Information for Participants

Information for Participants is being regularly updated. Latest update: 08 Dec 07. Use this to get a good idea about the trip; details will evolve.

This document should answer most practical questions about the trip and course. It also includes suggestions to help balance your individual needs and goals with those of the group and of our hosts. To a large extent, these suggestions are the cumulative advice of previous participants. Please read Information for Participants carefully, noting any material which applies specifically to your trip, and heed the instructions and advice. Bring this with you to Moscow because it contains information important both during your stay and for the voyage home. I will be in Moscow with all groups.

All prices mentioned are in US dollars. That and other details and any Americanisms must be adjusted if you are coming from elsewhere. For participants originating in Europe, the starting dates are one day later than the ones shown here. Certain information about Russia is subject to change.

Part Two of Information for Participants contains suggestions for keeping a journal and an essay called, Tools. In it you will find all sorts of hints on how to look at and analyze another society and culture. The cues we give daily in our relations with people may not work the same elsewhere, and we become uncomfortable or have misunderstandings without knowing why. Tools is meant to help overcome such problems. It includes simple exercises you can do before and during your trip which should make your understanding easier and deeper, but of course tools are only beneficial if they are used.

Calendar for payments and documents

-Deposit of US$ 200, to be used as follows:

  US$ 100 will be used for the flight deposit to Delta Airlines.

  US$  50 will be used to pay the fee for the visa invitation by the Russian Ministry of the Interior. Once the invitations are requested, this US$50 becomes non-refundable.

  US$  50 will be applied to expenses in Russia.

-Balance for Russia stay
-Air fare

The balance must be by money order, guaranteed check (e.g., cashiers or certified) or wire transfer to avoid clearance delays and permit purchase of plane tickets on time. Credit card payments aren't possible. Late payment may result in your removal from the active list.

If you're coming from the Euro zone, I can send instructions for transfer to a French bank.

-Information for visa invitation and photocopy of passport data/picture pages.
-Health form and responsibility waiver

Breakdown of non-flight costs

  1. US$ 800 for room* and meals during 21 days in Russia
  2. US$    150 for educational program provided by Academy of Labor
  3. US$      50 fee for invitation from Ministry of the Interior
  4. US$    400 for estimated expenses of trips to two towns outside Moscow
  5. US$ 300 for services of Eric Fenster before and during trip
  6. US$ 100 contingency, to be refunded if group size is 20 or more and no significant inflation in Russia.
  7. US$ -50 that will come from the remainder of your $US 200 deposit
           * A limited number of single rooms may be available. Add $180.

US$ tba is the total due for Russia stay with up to US$100 refundable from contingency fund.

   Amount you will retain and spend yourself
    US$ 100 for visa (US citizens. Nationals of other countries may pay less.)

If there is interest in an optional 2-day trip to St. Petersburg, it could cost US$250-300 (sleeper train, hotel, breakfasts and lunches, several museum, etc., entries and fixed costs (bus rental, guides and interpreters, fee of the host organization in St. Petersburg). You may bring this in cash.

Flight costs
(Delta Airlines from North America) Flight conditions (to be updated)

It will not be possible to stay on in Europe after the study program.

Make your money order (mandat) or cashier's check payable to Moscow Study Trips. On request I can also give you instructions for a wire transfer in dollars. Send payment and other documents (visa application, waiver, health form) to:

Eric Fenster
Please request street address and another e-mail address by e-mail. They are not published here to avoid spam.
Fax and voice mail: 1-206-888-4571
E-mail: moscowtrip2008@yahoo.com


If you do not have a passport, you must apply for one immediately. If you do not have the passport in time, it will be impossible to apply for the Russian visa.

US citizens: The Passport Office has full information on line. A new passport, valid for ten years, will cost $85. You will need proof of citizenship (birth certificate or naturalization papers), proof of identity, two passport photos and a check or money order for the fee. Renewals cost $55, and require your old passport, two photos and the fee. You can get applications at many US post offices and apply by mail. A RUSH order can be processed in a few days, but will cost $60 extra and you should send your application by Express Mail and prepay return of the passport by Express Mail.

Make at least five extra photos.

These will be necessary for your Russian visa, for two photos you must bring to Moscow to legally register your residence in Russia and for spares in case your passport or visa are lost or stolen during travel.

HINT: The US passport application asks for the date of your trip. In crowded periods, the applications are processed in the order of date of departure, not the order in which applications arrive. Because you need your passport in time for the visa application, put a date in January, not the travel date!

Visa application

It is important to submit visa applications to the Russian Consulate as soon as I can inform you the official invitation has been processed so that any problems can be corrected and because the price of the visa depends upon the time of submission.

As soon as possible, I need to know your full name as it appears on your passport, date of birth, sex, occupation, address and telephone of home and work or school, passport number and expiration date and receive a photocopy of the data pages of your passport so that our host can request your official invitation.

The new procedure for visitors to Russia requires that I send this information about each applicant to our Moscow host, who will then request an official invitation from the Russian Ministry of the Interior. That takes 3-4 weeks and costs $50.

The Interior Ministry will send a paper invitation that I can relay to you.  The visa charge for North Americans is $100 for slowest processing, to which time in transit must be added. In the USA, there are Russian Consulates in Washington DC, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Your state of residence will determine which consulate you use.

In short, since 1996 the process has become longer and more expensive, so delays and mistakes cannot be afforded. If the Ministry of the Interior is asked for rush approval, the cost to you will rise to more than $80. If the Russian Consulate is asked to prepare visas in less than six business days, it charges $150 for three working days, $200 for next or two business days and $300 for same day.

Each year, a number of visa applications are done incorrectly in spite of rather clear instructions--so please read instructions very carefully. You don't want to miss the trip because an error couldn't be corrected in time.

Have five (5) front-face passport photos made. They may be color or B&W on a white background, cut to 1½ by 1¾ inches (4.0 by 4.5 cm). Generally American vending machine photos are not suitable, but European Photomaton ID photos will do. Print your name clearly on the back of each photo for protection in case the application and photos become separated.

I am giving you a visa application  for Americans in Acrobat Reader format, pdf,  for downloading and printing. Fill it out by typewriter or clearly in block (capital) letters. Non-Americans have a shorter visa application. The reason is that the Russian government is retaliating for the kind of questions the American government imposes on Russian applicants for American visas. Here are guidelines for specific questions:

You don't need to fill out the Russian side.

SIGN and date the application. Unsigned applications will be returned unprocessed!

Send the signed application, your passport, the picture with your name on the back, US$100 (for normal processing) in the form of a cashier's check or postal money order ONLY, the cover letter (that I will send you), the official invitation that will be sent to you,  and any prepaid return mail documents (Express Mail, Fed Ex, etc.) to the appropriate Russian Consulate. I recommend that you send your application by some form of express delivery and include the pre-addressed, pre-paid express return document.

You should compare these instructions with the Official instructions for business visa application
Addresses of Russian Consulates in North America

MAKE A FINAL CHECK: Have you have followed instructions and included all documents.

If you come from outside North America, you will submit and pay for the visa at the appropriate Russian Consulate in your country. Obtain written instructions from the Consulate. The visa fee will depend upon your nationality.

Baggage & packing

From North America, you are allowed two checked suitcases. Each may weigh up to 50 lbs. (23 kg) and length + width + height must be less than 62 inches (157 cm). You may have a carry-on bag of up to 22 lbs (10 kg) and dimensions not to exceed 20x16x9 inches. One wag has said that only two animals carry trunks when traveling, elephants and Americans. Pack lightly, and allow for the space and weight of the purchases you will make and gifts you may receive. Despite this annual advice, people still discover they've brought more than they need. Airlines have recently been reducing limits and enforcing them.

For passengers originating in Europe, the official limit is 20 kg. Even if there is some tolerance eastbound, limits are often more strictly enforced leaving Moscow. Excess baggage may cost 1% of the one way first class fare per kg.

All luggage must have baggage tags, with both your home and the Moscow address (below). You may receive group baggage tags, and these should also be used so that we can identify each other's baggage in Moscow, where baggage from a single flight is often put on different conveyor belts.

Bring a carry-on bag suitable for trips of several days and which you can comfortably carry during a ten minute walk. You will need it for any travel within Russia and for the Amsterdam stopover on the return trip. As always when you travel, be prepared in case checked baggage is delayed. Hand baggage should have a change of clothes, toiletries, and valuables or medical supplies.

People have asked about shipping things home from Moscow. This may still be risky, troublesome, expensive and slow.

