St. Petersburg: ‘A perfect fit for me’


The Grand Cascade at the Peterhof in St. Petersburg.

During just two weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia, Noah Pines ’20 attended lectures by PhD students at ITMO University; visited the Hermitage Museum, the Church of the Savior on Blood, and Peterhof Palace; sampled various Russian cuisines; and worked on and presented a research project on quantum communication.

The optics major also learned how to read the Russian alphabet and speak basic Russian well enough to say “Ya ne govoryu po-russki” (I don’t speak Russian) and other phrases.

This came in handy every day when his computer triggered the metal detector at the subway station.

“Every day I would have to go into a room with a police officer, say, "I don't speak Russian" (in Russian) followed by "Computer" (in English) with a nice point towards my backpack,” Pines says. “After that, they would send me on my way. For whatever reason, my friend would never get stopped, despite also traveling with his laptop.”

Another interaction occurred his very first night in St. Petersburg when he and optics classmate Greg Lier stood in a long line at a Burger King, typing their orders into Google Translate so they could communicate with the cashiers. As they neared the front of the line, a couple came up and started speaking to them in Russian. Totally thrown off guard, Pines stammered, “English?” with a giant shrug. After a moment of contemplation, the woman replied “Ice. Cream.”

“It turned out that they just wanted to order two ice creams but didn’t want to wait in the monster line like everyone else. Due to my severe lack of conversational Russian, and the fact that the man looked as though he could have worked as a NYC nightclub bouncer, I let them through,” Pines says. And in the end, the cashiers still messed up his order.

Pines took it all in stride.

“I had a great time,” he says. He learned a lot about Russian life (“It’s not all cobblestone streets, vodka, and bears over there!”), about the various uses for optics in the world (from holography, to medical optics, to quantum computing), and I about the process and details of quantum communication, which, he says, “was SO COOL!”

“Plus, how often do you get a chance to go to Russia?” he asks.

Pines became interested in studying abroad after hearing his parents, cousins, and fellow University students – who have “collectively traveled practically the entire globe” – talk about how great their trips were.

“So when I heard about this two week program (ITMO and MEPhi Optics Summer Research Program) in St. Petersburg, I hopped on it!” Pines says. “This particular program was focused around Optical Engineering, my major, and because it was during the summer, it wouldn't interfere with my classes. So it was a perfect fit for me.”


One of the highlights of Noah Pines’ stay in St. Petersburg was giving a presentation on quantum communication in front of PhD students at ITMO University.

Arranging the trip was “fairly straightforward,” Pines says, though applying for a Russian visa was bit nerve-wracking. “I really did not want to fly all the way out to Russia, only to find out that my visa wasn’t completed correctly,” Pines says.  “Besides a phone call with Vladimir at the Russian Visa Center, I worked a lot with Dan Smith, the Undergraduate Program Manager of the Institute of Optics here in Rochester, making sure all of the paperwork was filled out and shipped out on time.”

His advice to other students thinking about studying abroad? Beware of using too much data on your phone plan. If you won’t be learning the basic conversational language of the country you’re visiting during your trip, try to learn basic phrases before you head out (“Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Thank you”, “I don’t speak ____”, etc). Beware of pickpockets and thieves. Make sure to have copies of your important documents in case something happens.

And above all, have fun. Explore. Try new things.


The Church of the Savior on Blood, one of the sights Pines visited during his two weeks in St. Petersburg.