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From Milan To Moscow: Annarita's Experience

An interview with Annarita who comes back to Russia again and again.

From Milan To Moscow: Annarita's Experience

Annarita visits Russia the fourth time already. This time – under the academic mobility program. Now she attends classes in the HSE Moscow campus. She is 23 years old and she studies at the master’s international relations programme in Milan. We had a chat on studies and living in the HSE, languages learning, Italian and Russian cuisine and economic situation in Italy. Hope you enjoy!

Hi Annarita! Thank you for agreeing to give us an interview. Tell us, please, how you ended up at HSE?

Hi! Well, I think I’ve chosen the HSE because of its international status and the large amount of visitor students. This is my fourth time in Russia already. The first time I was here, I had attended the classes at the Pushkin State University on Belyaevo, and the difference is huge, especially in the treatment of students and the English prevalence. In the HSE they help international students with adaptation and escaping the cultural shock, and it has helped me a lot at that moment too. Now I don’t belong to any faculty, I’ve just chosen those courses that I was interested in and needed the most. Those are “Stylistics of the Russian Language”, “How to write short items in English”, “Russian in Mass Media” and “EU-Russia relations”.

Why did you choose Russian for learning? Do you see any prospects in it?

Well, to start with, four years ago when I had entered the bachelor’s degree program, I tried to study different languages. Chinese, German, French. But then I decided to attend Russian language courses, and I liked Cyrillics so much! Also, I fell in love with Russian culture. I suppose you imagine the difference between Russian and Italian languages. It’s huge! So I realized that If I didn’t want to forget Russian, I had to visit Russia again and again to practice it.

And do you have favorite stories in Russian?

I do. “White Nights” by Dostoyevsky.

And what field you’d like to build a career in? How do you want to apply the knowledge of Russian?

In the Russian Embassy or in the companies that deliver services to Russian speakers, for example. A lot of wealthy visitors come for shopping to Milan as to the fashion capital, so the shopping centers and stores appreciate the employees with a knowledge of Russian language.

And what’s the main difficulty you see in the Russian language learning?

In the grammatical cases and kinds of verbs, absolutely! Because we don’t have them in Italian language. There’re only different tenses in Italian. So yes, the syntax is super complicated. I was told that Russian is even more difficult than Chinese because of the grammar rules.

And how many languages do you speak?

Well… I know French and Spanish at the A2-B1 levels I believe. And I’m pretty fluent in Russian and English.

What challenges did you face at your first time in Russia?

The dormitory conditions, probably. The HSE dorm is so much better than that I lived at for the first time. Currently I live on Studencheskaya station and it feels more like a guest house for me. There were cockroaches at the dorm of the first university, it’s not like that in the HSE one. Pretty clean despite the kitchen where a lot of people prepare meals. You can see the Moscow City out of the window. Of course, it was hard at first to get used to the life with other people but it’s okay now.

And are your neighbors Russian?

No-no, I live with an Italian girl. Unfortunately, we are all foreigners there on Studencheskaya, I don’t know why. I think that a lot of international students would love to live with Russian students too to practice language and experience the full immersion, you know. Maybe something will change in the future. But, anyway we’re friends with my neighbor, although it was strange for both of us to share space with another girl. I don’t share a room with my siblings, neither does she. But now we feel good together.

Is there any difference in our countries that stand out the most?

Actually… This is pretty male culture? There’re a lot of cases when there’s a word to define some object in masculine form, but there’s no feminine variant. [Thinks] Such everyday thing as flushing the toilet paper into the bowl is surprising for the foreigners too! When my parents came back from Russia two years ago, they told about that to everyone. [Laughs] And it’s very cold out here! I’m not sure if I can live here because of such low temperatures. But I can tell from Moscow and Bryansk weather only.

You were in Bryansk?!

Yes, I were. Two years ago I was a counselor at the international children’s camp in Surazh which is a small city in Bryansk region. I went there within my university program. We have a center which that specializes on international academic programs and organizes trips to Russia. You can go to Russia to study in the university or you can choose the option of children’s camp. I’ve chosen the last one twice because I wanted to communicate with people and develop my Russian language skills. By the way, it was very actual two years ago because even in Moscow there were less people speaking English. At that camp in Bryansk no person spoke English at all. It was great for my practice.

You mentioned the cold. Have it influenced your health or mental condition?

Well, not the health… Though I remember that two years ago when I had come to Moscow for the first time, I felt a little bit sad. I stayed here since February to June, so the most time it was pretty dark and a little bit uncomfortable. And my teacher told me that another Italian student came back to Italy in one month already because she just couldn’t go through that constant lack of the sun.

Speaking about food, the range of products at the shops is different from the Italian one. Have there been any difficulties with it?

Yes, a lot. My diet is gluten-free and it’s not because of some imaginary fashion as a lot of Russians think. I just have intolerance to gluten. And this is absolutely common diet in Italy while here people think that gluten-free meals are the latest fashion. Anyway, there’re a lot of gluten-free products in Auchan and Perekrestok right now but two years ago it was really hard for me to find something to eat. And some restaurants prepare gluten-free dishes. Like Georgian place “Vai me!” where you can try a delicious gluten-free hachapuri (a flat Georgian pie filled with cheese – authors’ note). But by the way, I can’t understand how Russians can have no diet products. Are here no people who suffer from intolerances to some food at all?