Weather: In 1995 and 1999, Moscow had record-breaking heat waves starting in June, with temperatures reaching a humid 90F/32C on most days and no air conditioning. In 1997 many days were rainy and chilly. In 2001, April and May had record warm and sunny days. 2004 was generally pleasant. If there are no extremes in 2008 . . . April can be chilly, with gray or sunny days possible. May brings a warming trend in Moscow (60F/15C days, 42F/5C nights). Spring comes suddenly, and the city turns green almost overnight, with apple blossoms on the main boulevards about the 20th. Temperatures should be warm in June (67F/19C or more days, 50F/10C nights). July can be quite hot. Rain is always likely; uneven sidewalks (pavements) and poor drainage cause many large puddles that are difficult to avoid. Mud is not uncommon. Rubbers (e.g., Totes) are light to carry and will protect your shoes. Bring an umbrella.

Bring a jacket and a sweater so that you have four options of "layers," and gloves, just in case, even as late as mid-May. Don't be fooled if you come from a warm climate: I have watched people who brought practically no outer garments shiver and explain, "But it was 80° when we left Texas/Florida/ California!" Dress is usually informal, especially in warm weather, although Russian women take more pains with appearance than American counterparts. There may be an occasion when a jacket & tie/dress will be appropriate, but not required.

Women need at least one modest skirt and head scarf for admission to certain churches or monasteries we'll likely visit.

Mix and match outfits; don't feel you have to wear something different every day. That just takes valuable baggage space. Bring permanent press clothes because you'll be doing your own laundry. Have good walking shoes. People who drive everywhere had better practice walking!

Electricity is 220V, 50Hz; 110V appliances require both a 220V110V step down transformer which supports the proper wattage and an adapter from flat to round pin plugs. A small bi-voltage hair dryer saves weight and space (but you'll still need the plug adapter). Don't use a setting more than 1,000 watts; it can blow fuses. Soft contact lenses? A bi-voltage cleaner can be found for about $15. Bring a travel alarm clock (but not electric if it's from North America); you'll be traveling through many time zones and may need help at first waking up.

There is a kitchen on our floor in the residence with stove and refrigerator. Most rooms have a refrigerators and electric water heater, so you needn't bring heating utensils.

In the past, many people bought posters in Russia. If you think you might, bring a cardboard mailing tube to protect them from being folded in transit. Eastbound, use the tube for your own gift posters or stuff it with stockings, etc. In general, stuff cavities, e.g., shoes, to save space.

Western products are easily available in Moscow. Bring toiletries and soap. Bring toilet paper in case of a shortage in the residence (a rare problem now). Carry some in your pocket from the time you board the Moscow-bound flight until you are back in Amsterdam. Women should bring all sanitary products and should expect that travel may cause irregularities.

Bed linens are provided. So are towels, but they are very small and thin. You will need to bring your own for any overnight in Amsterdam, so you might as well make it a size suitable for Moscow, maybe an old one you can leave behind. Take along a few clothes hangers.

Be prepared to do your own laundry in Moscow, by hand, in the sink or tub. Bring a universal flat bathroom sink plug, some string, clothes pins and detergent. Don't forget the things that prevent nuisances: extra shoe laces, a matchbook-sized sewing kit.

Moscow has a population of nine million and, as in other big cities, there are also insect residents--even in the fancy hotels--and some remain despite regular fumigation. Temperature and rainfall affect the insect population. For roaches, I recommend both a spray or powder (Baygon) and roach motels. This solved the problem in the past rather quickly. Mosquitoes haven't been a problem in Moscow, though they sometimes have been elsewhere, such as St. Petersburg and Kaluga, so it's better to be prepared (also for picnics, etc.). The weapons are sprays, long-lasting plaques and, for walks in nature, repellants.

Business cards, if you have them, are customarily exchanged.

You should buy a city map of Moscow. Those printed in Europe may be more detailed and less expensive than many sold in Moscow and include bus routes. You may find them in good big-city book stores. Those more than several years old will not account for many post-Soviet street and metro station name changes.

Two web sites with useful practical information about Moscow and St. Petersburg are:
www.infoservices.com  and  www.waytorussia.net

If you take medication, carry enough for the length of the trip--more, if the dose depends upon your diet or activity--and a legible copy of the prescription. A few first aid items, like Band-Aids and an Ace bandage, are useful. It is a good idea to have spare prosthetic devices (glasses, etc.), and to have medical and dental checkups well before leaving.

Travel fatigue, jet lag, diet change, different mineral content of water or microbes can cause intestinal upset. The best treatment is rest and replacement of liquids and salt, but you may want medication in case such illness should occur on the road. Fatigue and exposure to different viral strains mean that colds and sore throats often run through the group so, if you use them, bring remedies--including aspirin. Ask your physician if you ought to carry antibiotics in case of problems such as strep throat, but antibiotics are useless against flu, colds or other viral diseases. Disposable syringes have been available when people needed injections for some illness, but if you want to be sure, ask your doctor about giving you some to carry.

Bring all the film you think you'll need; Kodak and Fuji film are available. Previous delegates suggest bringing some ASA 400 film to be able to take outdoor pictures in gray weather. An inexpensive overnight photo developing service was available at the Academy in 2001. Inside, you may usually take pictures or video in museums (most charge for the privilege), but not with flash (it can damage paintings). Taking photos at performances disturbs other people--shutter noises, but especially flash--and should not be done. Besides, flash is only effective for about 15 feet; it will not light up a theater! If you bring a video recorder, remember you need 220V and round-pin plugs to recharge batteries.

Each person should bring a small FM radio with headphones or an ear plug. If you don't already have one, they can be found for as little as $5-15. I will bring a wireless FM microphone. The radios are extremely useful where sound doesn't carry or where it's noisy and we can't group people around a guide or interpreter. They can also be used if we can get into meetings where having an interpreter do loud translation would be intrusive. Bring spare batteries.

There are English language morning news broadcasts on FM in Moscow, including business reports that are very informative about the political and economic situation. With a short wave radio you can pick up English language programs from the BBC, VOA, Canada, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Austria and other countries.

A few weeks before departure, pick a place--such as the suitcase you intend to carry--to put aside the things you plan to take so you won't forget them. Go over this section and the rest of the document before you finalize your packing.

Verify what coverage your national or private health insurance provides when you are abroad, including medical evacuation and repatriation of remains. Travel agents have brochures describing medical and other insurance. For US residents, one plan, Health Care Global, provides up to US$100,000 coverage for US$18 per week. There is a US$100 deductible per incident. Medical evacuation, if necessary, is included. The phone is 1-800-237-6615. Study written descriptions carefully before making any decision. You may already be covered by credit card, auto club or other "included" insurance. Check. If your own insurance (e.g., homeowners') doesn't cover it, you may want to consider insuring your baggage for loss and theft.

No vaccinations are required for travel to Russia, but you should always keep your immunity to tetanus up to-date because puncture wounds can occur anywhere. The tetanus vaccine will include protection against diphtheria.

Optionally, you may want vaccination against Hepatitis A, but people over 40 or who have previously traveled in areas where Hepatitis A is prevalent may already have acquired immunity. A test for presence of antibodies can determine this. Also consider typhoid vaccine. Consult your physician or health care facility.


If you're going to be using a restricted, e.g., nonrefundable, fare to get to/from your departure city, please don't book until your group is composed and all our plans are clear. For the group fare, everybody has to be routed via the same gateway city on Delta. This will be JFK in New York, from which flights are non-stop to Moscow.

You will check your baggage to Moscow.

The group members should attempt to find each other at the gateway airport or on the plane. If possible, you will be seated together.

IMPORTANT: You may travel most of the day, and all night. You will go through major time changes and things get started quickly in Moscow. Avoid farewell parties, pack early, sleep well the night before the trip and get as much sleep as you can during the flight (avoid the film). It is easy to be fooled into overexertion by the excitement of the trip and the "second wind" of the time change. Fatigue lowers your resistance, and many people have been ill during the first part of the trip because they did not take this advice. Moscow time is eight hours later than the US East Coast (GMT+4).

Flight schedules
Dep-Arr    Flt No    Dep    Arr    Total time    Full Price
CLE-JFK    5160    1240    1425                       $1054.60
DTW-JFK   5052    1220    1405    13h50         $1033.60
SFO-JFK      148    0655    1531    16h15
JFK-SVO       30    1615    1010    13h30          $  873.60   
SVO-JFK       31    1215               
JFK-CLE    5659    1550    1749    13h34       
JFK-DTW   5637    1550    1818    14h03       
JFK-SFO      151    1625    2020    19h05       


Everybody needs to fill out a Migration Card and customs declaration. The forms will be available on the flight or upon arrival. On arrival, we'll first go through immigration control where passports and visas will be checked. That will put us in the baggage claim area. Baggage may appear on one or more conveyors, and not necessarily on the one marked with our flight. Please wait to clear customs as a group after everybody's baggage is accounted for. Note down all your currency and traveler's checks on the customs declaration. If you have gold jewelry or other valuables, you can list them to prove you brought them into the country. Keep the declaration and migration card in a safe place throughout the trip; you must turn them in when you leave, along with a second customs declaration stating the amount of money you are taking out. Rules may change, but since summer 2000 it has not been necessary to declare travelers checks or cash less than $1500 and entry could be made through the "green" line with essentially no customs check. Things could change in 2007. They did, without notice, late in 1999.

