First Week Experience in St Petersburg

In the last weekend of May, the city of Saint Petersburg and Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg both celebrated important events in their calendar.

First Week Experience in St Petersburg

Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

Culture Day was celebrated on the campus of HSE after two years absence. This special event unified the student community as global citizens. The city on its own part, celebrated the annual founder’s day of Saint Petersburg to commemorate her three-hundred and nineteenth anniversaries. The city of Saint Petersburg was established by tsar/emperor Peter the Great in 1703. The city, during the weekend of 28th and 29th of May 2022 was filled with interesting bustling activities such as the HSE Culture Day and the Saint Petersburg’s City’s Day.


The city of Saint Petersburg is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe and the northernmost most populated city in the world. The city’s inhabitants are quite receptive to foreign visitors and international students alike. The lively atmosphere of the city is a testament of its people and culture as being openly warm and welcoming. The HSE campuses in Saint Petersburg showcase academic excellence and international cultural integration both in her learning and dwelling facilities. With campuses scattered around the city such as Kanala Griboedova Embankment, Soyuza Pechatnikov Ulitsa, Sedova Ulitsa, Promyshlennaya Ulitsa and so on, the culture of unity and togetherness prevails there and also in her dormitories such as Zaporozhskaya, Gerasimovskaya, Shevchenko and so on where both local and foreign students live in the same space.  

The annual Culture Day at HSE Saint Petersburg is indisputably the most anticipated and most glamorous extra-curricular event looked forward to by both local and international students. Apart from drawing on participants from the university, guests come from both on and off the campus. There are students from other university campuses who attended the event to learn customs of many countries in attendance.  The symbolism of the event in the internationalization efforts of the university is quite remarkable. This year’s edition held in Kanala Griboedova  on 29th May, 2022 showcased international cultures at its apex. African and other regional cultural uniqueness was dished out to the audience delight. Regional exhibitions through countries as vehicles became focal points of the event.


Every human society is built around a certain culture or cultures, as culture remains an inevitable index for societal metamorphosis. Culture shapes the ideals and values of the people regardless of being immigrants or citizens. However, culture can be organic, in most cases originating or associated with a specific region such as the African, Asian and Caucasus cultures. Culture can also be alien that is imported into a region through migration, such as Chinese culture in San Francisco, Caucasus culture in Moscow or African customs in Saint Petersburg. However, as culture is diversified and distinct globally, HSE’s annual Culture Day becomes a global cultural rallying point. HSE campuses all over Russia, on this special day assume the role of international cultural melting pot. Cultural interaction across regions and among students were exhibited. Exchanges of cultural values took place and ideas were shared. Many people learnt customs of countries they previously had no idea of and questions were posed to exhibitors and answers were gladly given.

The annual Higher School of Economics Culture Day which began in 2015 is arguably the most colorful, dramatic, and culinary event held in the university campus. This friendly cultural festival pulls students from all continents and regions across the globe. Both local and international students burst into a cultural frenzy that unites the university’s multicultural/ racial community. Costumes, songs, poetry, dance, plays, food, drinks and flags were on display at the event. Traditionally, this event attracts hundreds of student participants and guests from all over the world which are both HSE and non-HSE students. Unfortunately, since the maiden edition in 2015, all editions were held on campus but regrettably the 2020 and 2021 editions were interrupted due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Fortunately, HSE’s most sought after extra-curricular activity made its come back to the university stage on May 29th, 2022. It was a grand come back as the event had all the glitterati of a world class festival. The event began in the evening to the delight of the audiences with colorful attires and beautiful flags not leaving out delicious traditional delicacies.


One other experience I was privileged happened in my first week was the city of Saint Petersburg day. City Days are typical tradition of cities across the Russian Federation to celebrate the founding of different cities. Founders of these cities as well as their date of foundation are celebrated annually. Major Russian cities have different days for their celebrations, Moscow for instance celebrates on second Saturday of September while Nizhny Novgorod felicitates in the third Saturday of August. These cities Day celebrations are traditions that began long ago and celebrated during the Soviet era. Saint Petersburg like every Russian city celebrates her city day all over the city but the city center is the most symbolic and entertaining part. Saint Petersburg City Day usually is celebrated on the 27th of May or typically the last Saturday in the month of May. Hence, the celebration of the annual fiesta this year was on Saturday 28th May, 2022. The celebration is an all-day event throughout the major attraction spots of the city. However, the spectacle and fiesta begins mostly in the evenings all through the night. Locals, city dwellers, local and international tourists alike flood the city’s numerous interesting places such as restaurants, bars, cafes, pubs, night clubs, malls and so on.  The city center, harbor and bridges become center of attraction with bright lightening. The bright night skies associated with the Spring season at this time of year in Saint Petersburg makes it an added mesmerizing experience to visitors and a welcome to summer for the city dwellers. There is constant mobility from one point to another. Metros, buses, trams, trains, and cabs are bustling with people. Young people on bikes, skates, scooters and so on are seen moving on fast pace to meet up with family and friends to celebrate the wonderful the wonderful day together. Elderly people, family celebrate in restaurants together and catch up on topical issues over dishes of foods and glass of drinks.


The cityscape of Saint Petersburg and its environs are uniquely positioned to blend cultures. As the European capital of the Russian Federation, it is a welding instrument between East and West. The merging of European and Russian customs makes the city a multiracial/ cultural capital of Russia. The celebration of Culture Day by students of HSE is showcasing the uniqueness of Saint Petersburg and harmonizing different values that propel topnotch educational institutions and cities alike to greater heights. The celebration of the city day in recognition of its founding father and commemoration of its anniversary showcased the respect for sacrifice and appreciation of continual peaceful corporate existence of the city by the younger generation. The city as an organic instrument that comprises the people and its customs develops from traditional to cosmopolitan entity. It incorporates other cultural values into its own to make the society a sophisticated entity.  This is evident in the celebration of both the Culture Day at HSE and City Day in Saint Petersburg where people of different skin color and creed enjoy the wonderful moments together, both of which I was privileged to experience in my first week and now share with you.

Taofik Alabi