Writer on Location: Evelijn in the Russian Snow

Two weeks have passed since I arrived in the Winter Wonderland I can call my home for the next five months. I’m no longer writing from Utrecht, instead of that I switched that cute little town for a big and slightly still frightening city in the Urals: Perm. Why on earth would you do that for, one might ask. Well, I came to Russia to study the Russian language and to do research for my Master Thesis. So here I am: in a town full of surprises, a country filled with mystery subtitled in a language which is as well still a giant puzzle to me!  

IJspegels en kerk

In the weeks before I left Utrecht I started saying goodbye to the town which has been my home for the last four years. Next to saying goodbye to the old,  I also prepared as good as possible to the new. Little by little the date of my departure came closer, but still my destination remained vague. The city of Perm was not only new to me and my university, but also virgin soil to organisations such as ESN. Everything I knew about my soon to be new home came from Wikipedia, Russian literature and the horror I saw on the face of my Russian teacher when I told her I was going to live in Perm.

Finally the day arrived I had been living up to for so many months, after a night of traveling through time and space I felt the first Siberian snow under my new snow boots. That was the moment the real adventure started, luckily enough we got picked up as planned by a lovely girl from the international department. The meeting with this dear girl marked the beginning of a series of bureaucratic encounters with the Russian university system.

After 31 hours of no sleep and lots of travels we were guided through the endless hallways of the old university building. From the first Natalya we met, to the other Natalya at the end of the other hallway we filled in countless forms and signed another bunch of papers. Unhesitatingly they asked about any possible criminal past or our experiences in the army. Luckily I don’t have any, so I passed all the tests.


Soon enough it became clear that this first day of filling in and signing papers would not be our last. And certainly not the last day of meeting new and fascinating people who grew up in such a different culture to mine. The absurd highlight of these exhausting days was embodied by the meeting with the faculty dean. Believe me if I say that this woman could just have been one of J.K. Rowlings’ magical characters.

The best way to describe her might be as a toad, she fitted perfectly in the corner of her desk. Her hands disappeared between the table-top and her belly underneath the desk where she could work her mouse-pad. Because I understood hardly a word of the conversation which was held in Russian I had the time to make these observations. Later this day it turned out that this meeting had been a quite interesting one, but not useful at all. Our schedule kept on changing just like the stairs in Harry Potter’s first days at Hogwarts.


These first few weeks over here in Russia have shown me a whole different side of going abroad. This time I did not follow the well-trodden paths but chose a whole other adventure. Cutting through red tape is always part of going abroad, but being here made me realize that everything in Utrecht is so well-organized for the new students. But after organizing all the paper work it’s finally time to explore the city and its beautiful surroundings somewhat more! I wonder what more Mother Russia has got to offer and after these first weeks I can only say I became more and more curious. One thing I know is for sure: Russia will keep on surprising me.

By Evelijn Hillebrand


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