Our hosts will meet us at the airport with bus transportation to the city. The bus cannot park for a long time in front of the terminal and may have to park a short walking distance away.


We will live in the residence of the
Academy of Labor. It is located in SW Moscow across from the former Olympic Village and park, a place to stroll or jog. Typical Russian food shops are near the residence, and there's a shopping center in the Olympic Village. The residence is attached to the building containing classrooms and dining facilities, so we have no lost time commuting. It offers the chance to meet Russian residents of the hostel--who, in the past, have been very hospitable to our groups.

As typical for Russian higher education residences, housing is in suites: a vestibule, a larger room with two beds, a smaller room with one. You should be prepared to share a room. The number of singles will depend upon the size and sex distribution of the group. Each suite has a bathroom and toilet (which are separate rooms and thus avoid morning overcrowding).

Rooms on the street side of the building pick up traffic noise. There are double windows for Russian winters and they insulate sound, but if it's warm you'll want them open. We'll try to put people sensitive to sound on the other side, but you could bring ear plugs, etc., if such noise really bothers you. Because of the latitude, nights are shorter than in the USA. By May it will already be light until late and In June it will still be light at 23h00 or later and get light again by 04h00. The curtains on the windows are far from opaque, so if light disturbs you bring eye shades.

There is a kitchen with a stove and refrigerators on the floor. Drinks and snacks can be kept there, and sometimes members of the group decide to do a "home-cooked" meal.

On our floor there are often a few people from Japan or Switzerland who are spending a few months to study Russian. You'll get to know them, and they often join our excursions outside Moscow.

Rooms were renovated a few years ago, with new parquet floors, wallpaper and furniture. Refrigerators and TVs were added. Still, they will have fewer of the comforts and decorations than the homes from which most of you come. Furnishings include bed(s), desk, chairs and a closet with shelves and hanging space. The transition, on top of adapting to the group, is difficult for some people, but often those who experienced the greatest initial stress get surprisingly attached to these living quarters as the place where they rediscover what is essential.

Getting acquainted during the flight will help you choose roommates. People on previous delegations suggested looking for compatibility on three points: smoking, snoring and time of going to sleep/waking up. You are free to change roommates, and this shouldn't be seen as an insult or drama; sharing space for a month with a stranger cannot always be based upon first impressions of compatibility.

There is a snack shop on the fifth floor with a friendly staff but limited range of products and a café on the ground floor open part of the day.

We are in a residential, not a tourist or business, area. Still, for security, there is a lock on the door to your suite and another on the door to your room. The reception desk on the ground floor is attended and entrance to the building controlled. If you bring guests home, they should be told that house rules require that they leave their ID card there while in the building. The door to the street is locked late at night, but a security guard can let you in.

Our host has also hired women to be on duty on our floor to be sure the rooms aren't visited by strangers. They rotate every 24 hours. You normally leave your keys with the woman on duty (called dezhurnayas) when you go out. Your suite mates will not like you if you go off with the keys and they can't get in! Some of the women on duty prefer you keep keys with you or leave them at the ground floor reception, and that requires more creative cooperation with suite mates.

You need to be warned that, unfortunately in a stressed economy, some people who approach you in a friendly way are doing it only to gain your confidence. At the same time, Russian society has opened up and people seek genuine contacts with foreigners. You'll have to learn to tell the difference and be especially cautious about bringing strangers to the residence hall.

In Russian cities, heat and hot water are provided centrally. Moscow has heating plants in each district. During late spring and summer months, each plant is shut down for about three weeks for maintenance. In our district, those weeks could come any time from late May to July: maybe when we're there, maybe not. We escaped the shutdown in 1996, but not in 1997 (May) or 1999 (late June). The shutdowns are always the subject of newspaper articles, conversations, jokes and solidarity--with the same inevitability as death and taxes in the West. When we arrive, check the hot water pipe in the bathroom. If it is warm, be happy. It's one of those victories (below) that substitute for taking things for granted. The old saw holds true: your experience will be very much affected by whether you see the glass as half empty or half full.


You should post your letters from a post office (there is one near the Academy) rather than in street mailboxes Letters you send will take 1-2 weeks or more to arrive. Letters sent 
to you probably won't arrive while you're there! They generally take three weeks or more, so a few people receive mail toward the end of our visit that was posted about the time they left home! US Express Mail to Moscow takes 3-4 days, but is expensive. The addressee has to sign for it, so you could have it addressed care of Tatyana Grishina.

Mail can be sent to:

Your name c/o Tatyana Grishina
Academy of Labor
90, Lobachevsky Street
117454 Moscow RUSSIA

There are no room phones in the residence because of the high charge by the telephone company, but there should be one in the dezhurnaya's room that you can use. She is often out, though, and the door is locked so you cannot make or receive calls then Not infrequently the ear or mouth piece at one or the other end of the line will have gone bad and half of the conversation will be shouting, static or both. Getting cut off is common; so are busy signals from overloaded circuits.

If you have a US phone card you can make international calls from local phones, but you will be subject to all the risks mentioned above. Call 755-5042 for ATT, 755-6133 for Sprint to reach an operator in the USA.

If you are from Canada and have a phone card, ask your provider before you leave how to make calls from Moscow. It was complex, but has probably improved.

Western-style hotels have phone booths that take phone and credit cards, but the rates have been astronomic: up to $12/minute to North America! It is best NOT to call from a person's flat or cell phone. You can quickly run up charges equal to a week's salary, and you don't want to risk that your host won't let you pay.

You can now purchase Russian phone cards that make calls much less expensive than your Western one and work like American prepaid ones. Not all cards work for international calls, so verify before purchase.

A fax can be sent to you at 7-095-432-3371. That is the surest way for people to send you urgent messages at low cost. It also avoids the language problem a direct phone call to the office would entail. You can send faxes from the Academy if you pay for the international phone call.

The Academy's e-mail access can be used in urgent situations. There is public internet in various places, including at the post office near our residence. Nobody should plan on Moscow being an office away from home.

In short, communication is uncertain, expensive and complicated by time differences and changes in our activities or trips out of Moscow. I am telling you in advance so that you and the people at home will not be frustrated or worried after you leave. The best way to avoid disappointment is just to consider you are gone--period--until you come back. We have had numerous instances where some promise to call or be called--a birthday or anniversary, or whatever--has monopolized somebody's time and concentration or even affected the entire group. The tail cannot wag the dog. You will quickly learn that Russia is a wonderful place where you can celebrate victories over adversity every day, but the folks back home will not understand from their direct experience that you can't just pick up a phone and solve problems the way they do. So talk this over before you leave.

Meals (watch for adjustments to this subject)

Meals are served in the regular or the staff dining room on the fourth floor of the classroom building, which is connected to the residence. Drinks and snacks can be purchased there at low prices during class breaks.

Breakfast is abundant, and may include apple juice or kefir (a fermented milk, like yoghurt), sliced sausage and cheese, a main course (hard-boiled or loosely fried eggs, or hot cereal, or pancakes with sour cream or jam, or hot dogs and rice or peas), bread and butter and coffee or tea (chai). A typical "lunch" includes an appetizer or salad, soup, maincourse. We can buy supper, a lighter meal at the "buffet." There are soft drinks and mineral water to drink.

Coffee in Europe does not accompany a meal; it ends it. It is available throughout breakfast. It is dark because of longer roasting, but not necessarily "stronger." If you cannot drink it black, bring a jar or packets of creamer. Getting milk is possible but not certain.

International travel means adapting to other cultures and habits, including culinary ones. You will survive. We've had many people treat quite ordinary food (or Russian delicacies) they weren't used to as if it were on the table just as decoration, rather than to eat. Strangely, the younger participants are least willing to try something new. What a pity to sacrifice the adventure of food to hamburgers and fries In the present crisis, many people are surviving on extremely limited diets and what you get will be luxury. The kitchen staff mothers us, and they take it personally when their best efforts go untouched. Expect a narrow variety of vegetables and few fruits. Fruits are easily available on the street, but at West European prices.

