Choosing Russia: Foreign students speak out

RT meets foreign students who chose to study in Moscow. Some 800,000 students started the new school year this fall. On September 1, known as the “Day of Knowledge,” some go to school for the first time, while others start another school year.

­“I want to stay in Russia forever!”

Many of the foreign students dotting campuses these days are not exchange students – they are expat students, paying their own way without the partnership of another university.

“I came to Russia because of globalization and better business opportunities,” said Gerardo Navia, a Columbian student. “In the same way Russians are learning Spanish, many Spanish business men are learning Russian. It’s vital for business to do that. Growing up I obviously knew information about Russia from the old days but, I was surprised, really, by how modern Russia is.”

James Ahearne, a British student, is excited about the prospect of staying in Russia, even though his parents might not support his decision.

“I see myself here 10, 15 years from now, maybe forever,” he said. “My parents will kill me for saying this, but it’s something I’d love to do, really.”

Others are here because of the situation in crisis-hit economies, like Greece’s. Chris Tziallis, a Greek student, spent the summer brushing up on his language skills. He admitted that the situation in Greece is becoming more and more difficult.

“I came here for the Russian lessons because there are many Russian tourists in Greece, many Russian businessmen, so I feel like doing this will help a lot,” he said.

Tziallis is also thinking about moving to Russia permanently and finding a job here, but he has not yet made up his mind.

“I asked so many people, ‘How is the situation?’”, he said. “’Is there unemployment? Is the life here good?’ But I have heard so many opinions, I don’t have a clear picture yet.”

However, he vowed to continue with his Russian studies, no matter if he chooses to stay here or leave.

“I will search for a job that has a connection with the Russian people, because I like the Russian culture, I like the Russian people,” he vowed.

Valery Tchastnykh has led the Center for International Education for 27 years. As time has gone by, he has seen changes he never expected to see in this country. He says that in the Soviet Union, universities used to teach people from North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.

“Nowadays, the geography has changed; we teach a lot of Americans, Japanese, Europeans, not so many Vietnamese, none from North Korea,” said Tchastnykh. “Now mostly students come here because they hope to find a job in Russia or a job in their countries but somehow connected to Russia.”

Tchastnykh says that at first it was unusual that students started coming to Russia to find jobs and take part in the economy.

“Ten years ago it was quite, quite strange,” he said. “We had to adjust. We had to change programs, we had to change textbooks – everything.”

­“Education is a billion-dollar market”

As for the students, some of them already seasoned professionals, finding a good fit in Russia has not come easy.

Larisa Efremova from the Ministry of Education told RT that every country needs foreign students for both political and economic reasons.

“They explore the culture, they learn the language, and of course we continue a relationship with them after they return home,” she said. “They will be our friends, they will be our partners. Education is a billion-dollar market. Therefore, it’s in the Russian interest to have foreigners studying in our universities. The cash flow goes straight into the Russian Federation budget.”

Business and language studies may contribute a large part of that cash flow, but so do the arts. No less than 250 foreigners are studying at the Moscow Conservatory.

Diego Franco, a Colombian studying at the Moscow Conservatory, says that Russia has a large influence on the study of piano in his home country.

“The most important teachers in Colombia usually have something to do with Russia,” he said. “They are Russians or they have studied here. For us it’s like ‘the source.’”

Japanese students arriving for the start of the fall term told RT that learning Russian is a must for securing a successful future.

“In Japan it is said that Russia will be one of the largest countries in business. So Japanese have to learn Russian,” said Lisa Nishiyama, a Japanese student.

Three months may not be enough to make them fluent in Tchaikovsky or Tolstoy, but it is a start down a path of education unheard of just 20 years ago.

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