A Belgian Student in Russia

Hello everyone! My name is Alexia, I am 22 years old, and I come from Belgium. I am currently doing an internship at the Foreign Language Training Center and I’ll be here until the end of March. Yeah, I am the one sitting at the back of the office who cannot answer your questions, sorry… But what is a Belgian student doing in St. Petersburg, you might ask… Well, I am a fifth-year student at the Faculty of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Mons; and Russian and English are my two working languages. I fell in love a few years ago with St. Petersburg and with the Russian culture, so it was an obvious choice for me to intern here. For this article, I will focus on a few points that, I think, represent the most significant differences between these two countries so dear to my heart. So, if you want to learn a bit more about my tiny Belgium and how it differs from Russia, then please read the article below!

Size Comparison

I’ve often been asked whether Belgium was a region of Germany. Well, even if Russia is more or less 560 times bigger than Belgium, my country is indeed a country on its own. One of the most striking things for me is how big Russia is. This is the fifth time I have come to Russia and it still surprises me. To give you an example, it only takes a two-hour drive in order to cross Belgium from west to east. Another example: taking the bus 30 minutes to get to your University in Russia is considered quite normal, and some people consider themselves lucky to live so close to their campus, whereas in Belgium, it doesn’t work like that. Being a 30-minute drive from home is like being in a faraway area, it's a real psychological burden, and therefore, students decide to move and rent an apartment in the city where they are studying. See for yourself!

Cost of Living

Let's be honest, when we live abroad, one of the things that influences our lifestyle the most is money… I won't give you the euro equivalent for the price of bread, or for a kilo of apples, I think it would be terribly boring and probably irrelevant. What I want to say is that, when you come to Russia and keep the same Belgian lifestyle, if you spend the same budget, you would be amazed by all the possibilities offered to you here! Being in Russia is really the perfect opportunity to discover totally unusual and beautiful places. Indeed, I’ve already had the chance to visit splendid museums, astonishing theaters, chic restaurants… (which is something I can’t afford in Belgium).


I have also noticed that, when it comes to courtesy, our two countries are quite different. For example, in Belgium, when a young man is being courteous to a girl, if a boy holds the door for a girl, it’s often misinterpreted and perceived as flirting; girls tend to be suspicious and distrustful. Here, I think, it is considered as a sign of good upbringing, nothing but kindness. I remember, two years ago, while I was on exchange in Yaroslavl for Women's Day on March 8, some of the boys in my class offered me chocolates. It’s the least anyone can do, it’s the tradition. In Belgium, if a boy offered chocolates to a girl, everyone would have directly thought that he was interested in that girl, he must necessarily have hidden agendas… This kind of cultural difference really fascinates me and that's what makes me want to travel even more.

Behavior towards Climate Change

This last point is not about lecturing or judging, obviously, but I think we can say that Belgium and Russia adopt two different approaches. Belgium has for some years already implemented the compulsory waste sorting system. For example, we must sort the plastic from the paper and the glass. People are encouraged to use reusable bags, to use more public transportation, there are taxes for the most polluting vehicles, people are turning to a greener lifestyle, and I think this is crucial given how fast the climate is actually shifting. Consequently, more and more people are trying to reduce their waste as much as possible and politicians take action to tackle the climate emergency. For example, plastic straws, cutlery and plates, coffee stirrers, balloon sticks and cotton buds… All these plastic products will be banned from the EU from 3 July 2021. I have to admit that when I am in Russia, I feel a little bit guilty. It's almost impossible to reduce waste, plastic is everywhere, and plastic is wrapped in plastic, all of it in a plastic bag. Again, I’m not making any judgements. Of course, everyone evolves at their own pace and, each country does the best it can with the means it has to fight climate change. Don’t get me wrong, no country has a perfect system and I am no one to tell you how to behave and live your life.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing about my two favorite countries in the world.