Probable meal hours: Breakfast at 08h30, dinner (the main meal in Europe) at 13h00-14h00 (1-2 pm), supper at 18h00 (6 pm). Concerts and other performances start early, at 19h00-19h30. People with medical problems requiring regular food intake should carry snacks when meals are irregular.

The quantity of food, attendance at cultural events, meeting new friends and eating out combine to quickly diminish the number of people at supper, so during the midday meal we will take a count of how many people intend to come. The small inconvenience of planning a few hours ahead will avoid the preparation of food that goes to waste.

If the number falls below a certain minimum, a figure we can discuss, we will cancel the hot meal and ask for a packed one. This is largely a consideration for the staff. The kitchen may be open for breakfast and supper only for our group. As you will discover, one person may serve most of our meals. In 1995, for example, the woman who was responsible for this did it with efficiency and affection--and very little pay. She also had a 90-minute bus and metro commute when we finished at night and had to repeat that early the next morning to prepare our breakfast. We cannot reciprocate by asking her to fix and set out supper and hang around until 8 pm "just in case" somebody shows up. You can guess that I am being so explicit here because such things happened. Our meals are covered, but not at the expense of the human relations with our hosts for which we have come in the first place.

On weekends or when it is otherwise appropriate, we may have breakfast and/or other meals served by the snack bar in the residence. The meals will be basically the same.

Opinions vary concerning Moscow's water quality, though we are told it is now safe to drink. Different parts of the city have different sources, and that complicates the story. It may be no better or worse than in many American cities now, but if it will make you feel more at ease you can buy and bring a portable filter.


How much money should you bring? It's a common question always hard to answer and more now because prices are changing. If you are on a tight budget, you only need a small amount for incidentals like public transport, extra beverages and postage. You can attend extra cultural events for a few dollars, and many folk art souvenirs are inexpensive. Some people manage to spend hundreds of dollars on expensive souvenirs and overpriced restaurant meals. We try to make the quoted price cover everything. From then on, it's up to your tastes and pocketbook.

First, a bit of recent history. Until November 1989, the offical number of rubles per US$ was 0.6. (It took $1.60 to buy one ruble.) The USSR ended in December 1991, the "reforms" that began January 1, 1992 caused prices to skyrocket overnight and this meant rapid devaluation.At the end of 1997, there were 6,000 rubles to the dollar, a devaluation of 10,000-fold! Meanwhile, official inflation had gone up even more. Money couldn't be printed fast enough and the government was slow to approve larger denomination bills. Two results were that there was a shortage of currency and people paid with packets of 100 bills as they came wrapped from the bank. One consequence for our Moscow study group during the height of inflation was that our host had to drag a heavy sack full of money to pay for our breakfast before we could be served lunch because the dining room could not be sure we could find the currency and, besides, prices might rise in the meantime!

The economy became sufficiently stable for Russia to  issue a new ruble on 1 January 1998, removing three zeros, at 6 to the dollar, but the debt crisis beginning in August 1998 caused another 4-fold devaluation to make one US dollar worth about 25 new rubles (one ruble equals 4 cents), or 25,000 old rubles.

Before this started, many elderly Russians had bank savings of 3,000-5,000 rubles to supplement their retirement pensions. This amounted to 1-2 years' average earnings. When the devaluation was over, this amount of savings was worth 12-20 cents! You can imagine how terrifying it was to face old age with minuscule pensions, savings wiped out and inflation continuing and why "democracy" was not seen by many as a welcome change from the security of the former system.

* * *

The dollar has weakened and the ruble has been rock stable at about 24.5 R/US$ in Fall 2007. At the same time there has been  considerable inflation in Russia, running 8-10%/yr.That means reduced purchasing power for you. For example, the price in dollars of a ride on the Metro has doubled in three years.

The new ruble is divided into 100 kopecks. Coins are 1, 5, 10 and 50 kopecks; 1, 2 and 5 rubles. Common bills are 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 rubles.

For safety, most of your money should be in US dollar travelers' checks. The first problem is that only a few exchanges can cash them, and they charge a commission of 1-4%. You can usually cash travelers' checks into dollars or rubles, or a combination in some places. The second problem is that the exchanges that accept travelers' checks usually give 3-4% less for the ruble, so you end up losing 6-8% of your money. Your best bet may be to change checks into dollars and then change the dollars into rubles at one of the many other exchanges in the city.

A good place to change money or travelers checks has been the Solidarity Bank next to our residence. Other places were the Vneshtorg Bank at 14 Novy Arbat (1% commission) and Bank of Moscow in the Radisson-Slavyansky Hotel near Kievskaya Metro station, but the commission has been a very high 3.5%. The small exchange just across the corridor took only 2%. The exchange in the Metropole Hotel charged 2.5% and the American Express office (only Amex checks) 2.75%. It's on Sadovaya Kudrinskaya , a 5-minute walk from Mayakovskaya Metro station. If the ruble rate is declining before you come, I advise bringing small denomination checks; you will not want to change very much at one time. Don't forget to record serial numbers and keep them separately from the checks. You may also want to bring some dollars in small bills. You need to show your passport to change travelers' checks.

Currency exchanges are all over the city now, but there are variations in rates. Do not deal with changers on the street. They may palm bills or pass off counterfeit money or bills no longer legal. Sometimes they or their confederates follow their customers and reexchange the money by force. Be sure you are clear on the distinction between the buy rate and the sell rate for the dollar, and the spread should be small for legitimate dealers Exchanges and banks may not accept worn, torn, marked or dirty bills because they fear somebody further upstream will not consider them legal tender.

By 2004 there were many places where cash could be obtained with an ATM card on the Cirrus or Plus networks. One was located on the ground floor of the Academy classroom building. Check your own bank's fees for using foreign ATMs. These can range from free to as much as $5 (in which case you might consider a different bank). In Moscow, some ATMs indicated a local charge, others not.


Shopping in Soviet days meant an occasional trip by the whole group to a special shop where goods were sold for hard currency. All that has changed. You will have no shortage of opportunities to shop, both in Moscow and in other places we visit, so please respect the difference between the program and shopping. As an example, during the introductory tour of the city we stop on a hill that overlooks Moscow. Many souvenirs are on sale to tourists there, and it is often hard to pry away group members to continue our business because they seem to think this is their one and only chance. Only later is it clear that they will see thousands of these items, and at better prices.

The average monthly salary in Moscow in mid-1999 was over US$100. In other towns it was only half that!

Moscow has two economies. Because of incredible overcharging, it became almost the most expensive city in the world for foreigners willing--and able--to go along and for the "New Russians" for whom money was meaningless (before the August 1998 crisis). Taxi drivers, for example, didn't blush at demanding $70, a healthy fraction of the average monthly Moscow wage, for a ride from the airport (which can be had for under a dollar on public transportation). Some restaurants charged very different prices for exactly the same meal, according to what they thought they could get away with.

The assumptions are: 1) foreigners are rich; 2) you should pay in Russia what (they think) you are used to paying at home for a similar product. This works quite well; at least I often hear participants say a price for some nothing is "reasonable" even though it represents hours of labor for a Russian. Western-style hotels in Moscow charge as much for a night as many Muscovites earn in 2-4 months. Meanwhile, it is difficult for (honest) Russian citizens to access many services in their own country because they can't compete with foreigners or the newly rich.

There are many excellent souvenirs to buy, but there are also fakes and risks. Avoid buying caviar on the street; it may be stale-dated and dangerous. There have been cases of dangerously adulterated alcohol products. It is said that hundreds of people were blinded or killed in recent years by kiosk vodka in name-brand bottles. There was probably a combination of truth and an effort by the government to recapture the taxes generated by controlled vodka sales. Anyway, you should not take the risk, and such sales should now be more controlled or forbidden. Bottles should be sealed with an acohol tax stamp.

Many Moscow shops, including supermarkets, sell food and other goods at prices comparable to those in West Europe, which are often higher than in the US.

Good books are often still available at giveaway prices; for example, art books. Book shops and street stalls are near the Lubyanka.

In Arbat shops and on weekends at Izmailovsky Park (metro station of the same name , you can find paintings and souvenir folk art, antiques and other objects for sale. Although this "vernissage" started as an art exhibit at the beginning of glasnost and the liberation of free expression, it has now become quite commercial. You can find beauty and value, but also junk and fakes. You can detect some of the latter (decals which pass for "hand-paintings") if you carry a credit card-sized magnifying lens. Some reputable sellers will even offer you one to use. To judge prices, keep in mind the current wages--then bargain accordingly. You can also get an idea by the fixed prices at souvenir shops open in a place like the Kremlin concert hall during intermissions.

