Please read carefully all these security precautions. The purpose of all these items is not to scare you or indicate that you are entering a crime zone, but rather to tell you what are normal precautions in any large city. Get into the right habits, and then you can avoid unwanted problems.
Russian cities remain relatively safe as compared to large cities in the US and Western Europe, but it goes without saying that you must adopt the normal daily habits of large cities. Keep a copy of your passport information pages, your international student ID card, and the address and phone number of the Gimnaziia in your pocket at all times. You should not travel, particularly at night, to areas of the city which you do not know without first consulting your host families or other residents. Russians often flag down private cars as taxis; you should not take such “unofficial” taxis by yourself (it’s o.k. if you are accompanied by Russians who know their way around). You should not display large amounts of money openly on the street or in stores; remember to lock doors and close backpacks and purses all the time, especially when you are traveling and living in hotels. In short you should behave as you would in New York City.
Do not take with you any expensive jewelry or other treasured possessions, which you will have to worry about. Valuables which you need and your important documents such as passports and visas and money should be secured either with your host family or at the Gimnaziia. It is not a bad idea to carry cash, passports, and visas which you carry on your person in a money belt worn around your waist or around your neck under your clothing. Get into the habit of wearing your money belt and do not become lax about security as the semester goes on.
As in any large city in the world, there are some unscrupulous people who prey on foreigners in order to get money. No matter how hard you try to blend in, to the experienced eye of such people you are conspicuously American because of your clothing, your glasses, your shoes, by the very way you walk down the street. Should you ever be bothered, just go into a store or shout at them in English rudely, and you should see no more of them!
Despite all the increasing contacts and exchanges, you could still be novelty to some Russians. Enjoy conversations with new acquaintances. If new acquaintances invite you somewhere, make it a group with other friends. If you want to invite new Russian acquaintances, invite them into a group outing with your known friends.
You will see beggars on the sidewalks and at Metro stations. If you spend time in New York or have traveled in European cities, you will be accustomed to this unfortunate urban scene. At first it will seem cruel and degrading to you, but do not fall into the trap of giving money to anyone. Just keep walking.
Finally, a word to women about living in Russia. You may see evidence of Russian chauvinism in your host family’s daily life in who does the shopping, cleaning, and cooking. You may have discussions in your family and with your friends about chauvinism and feminism. In social situations women may be put off by Russian men’s behavior and women must assess the situation on the spot. Is this man merely following usual social patterns or is this behavior truly offensive? Speak your mind and let the man know if you find remarks or behavior insulting. Women may also discover that their host families will put more restrictions on them about going out in the evenings and may insist that a man or men accompany them home in the evenings. Previous students suggest that male company on the walk home at night after a party or theater is a good idea.