Top 10 Reasons to Study Abroad in Moscow

by Mei Mei Pollitt, guest blogger and summer 2014 Intern

10. The мороженое (Ice Cream)

Ice Cream stands are everywhere in Moscow, and Muscovites eat ice cream year round – even in the freezing winters! The ice cream is pretty inexpensive (usually less than a US dollar for any treat) and is super creamy and delicious. Choose from a large range of options such as ice cream cones with chocolate at the bottom, buttery vanilla ice cream served in a chocolate tube, or gold standard blackberry.

“hooray! ice cream!”


Russians love to eat ice cream in winter as well.


9. The парки (Parks)

Moscow, despite being a mega-city, is very green. In between the multitude of skyscrapers, shoved together old buildings, and screaming metro trains are vast parks; stretches of breathtaking and towering forests large enough to get lost in. You can visit Gorky Park, which includes a long bike bath with a woodland hill on one side and Moskva river on the other, or Tsaritsyno Park, a lush wonderland where Catherine the Great’s former summer estate can be found, to name just a couple.

Gorky Park- Forest on one side
Gorky Park- River on the other side
outside window
Large parks are found everywhere. The view from my dorm room window.

8. The метро (Metro)

The long, cavernous escalators would fill with people, and as you rode up, you got to watch a never-ending cast of fascinating characters descend beside you.


While the roar of the train and the rush hour human sardine pack-in can be exhausting, almost every station is decadently decorated and the people watching is superb. Most of what I learned about Muscovites today, I learned by watching them on the metro train.






Metro Art:metrowall metroceiling

7. The русский язык (Russian Language)

Even if you don’t learn more than a couple of words while in Moscow, being immersed in another language is always an adventure. The new sounds are intellectually stimulating and you get to observe and communicate with people beyond understanding their spoken words. Russian is a beautiful language, rich in consonants and with a vocabulary and structure that lends itself well to poetry and puns.

Some Helpful and Fun Russian words and phrases:

Будь здоров! (Byt zdarov)- “Be healthy” -that’s what you say after someone sneezes, or sometimes during a toast.

можно (Mozhna) – “May I?” – you can say this when you order food or ask for anything.

Tы рад? (Tuiy rad) – “You glad” – this is what you say to check in on your friends when they look down. If you are good, you can answer, “да, я рад” (da, ya rad) if you’re a boy or “да, я радa (da, ya rada) if you’re a girl.


6. The блины (Blinni)


Superfruit, the most deluxe sweet blin: every kind of fruit with ice cream on the side.

Blinni are Russian Pancakes- they are like crepes. They can be filled with sweet things (fruit, chocolate, cream), savory (salmon, meat, cheese, vegetables), or just sprinkled with powdered sugar or spread with butter. They are cheap, too! Mon Blin, a Moscow chain, offers all types of blin for no more than 5 US dollars a blin.








5. The церкви (Churches)


Churches, their onion domes, history, and ornately decorated indoor paintings of saints are to be found all over Moscow! While it can be strange to be a tourist among religious pilgrims, it is also an opportunity to witness the piety, tradition, and ritual of Russian Orthodoxes at worship and prayer. The two most iconic and popular among tourists are Saint Basil’s Cathedral and The Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

StBasilsSaint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square: Legend holds that Ivan the Terrible loved this church so much, he blinded the architect after it’s construction so that the architect would be unable to recreate it for anyone else.





cathedralofchristthesaviorCathedral of Christ the Savior: Rebuilt after the original was destroyed by Joseph Stalin for anti-religious Communist Russia, it stands as the tallest orthodox Christian church in the world. It is also where the punk Russian activist group, The Pussy Riot, staged the infamous concert that got them arrested and sent to Siberia in 2012.




3. The история (History)

The historic kremlin wall. In the center is Lenin's grave and the graves of other communist leaders line the wall beside him.
The historic kremlin wall. In the center is Lenin’s grave and the graves of other communist leaders line the wall beside him.






Russia’s deep history vibrates everywhere in Moscow. In the historic architecture, the museums, the literary and artistic traditions, and in the characters of Muscovites living today. Talk to a Muscovite and they will refer to WWII as the “great patriotic war”, maybe recommend you some astounding monuments and memorials dedicated to the devastating war. Visit Dostoevsky’s or Stanislavsky’s old apartments. Walk around the Kremlin, protective walls first built for the heart of Moscow in the middle ages. Or talk to any older Muscovite about the recent changes: Moscow has changed dramatically since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and any Russian over the age of 35 will have memories of a different, communist Moscow (and opinions on what has changed for better and for worse.)

