23 August 2016

Michał Grelewski - Expat in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Michał Grelewski - Expat in Saint Petersburg, Russia

We’ve had the chance to talk to Michał Grelewski, 29, a Polish expat who has moved to Saint Petersburg with his wife. Mr. Grelewski who has been living there for one and a half years now works as a logistic specialist & freelance culture manager/game designer.

Read more about his experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Poland, wonderful city of Łódź (in English spelled Lodz)


Q: What made you move out of Poland?

A: The reason was very simple and powerful at one time: love. My wife was born in Leningrad and lived whole her life in this city (now named Saint Petersburg).


Q: Where are you living now?

A: Russia, Saint Petersburg


Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: In my case, this was quite simple - we were choosing between Russia and Poland, and as we had flat in Petersburg, and I was speaking Russian a bit we decided to live here - at least for some time.


Q: How long have you been living in Russia?

A: one and a half year for now (December 2014)


Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in Russia?

A: For sure it was the lack of contact with family and friends - I think it is in common for many expats. My previous work (I worked in a city - oriented NGO) was strictly connected with city and people living there so it was hard for me to change it. I also suffer from Petersburg location on the north - long dark winter is quite depressive, but on other hand white nights in summer are awesome. What is also hard to resist for European people is public space totally owned by cars - Russia is slowly trying to give it back to pedestrians and bikes but still - cars are most important here.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance were particularly difficult in Russia? What was your experience with these?

A: Oh yes, this was quite an adventure! Visa is quite complicated - tourist is made easy but private or business needs some complicated operations and getting permission for living (I have temporary one) is never ending story.

You can see some of my adventures in immigration office here:


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I am living here with my wife.


Q: How are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: Well it is rather me adjusting to Russian style than my wife adjusting to expat style - I think I don't live in expat style whatever it means :) My closest social circle here is my wife family and friends - all of them Russian, so I am exploring Russian lifestyle.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Russia? How did you manage to find a social circle in Russia?

A: As I wrote before - I am socializing mainly with Russians - through my wife's social circle. Other circles that I am in touch with is Poles living in Russia, I am also starting slowly to meet with people connected with games (my professional sphere in Poland) and alternative culture. I am not contacting other expats - maybe because I am not so typical expat. But I am planning to do this.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: Wow, list of recommendation is long, let me mention few things only:


  • Historical heritage of Petersburg - all the center, palaces, Ermitage and so on - it is a must.
  • alternative places like Lofty Etagi, Street Art Museum, Erarta gallery, Taiga space and many others
  • food - Russian cuisine, middle-Asia cuisine, caucas cuisine - I love it, honestly
  • celebrations in Orthodox church - I am a catholic but from time to time I like to visit Orthodox churches, hear choirs and feel the spirit of this church
  • Russian banya - preferably during rest on dacha - this is an activity not only for body but also a sacred meeting with important discussions and establishing relationships


Q: How does the cost of living in Russia compared to your home?

A: I am writing this on 17.12 - day after Black Tuesday when rouble price on global market collapsed - so soon it can be out of date.

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: 50-300 roubles (0.75 - 4,5 dollar)

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: 400 roubles (6 dollars)

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: 1000-1500 roubles (14-22 dollars)

  • How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Wine is about 500 roubles (7.5 dollar) (middle class) pack of cigarettes about 100 roubles (1.5 dollar)


Q: How do you find the local culture and people in Russia?

A: People are open and interested in foreigners. Rarely they are aggressive - even in those hard times. They have interesting stories and like to listen. (If you’re speaking Russian of course)

Culture is also a factor that can attract you in Russia. Beginning from old Russian culture - preserved on the countryside and in churches, through XVIII-XIX culture - whole Petersburg that wanted to be more European than Europe to contemporary culture - with interesting young artist with different background and influences from east and west as well. Well - surely everyone can find something for him. I found Russian cuisine, Orthodox Church music and contemporary urban culture.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Russia?

A: Positive is definitely this what I wrote above - people and culture. Also, nature is stunning in many places (this is the biggest country in the world so it is not surprising). Moscow and Petersburg (possibly other cities as well) are fascinating. Negative sides are for sure bureaucracy, cars everywhere and generally urban planning that is not friendly for human at all.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Of course! All the time :)


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I am contacting with friends and family on mail, Skype, social networks. My wife is with me so it is not so hard. (So maybe it is a tip: find wife here :). For people here family and relations are important so if you will find some friends they will support you for sure, hospitality here is amazing.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I don't know as for now, it mainly depends on career possibilities in Russia which now are rather questionable. As I have EU citizenship it would be easy to move to some other European country but as for now we put much effort to organize our life here doesn’t want to move.


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: Getting permission for a living was quite a struggle. It was funny but frustrating as well.


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in Russia?


  • be patient - this helps to solve many problems
  • don't discuss politics - it would be a long discussion and probably not effective
  • don't avoid Russian life - birthdays, banyas, dacha, shashlyk and so on - this is best what you can do here


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Russia?

A: Sure, check out these:

The Village - latest news but also a lot of lifestyle content in European style.

Russian Calvert Journal - Made by british foundation, nice review of "creative Russia".

English Lurkmore - alternative Wikipedia, huge resource of everything connected with Russian lifestyle, Russian problems, and Russian society. Not serious.