Many historical artefacts--religious icons, samovars, books--can be found. Often these have been stolen. Even if not, they represent the country's cultural heritage and may not be exported without documented permission from the Ministry of Culture. The fact that items are openly on sale does not mean their sale is legal; police can be paid to look the other way. It is quite likely that customs officers will X-ray your baggage when you leave the country. Historical objects for which you do not have papers may be confiscated (it has happened) and occasionally the purchaser is arrested.


To explore Moscow during free time, public transportation is convenient, fast and reasonably priced. For the Metro, cards with magnetic stripes are sold at all the stations. They can be bought for 1, 2, 5, 10 , 20 or 60 rides. In 2007 the 20-ride card was up to 250 rubles. The latter brings the price per ride to 12.5 rubles, or US$.50. (Prices as of June 2007.). 20-ride Metro card

To use the Metro, put your card through the ticket machine, recover it and walk through. You can go any distance, including transfers, for one fare.

Bus tickets are sold at kiosks near Metro stations and sometimes  by women in the commercial areas of thestations. Bus drivers sell tickets, but only when the bus is stopped. A bus ticket costs less when purchased ahead or from the conductor, who is on some buses. When bought from the driver, the price is higher. Signs warn that if the driver is out of tickets it is not an excuse for being without one. They also do not like to make change. On buses, trams or trolleys you punch a ticket in the devices above the side windows. Fines are paid on the spot for travel without a ticket when there is an inspection. Passengers will buy single tickets from each other, and when the bus is crowded tickets will be passed back and forth to be punched.

Metro trains are fast, come every 1½ to 4 minutes except 10 minutes late at night, and run until 01h00. The station nearest the Academy is Vernadsky Prospekt on the red line that goes directly to the center. Metro maps are sold at newsstands in Metro stations. Unless your map is recent, you may find that station names changed when streets/squares near the stations took back pre-Revolution names.

Four buses stop near the post office up the street from the Academy entrance, and all go to Vernadsky metro station (red line) in about 5 minutes (#42, #47, #120, #793). The buses that stop across the street from the residence (#688 and #785) take a few minutes to arrive at Yugo Zapadnya (Southwest) station, the last on the red line, and around which there is an open market where you can buy fruit and other goods.

When returning toVernadsky station from central Moscow, get out the north exit (back of the train, toward the city) to catch the #42, #47 or #120 buses at the cross street to the Academy. Shortages of drivers and buses and late hours diminish service, but the Academy can be reached on foot in about 15-20 minutes. If you walk, it is closer to use the exit at the front of the train. The #688 and #785 buses go to the Academy from Yugo Zapadnya station.

Details about the Metro, its history, a full map and links to other sites about it are at http://www.metropla.net/eu/mos/moskva.htm.

Leaving Moscow

We expect that each group will visit at least one other city, but we may not know which one until we arrive. We can no longer afford distant travel within our budget because air fares and hotel rates have become quite high.

Possibilities are towns on the Golden Ring, east to Vladimir and Suzdal or north to Pereslavl-Zalesski and Rostov-the-Great. In 1999, 2001 and 2004 we had excellent stays in Kaluga, 100 miles southwest of Moscow. All these regions are rich in 12th-18th century history and culture as well as good examples of how provincial industry and agriculture are being challenged by Russia's transition. In 1995 and 1996 we saw a French-made documentary about change in one town, Kirjatch. Then we visited and discussed the film and the town with some residents. We may repeat and extend that visit. For this and other encounters it would be a good idea to prepare a photo-essay of your life at home, including work/school, shopping, leisure, your environment, etc., as a conversation-starter.

If we go to the above towns, we will charter a bus (except Kaluga and possibly Pereslavl-Zalesski, to which we'd use regular inter-city buses). Should there be travel by train, it will be at night in sleepers with  4 berths. They have full bedding, and sexes may be mixed in 4-berth compartments. Tea is available in the evening and morning, and even breakfast. If you are tempted to party until late, remember that a full day of activities awaits us at our destination and our hosts will assume we've taken advantage of the sleeping accommodations on the train. Smoking is allowed only in designated areas between train cars.

Pressure to go to Saint Petersburg has consumed enough members of some groups to be very disruptive to the entire trip. It therefore needs to be clear that these are study trips--not tours--based in Moscow and some travel to other places. Costs to get to St. Petersburg and to stay there have increased beyond where it can be included within our budget. To put the city on the program would make the study trip unaffordable for many people, reduce the number of participants and jeopardize the project for everybody. We will, however, offer an optional visit to Saint. Petersburg of 2-3 days. The Academy of Labor can arrange group rates for accommodations and the program there. A 2-day stay, including sleeper trains each way, may cost about $200, a 3-day stay about $300.


Since we don't speak Russian, there are some things to keep in mind when speaking English. Our interpreters speak excellent English and will want to learn new phrases and slang expressions. Some staff people and lecturers speak good English, but that isn't their expertise. Also, some may have learned British English. We all have accents, and Americans often compress phrases, chew up words (
jeet may not be understood as "did you eat" by all your listeners!) and use very colloquial expressions without realizing it. Try to be clear, precise and sensitive to the level of English of the person to whom you are talking.

When translation is necessary in the educational program, it will be consecutive (which gives you time to take notes). Some interpreters will prefer you make a complete point before they translate; others prefer to translate sentence by sentence. Be succinct and clear. The structure of Russian and English sentences differ, and even the best interpreters will have trouble rendering complex, colloquial language into Russian--so you could end up with the answer to a question you didn't ask. Please avoid crosstalk; it makes it hard for the interpreter to concentrate.

Previous participants say the effort of learning the Russian alphabet before you go really pays off, especially to find your way in the Metro and on the street. If you study a few phrases, you'll pick up more once we arrive.


Notice the forms of politeness in Russia--more pleases, thank yous, good mornings, shaking hands daily with friends or colleagues--than in North America (yet more shoving and bumping on the street or on public transport).

Wearing outdoor clothing indoors is considered bad manners, a good reason to have a sweater in the cool inter-season when heating has been turned off, and some places like restaurants even refuse service to people who have not checked their coats.. All public buildings have a cloakroom, Garderobe and checking is free. If there is no loop in the collar of your jacket/coat, sew one in; otherwise, attendants may make a fuss. Street shoes are not usually worn in homes, and every family has a pile of slippers at the entrance to offer to guests.

Since churches have been returned to religious authorities, enforcement of dress codes has become rigid. If we are going to a place where a church might be visited, women should be prepared to wear skirts and carry a scarf for a head covering. so as to avoid arguments or disappointment.

The American habits of sitting on furniture other than chairs and of putting feet on furniture are frowned upon.

Many Russians smoke heavily, but within buildings usually only in designated areas. In the Academy, only the toilets remain for this purpose. Outside, parking areas are not ashtrays. When we take a bus on a field trip, we should not leave a pile of butts from last cigarettes on the ground at the door for somebody to clean up.

Some people feel that having their picture taken without permission is an invasion of privacy, but candid photos are more interesting than posed ones. Use common sense and discretion. If you have a Polaroid, many people will be delighted if you offer to take their picture and present it to them. This has proved to be a good icebreaker to start conversations with strangers. If you're lucky, you could end up with an invitation home to dinner.

If you do receive an invitation, it is customary to bring something, like chocolate or flowers. Always bring an odd number of flowers, 3 or 5 for example, because even numbers are reserved for sad occasions like funerals.

One "courtesy" for Americans would be to learn the basics of the metric system. The whole world uses it, so it is the United States which is out of step and information such as distance in kilometers ought not be met with a blank stare. Metric is much more convenient because it is based upon ten and because weight, volume and distance are interrelated. An advantage: understanding the weather report each morning on TV (the Moscow temperature is always given last).

Several measures possibly less familiar to you will often be mentioned in lectures. They are the hectare, the quintal, the centner and milliard. A hectare is 10,000 square meters, equivalent to a piece of land 100 meters per side, and equal to 2.47 acres. (Multiply hectares by 2.5 to get the acre equivalent.) A quintal in Europe is 100 kilograms, about 220 pounds. In Europe, a centner is like a hundredweight (100 pounds), but is 50 kilograms, about 110 pounds. It is frequently used to express agricultural output. A milliard is 1,000 million, the American billion. When tons are expressed, long tons will be meant (2,240 pounds).

The size of apartments is usually expressed in square meters of living space (excluding the kitchen, bathroom, vestibule). You can multiply square meters by roughly 11 to get square feet. Square kilometers, a measure of country or regional size, can be multiplied by about 0.4 to get square miles. For distance, multiply kilometers by 0.6 to get miles. For discussion of fuel costs, multiply the price per liter by 3.8 (by 4, less 5%) to get the price in American gallons.

