‘Russians are very trustworthy colleagues and friends’ - a young expat from Italy

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Chiara Clemente, 27, has been working on-and-off in Russia for over three years. From her experience, Russians are great to work with and they’re nothing like how they are portrayed in movies.

My name is Chiara. I’m 27 and I was born and raised in Monza, a mid-sized town close to Milan, but my family comes from a beautiful town in the south of Italy named Mattinata (in Apulia). I studied Russian at the State University of Milan, and I was very eager to come to this mysterious and intimidating country to test my knowledge of the language and, hopefully, to learn it better. 

I’ve been working here for a little more than 3 years. At first, in 2016, I went to Cheboksary for one year to teach Italian, but I returned and worked in Italy for some time. Then in January 2018 I returned to Russia to continue my education at the Peter the Great Polytechnic University. Consequently, I got a job in the St. Petersburg’s office of SEMrush, an international IT company, where I've been working for two years now.

The image that we in Europe have of Russia is usually of a scary, cold place with not much to offer; populated by disinterested people drinking lots of vodka. My family and friends were, of course, scared and thought I was a bit crazy for wanting to go. My initial impression, considering the first thing I saw was the Cheboksary airport, was that I had traveled back in time to the 1980s or 90s. But after a car ride across the snow-covered landscape of Chuvashia I loved everything, especially the weather! (Yes, I know it was winter, but the dry cold of -33℃ was very refreshing in the morning: this was definitely what impressed me the most at first; also because it was what I was most afraid of).

About my work

At SEMrush, I work in the marketing department, with a focus on the Italian market. I am responsible for webinars and video content. The job is great, and there’s much space to grow, to find your way and to develop to be a better professional. This is what I like most about SEMrush, besides the fact that the team is full of  amazing people, both professionally and personally. 

Chiara and her friends at the graduation party, Milan 2016

It’s something completely different from my previous job in Italy, where I was translating and curating the e-commerce section of the Italian market for a multinational firm. It’s hard to compare the two because we’re talking about very unrelated fields and companies, but I’d say the biggest difference is that my previous job was in a very vertical company, while SEMrush gives more freedom to employees and allows them to come up with something new and actually make it happen. 

Differences and similarities

Russians and Italians are quite different in terms of their approach to work, based on what I’ve experienced. The thing that shocked me the most is that when I started working in SEMrush all my colleagues were more or less my age or even younger. In Italy it’s very rare to find a big company like that with mostly young employees. So, I’d say that Russia is far ahead in that regard because young people can start their careers at a very young age.

There are also some similarities, however, such as the fact that it’s pretty easy to socialize with colleagues, and I think that business-wise Italy and Russia are similar: lots of small and medium businesses take advantage of what the country has to offer. In Italy, in the restoration field for example, we take pride in our wonderful products and traditions. Meanwhile, Russia can take pride in fine customer service and beautifully designed spaces (restaurants and cafes here are well-done and top quality!). 

With colleagues at a corporate party

The language and local mentality 

I have many stories about me making very funny mistakes while attempting to speak Russian and which made my colleagues burst into laughter! One time I tried speaking about “кулич” (the Russian equivalent of the Italian “panettone”), but instead I said “кирпич”, which means “brick”; so you can imagine their reactions.  

I have learned that Russians are trustworthy colleagues and friends. I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t tried to make me feel welcome and at ease, and it’s something extremely important when you’re far away from home. Also, working with Russians is much easier in terms of communication: Italians (and Europeans, in general) will try and find a nice (and very long!) way of telling you something that you need to change or fix, while Russians won’t beat around the bush and will tell you directly what is what. I appreciate this because it makes everything faster and uncomplicated! 

Things a foreigner should know

The most important thing is to always keep an eye on bureaucracy. Russia, just like Italy, loves paper and documentation, so be sure that you have all of those in order before and during your stay. 

Speaking about finding a job, if the company doesn’t want to make a work permit for you, then it is going to be very hard, especially if you don’t know Russian. If you manage to find such a company, then working and living here is pretty good. The cost of living is low enough to enable you to live above average (depending on your paycheck, of course). For Italians and Europeans in general, the IT field is a good choice.

READ MORE: How much do foreigners make working in Russia? Is it worth moving?

The expat community in St. Petersburg is alive

The majority of my friends here are Russians, but I also have lots of foreigners friends, most of which I’ve known thanks to my experience at the Peter the Great Polytechnic University. I know many Italians as well, and I keep in contact with them through a Facebook group - called “Italiani a San Pietroburgo”, which literally “Italians in St. Petersburg” - where we exchange information, advice about where to eat good pizza or buy Italian products. The founder of the group sometimes organizes meetups.

The expat community is very much alive: the city offers tons of activities, clubs, and events that make it very easy to socialize with expats. Besides bars, discos, and restaurants, there are escape rooms, museums, and countless clubs (about books, art, cinema, and so on) that you can join even without knowing Russian. 

Russia changed my life

With Alexander Pushkin and Evgeny Onegin in Yoshkar-Ola, 2017

I wish I had known that Russians are not at all as they’re described in the movies, and that they’re pretty similar to Italians! Also, I wish I hadn’t been so scared of the cold weather - it can actually be enjoyable (even though St. Petersburg’s weather is no walk in the park, to be honest). 

I can definitely say that Russia has changed my life! I’ve found amazing people in Russia that I consider my second family as well as the job of my dreams and a wonderful city that gave me full independence. It will always be the country that gave me the most, and where I found my path, which is something I’ll never forget. Also, I have a Russian-themed tattoo on my ankle, so I certainly won’t forget. 

This story is a part of Russia Beyond’s series of articles about foreign professionals working and doing business in Russia. Do know anyone who might have something to say, or want to share your personal experience? Please contact us here: info@rbth.com.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

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