Alexandre and Etienne are both enrolled in intensive courses at CREF. One of them hails from Montreal, while the other is from the north of France.
Alexandre is the only polyglot in his family, and he has held a fascination for history and Russia. While studying English in Cyprus, he met several Russians, and that’s when he decided that, as part of his studies at business school, he was going to do a residency in Russia. He is currently completing a yearlong stay at Moscow State University’s Business School but feels that his current three-hours-a-week course load of Russian has not been enough, and so he’s decided to take an intensive course in Russian at CREF for a month, before his visa runs out.
As for Etienne, he started learning Russian in Canada. He met and then married a Russian citizen, after which the two decided to move to Moscow last year. In April, during the move, Etienne decided to study Russia at CREF, and he signed up for an intensive course in June to get things rolling.
Both Alexandre and Etienne are discovering Russia for the first time.
CREF: Is this the first time you both have been in Russia for an extended period? What are your impressions of Russia?
Alexandre: I have to say that the city and its ambiance have not disappointed. It’s a very rich city, culturally speaking, with a lot of museums, each one more interesting than the last. The city has a very rich history, like the rest of Europe. Moscow is always changing: one can pass by the same place twice, and every time there’s something new and beautiful to see. Even if it’s the capital, it’s quite alive and that’s very pleasant.
Etienne: It’s a big, crowded city, but it seems to manage it quite well. It’s not oppressive. It’s well-developed: transport, culture, parks. There are a lot of things to do in the summer and winter. Compared to Montreal, there’s a lot more diversity and it’s cheaper. It’s also a really beautiful city.
CREF: Has there been any culture shock, positive or negative?
Alexandre: For me, I came here to discover the culture and to try to understand, to adapt. So, it’s not really about shock, it’s more about discovery. In terms of food, you can find everything. Strangers might be cold at first, but if they like you, Russians can be very hospitable and they are willing to go to great lengths to help you. Their generosity is very touching.
Etienne: I came here for a change of life and routine. It’s been a positive change. One expects some coldness in service but here there is constant improvement. Public transport is very efficient. In Montreal, it might take you 40 minutes to travel 5-6 km using public transport, but here in Moscow you can cover 25 km. Distances feel a lot shorter as a result. I have also discovered that most neighborhoods are full of very friendly and helpful people, there is a sense of community. All the infrastructure is in place: parks, schools, the children grow up together. It’s a vibrant place, stores are open until late, and public services are very convenient and quick.
CREF: What are some of your favorite locations in Moscow?
Alexandre: Pretty much everything downtown, One never gets tired of the Red Square or Gorky park, with all its events, bars and scenery, or, for that matter, VDNH (expo center) with its museums and exhibitions. There’s also the main campus of Moscow State University, where I have been studying.
Etienne: Parks, Gorki, Sokolniki, there’s a forest next to where I live, and of course downtown and the Red Square. Yeah, one never gets tired.
CREF: What’s your favorite Russian dish?
Alexandre: Borscht (cabbage and beet soup) and pelmeni (Siberian ravioli). Russian cuisine reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking, which was Polish. As for drinks, I like mors (berry drink), but I prefer beer to kvas (fermented wheat drink). Besides, I noticed that the students here drink a lot less than those in France. They often gather in tea rooms and drink… tea or other non-alcoholic beverages.
Etienne: I have a weakness for Shchi (cabbage soup), and Olivier salad (mixed salad with mayonnaise), which is mostly a holiday dish. In terms of drinking, I’ve found that Russians drink more during the holidays.
CREF: What word in Russian would you say is your favorite, the one that you find to be the most interesting?
Alexandre: It’s probably the verb хоте́ть (khatet’ – to want), it’s one that we use all the time, but for some reason I find it to be the most difficult.
Etienne: I like красо́тка (krassotka – pretty girl).
CREF: What do you think about your lessons at CREF?
Alexandre: The teacher lets us express ourselves and doesn’t interrupt us, so we feel encouraged to speak more. She does correct our mistakes afterwards. She also speaks to us in Russian all the time, and we can ask her questions in English if we don’t understand a word or phrase. But we do most of the talking, and we also read. She only really speaks if she needs to clarify something or correct our mistakes. While there are maybe a dozen ways to say certain things, we generally focus on learning three or four, but we do it thoroughly, and we’re quite confident using them in our daily lives. It’s like that.
Etienne: The teacher is very helpful and we can quickly internalize important aspects of the language. She makes us feel comfortable and so we feel more confident when we speak and make fewer mistakes with the endings. One thing that maybe hurt a little was when we had someone temporarily substitute for her, because it affected our momentum. Anyways, our teacher is quite good at explaining difficult concepts using easy Russian, and revising and reviewing what we know with her is never boring. Grammar takes up about 20% the lesson, and then conversation helps to integrate the grammar we’ve learnt into our everyday speech.
CREF: Would you recommend CREF?
Alexander: Yes, I really appreciate the flexibility in terms of dates and timings, as long as the rest of the group agrees, of course.
Etienne: I would definitely recommend the school. Fees are pretty competitive, and sometimes you also get discounts. I think it ranks quite high in terms of lesson quality, and the flexible schedule is, as Alexandre already mentioned, a big plus.