A testimonial from 21 year-old German student Laura Ha, who studies Russian with Liden & Denz while volunteering with Action Reconciliation.
What is your current occupation?
I’m a volunteer in a German organisation called Action Reconciliation, which was formed after World War II with the idea that Germans should be responsible to help with the reconciliation in various affected countries after the war. These countries include Russia and Poland, and at first the organisation gave really practical help in rebuilding these countries but now we work in the fight against racism and social disadvantages. I’ve been part of Action Reconciliation since September, because I didn’t want to go straight to university from school and really liked the idea of travelling to help people and make connections with new people from different countries. So I’m here in Russia, volunteering with babushkas: I sit and talk with them and do their shopping for them and other things like that. Most of them live all alone, so it’s nice to be able to be someone they can talk to. They’ve got all sorts of stories!
Why did you decide to come to Russia to study Russian?
I didn’t really decide to come to Russia – the organisation decided it was best for me to be in Russia rather than in the USA or anywhere else. I’m in St Petersburg, here with Liden and Denz because Walter Denz is part of Action Reconciliation as well and gave me the opportunity to study Russian while I volunteer.
A lot of people consider learning Russian to be a challenge. Do you agree with this statement? Why?
Absolutely! I started learning Russian from scratch in September – I’d never learnt it before! With German and French, they’ve got the same roots but with Russian, it’s like a totally different system! But this is also what makes it so interesting: it’s a totally different way of thinking and that’s exciting for me.
What sort of impression did you have of Russia and Russian culture before coming here? And how did it change after arriving here?
In Germany there’s a really negative image of Russia, because of the stereotypes that all Russians just drink vodka and you can’t speak out against anything. Plus you often hear that Russians are really cold people, and I found that this isn’t true at all! They’re so very warm-hearted and especially the babushkas I work with: they’re always saying “my dear” when I walk in the room and constantly trying to feed me! They’re lovely, it’s awesome.
How has Liden & Denz made your experience in Russia better? Anything specific?
They’ve helped loads because I couldn’t speak any Russian when I arrived! They’re also really nice and the school feels like a safe place that I can come to every day and enjoy my lessons here.
Do you think a knowledge of Russian will benefit you in your future?
I don’t think it’ll help me economically as it’s not the direction I want to go in but I want to go into the field of humanities and culture and I think understanding a totally different way of thinking, it helps to better understand the culture so Russian will definitely help me there.
What is the most unique thing about Russia that you have experienced here?
Oh I don’t know! There wasn’t one specific thing but a lot of little things that made the whole experience very unique.
If there is one thing that you will never forget about your time in Russia, what would it be?
I can’t just pick one specific moment, there’s the people, the funny stories, and seeing as I’m here until the end of August I can’t just one thing just yet!
Post written by Jade Mitchell-Ross, an English student currently on an internship while studying Russian at Liden & Denz.