The Perfect Introduction to Russia

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As sad as I was to end my solo trip through Europe, I was actually looking forward to finally reaching my destination – Saint Petersburg, Russia ❤ – and settling down for the summer. And after an exhilarating but hectic first week here, I’m impressed! Wow! What a week! What a city! What a country! I am super excited about everything the city (and the country) offers and am looking forward to experiencing all of it over the summer!

First Day

Starting from the 3 hour train ride through the countryside of Finland and Russia to getting hit on by a Russian grandpa on my walk back to the apartment after watching the ballet at the Mariinsky Theater, my first day in Russia was probably the best introduction to Russia that I could have asked for!

To begin:

  • The 3 hour train ride went by quickly. The views were amazing, the train was comfortable & clean, the little villages we passed were adorable, and the fellow passengers were respectful. The only thing odd about the entire experience was the number of times my passport was checked by different people. About 5 different uniformed groups of people came by to repeatedly check my passport & visa with one even asking me to open my luggage. I guess I looked like a threatening American 🙂
  • When I got into the Finlyandskiy Railway Station at the Lenin Square, I was greeted by a young Russian guy from ITMO university who was volunteered (by the program partner hosts) to just take me to my place of accommodation. The poor guy had to stick with me for the next 5 hours driving me around and translating everything while I was trying to figure out the new 24-hour “Registration Regime” for international people, buy a local phone number, check into our Airbnb apartment, withdraw cash to pay the apartment deposit that I had never been told about before, find out that somehow I got a “special” visa that requires me to follow another registration process through the landlord, find a copy center to make copies of every page of my passport, and start that process with the landlord’s lawyer … Everything happened last minute, and I was told over and over again that this is normal here and I should not worry 🙂
  • Now that I have finally checked into my Airbnb apartment (after 5 hours of craziness), I had to find my way over to the Mariinsky Theater, one of the oldest theaters in Russia and a must-see in Saint Petersburg. I was invited to join our awesome partner Elena Gavrilova, the head of ITMO Business Incubator, for an incredible 3-hour ballet performance. I loved it so much that time went by too quickly! Aside from getting lost while taking the metro (the deepest metro station in the world) to the theater, could I have spent my first night in Russia any better than watching real Russian ballet??? I can’t think of any other way!
  • By the time, I got out of the ballet, took the metro back to the Petrogradsky district and walked back to the apartment, it was almost already midnight. On the way, I was hit on by 2 Russian grandpas on separate occasions!!! While passing me, they smiled at me and said something in Russian … Thankfully, I didn’t understand any of it, and it was still very light outside 🙂

THAT my friend was my first day in Russia … I’m not sure if it could have gotten any more eventful or fun!


MIT GSL Russia 2017 Kick-off

With an eventful first day and a few days of a buffer to settle in, I was ready to start my summer internship. You’re probably wondering right now what it is and why I am doing it (especially in Russia)!

What? Through the MIT Global Startup Labs program, I am leading a team of four MIT graduate and undergraduate students (Shruti Banda, Annie Phan, and Damian Barabonjov) to run a summer incubator program in Saint Petersburg.

  • It’s an intensive 8-week boot camp where ~25 young entrepreneurs are selected to work on their startups with the hope of building a prototype and a scale-able business model. The program will culminate in a pitch day when the newly created startups will have an opportunity to pitch their ideas to local investors.
  • The entire program is created by us (the MIT GSL team) with the guidance of MIT professors & program directors. We create the application, choose the incubator participants, create the curriculum, teach them the entrepreneurial & technical content, mentor them throughout the startup development process, find experienced speakers & mentors, and organize the pitch day.
  • Our local partner, ITMO Business Incubator, has been kind enough to host us in their space, find local mentors & speakers, and help organize the pitch day.

Why? After being in the corporate world (at Accenture as a Tech & Analytics Consultant) for 4 years, I realized that I wasn’t happy!

  • Having government clients meant that I was working on old enterprise systems that took too long to implement. I wanted to work on innovative technologies & ideas that I can quickly build & effectively make an impact in the world.
  • The actual problems being solved (ex: building a SAP-HANA based solution analyzing logistics data) weren’t exciting. I wanted to work on solving real problems and visibly improving people’s lives on a daily basis through innovative & creative ways.
  • Working as a consultant gave me exposure to solving variety of business problems & to gaining extensive experience in the corporate world. However, I realized that I grow the most in a fast-paced startup environment. I would be the happiest if I am either working for a startup with a product/service or start my own company that is aligned with my impact-oriented mission.
  • My long term goal is to help develop Mongolia in some way. In order to do that I need to start to understand the economic, political, and social landscape of not only just Mongolia but also the surrounding region. That includes Russia, China, and other emerging markets in Asia & Europe.
  • I love learning. Teaching, reading, traveling to new places, getting immersed in new cultures, and gaining new perspectives are the best ways to learn. If I can do that while getting paid to do them, I will sign up at a heartbeat. ❤
  • Through this program, I’ll be learning entrepreneurship, working on my communication skills, becoming a better leader, improving personally & professionally, and working towards my bigger goal of making an impact in the world all at the same time!

First week? Meeting our aspiring entrepreneurs after months of work was an exhilarating experience! We kicked off the program with welcome remarks by the GSL Team & ITMO partners, interactive program overview, hands-on JavaScript & design thinking labs, and spontaneous team building activities. Throughout the week, we focused on getting to know each other more, forming teams & generating ideas for the start-ups, starting to do customer analysis, and learning to code through interactive sessions & labs. Because the goal is learning & launching their start-ups, everyone has been extremely engaged. A few things I learned this week:

  • The young entrepreneurs are super sharp! Their English skills are not as good as we expected, but they are getting better and better everyday!
  • They are so motivated to be entrepreneurs & to make an impact in the world, so they ask really tough and practical questions about starting companies (definitely keeping me on my toes)
  • I definitely think there is a “hacker” mentality (especially around rules & instructions) which gives them an advantage for thinking outside the box & a natural entrepreneurial mindset.
  • They are definitely “direct” communicators when it comes to sharing their perspectives, even more direct than the folks in the US.
  • Everyone seems really nice. Strangers smile at you in the street. Everyone says excuse me, sorry, please, and thank you in their conversations.
  • A big beer belly of a Russian guy (which I saw a lot of here) is called “puza”


Our work location for the summer:

Team walking home from work on a typical rainy day of Saint Petersburg:


The Weekend Getaway

After a hectic first week, we all went on a relaxing weekend getaway organized by our ITMO partners to get to know each other more. We took an 1.5 hour train ride to a tiny village called Losevo north of Saint Petersburg to stay at a cute camping site in Yagodnoye.

Check out my post on our evening explorations!


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