stays are both challenging and rewarding. Although all students will be given their own rooms, Russian apartments are small and you should be prepared for tighter living quarters and less privacy than you are probably accustomed to at home. (Note: there is no word for privacy in the Russian language and the concept as we know it does not exist in Russia.) Russian families are typically very close, and parents play a much more active role in their children’s lives than is customary in the United States. Russian parents can sometimes appear nosey or domineering from an American cultural perspective. This is done with the most sincere and well-meaning intentions from the Russian point of view, but it can be strange to someone who is used to living on their own at an American college.
Another challenge that students in home-stays face is that Russians are more cautious and closed to outsiders than Americans tend to be (see “Cultural Differences” below). They will not always welcome a stranger into their “inner circle” of family and friends as readily and casually as would be done in the United States. Although all hosts have expressed an interest in interacting with our students, the initiative for close interaction still often must come from the student. To overcome this cultural barrier and become a “family member” rather than a “boarder,” students must often be prepared to make significant overtures on their own (for example, by choosing to spend free time with host family members, doing what they do instead of coming home just for meals and to sleep).
On the positive side, those students who are able to adapt to these (and other) cultural differences are granted a window into Russian culture and the Russian mentality that greatly supplements their formal study of the language and culture. In the best situations, students return home with a new “mama” or “babushka” with whom they remain in contact long after the program has ended.
Full-year students will have an option of independent housing in their second semester in Russia. Middlebury staff will not assist in locating it or arranging any kind of rent agreements for students. However, Middlebury staff in Russia will have to pre-approve the independent housing choice before all the contracts/agreements are signed. Students will also have to sign a waiver indicating that you forfeit all other accommodation services that are granted to regular School in Russia participants by the Middlebury staff in Russia and Vermont.