Many people are involved in making our stay as successful as possible--staff speakers, drivers, field trip hosts, interpreters, etc. --and our cooperation is required. Being on time shows respect to the rest of the group, to our hosts, to speakers and to people waiting for us at our destinations.

The cost to charter a bus and driver has risen rapidly, so we expect to use public transport for field visits inside Moscow. For some destinations, this means allowing extra travel time. The increased number of cars in Moscow creates traffic jams, so when we go on field trips outside the city we have to leave earlier than in the past to have time to get through or around them. Elevators (lifts) are slow, and "just one more trip upstairs" keeps the whole group (and our hosts) waiting. Several times, it embarrassed the person who went to great effort to set up our field trips when we turned up late for no good reason. Use stairs, especially to come down; you'll gain extra days in Moscow. Roommates should keep track of each other. If illness or some other problem will prevent you from attending a function, make this known directly, through your roommate or otherwise. Most formal sessions will be immediately after breakfast, and travel is just down a flight of stairs, so there's no reason to be late.

When we are on excursions or field trips, in or out of doors, there will be somebody (a guide, a member of the staff etc.) to explain what we are seeing. We have had problems with people spreading out and not paying attention. At the very least it is discourteous, but it also means much information is lost. One reason is that America seems to be divided between fitness addicts who jog every morning and those who appear to have forgotten how to walk altogether and, at best, shuffle along. The result is that every move strings the group out over incredible distances. (I've also noticed that the slowest walkers are often the last to take the first step...)

Understandably, you want to take photos, but many people go home with "mystery pictures" because they snapped away while missing the explanations. A better technique is for the group to "breathe": gather and listen at each stopping point, then take pictures. We'll make sure the guides give you that opportunity. Be sensitive to the fact that sound doesn't carry well outside and that there may be competing noise (as in factories). Our guides are not megaphones. Explanations given on the bus loudspeaker system can be drowned out by crosstalk. Respect your fellow delegates who ask questions and want to hear the answers. We're not going to march around like an army, but this had to be discussed because past incidents led both to tensions within the group and to frustration and even anger on the part of some of our hosts who were trying to make our visit worthwhile.

It might also be appropriate here to mention the "traps," the little islands of Western life. By all means go to McDonalds at least once; you can learn a lot there if you are sociologically inclined. The same is true for some of the hangouts of Western "advisors" and "investors" (keeping in mind that they have expense accounts to cover the high prices). The danger is that people can get into a rut to the detriment seeing more of Moscow and of meeting Russians. When the end of the trip arrives and they realize how much time they've wasted escaping to the cocoons or the fast food joints, it's too late. The cybercafé plus the fast food stands in the Manege center became such a place in 2001.

You may be frustrated by the Russian concept of time. On occasion, we'll be expected to be quite exact and our hosts will get annoyed if we're not. Other times, the clock won't seem to matter. It's not easily predictable. You should also anticipate a lot of scheduling changes or plans that fall through. It doesn't solve anything just to assert that "they should" act differently. Sometimes significant discoveries lurk behind what seems just a hitch in planning, so serendipity is in order. Please consider that the better the program the more likely it will have last-minute changes; that is, it is quite easy for people who aren't doing very much to accept a speaking engagement far in advance and keep it, but people who are really doing things are more apt to have to change or even cancel their meeting with us. This also means that there will be last-minute additions to the program when some person or institution becomes available. You'll also find these disruptions in plans you make with Russian friends. They're more used to running into barriers, and will often shrug, "Never mind!" (nichevo,); and move on to an alternative. Actually, the greater threat to the understanding for which we are coming is that our hosts organize our cocoon so well that we forget the sometime chaos of our surrounding reality or whine when things don't go just right.

There's another implication here. We should be present for the academic program our hosts have organized, but can tolerate a certain number of absences for valuable learning opportunities which arise through informal contacts When your opportunity conflicts with an attractive planned activity, you have to make a choice. You can't do everything, and if you try you may find that the official program is changed, your informal contact has evaporated and you're left with nothing. It has happened! While it is considerate to share your encounters, some of them won't be appropriate for a large group, so you--or a few of you--must go and then report to the others. If you wait in order to check out the time possibilities of others, the occasion may disappear. If you are not coming to a planned session, inform me or a staff member or your roommate or somebody in the group. Too many times we've sat waiting for somebody who was not going to appear but hadn't bothered saying so. Tolerance of alternative plans also depends upon the size of our group. An absence isn't noticed in a large group, but they can embarrass a guest speaker in a smaller one.

Substance abuse

There is social pressure to consume alcohol in Russia. The anti-drinking campaign of the mid-1980s failed, and alcohol remains the scourge of the country with effects that have been called "worse than war." Largely because of it, male life expectancy fell three years, to 59 [!] just between 1992 and 1993 and has continued downward since. While drinking is only done after toasts (often long-winded and sentimental), the toasts get frequent and the quantities are substantial; a glass of vodka at a time is typical. You have nothing to prove, but if you want to avoid pressure entirely just plead a medical condition and don't start; then you'll be left alone. (Never drink if you are taking medication.)

These trips have gone on since 1980, and only recently have there been alcohol problems within any of our groups. These have involved incidents of people drinking nightly, often in large quantities and deliberately to get drunk, some daytime drinking followed by incoherent questions posed during sessions (to our embarrassment)--and, on one occasion, an epidemic of hangovers which decimated the final week of the program. The appearance of this problem has correlated with greater participation by university undergraduates and, unfortunately, reflects US statistics in that population.

It is a pity if some people know no other way to relax, but this is not a trip for those who cannot stay within the bounds of social drinking. There are enough complications and tensions to overcome so that a group of strangers can have a positive experience with each other abroad. Irresponsible behavior that seriously disrupts this possibility for others may be grounds for being sent home.

Fortunately, other forms of drugs have not appeared within the groups and must not, not only for the reasons above but because you are subject to Russian laws. In Russian judicial practice, there's pretty much no such thing as bail. People stay in prison until trial and that can take months, even years! Pre-trial detention centers are worse than the already-bad prisons, so overcrowded that prisoners sleep in shifts. With this in prospect, drug use can make you liable to informers and to extortion by police.

There will be a great deal to do and enjoy; the hard part can be the first few days before you have met people.

Safety and security

A few years ago, a person of any age or sex could walk alone in Moscow at any hour without fear. That may no longer be true, but the fact that the risk was near zero so recently magnifies the perception of the crime problem in Russian eyes. The hazards are probably greater than in West Europe but less than in the United States ("the most violent industrialized democracy in the world," according to the 1996 
Universal Almanac). In Moscow, apparently at the instigation of the mayor, there is a significant presence of foot police on the streets and in the Metro to assure security.

Since this issue has been emphasized in the Western press, some real figures might provide perspective for both you and family and friends who will "worry" back home. An article in Sevodnya on 25 June 1994 reported that crime in Moscow doubled in five years. It gave the following rates of "recorded crimes per 100,000 residents" in 1993, which I compared with rates for "serious" crime for 1992 in the USA, per the 1994 World Almanac (FBI Uniform Crime Reports).

Moscow 939
Russia as a whole 1888
Saint Petersburg 2543
USA as a whole 5660
US metropolitan areas 6272

The US overall crime figure was up 9.4% over 1983, but the rate per 100,000 of "violent" crimes in the US rose 40.9% from 1983 to 1992. Another Sevodnya article, 20 May 1994, stated that armed crimes in Russia increased fivefold in three years, "from four thousand in 1991 to nineteen thousand in 1993. Last year 2,957 murders involving the use of firearms were recorded." The number of murders with firearms in the USA in 1992 was 15,377 (compare with about 75 for the UK!), up 41% since 1988, and the Justice Department estimated that three million Americans were victims of gun-related crimes in 1993 (International Herald Tribune, 11 Jul 95).

That being said, it is now necessary to take the precautions one does in any large city and to modify them to fit Russian peculiarities. As in the US, a large fraction of violence statistics is accounted for by spontaneous acts against friends and relatives, usually while drunk. Another significant and growing fraction concerns very specific targets related to "business" dealings and organized crime. What concerns you is what remains: random crime or purposeful acts directed at foreigners or others believed to have money.

Our residence is located in a quiet area of the city where street crime would be a very inefficient way to earn a living. There is a reception desk where visitors are screened and a woman does the same on our floor. It takes passage through two locked doors to enter your room.

While this is not hermetic, the principal risk comes from people you bring home. It is not pleasant to have to treat new acquaintances with suspicion, but discretion is necessary for everybody's welfare. Guests should register at the entrance. You do not want to offend friends, so you need to use tact and explain that these are house rules, not yours. Russians will not find this procedure unusual. Do not leave guests unattended, and escort them out when they leave; it is both polite and wise.

