‘I Would Learn Russian’

PHOTO by nd3000 / Depositphotos
Three foreigners explain why they chose to study Russian and the obstacles they ran into along the way

Afisha spoke with several people who study Russian for fun, not out of necessity, and listened to the sound of Russian as spoken at different study stages.

David Zhou Bueno of Catalonia, a student at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona who has studied Russian for three years:

"I decided to learn Russian because I was interested in Eastern Europe. I received a scholarship for a year and went to Nizhny Novgorod, even though I could have gone to St. Petersburg. In fact, it was a good choice since there were few foreigners there and I was forced to start speaking Russian.

I lived for a year in Nizhny Novgorod, another year in St. Petersburg and I traveled to Kazan, Vladimir and Kostroma. I found some things in Russia surprising. For example, when you sit on the bus, you need to transfer the money to the driver via the passenger in front of you. I liked it but I think that the money wouldn't make it to the driver in Barcelona.

Other moments shocked me, in particular those related to gender roles. Once, my Russian friend, a girl, and I bought a bunch of products in a store and since my backpack was full, I offered to split the purchases between us. She was surprised and thought I was joking. In Spain, we usually divide the purchase no matter what gender you are.

At first, I thought that Russians, Spanish and Catalans were very different. In the end, when I started to make friends with Russians, I realised that we are all passionate people who enjoy life. Thanks to knowing Russian, I found a job here in Barcelona.

Irishwoman Julia Walsh, a business development manager at Enterprise Ireland, has studied Russian for seven years:

"As a child, I did ballet dancing. Like all girls, I read a lot of books about the history of ballet and famous dancers, so I had a very romantic image of Russia. I used to associate your country with art. Then, when I started to study history in school, I realised how important Russia's role was in Europe's history. I was fascinated by the history of the USSR.

Foreigners study russian1

At university I majored in European Studies and I had to choose two languages from French, Spanish, German, Italian, Polish and Russian. I chose French and Russian since they were the most interesting for me.

At first, it was hard, almost impossible. It was difficult to write even one sentence. I didn't understand how the words interacted with each other. Verbs turned out to be the most complicated, especially verbs of motion and various other types. And all the words sounded the same! Now, seven years later, the language is still difficult for me but not impossibly difficult. I also believe that Russian sounds very soft, caressing. "

Jorge Pimentel, a Mexican man who has studied Russian for seven years:

"It all started when my father was sent to Moscow. There were options either to study at an American or a British school. I was 15 years old and I chose an American one, but I only survived it for a week. I wanted to study with Russians! My father suggested that I find a school by myself and his translator and I found a Lyceum on Klenovy Boulevard.

I enrolled in the tenth grade as the only foreigner. At first, everyone came to me to compare the colour of their skin. All my classmates were so white! They looked at me like I was an alien. But they were very friendly and immediately started to teach me swear words!

I was very fond of rock 'n' roll then; I had long hair down to my shoulders and wore only black. On the third or fourth day, I went for a walk with two Russian girls. We were speaking English and at a bus stop, a guy started to shout at me in Russian but I didn't understand anything. When we crossed the road, there were three guys staring and laughing at me. After just three hundred metres, the girls said that it was time for us to go home. That was a good start!

In Moscow, I was often mistaken for a Georgian or an Armenian and I had some bad experiences because of this. For example, on the Day of Airborne Forces, there were three of us and we went out of the metro at Kievskaya station and we were planning to go to the park. Three guys approached us and said "You are foreigners!" They then started to ask: "What are you doing here? Do you have a Russian girlfriend?" I said that I study Russian here because my dad was sent here and that my girlfriend is Mexican.

Foreigners study russian

My friend from Argentina was asked what he thought about skinheads. He replied that they were crazy, their grandfathers fought against fascists in the war, etc. And these guys were like, "And we are skinheads!" And boom – one of the guys took out a huge knife! I had three hundred euros and a ticket to Amsterdam in my bag. I froze, unable to move. Those guys started hitting my friend very hard. I shouted for the police and was fortunate that they didn't touch me, but my friend was badly beaten and his nose was broken. After that, I stopped taking the metro in the evening.

However, I have warm feelings towards Russia. This is a new part of the world, like America used to be. There are so many opportunities for development. I love Russians: my sister lives in Moscow and her boyfriend is local. But Russians are always spoiling for a fight; I wouldn't want to meet those thugs again."