Unexpected Discoveries After Moving to Moscow (Part 1) Posted by Maria on Jun 12, 2014 in Uncategorized
This is part one of a two-part post. Click here to read part two.
As you may know from my introduction, I was born in the city of Chelyabinsk (Челябинск) — to quote Lorde, “we live in cities you’ll never see on screen.” In high school, I moved to Moscow. I was fairly anxious about the move — I had only seen Moscow briefly during layovers en route somewhere else. I had all these ideas about how it would be super-modern, very international, and, of course, much more developed than my hometown. Reality proved different, so here are the things I was surprised to find out. Disclaimer: I enjoyed my life in Moscow, but here is how my expectations were not realistic.
1. It’s not all that cutting-edge
My expectation was that Moscow would be the first place in Russia to get the latest technological bells and whistles; and that it would be as close as it gets to a Western standard of infrastructure and customer service. It’s true that Moscow leads Russian regions in terms of Internet penetration. Moreover, the average Moscow salary (yes, the billionaires are included in that) is more than two times higher than your average Russian salary, meaning people can afford to renovate their apartments to include the staple modern conveniences, such as plastic windows (евроокна), flatscreen TVs, etc.
At the same time, you need to remember that Moscow had a lot of infrastructure in place to begin with. Whereas other cities in Russia started their leap into the post-industrial age practically from scratch, Moscow retained some of its legacy infrastructure. Here is an anecdotal example, which may not be representative of everyone’s experience. When I was still living in Chelyabinsk in the early 2000s, one of the post offices installed a token number display. It may be commonplace in public offices elsewhere, but that was the first time I’d seen one in Russia. So when I moved to Moscow I had assumed that, if Chelyabinsk was already getting “Westernized,” Moscow would be off the charts in its use of technology. Instead, I encountered stores that still had one cash register (касса), where you had to tell the cashier which department (отдел) your product was in, so they would ring you up and you could take the receipt back to that department to claim your purchase. True, these stores were already dying out in Moscow, but prior to that, I had not seen one since my age was in the single digits.
2. It’s not as creme of the crop as you think
One of my fears in enrolling in a Moscow high school was that I was going to be behind academically. Language-wise, I was sure my Moscow peers will have had more opportunities to interact with international visitors on a daily basis. In terms of sciences, I expected my high school peers to be better prepared thanks to there being so many universities, research centers, and top-tier educators in Moscow.
The truth is education standards are pretty much the same throughout Russia. Of course, there are better schools and worse schools anywhere. From what I saw, both in my hometown and in Moscow the specialized high schools (спецшкола) — while officially public — were very selective in their admissions and gave their students a better chance at being accepted to one of the better universities; while your average neighborhood schools could be hit or miss in terms of funding and the quality of education. If anything, the competition to get into one of these schools is fiercer in Moscow, making them somewhat less accessible.
As for the language competence, it is true that more Muscovites know a foreign language than people anywhere else in Russia. However, the stronger correlation here is with age and education level. While there are certainly more overseas celebrity visits to Moscow than elsewhere in Russia, your average middle-aged Russian doesn’t have much contact with international visitors and much exposure to foreign-language (undubbed) shows or (untranslated) literature, and that is true for Moscow, as well.
To be continued
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