Dorm life: glimpse inside the best and worst student digs in Moscow

13 January 2017

Living in student halls is a rite of passage for any school-leaver embarking on university life. For many Russians an obshaga, which translates as simply “living together”, is something closer to a second home. As Pascal Dumont came to discover, some Russians can spend up to ten years of their lives there. “This is where they build relationships, start projects, hold parties and make unforgettable memories. This unique experience shapes their future,” Dumont describes. The Canadian photographer first had the opportunity to stay in an obshaga for five months in 2011, while on a hitchhiking trip around the world. Since moving to Moscow three years ago, where he is currently the multimedia editor of The Moscow Times, he’s been photographing different university dorms in the city. The obshagas pictured include those at Moscow State University — one of Stalin’s Seven Sisters —, and the Surikov Moscow State Academy Art, which offers a unique view of the Kremlin from its 10th floor. “I am fascinated by how students adapted to the dormitory’s rules, how they managed to slip out night, have a relationships, smoke, drink and do other forbidden things. Small gifts to the obshaga security can compensate for missed curfews. A student once told me he would lift his girlfriend through the window of his second-floor room every night,” the photographer reveals. His photos also give a glimpse into how students adapt such a confined space: from buying fresh flowers to installing makeshift gyms. “Staircases or balconies are prime spots for smoking. In Tomsk, Vietnamese students had set up Internet across the whole building and were running the show. At the Surikov Institute, everyone helped out and contributed to building a communal gym,” Dumont recalls.