The following blog post is from Abigail Greene, a Fulbright-Hays fellow from the Fall 2017 Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies cohort. For more information about the Fulbright-Hays fellowship, please visit our website.
In my Russian classes we often talked about the differences between American and Russian classrooms and views on education. Adjusting to the teaching style in Moscow, however, was nonetheless one of the most difficult adjustments I had to make in order to have a successful study abroad experience in Russia.
For our classes in Moscow, we had no textbook. Usually teachers would provide articles and instructional materials on a weekly basis. But for some classes we didn’t have any reference materials. The responsibility was on the students to listen to the lecture and determine what vocabulary and grammar was important.
We rarely had formal tests and essays, and even when we did, they didn’t necessarily factor cumulatively into our grades. Instead our grades were almost entirely at the discretion of our teachers, who marked us based on an overall impression of how well we understood the material. Not having tests or regular assignments could make it difficult to know how to pace our studying. Unlike in the US, there weren’t typically “units” or “chapters” that focused on a cohesive theme or built on one another. Instead of studying a unit of vocabulary for a test or learning material for an assignment, the only effective way to learn was to review the material presented in class each night and to study every day or every few days.
Studying in Russia also meant learning to communicate with professors in a completely different way. For example, for the first half of the program my phonetics teacher was extremely critical of me, and I didn’t understand why. She would often say that I should have already learned this material and there was no reason for me to still be making these mistakes. I was confused and offended until finally she said that my phonetics should be better after studying Russian for four years. When I explained that I’d only had a year and a half of Russian, she instantly became much more understanding. She explained my mistakes instead of criticizing me. As an American, I’d assumed her criticisms meant that she didn’t like me. In Russia, however, there’s much more of an onus on the students to communicate their needs to the professors and explain why they’re dissatisfied.
But most importantly, remember that beyond the material you cover in your classes, the process of studying in a Russian classroom is a valuable learning experience in and of itself. There may be parts of the Russian school system that you don’t like, don’t agree with, or don’t find beneficial. And you may be justified in these opinions; any system has its flaws. But when you’re on site, sometimes it’s important to look past these value judgments to learn about Russian culture. After returning home you may start to reflect on what parts of the trips you liked, disliked, found memorable, but while on site it’s more important to absorb as much information as possible to form the best understanding of your host culture.
By: Abigail Greene
Term: Fall 2017