Well, maybe people don’t care about their heath that much in general. It’s easier to think that the discomfort in your body is caused by something else, but not the diet. It seems like in Russia not a lot of people pay much attention to what they eat at all… So our cuisines are extremely different, right?

Hmm… Yes, I think so. There’re not such fresh and ripe fruits like in Italy. Imported ones are not that tasty, unfortunately, and they can be in a fridge for, like, two-three weeks and nothing happens to them. This is strange. And salads are different in taste, I always say it to my neighbor. The small choice of cheese. And one detail – you cook soups and potatoes very often! It’s not bad, just a notice.

Soups! Do you like borscht?

Yeah, I do!

And how long will your mobility last?

Till the 3d of January, I think.

Oh, so do you have some plans on Christmas celebrating?

I don’t know yet actually. We are going to have Christmas with my roommates in the dorm. I think that each of us will cook some national dish. We are all from different countries: someone is from the Netherlands, others are from Italy, Germany and so on.

And what’s your parents' attitude towards your absence during the Christmas Eve?

Well, they’ve been to Russia and they’re aware of my love for Russian culture and language. There is nothing wrong with that. They are not that strict and religious to worry about that.

Is there any difference in the communication style of Italians and Russians? As is well known, there are some stereotypes about Russians being gloomy and unfriendly. Have you ever noticed that?

No, I haven’t, to be honest. I speak Russian a little bit, so when I communicate with Russians in their mother tongue, they feel more relaxed and open. Also, we, Italians are very smiley and it surprises some Russians [laughs]. For example, one guy from the dorm called me a sunny girl every time he saw me for a long time. He explained that a person who smiles without any reason is considered as strange or silly in Russia. (Authors are trying to argue – authors’ note) Also, I’ve experienced that Russians like Italians a lot. I have the accent which immediately leads to people’s positive reaction. One time I was in “DEPO” (Moscow place with a bunch of food courts and little shops – author’s note) with my mate. There, we got acquainted with a young couple who heard us speaking Italian. They invited us to dinner and said that they would cook the tastiest pilaf in the world [laughs].

What Italian city do you like the most?

Well, I cannot choose a certain city but I really love Sicily, especially in summer. There is the best sea. Talking about the city, maybe I’d name Sorrento which is in the south of Italy. Also I like the island of Capri. My uncle works there as a cooker. Summer is the best time to earn money in that region of Italy. In winter it is really difficult to find a job, because the labor market is strongly connected with the tourism flow. A lot of my friends who’d been born in the south of Italy moved to Milano, Palermo or Naples because of the employment problems.

Is international mobility popular among students from your university?

Yeah, it is. But unfortunately, Russian universities have small number of quota. At the HSE there were only 2 places, the RSUH (Russian State University for Humanities) offered 2 places, MSU – only one.

So were expectations fulfilled? Do you like Moscow?

Yes! I adore Moscow. However, I am aware of the opinion that Moscow cannot be compared to other Russian cities. Also, Moscow is different from Milano. Saint-Petersburg is more familiar due to architecture. But the infrastructure is fairly well developed, particularly in the aspect of transport system. Moscow is a very clean city. Street-cleaning goes round the clock. It does not work so in Italy.

Yesterday, I skated at the VDNH. The snow falling, New Year music playing, it was such a nice atmosphere! I’ve been told that it is the largest ice rink in Europe.

And can you skate in Italy?

You can, but there aren’t any open space rinks. Usually ice rinks are too small and located in shopping malls.

So, the skating isn’t popular in Italy, is it?

No, it’s not. Also, there’s no special New Year decoration like you have in Russia. I reckon that you pay high taxes for all that beautiful decorations around the city for any holiday. There’s no such tendency in Italy. We decorate our houses mostly for the religious holidays like Christmas, Epiphany which is celebrated on the 6th of November, Easter.

Are there many religious people in Italy?

Yes, there are. It is largely due to the papacy. We have the crucifixes in every school, university, dorm. For instance, my university is catholic and we have them in our classrooms. Some people do not encourage it and we have a lot of problems on this issue. Many immigrants dislike it, because they are often adherents of other religions. Some of them may consider it as an insult.

Oh. Are there a lot of immigrants in Milan at the moment?

Yes, there are. Milano is the city of opportunity and money. That’s why this is a decent destination for migrants. We embrace them, settle in half-booked hotels. The government subsidies are given to those hotels for help due to the initiation of the EU. Owners of the hotels who help refugees are paid 30€ per day.

How do Italians feel about such mixing of cultures?

Well, there are different opinions on it. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re having some problems on that issue. There’re several islands in the south of Italy like Lampedusa, Sicily which are located close to Africa. The residents of those islands spend a lot of time and effort to migrants embracement. But at the same time, Lampedusa and Sicily are the tourist destinations and, obviously, the large amount of migrants might affect tourist business negatively. Some people think that tourism flow has decreased recently because of that, which is dramatic for the southern regions economy.

Is it known how long the Italian government is planning to help migrants?

Nobody knows. But I’m all for helping them. I don’t want them to die jumping out of the ships and trying to swim ashore by themselves. Not a long time ago the boat has tipped over in bad weather near Lampedusa and twenty people died. (Annarita mentions the accident happened on the 24th of November – authors’ note, the source: The Guardian). Some people vote for the port closures but I can’t support such ideas.

- We’re hoping that the situation will improve. Thank you for your opinions and such an interesting interview! We’re wishing you good luck and academic achievements.

Thank you!

Interview by

Ksenia Shestakova

Alexandra Shaykhutdinova