A skyscraping WWII memorial infront of Moscow's impressive WWII museum.
A skyscraping WWII memorial infront of Moscow’s impressive WWII museum.



4. The Art музеи (Museums)

Of the art museums, Pushkin Art Gallery and Tretyakov State Gallery are the most renowned in Moscow, and for good reason. Pushkin Art Gallery boasts a collection plentiful with works by some of the most renowned painters from the past 2 centuries, including Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, and more. Tretyakov has an entire hall of beautiful Russian icons and is plentiful with famous wall-sized baroque murals that are endless in story and character.

Some of my favorite paintings I saw in Moscow.

всюду жизнь (Life is Everywhere)

Renoir portrait

Renoir portrait

However, Moscow is full of art beyond these two museums.  Another favorite of mine, Garage, is a contemporary Art museum working to engage public idea and interest in new projects and ideas.

Me, infront of Garage's sign
Me in front of Garage’s sign

2. The исполнительские виды искусства (Performing Arts)

The performing arts are very important to Russians, and this is reflected in Moscow’s abundant and excellent theatre, dance, and opera scene. Experience the historical Bolshoi by watching ballet and opera at it’s finest, catch some edgier contemporary dance at the Shkola Dramaticheskova Iskustra (The School of Dramatic Art), or stop in at a Ticket Box to purchase tickets for a play at one of the dozens of famous theatres in Moscow (the Satirikon, the Chekhov Art Theatre, the Gogol Center, etc.) You don’t have to have money to experience the performing arts in Moscow though. Free theatre listings can be found online ( and street musicians can be found by top metro stations during the day and in Theatre Square in the evenings.

The historic Bolshoi theatre.
The historic Bolshoi theatre.
Some Moscow street musicians.
Some Moscow street musicians.


1. The рост душа (Soul Growth)

I spent a month in Moscow this past summer. I saw 14 shows, took language classes, spent days gazing at paintings in Russian museums, hours listening to Russians speaking on the metro, ate blin and ice cream almost everyday, relished in the daunting greenery of Russian parks, lit prayer candles before beautiful gold icons, drank vodka and danced to jazz in an old underground cafe, found solace in the literature of Tolstoy and Pushkin, and saw the sun set and rise again over Moscow’s infinite skyline of skyscrapers, conversing with Russian college students in a broken-Russian-English-hybrid over our differences and similarities as people, as nations, smoking black cigarettes on the 14th floor fire escape of our rickety soviet-era dorm building. However, what I gained most from Moscow goes beyond the stories I can tell and the pictures I can show.

Exposure to a nation so rich with character, story, and soul as Russia causes you to reflect more deeply on your own life, your own soul. And exposure to a place still rebuilding itself from the collapse of a government builds perspective on your own situation in your own country. What is important to fight for, in politics, in art, as a human? What freedoms must be protected? How is Russia like the United States and how is it different? How can we, as a world, work to preserve the right for every voice to be heard and every minority to be protected? How can I, as an artist, give, collaborate, and take risks to make incredible, risky theatre more available and engaging to our public? These are some of the questions that infest me still, 2 months after my return from Russia. They will continue to guide me as I create a life for myself, as a student, and then as a working adult.

And so, to Moscow, to Moscow with love, I say спасибо, спасибо большое.*


*Thank you, thank you very much <3




Young Theatres in Moscow

IFTER’s Summer 2014 Intern, Mei Mei Pollit is the guest blogger for this post which gives you a peek at some fresh, new, and very modern theatre in Moscow.


I spent the month of June and part of May in Moscow, seeing lots of theatre, taking Russian classes, and working on a research project which you can read about here:

This blog post is dedicated to a few great young theaters in Moscow. You may have already heard of the historic Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre, but have you heard of the Gogol Center? Or the Shkola Dramaticheskova Iskustra (The School of Dramatic Art)? Some of my favorite work in Moscow was performed at these newer and younger theatres. Below, read about them and what I saw while I was there.

Гоголь-центр – Gogol Center

«Гоголь-центр» — это территория свободы.  (The Gogol Center is a place of freedom.)

