#studentlife : Hard Times and Strong Tea
Life for a university student anywhere in the world is, and should be, hard. Of course students have diverse experiences: some work during their studies, whilst others don’t; some commute from far-flung family homes, whilst others live in nearby rented accommodation, often financially crippling themselves in the process. But one thing that should unite all students is that you have to work hard – after all, the world is a competitive place.
Alas, even this aspect of higher education is not experienced by all. I had my fair share of classmates that didn’t take their studies seriously and, for the most part, treated the result at the end (good grades and a career) as a given. And I think it’s fair to say the same thing is prevalent in Moscow universities. My flatmate Karina works harder than anyone I have ever met before. She studies for 5-6 hours a day and then spends 4 or 5 hours every evening working as a private English tutor for local school kids and professionals. She then studies at home into the early hours, writing reports, researching for her dissertation and doing language revision. She is super duper intelligent and is going to go places, mark my words.
Unfortunately, she also has to sit in classes amongst students that use Google Translate and Copy and Paste as their main study tools, and teachers that don’t punish them for it. Karina’s own English work, written flawlessly by herself but nonetheless checked by me, a native English speaker, was marked down: errors that do not exist are “corrected” by the teacher (and therefore errors are actually added) and words that show just how advanced her English is are marked as “wrong”. Time to complain? “Oh no!” Karina warned me. “My exams are not moderated, my teachers decide my marks. If I complain, that’s it. I won’t get the grades I need.” Or deserve for that matter.
Coming from a university system that, although riddled with issues and inefficiencies, allows me to make my voice heard, allows me to complain and demand better, I feel utterly dumbfounded to hear Karina’s stories of her daily grind, and helpless besides. My British this-will-not-do attitude wants to march up to her teachers and tell them what’s what or, at the very least, write a very strongly worded letter. Alas, it is not my battle to fight and in Moscow, even (or maybe especially so) at one of the country’s leading higher education establishments, it is wiser to keep schtum.
I always debated doing a Masters in Russia but now I’m not so sure I could hack it: I am too opinionated and would likely get myself into a lot of trouble very quickly. It appears that I have been “spoilt” with relatively fair admission and assessment (evidently your parents’ connections still has a lot of influence over university places and grades in Russia), reliable pastoral support and systems for demanding change and being heard: things I always believed should be rights, not privileges for university students. Even Karina is constructing her own education exit plan. She has heard about this world where essays are subjected to anti-plagiarism tests, so that students who are a bit too familiar with CTRL+C and CTRL+V are not credited for their laziness, where her proposal for a thesis about environmental politics would not cause the head of the department to claim that “it is not a political issue and is irrelevant to foreign affairs”, and where teachers answer questions with pleasure and not suspicion, and she plans to find this world for her Masters.
Of course corruption and inadequacy is found in every education system, and by no means is every Russian professor and department guilty of it. But living with a student in Moscow, as well as making me feel massively lazy and incredibly privileged, has also led to more candid discussions about what really goes on… Something it’s been good for though is my Russian, as kitchen table discussions stretch on for hours, and our friendship, as Karina finally has someone who finds it all as frustrating as she does sitting just on the other side of her cup of tea.
Ellie, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Moscow