Lorraine and I boarded a cruise ship in Dover, England in August 2010 for a cruise to the Baltic Sea with shore excursions in the Scandinavian countries and St. Petersburg, Russia. On September 1, Lorraine’s visit to the shipboard doctor and the resulting medical emergency interrupted our cruise with a nine-day adventure in the Tallinn Central Hospital, Estonia. Our long awaited cruise to St. Petersburg was not to be as we flew home from Tallinn, Estonia several days later. After months of recovery and another surgery, we planned our St. Petersburg adventure for the fall of 2012.

One does not just pick up and go to Russia on an instant, as you would for England or the European Union. The Visa required to visit Russia is expensive, currently $160.00 per person. Having no desire to invest in another Baltic cruise, we found a better way. How do all of those cruise ship passengers visit St Petersburg for a two or three day excursion?  After further research, we discovered the following 72-hour visit regulation. Arriving by ferry, passengers do not need a Visa for visiting, as they must provide both proof of accommodations and a tour booked with a licensed guide while in Russia. The St. Peter Line ferry from Helsinki to St Petersburg schedules evening eastbound and westbound service. Check in at the ferry required proof before boarding the ferry in Helsinki for our overnight departure.

After research confirmed the opportunity, we planned another visit with our foreign exchange student’s family living near Helsinki, a beautiful city on the Baltic Sea.  Since our first visit in 1989, we have always enjoyed the area. Some of the activities we enjoy in foreign countries, in addition to this case where we visit family, is the art, architecture and history. We planned a secondary school visit for a better understanding of their respective educational environments and joined their son for one of his high school classes.  The teacher and students, comfortably communicating in English, made us welcome and the resulting experience was excellent.

Prior to arriving in Helsinki, we made all of the necessary reservations on the Helsinki – St. Petersburg – Helsinki ferry (https://www.directferries.com/st_peter_line.htm) including an overnight with in suite cabin. On previous visits to Finland, we enjoyed both the Silja Line (with Blue trim) and the Viking Line, (with red trim).  We were ready to enjoy the ferry to St. Petersburg, as they are the size of most cruise ships carrying Class VIII semi-trucks, straight trucks, cars, motorcycles as well as hundreds of passengers.

This was not a cruise ship cabin by any means, but comfortable and safe. Restaurants on board provided the necessary meal opportunities. After an overnight on board, we arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia, AKA the Venice of the North with miles of canals throughout the city. After clearing customers, our guide was waiting with a car and driver and we were off for our first day of art, architecture and an overwhelming amount of history. Each day was full of terrific experiences touring palaces, art museums, experiencing a subway ride to view all of the wonderful art on display at every stop. Our driver was waiting at our last subway stop and we continued our adventure. The second full day was a repeat of day one with a completely different group of palaces, museums, cathedrals and a ride on the canals.

On the third and final day in St Petersburg, we checked out of our very comfortable hotel located on the upper floors of an enclosed downtown shopping center located near the Nevsky Prospect (the main city thoroughfare). After a short ride, we arrived in time to visit with the department chair and faculty before the 9:00 AM class at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance, formerly the Stalin Institute of Finance and Economics.

Why would we be visiting a local university on a visit to St. Petersburg, Russia? In the months leading up to our adventure and setting up the agenda with our guide Anna, who by the way was a walking encyclopedia, we requested a speaking opportunity with a university or secondary school studying English in the classroom as we would be happy to help them practice their English speaking skills. For over an hour Lorraine and I visited with the Economics Class about anything and everything making news in the fall of 2012 from the NHL on strike, the US presidential election, our occupations, an open forum Q & A session on any subject in which they might have a question. 

Why were these students so fluent in English? As I walked around the classroom, to my amazement the economics textbooks on their desks were in English and published in the USA. They asked a few unique questions including; what does your country think of our country? Our answer – probably what the media and the press are publishing in each of our countries about the other. Here we are visiting with 40 plus students and faculty, all of which I consider friends that we have yet to meet even though I have never met any of you before. We are experiencing the beauty of your country, your people and your educational pursuits, just as we do in our country. As we communicate one on one, I believe we have the same pursuit, a productive and comfortable life. After the one-hour class, discussion continued in the hallway as many questions developed about visiting the United States. Only one of the students ever ventured outside of Russia to France. We suggested pursuing a foreign exchange student program, as they are popular worldwide.

During the latter part of the class, one question took me a while to formulate the answer. “What was the biggest roadblock in the pursuit of your career? After remaining silent for a few moments I tried to answer the question the best I could and probably not effectively. The answer I struggled with was impromptu and not well presented; “Developing the mental processes to fully understand the solutions my customers need.”

While writing this article nine years later, I am sure this was a “Self-Development” moment. As we boarded the ferry for the overnight trip back to Helsinki, I struggled to develop the following two-segment answer as we watched the sunset over the Baltic Sea.

The answer to the tough question posed by the students, naturally divided itself into level one and level two.

The questions “Developing the mental processes to fully understand the solutions our customers need.”

The answers;

Level one – How do you understand their business?

Listen a great deal to their answers to your formulated questions.

Walk a mile in their shoes for a firsthand experience of their needs.

Use your product knowledge and provide the most efficient solutions to make them successful.

Level two

            “Create a solution your customer is not aware they need”

            Accomplish this by knowing the industry and their needs

            Strive for this level by becoming their “go to person.” This will differentiate you from the others.

                        Do what it takes with enthusiasm and intensity.

                        Understand your customer’s time – it is theirs that counts, not your own.

These thoughts, used for decades in Knapheide sales training classes, continue to this day. 

After arriving back in Illinois a thank you note was prepared and sent to the Department Chair at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance.

As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now, the rest of the story” Why would a university department chair in St. Petersburg, Russia open a classroom, combine two economics classes and allow someone they never head of or knew anything about speak openly to a class?

Upon reading her thank you reply, she answered my question and went on to share her memories of a recent USA faculty exchange near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, about four hour’s drive from Quincy, Illinois.

We remember this adventure as a “Great moment among life’s treasurers. We will do it again in February 2022 at a grammar school in Uganda, Africa.

https://www.directferries.com/st_peter_line_princess_anastasia.htm Check out the current link to the St. Peter Ferry Line sailing from Helsinki to St. Petersburg.

They have upgraded and improved a great deal in the last nine years.

Current image of the St. Peter Line ferry from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, Russia.