Recently I was filling out a scholarship application that asked, "What personal attributes do you think are the most important for someone to posses, who is going to study abroad?" I considered for a short while what I see in my colleagues who are having a great time here in Russia, and what I see in my colleagues who have become disenchanted with Russia.
First of all, being opened minded is probably one of the most vital attributes for someone wanting to study in Russia. It is easy to be close-minded (and difficult) and sit-around complaining that the Russians are all but savages. But you really don't make many friends that way.
Russia is an experience completely unlike day-to-day life on a college campus in America.
Hanging out on construction sites is probably not something that I would do in the States. But I found friends there, we only speak Russian, and I have a great time. In the same way, I try to go out with different groups of Russian friends, all of the time, to increase my exposure to Russian culture.
Going to the art museum is not fun for me. I don't really care for art. But I have been to the art museums at least once a month with friends because that's what they wanted to do. By going on these excursions, with friends, I have met their friends and have usually ended up had a terrific time.
I also noticed that the Americans who have fallen-out-of-love with Russia, also refused to try Russian food. (I bet I could prove a corollary). These Americans would go out of their way to avoid anything that was unfamiliar. That seems like not only a great way to offend a lot of the locals, but to also come-off as difficult.
Another attribute that is vital is a sense of humor. I cannot imagine living here and being serious all of the time. Whenever I open my mouth, I nearly expect to make mistakes... And it doesn't bother me when Russians laugh at me... Because I am usually laughing too! That is not to say that I am not self-conscious about my Russian (I am), but I am not going to cry when Russians stand around, staring at me, trying to figure out what I am saying. I sort of expect that as part of the price to pay for language acquisition!
So, my scholarship essay concluded that: Having a sense of humour, and going with the flow, are the two most important attributes to posses, if you wish to study abroad. We will see if I was right, if I win the scholarship!