Students from Birmingham visit HSE St Petersburg
A one-month-long exchange for students from the Centre for Russian, European, and Eurasian Studies at Birmingham University (UK) in HSE has come to a close. They share their impressions.
On June 20, 18 first-year students and their group leaders arrived in St. Petersburg from Birmingham. The group included students of psychology and linguistics, history, and culture studies, and some who are starting out on sociology. The one thing they all shared was a desire to learn Russian and see one of Europe’s most beautiful cities – St. Petersburg.
‘This was the plan,’ Natalia Fedorova, a junior research associate at the Centre for Youth Studies, HSE St Petersburg, who was involved in organizing the exchange said. ‘We look for students from Russian-speaking families, put together an educational programme for them including seminars and cultural activities. Virtually everything went to plan, and the students were very pleased. Every day was carefully planned by the team that was involved with this exchange group. The project itself resulted from talks with the Centre for Russian, European, and Eurasian Studies, in particular with Dr. Jeremy Morris.
On our side, the head of the International Affairs Department at St Petersburg HSE Olga Okulova was a great help in preparing the documents and logistics for the visit. The educational programme comprised two parts. The first was a Russian language course developed by language teachers Andrei Grobov and Tatiana Astaikina, that involved 72 teaching hours in Russian as a foreign language. Judging from the students’ response, the programme was very well received and we hope that it will take root at HSE St Petersburg.
A special educational programme involving elements of sociology and research methodology was led by Gyuzel Sabirova. It included real projects implemented at the Centre for Youth Studies and other current themes in contemporary sociology. The students themselves prepared a series of presentations based on their ‘homework’. They were divided into three groups. Each of which had its own project, supervised by the eagle eyes of Centre for Youth Studies staff. For example, Margarita Kuleva ran a field trip/lecture to study St Petersburg’s cultural spaces, Daria Litvina showed students the city’s underground hotspots, and Oxana Soitu and Elena Onegina looked at young Russians’ style choices in public spaces. The results of these field trips were presented by the Birmingham students in reports and presentations.
The cultural programme was also very rich. With HSE student volunteers’ help, the British visitors were shown the city’s sites – Hermitage, Peterhof, Tsarskoe Selo, Russian Museum, Mariinsky Theatre, Erarta, and so on. The organizers consistently tried to find the best approach to Russian language with the members of the group, given their varying levels of ability, and where things were unclear – they switched to English.
Overall, we got the impression that the English students enjoyed their time in St Petersburg. Many said that, thanks to this trip, they had been able to break down a number of stereotypes that currently exist abroad about Russia. Many did not expect the warm welcome. They also enjoyed their time with their host families, despite language barriers (often no one in the family spoke English, and the students struggled with anything more complex than ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘thanks’), but they were still able to interact, converse, exchange opinions and views.
The final, rainy, evening was spent on a boat along the river Neva, where they were awarded their certificates, offered a light buffet and raised their glasses to toast friendship and the hope that this initiative could become an annual event.