If you are invited home by new acquaintances, ask for the address and telephone where you going to be and let your hosts know that that information has been left behind "in case you need to be reached."

The city center, or any place tourists and foreigners gather are caution zones. Pay attention to your "look"; it should not signal wealth. Carry only the amount of money you need, and in a secure location. Wallets in men's hip pockets invite pickpockets. To make snatching more difficult, the strap on women's purses should go over the head. Zipper openings should be toward the front, not the back; a skilled pickpocket can open a back-facing zipper and remove the purse's contents without your knowing it. Visible money belts just wave the target. One woman lost several hundred dollars this way during her first ten minutes of a Brussels stopover.

In Moscow, as in West European cities, gypsy groups are organized to commit petty street crime. One tactic is for a young girl to ask for money while she holds a newspaper over your purse and extracts a wallet, camera or other valuables. Another, especially in underpasses, is for a group of children to climb all over you, pawing. Once you reveal where your money is by where your hands automatically go, they divide their tasks between distraction and theft. There is a simple, if unpleasant, solution. As soon as they make their first move, you have to become violent: hit, kick, use an umbrella, whatever. Their bet is that you won't strike children, and you must instantly convince them otherwise so they back off and look for an easier victim. On the other hand, adult aggressors can be very dangerous if resisted.

On the street and in public transport, don't call attention to yourself. Begin by listening, and you'll notice that even in very crowded Metro trains and buses there is silence. Russians talk closely to each other, and quietly. When a group of raucous foreigners, usually Americans, gets on, it is not only disconcerting but can be dangerous because you may attract dealers of various sorts or be followed after you leave. Walking assertively is always important so as not to look like a pushover, as is making eye contact when appropriate (not women) so as to be a person and not an object.

In many cities, people take taxis to avoid problems, but it can provoke them in Moscow. First, you are guaranteed to be robbed at least by the driver, who will not hesitate to jack up his fares and take $10-20 for what would be a 15-cent Metro ride. Taxis should especially be avoided in the very areas you are most likely to take them, hotels and tourist sites, where foreigners or people with money might be. This warning applies even more to younger women because they might be mistaken for prostitutes presumed to be carrying a large amount of cash. Don't take a taxi if the driver has a partner in the front seat. Make sure your taxi is not being followed by an empty one; a pincer action could be planned. The best thing is to take the Metro or buses where there are many people. The exception: If you leave the home of friends late at night in a residential area, they will usually escort you to the street, flag down a taxi or private car and negotiate a price for you. Let them do all the talking in Russian.

Another safety issue is fire. Many more Russians than Americans die in them annually. A hotel or residence should be checked for safety exits and the evacuation plan understood. Color TV sets should be unplugged when not in use.

Finally, cars and buses always assume they have the right of way and will not slow down for pedestrians, whom they assume will run to avoid them. Take them seriously.


Exchanging of gifts is common in Russia, and these are the kinds of things you could consider bringing:

1) Small items that are souvenirs of your work, city, etc., to hand out on visits to work places, institutions, etc. (decals, key chains, jacket patches). A photo essay about your life, work, city, etc., will interest Russian acquaintances and friends.

2) Gifts for those who will be involved in our entire stay. These include the kitchen staff (who cook mainly for us), the 4-5 women who rotate guard duty on our floor, interpreters, bus drivers, host(s) in other cities, the Academy administration. There are many possibilities: books, records, CDs or cassettes, printed T-shirts or sweat shirts, tennis balls and so on.

3) Gifts for institutions we visit (factories, farm, nursery and secondary school, etc.). If each person brought one substantial item ($10-20 in value)-- especially something typical of the area you come from--to give on behalf of the delegation, we should be able to leave a reminder of our visit at each of these. The Academy of Labor itself is interested in books about economics and finance, the Western labor movement, concrete advice and experience concerning quality circles, occupational health and safety, labor law and dispute resolution, substance abuse control programs, sociology, etc.

Who's Who

Groups are received by the International Centre of Workers' Education (Interstudy) within the Academy of Labor and Social Relations. The institution celebrated its 80th anniversary in 1999 and used to be run by the old Soviet trade unions. Now it is independent and has developed a variety of new educational, research and international activities.

Gennady Nikolaev is the Academy's Vice Rector for International Relations and Director of Interstudy.
Vladislav (Slava) Semenkov, an economist, usually organizes our academic program.
Tatyana Grishina is Dean and also oversees all our practical arrangements.
Radik Agabekyan, her deputy, takes care of day-to-day logistical needs of the group.

There will be one or more interpreters to translate lectures, discussions, field trips and visits to other cities. These interpreters are not full-time professionals, but have other jobs. They know their city and customs, and most questions about where, how, and so on, should be directed to them. You'll usually find them very willing to be helpful and to have discussions.

My own role is varied. I have a travel agent's tasks just to be sure you get there and back, but that is incidental to the main goal of learning about Russia. My principal duty begins with the "educational" parts of this document and continues with the preparation and selection of other readings. Much of my year is spent following events in Russia and then analyzing and synthesizing them so that you can "hit the ground running" and make efficient use of your time. That assumes that you'll have read the written resources so that you can draw on their lessons as you switch to the experiential. My task is to use past experience to help you interpret what you see and hear, sometimes by putting questions to the people who address us. At the group's request, I will convey its wishes to our hosts, and if a request is unreasonable or would cause misunderstanding I will explain why. I am not a tour guide, because this is a study trip and not a tour. I'll try to answer leisure-time questions, though I'll often defer to the expertise of the interpreters about their own city. Given how active our program is, we have precious little time for our own discussions. If I find that they focus overly on "practical" matters and don't get to the substance of our stay, I'll guide them in the latter direction.

Readings and classes

Unless you came to the USSR before 1985 and made a serious effort to understand it, the differences between then and now, both progress and failures, will not make much sense. To get the most out of your trip, you ought to spend time getting a basis for comparison. One source to review the changes in the Soviet Union during the perestroika period from the West's point of view is,
The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Empire, which reprints articles by New York Times correspondents from 1986-1991.

For more current events, international coverage in local newspapers is often not very satisfactory. A newspaper that has nearly universal respect for its cogent articles on foreign affairs is the Christian Science Monitor. The New York Times on line requires free registration to access, or go to the International Herald Tribune for more focus on international news by the NYT and the addition of other commentators. By all means pay regular visits to The Moscow Times, an English-language daily with news and critical commentaries that will allow you to arrive knowing what's going on in Russia. You can visit rferl-l, which provides daily briefings on Russia and East Europe in short articles. Other lists or newsgroups have more extensive articles and opinionated postings. For near-daily articles in depth from various sources, try the eeurope-changes-digest. Contact: eeurope-changes-request@blackops.org.

Some lists can also be a way to "meet" Russians whom you might then get to know in person in Moscow.

As you observe Russia, you will inevitably ask yourself what is likely to happen next. To see how this question can be proposed more rigorously and how alternative answers, or scenarios, can be elaborated, I recommend that everybody read, Russia 2010 and What It May Mean for the World, by Daniel Yergin and Thane Gustafson, Vintage edition, 1995. In 2004 you will already be able to test the validity of the scenarios presented.

Stephen Kotkin's, Steeltown USSR, is an excellent economic, social and political panorama of Soviet life in Magnitogorsk that illustrates the objective and psychological obstacles to change. The book is a sequel to, Behind the Urals, the classic by John Scott, who worked in Magnitogorsk in the 1930s.

While there are many books appearing on contemporary Russia, you can get a useful background through literature. Much can be learned about Russian culture by reading earlier works, such as Chekhov's short stories. There's probably no better (or more enjoyable) way to absorb the absurdities of Russian bureaucracy than to read Gogol's novels (The Overcoat, Dead Souls).

Two important 20th century novels are Life and Fate and Forever Flowing by Vassily Grossman. The former pivots around the battle of Stalingrad and the latter on the (intentional) famine in the early 1930s. While both are about the consequences of the Stalin period, Forever Flowing traces the effects on the Russian character of 1000 years of "slave mentality." Life and Fate is a long epic. It might be found in good book stores and was published in the USSR during perestroika after two decades of suppression. Forever Flowing is shorter, will probably have to be ordered and was published in the USSR in 1989. The Faustian allegory of the Stalin period is in Mikhail Bulgakov's, Master and Margarita. Russian friends won't ask you if you have read it, but how many times. The stage version by the famous Russian director, Liubimov, is often performed at the Taganka Theater, worth seeing if you've read the novel even if you don't know Russian.

