Vanessa Burke



What were your first impressions when you first arrived?

The immediate image I was confronted with was the vast amount of traffic just outside the airport – I wasn’t accustomed to such enormity. It was a shock to suddenly be amidst a traffic jam on a massive highway at 3am. Fortunately, a colleague from my school met me at the airport, and so I was very keen to get to know the other staff and overall I was really excited to be here and to experience this culture.

But Sydney is a big city?

Yes, but it does feel completely different – Moscow is on a much larger scale, from the buildings and architecture, to the roads and metro stations. Also, the emotions of people as you are walking down the street here seem to be harsher. I was talking with somebody about this and she said that Russians believe they needn’t fake a smile – that their emotions should be conveyed as they are, rather than feigning a happy face. So I guess another noticeable difference is that people in shops, on the street and in train stations in Sydney tend to have a more outwardly smiley appearance.

Maybe its because there is more sun there?

Maybe. I think another contributing factor is that primary education in Russia is different from primary education in Australia. Elementary education is really important, because that shapes the way children are brought up, thereby affecting the next generation’s personality, morals and outlooks.

What is the main difference you can see between Russians and Australians?

I think there is a big divide between the generations in Russia. I’ve found that older people here, say over 50, are quite set in their ways and difficult to approach or interact with, for instance, babushkas in supermarkets! Whereas my experience with some of the younger generation, the 20-25 year olds who I socialise with, is that they are really warm and optimistic people – perhaps friendlier and less judgemental than young people even in Sydney.

You have lived through the last winter, now we’re in another one, what do you think about that?

I don’t cope very well with the cold – during winter here, I’ve become accustomed to putting on every single thermal layer of clothing that it is possible to put on before resembling an Eskimo, and also turning the radiator dial to maximum, which drives my assistant teacher and the children in my class mad sometimes!

Such a long time without the sun!

Yes, I did find that it affected my mood. Winter basically spans the months of October to April, and so there’s a lot of grey and dreariness for over half a year.

Do you get out of Moscow at all?

The partying options here have been keeping me busy, and so I haven’t booked as many day trips to towns outside of Moscow as I should have.

Where do you party?

I enjoy hosting parties for friends in my apartment, but if I am going out I sometimes check a website called Resident Advisor to see what events are on. Otherwise, some of the usual bars where other expats go include The Standard, Papa’s Place and Jim & Jacks. I also really enjoy going to see live music – I have some friends in bands, so I love supporting their gigs.

What about food, money, transportation, how do you survive here?

I was really bracing myself for it to be one of the most expensive cities in the world – it was ranked third in the world when I first arrived. My first job paid in roubles, and I made the switch to my new job just in time before the rouble crashed. I’m now paid in Euros, so that has definitely increased my ability to comfortably survive here and afford living expenses.

I find getting good quality food to be quite difficult here and it’s what I spend the most time and money on. Some restaurants provide good quality food, but it comes at a price. Having said that, food is more expensive in Sydney, and rent in Sydney can be even more expensive than in some districts than London. Here in Moscow I have my own place, which seems like a luxury at times, and I’m very grateful that I can afford to go shopping, eat well and go travelling. So overall I braced myself for the worst, but I find that it is not that bad.

Do you buy clothes here in Russia?

A lot of Russians say things are really expensive here, and they always go overseas to buy their clothes, but I rationalise my clothes purchases by comparing prices with Sydney.

What about transport?

The metro is just outstanding; the trains are frequent and well serviced. I haven’t used the busses that much, as I’m unfamiliar with the routes and don’t speak Russian fluently yet. Taxis are very convenient and cheap and there are several apps I use – Uber, Get Taxi, and Yandex Taxi.

You’ve said a lot of good things. Are there any bad things that you don’t like about Moscow?

Well, we’ve already discussed the weather, and people say that the quality of life isn’t that great in Russia, but I don’t know, I think it depends on what you are looking for. There are some stunningly beautiful parks here, but widespread city greenery is something that I still miss a lot. You don’t have to go to a centralised area, somewhere like a park, in Australia for greenery. Another aspect I’ve noticed is that on the whole, good service in restaurants is harder to come by, but perhaps it would be better if I were a fluent Russian speaker, I’m not sure. I also think I’d be able to feel more connected with the older generation here if I improved my ability to speak Russian.

But on a final note, being in Moscow as an expat can sometimes feel like a very transient environment to be amongst. There are a lot of people here who stay for a year, or a year and a half, and make exorbitant amounts of money as a governess, that sort of thing, and then leave. A lot of people have said to me: “Why would you come to Russia if you’re not here to make money?” I could be doing a governess job at the moment but I’ve made a conscious decision not to – I’ve chosen to work at an international school to further my teaching career. I’m here more for the experience.