Math in Moscow - Moscow, Russia

The Independent University of Moscow invites foreign students (undergraduate or graduate students specializing in mathematics and/or computer science) to spend a semester in Moscow in the framework of our MATH in MOSCOW program.

The Moscow school of mathematics is generally regarded as one of the leading ones in the world. Until recent years, the "Iron Curtain" and the language barrier made contacts with Russian mathematicians rather laborious. Today, many of its representatives teach at the best universities of the USA, Canada, and Europe, either occupying full time positions or on a part time basis. You can now gain from the expertise of Moscow mathematicians without learning Russian: all courses in the MATH in MOSCOW program are in English.

The main feature of the Russian tradition of teaching mathematics has always been the development of a creative approach to studying mathematics from the very outset. Not memorizing theorems and proofs, but discovering mathematics yourself under the guidance of an experienced teacher - this is our principle! We emphasize the in-depth understanding of the material rather than its quantity. Even in our treatment of the most traditional subjects, you will find significant connections with contemporary research topics. Indeed, most of our teachers are internationally recognized research mathematicians; all of them have considerable teaching experience in English. We expect that after the appropriate formalities are carried out, the courses taken in Moscow will be credited your university for a BS, an MS, or a PhD degree.

Features of the MATH in MOSCOW Program:

Answered by Stephen McIntyre (Class of 05) about his semester in the Math in Moscow program:

1. Did you participate in a home-stay? Would you recommend it to other students?
No, I lived in the student dorms in the main Moscow State University building. I would highly recommend anyone to live in either or with a family or in the student dorms. With a family you will see the more everyday routines (ie meal preparation, chores, living standards). But sometimes the home-stays are not the typical family, and they might be well-off. With student dorms, you can meet students of your own age and be able to compare the similarities and difference between the cultures. It will also make relating to each other easier because of common music or movies tastes. Living with students you can experience more college orientated events such as parties. You are also have a higher chance doing something illegal or doing something you might regret later.

2. Was it hard for you to learn the language? Were there any resources available to help you do so? What were some of the barriers that you faced?
Learning the alphabet was the easiest part. The hardest was getting into the mindset of thinking in a different language and being able to devote time to practicing the language. A barrier I faced was that a lot of people (especially students my age or younger) want to practice their English. Going out and doing anything away from big tourist spots was a great way to practice.

3. How did the mathematics courses in your program compare to those available in the math department at Virginia Tech? What were some pros and cons of how the course material was presented in your program?
The math courses varied drastically from VT. The professors offer very little outside the classroom help but they did provide great in-class discuss on problems. Classes were structured differently than what VT offers. Instead of meeting 3 times a week for an hour each, it was one 3 hour class once week. The class was broken into a lecture and then a problem session. Grades were, for the most part, solely dependent on how well you did on the final and with little or no standard of grading. For instance, student A correctly answered 5/10 problems and received an A+ where student B might have only correctly answered 2/10 problems and got an A-. I believe that professors are/were looking for understanding of the material not how well you can memorize definitions.

4. How much more did it cost you to attend the program than it did to go to Virginia Tech for a semester?
Rough break down of expenses:
Tuition and board: $4500
Plane ticket: $1000
Food per month: $50-100 (depends a lot on your preferences and how much you like to eat out and drink :-P )

And then there are the gifts and extra expense such as travel, art galleries, ballets, etc. There are a lot of ways to get cheap tickets. If you are a students, offers some really good deals. If you are flexible on when you arrive and leave, can have some superb deals but you must make sure you have a place to stay when you get there and till you leave and if you need to do anything extra (visa or registration).

5. What specifically would you recommend that I see or do while I am in the program overseas?
EVERYTHING YOU CAN POSSIBLY DO THAT IS NOT RELATED TO SCHOOL! Seriously, I have seen things, been places, and done things that I never would have imagined. Go to as many art galleries, ballets, operas, sports games, theater, hole in the wall restaurants you can. You will experience what they do during their time. Most of European countries place a high value on fine arts and tickets should be relatively cheap ($1-10). Be smart though and aware of your surroundings. I went to several football (soccer) games and was safe because I blended in. Talk to local students about clubs, bars, restaurants they attend.

6. What specific food did you enjoy the most? I enjoyed almost everything.
I specifically enjoyed home cooked meals and home made treats such as pickled mushrooms. I also enjoyed the local beers and vodkas. Russian dishes were more meaty and salty but Russians also have a very large sweet tooth. Russian chocolate is in the category as Swiss or German chocolate (mostly because it was Germans who started the confectionery plants in Russia). I loved eating caviar, sausage, cheese, and pickled mushrooms when I was hanging out with Russians.

7. Were the people friendly? Please describe some common characteristics of the native population.
Most people are not friendly more towards foreigners (U.S. in specific). Those that are typically wanted something. But there are some that were friendly and wanted to help. Russian, especially the elderly, have a 'defend for themselves' attitude. In public this is seen the most. Typically the hard exterior wears off when they are home with family or eating with friends in restaurants.

8. What was the most startling difference between their culture and ours in America?

9. Is there anything else that you would want interested students to know about the program?

  1. Be smart
  2. Be open minded
  3. Bring a lot of your own books and notes to study from.