A big problem for people coming to Russia for the first time in order to observe the changes there is to have a measure of what it was like before. Martin Walker's, The Waking Giant, is an excellent introduction to contemporary Russian society of the 1980s. Moscow Spring, by William & Jane Taubman, also dates from that period and is a sensitive anecdotal account. Also recommended for narratives on life in the USSR: David Shipler's, Russia, and Michael Binyon's,Life in Russia, both revised but dated. Shipler was correspondent for the New York Times, Binyon for the Times of London. The books are well written and give you a perspective onpre-perestroika USSR. You can follow the views of politicians, economists and intellectuals during the perestroika period in The Glasnost Papers (A. Melville and G. Lapidus, eds.) or of ordinary people in Letters to Ogonyok or Tony Parker's Russian Voices.

One of the main reasons for studying another country is to better understand your own, and you will surely see things differently when you return home. The difficulty is to make sense of your discoveries. For Americans, I recommend that before and after the trip you read, Habits of the Heart, by Bellah, et. al. (Harper & Row paperback). This contemporary analysis rests on De Tocqueville's 19th century classic, Democracy in America. It will not only help explain the American character, but will guide your questions and observations for comparative study of other countries, including Russia. Incidentally, in the same period De Tocqueville visited the United States, another Frenchman, Astolphe De Custine, spent three months (1839) in Russia and wrote the classic study of Russian character and society, Empire of the Czar, still relevant, and available in paperback. A more academic cultural history (paperback) is James Billington's, The Icon and the Axe, and a quite readable analysis (out of print, but in libraries) is Ronald Hingley's, The Russian Mind.

An Internet request several years ago for suggestions of books which explain the Russian character produced a bibliography which includes several titles valuable for those of you especially interested in business development and relationships:

A. Craig Copetas, Bear Hunting with the Politburo (1991). The frustrating adventure of the "rebirth" of the newspaper, Kommersant. The storey isn't over because in 1999the newspaper was sold to a "mysterious" American. Wright Miller, Russians as People (1961) "the fundamental influences, reactions, and social-cultural habits of Russians as shaped by climate, environment, longer-standing social and cultural habits, etc." P.R. Lawrence & C. Vlachoutsicos (1990), Behind the factory walls: Decision making in Soviet and US enterprises.
Dmitri S. Likhachev, 
Reflections on Russia, the English edition of Zametki o Russkym, Westview Press, 1991 "essays on the Russian world view and the Russian language." Important Soviet/Russian/Georgian films you should look out for (museum, "art" or university theaters, festivals, video): Repentance, Scarecrow, The Theme, Is It Easy to Be Young, Go and See, Rasputin, Commissar, Little Vera, the Messenger, The Blue Mountain, Taxi Blues, Freeze, Die, Come to Life, An Independent Life, Luna Park, Letters from a Dead Man, Burnt by the Sun. The time for analytical reading--the more the better--is before you go. Once there you won't have time to read. Besides, you'll want to shift to observation. Write down questions and points needing clarification as you read--so as not to forget. It often happens that people don't prepare questions ahead, but ask them off the top of their heads. The more thoughtful your questions, the deeper you can probe beneath the surface. North Americans can take daily lessons on asking questions by watching Jim Lehrer's News Hour on PBS. A word about the conduct of classes. Over the years, we have progressed toward more discussion and less lecture, but that depends upon your preparation. Many speakers are quite capable of reverting to long discourses if we aren't ready for dialogue. We have also had a problem concerning questions: Please keep to the point under discussion. When you stray, you'll get an answer out of politeness, but the discussion will lose its focus. The European habit of putting a subject in its historical and political context is unsettling to people accustomed to expositions which ignore background and to "sound bite" answers.

I advise you to keep a daily journal. It will be a permanent record of your trip, useful for your friends and relatives and for any writing and speaking after you return. You'd be surprised how quickly things get forgotten if not written down. You may want to read Andrea Lee's, Russian Journal, which is full of keen observations even if out-of-date.

Inviting your friends

Russian citizens may travel relatively freely to other countries and that leads to talk of inviting friends to visit North America or Europe. In fact, guests have already been received by previous delegates and more are expected (there have even been marriages). But loose talk can lead to disappointment, and you should have an idea of what travel entails if you are going to make any proposals. Airplane fare is high for most Russians. Travel to Western Europe by train has been made difficult because transit visas may be required for each country traversed. Russia has made passports expensive. The USA has substantially increased the cost of visas and charges a non-refundable $100 just to file an application.

Hosts may need to complete a formal invitation at the embassy of the country to be visited. This is a promise to absorb living and other expenses so that the receiving country does not end up 'with insolvent visitors. You should take steps to assure medical care for your guest. In the US, temporary health insurance policy, Health Care America, can be purchased for about $4.50/day from the same company that sells Health Care Global. Western Countries have become strict about issuing entry visas,. The US rejects about 40% of applications and has denied visas even to people who have visited in the past and returned home as scheduled. This can be humiliating to your guests.

There are also assumptions about the ease of life in the West and the expectations some Russian citizens have when they travel that can make for disappointment. In short, there are great rewards to an exchange visit, but you must be informed and prepared before you issue an invitation.


If you have children at home, your lengthy departure could cause them (and you) some concern. You'll probably want to discuss some of the practical aspects of your absence, including the chores members of the family may have to assume. Many parents who went on previous trips found this could be a good growing experience for their children; instead of shirking household tasks, they felt proud of substituting for the absent parent. You might also consider involving the children in the preparation for your trip. They could study something about Russia, perhaps using the library, and discuss it with you.

Coming home

On the final day, we'll leave for the airport about tba. Again, to keep the parking time of the bus in front of the terminal minimal we'll need to form a chain to unload baggage. You may need your original currency declaration and the statements of your exchange transactions to exchange excess rubles at the airport bank/exchange.

The departure process can be long. The first step in leaving is to pass through exit customs. The line may be long and slow. Everybody will complete a new currency declaration; it and the original will be turned in at customs. Customs officials may X-ray all baggage. They will be looking for, and will confiscate, art objects they consider of historic value, part of the country's cultural patrimony and illegal to export. They will also look for gold, coins and other valuables acquired in Russia. Following this is usually the time to say goodby to any Russian hosts who have accompanied us to the airport. In 2001, there was a "green" customs line for people with nothing to declare and members of the group were just waved through.

Check-in and seat assignments follow customs clearance. Your baggage can be tagged all the way to the Delta final destination in the USA. If you are flying beyond the city of arrival in the USA, you will turn baggage in to the appropriate airline after you clear US Customs.

Emigration clearance follows check-in.

There is a hand baggage security check before boarding. 

In the US, returning citizens may bring in $800 worth of goods duty-free and a flat 10% is charged on the next $1,000. It will help to keep a running log of purchases while you are in Russia. Canadians returning home will have a lower duty-free level and must decide whether to use their annual major duty exemption on this trip. If, for any reason, your baggage does not arrive with you, file a claim. When it does come, US Customs may force it open if it is locked. In that case, file a damage claim with Northwest within five days.

Then comes the "reverse culture shock" of reentry and the difficulty, even frustration, of trying to explain your trip to those who weren't on it. You may, like many before you, keep in contact with your fellow delegates--not only out of friendship, but because "they understand."

A final word...

From observations of past trips, your psychological preparation may be most crucial to having a successful trip. This is a very positive experience, but a potentially difficult one. For one thing, you'll be in a very different social, cultural and political environment for a long period (see 
Tools ). For another, traveling together, even with close friends or relatives, can be trying; each of us has habits and practices which must be sacrificed. Some people like the security of planned group travel; others prefer solitude or spontaneity. We are also a diverse group: in temperament, politically, in the amount and kinds of background reading we've done, in our agendas and priorities for the trip. We'll be thrown together in a heavy schedule, and a little tolerance will go a long way to minimize, rather than exaggerate, inevitable frictions and to avoid the formation of cliques. The more gregarious of you can help the more reticent to get involved and to make contacts. Many of you have jobs where you control your activities and schedule, but on this trip you lose some of that control and should not underestimate the disturbance that can cause. Some of you may travel frequently, but for short periods with weekends at home; a four week stretch away can be a stress.

If you do experience problems, talk about them; you'll discover you are not alone. Some quite tough people have become irritated, depressed and homesick. Most often they are the ones who did no other preparation than pay their money and get on the airplane! And they are the ones who realize after they get home--when it's too late--how they have wasted an opportunity. (I am not making this up!) Don't let it happen to you. Unless you went away to college, this may be the first (perhaps only) chance to leave family and job and devote yourself entirely to learning and personal development. You're about to have the experience of your life... Get ready, and Welcome!