Settling in the Small, Quiet City of Belgorod

It has been a while, I know. I just moved to Saint Petersburg for my new job. Yay! I will write about it too, in a few hundred articles, for sure. Either way, this week, I want to write about Belgorod in general. The small Russian city that became my first home in the Motherland. So let’s begin!

Why exactly Belgorod? Why not Moscow?

That’s the first thing people ask me, and I am sure you would ask me the same. After a while you start noticing a pattern in these questions. I would like to point out that normally when this question comes from a Russian, they tend to regard Belgorod as some kind of village where the Soviet Union hasn’t fallen yet. Even I thought that I was going to a Soviet-style city with red soviet flags, gulags and economic crises. That is almost totally not the case with Belgorod.

Church during sunset
The blue chapel near Belgorod State University. Photography is one of my hobbies. Yep, I took this picture.

Why is that not the case? First, let me try to explain my and my Russian friends’ definition of what would be a Soviet-style Russian village. That would be Kursk. Just kidding, Kursk is worse. Though, if we are serious about it, what you normally expect of small Russian towns is a certain atmosphere that resembles the late Soviet Union years. You probably would picture lots of panel buildings, unkempt sidewalks and streets, 50 shades of gray during the winter. As a dear friend described, it would be something you expect to see in Chernobyl. He actually meant Pripyat, but I got the reference.

Pripyat, or what you would expect from a typical Russian town. I am kidding, of course!

So, have a look at the picture of Pripyat. Have a deep, long look at it. Not too long, though, it might be radioactive. That is exactly what Belgorod is not. Although many Russian towns still have panel buildings (which might as well be in a decrepit state, exploding, and/or abandoned), Belgorod actually impressed me with how European and modern its architecture looked like.

It is indeed a small city, with a bit less than 400,000 inhabitants, but it is a very modern-looking city as well. This was something unexpected, so far away from Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Not even some of Moscow’s outskirts look that nice, really.

Belgorod city center seen from the air
You can’t erase your soviet past, but you don’t have to trap yourself to it.

Of course, the communist past is still visible. There are some old panel buildings around the older city areas, as well as some industrial sites and railways. Some are in good shape, and a few are abandoned. There are many memorials to WWII, which, of course, was a very big deal for them. By the way, one of the biggest tank battles in history happened near Belgorod. Some might say it was near Kursk, but I don’t like Kursk, so I say it was near Belgorod. I actually even visited a memorial there.

The Prokhorovka Battlefield Memorial, which I visited while living in Belgorod, and awesome clouds.

In contrast with many other cities ravaged by the second world war and the crisis of the soviet system, that is, all Russian cities, Belgorod is a very pleasant city to live in. The streets are very clean. The city center is full of parks, boulevards, and beautiful buildings. There are some shopping centers as well, which was surprised me, since the city has with no more than 400,000 people.

But I digress. The question at the very start was why I went to Belgorod and not Moscow for my language course. Well, besides being one of the cheapest Russian language courses at the time, the university is fantastic!

Would you really expect this huge university in such a small town? I certainly did not expect it!

And my opinion is that I had one of the best Russian language courses available. Take that, Moscow State University. I must confess, though, I write this not because I saw statistics or studies. There likely aren’t any statistics to compare Russian language courses between universities anyway. I merely had the opportunity to compare it to some other language courses, personally or through friends, and the conclusion that I made is that I should be quite satisfied with the Russian language course that I had in Belgorod. I would not have done things differently if I could.

A final note about Belgorod: I noticed something great in the teachers, as well as most faculty members, especially older ones. There was this atmosphere in the university where everyone had a willingness to do a good job, to teach with excellency, to really be an educator. This likely is a very good heritage from the soviet educational tradition. I did not experience this mentality in most other universities I have been to, unfortunately, and even less so in big cities like Moscow.

I am grateful I had the chance to learn Russian there. This is definitely an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Had things gone differently, I would have never learned Russian or decided to stay for my bachelor’s degree in Moscow. I will write more about that in 2 or 3 articles, I am sure.

So I guess for today that’s it. Not many jokes in this episode, I know. I just didn’t have the time to think it through because I have been quite busy recently. Hopefully, the next episode will be funnier, but don’t count on it.

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