A quote from the wall in the Gogol Center from Soviet and Russian Stage Actor and Director Yuri Lyubimov
A quote from the wall in the Gogol Center from Soviet and Russian Stage Actor and Director Yuri Lyubimov

That is the theatre’s mission statement. Renovated from the former “Gogol theatre” under new director Serebrennikov in 2013, the Gogol Center today works to provide a place that engages the community and a place where art can tread new frontiers. There is a café, a bookshop, and quotes mounted on the walls from famous contemporary theatre artists, discussing the role of theatre or the role of the Gogol Center.

“If a vacuum is formed in generations, in the theatre there comes a catastrophe. All time should pass updated composition, feeding new blood. It is necessary. Without the young generation making theatre, we cannot evolve” 

I saw Gogol Center’s «Мертвые души» or “Dead Souls”. A staging of Gogol’s masterpiece novel, “Dead Souls”, it tackled mortality, materialism, and identity in a 3-hour, no-intermission voyage with song, satire, and a united hyper-physicality in the ensemble and characters. It was also a purposeful and obscene revolt against Russia’s “Anti-Gay Propaganda law”, with constant and outright homosexual or gender-reverse images and characters, and a decry against Russia’s tumultuous government. The protagonist buys souls from corrupt government officials, finds out the majority of these souls have died from alcoholism, and is, in the end, kidnapped and shoved in a  claustrophobic human-sized box by a crazed lead antagonist who resembles Putin. The closing song in the performance asks, “Russia, what do you want from me?”

The opening montage of Dead Souls used rubber car tires.


You can read more about the Gogol Center, and all of their performances, on the English version of their website.

Школа драматического искусства- School of Dramatic Art

Говорят: “Нужны новые сюжеты…” Да не нужны новые сюжеты! Возьмите один. И ставьте всю жизнь. О театре. (We say: “We need new stories…” We do not need new stories! Take one. Place a lifetime. About the theatre.” )

^From Anatoli Vassilev, founder of the Школа.

Vassilev opened the “Школа драматического искусства” in 1987 with a performance of “Six Characters in search of an author” which presented new theatrical methods and techniques that established the school as a place of experimentation; a Лаборатория (lab) as well as a Школа and Театр (school and theatre). In 2001, the school moved to a newly constructed building that is full of skylights, stairs, and interesting angles. I saw two productions at the school while in Moscow, one in a small studio lit by candles, and the other in a large gymnasium with semi-circle wooden risers.

A picture of the inside of one of the lobbies.

The first show I saw at the school was ГЕРОИДЫ. ТАНЦЕВАЛЬНЫЕ ПИСЬМА (Heroides. Dancing Letters.) It took “Heroides” by Ovid- a collection of 15 “love letters” from Greek and Roman mythological heroines- and transformed the letters into a solo dances. Each dancer took on the role of a heroine and came out to dance for a 15-20 piece to music that was performed live and had been composed after the choreography (so that the music was made for the dance instead of the dance made for the music). The choreography was bursting with a raw, ugly, and fascinating feminine sexuality that experimented with costume and hair in new ways.

An entire dance from Heroides was performed with the performer’s hair swallowing up all her face.

The second show I saw at the school was КАК ВАЖНО БЫТЬ СЕРЬЁЗНЫМ (The Importance of being Ernest). A Russian interpretation of the Oscar Wilde masterpiece, the play was performed in a gymnasium and was staged in a way that broke all rules of “realistic” movement. The characters moved in a way that was true to the action, but their world was a place where chasing and running in huge circles or vibrating in movement groups against the floor could be paired with dialogue from 19th century British Society. There were also several physical montages and a live piano that responded to the characters in a way that made the pianist a character as well.

Gwendolyn refuses Jack, after finding out he lied to her about his name being Ernest. Their words may not have taken them to kneeling on the floor, but their objectives and emotions have.

More information (Russian language only) and more production photos here.

Gogol Center and the School of Dramatic Arts are Muscovite leaders in breaking preconceived notions of what theatre “should be”, however most of my experience with Moscow theatre provided some sort of theatrical experimentation or novelty that I hadn’t seen before. Streetcar named Desire at the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre had real people embodying Blanche’s ghosts, so we saw the experience of her insanity embodied; London Show at the Satirikon preceded its first dialogue with 10 minutes of the actors communicating in strong physical gestures and gibberish, etc. It is important for American theatre artists to go to Moscow and see theatre like this because it broadens their perceptions on what theatre can be. Seeing one’s own idea of theatre “rules” get broken inspires one to return home and tread new frontiers of their own.



IFTER does not own any of these photos. They are for reference only.