First Year in Russia. How Foreign Students are Taught at Sevastopol State University

This year, 20 graduates of the preparatory courses passed exams and received certificates of knowledge of the Russian language. They are students from Colombia, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Senegal, South Africa, Nigeria, Congo and Venezuela.

Alina Rybakova, a specialist at the Office for International Education and Cooperation, spoke about the first year of study for foreign students in Russia.

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“In Russia, foreigners who do not speak Russian spend a year at the preparatory department: they study the language and some disciplines according to the future field of study that are also taught in Russian. These are mathematics, computer science, social science, history and physics. They are taught by subject teachers.

Mostly, foreign students do not know Russian at all, but there are also those who begin to learn it in their own country in special centers, but still there is not enough knowledge to enter the first year of the university, so they come to preparatory courses.

If a student does not speak Russian at all, employees at our department are involved in the work. They help the students to socialize, show where things are, how to fill in documents, and provide language support. All employees at the department speak a foreign language, most often English. There are also Chinese language specialists. We speak with students in a language they understand.

A youth student association ‘Multicultural Center “Interclub"’ was created at the department. Association activists help foreign students. They show them where to find shops, where and what you can buy, quite often the students from Africa have problems with warm clothes.

We try to introduce foreign students to extracurricular activities at the university, to involve them in various competitions, university and Interclub events. We are trying to reveal their talents. All the students have already been on stage. As soon as they join the new environment, their studies will be successful.

Our main goal is to smooth out any unpleasant feelings as much as possible from the fact that the students came to a new country. Here they do not know anyone and are very homesick. The turning point is the first two or three months, when everything seems alien to the students, they want to return home, where everything is clear and familiar, where there are no difficulties with the language”.

How do foreign students get to Sevastopol?

“By different methods. This is either by word of mouth, when they learn about the university from friends who studied here. And another common way is to obtain a quota from the Russian Ministry of Education. After receiving a quota, foreigners can not only study at the preparatory department, but also continue to receive higher education too. We also have agents and partners in different countries. And we also find those willing to come to us through them”.

How quickly do the students adapt, start speaking and understanding?

After the first week, they already know how to say hello, thanks and goodbye. And they can also explain what they need in a shop. A month later, they more or less understand what is happening, and what people around them are talking about. After about three months, they become more comfortable. They already understand 70% of colloquial speech and communicate with other students at an everyday level. The most pleasant moment comes after six months of training. The students become completely comfortable, they can already explain and understand everything.

In general, everything depends on the student. For example, Daniel came to Sevastopol from Venezuela at the end of December. After six months he passed the exam in the Russian language in the highest grade. He learned it just brilliantly, did an excellent job and, as a result of good academic performance he received a solid A”.

What is the specificity of teaching Russian as a foreign language?

“Russian as a foreign language is a separate universe. Just imagine: you need to teach a person Russian when they do not speak it at all. And the group includes students who sometimes do not speak a common foreign language. Not everyone knows English. The task of the teacher is to explain the basics of the Russian language in a very simple way, so that after that an understanding of everything else comes.

The most difficult thing for a teacher is the first two to three weeks. It is necessary to find a common language with the group, to understand who understands what, and to find out what is the easiest way for them to learn the alphabet, new words and phonetics.

To make learning go faster, we play games, read poetry and sing. The sooner a student becomes involved in the study of Russian culture, the faster they will begin to understand everything. There is a difference in mentality when what is happening in a foreign country is absolutely incomprehensible. The task of the teacher is not only to give knowledge of the Russian language, but also the basics of culture too”.

How many hours a day do Russian language lessons last?

It depends on the group. This year our groups are at different levels. We study every day, on average in the first semester it is three double lessons of Russian per day. Subject teachers appear in the second semester”.

What are your students talented in?

“They can sing and dance and read poetry beautifully. For example, when Khabib still didn’t speak Russian well he participated in a charity fair held at Sevastopol State University and danced on stage with other Interclub members. He coped well and learned the movements quickly. The students love to take pictures, go in for sports, participate in football tournaments, gather their own international team and play with teams from other educational institutions”.

What areas of study do your students plan to enter?

“The most popular field of study at the preparatory department is economics and management, plus maritime specialties and international relations”.