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National Research University Higher School of EconomicsNewsSummer University Students Learn Russian

Summer University Students Learn Russian

This summer, over 100 international students attended the Summer University at HSE. Of all the courses offered by the programme, Russian as a foreign language is especially popular, with more than 50 students enrolling. Maria Shilankova, RFL teacher, and Oksana Chernenko, Director of the Summer University, spoke with HSE News Service about the educational process and the students’ achievements.

Features of the Russian course

‘An advantage of our Russian as a Foreign Language (RFL) Summer University programme is that we combine academic courses with classes of Russian,’ said Oksana Chernenko, Head of the HSEDepartment for Educational Innovations and Short International Programs. ‘The academic courses include economics and politics, international relations, cultural studies, history, and computer science. Learning Russian helps students understand the country where they study, and the interest in Russian is so huge that it has transformed from a supplementary course to a key one.’

Shilankova noted that the courses are attractive due to opportunity students have to communicate intensively in Russian and to immerse themselves in the university’s atmosphere. Many of the programme participants are students of Russian language and culture in their home countries. Apart from Russian language courses students are also offered excursions, meetings with leading experts in different fields, and a variety of cultural events. Many are also attracted by the opportunity to spend part of the programme at HSE campuses in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.

Teaching methods

It is essential for students to understand what their Russian instructor is saying. During the first days in particular, students pay close attention to their lecturers, and evaluation by a native Russian-speaking teacher is very important for them. That’s why it’s very important to maintain an atmosphere of trust and confidence in the group.

Learning Russian helps students understand the country where they study, and the interest in Russian is so huge that it has transformed from a supplementary course to a key one

By the end of the course, people who hardly know each other at first usually become a team – they not only help each other at classes in Moscow, but continue to keep in touch after finishing their studies. Reading interesting texts, talking about yourself and your country, giving presentations and conducting real research in Russian – that’s just a short list of the classroom activities offered by the programme. Regarding the texts offered to students, the strongest of them read Kuprin and Bunin, as well as academic and popular science papers. The programme pays considerable attention to studying Russia’s regions. Students also study classical and contemporary Russian films, such as 'The Blizzard', 'Brother', 'The Stroll', and 'East/West'.

Student profile

Students taking part in the course come from a variety of different backgrounds. Some study Russian for professional reasons, while others study it for fun. That’s why the course aims not only to promote knowledge, but also interest in Russia, its people and culture. ‘All of the groups are international this year. The students represent a number of countries and professions. For example, my group included two doctors, an aviation engineer, an anthropologist, and a manager’, says Shilankova.

The students are very interesting, well-educated and have a huge interest in Russia. The lecturers are thrilled with them

In addition, while students differ in age, they are united by an interest in language learning (many of them speak two or three foreign languages) and a willingness to learn as much about Russia as possible. They are especially interested in learning more about Russia’s regions, its state structure, traditions and holidays. The students include people with deep knowledge about a variety of regions, including Karelia, Komi, Tatarstan, and Yakutia. They are serious specialists who study Russian language and culture for their work or studies. ‘The students are very interesting, well-educated and have a huge interest in Russia. The lecturers are thrilled with them,’ comments Maria Shilankova.


The Summer University is an academic programme, which means that students receive grades and rankings. The load is considerable given the high requirements students face. They are prepared for that, however, and are quite responsible when it comes to homework, essay writing, and making presentations. Maria Shilankova adds: ‘I can definitely say that during their studies, students start speaking and understanding Russian much better. They can say that they know the Moscow metro and the city quite well. Most of them highly value the certificates they receive after graduating from the course.’ 


Chin Yan, Seoul National University, Korea

I’m very interested in Russia, I have always wanted to learn Russian and discover the Russian mentality. This is my first time in Russia, and I think that Moscow is a humanistic city whereas most people have stereotypes about Russia being very dangerous. People are very friendly, and I am having a good time here. The most interesting part of the Summer University programme for me was the Russian language course. The students and the teacher have become very close through various activities and communicating. It was really impressive for me, because you can’t find such things in Korea. Now I feel that my oral language skills have increased, and I can speak more frequently. 


Junhyun Lee, Seoul National University, Korea

I didn’t expect that Moscow would be so beautiful; it has so many places to visit! Before coming I had  a stereotype that Russian people would be cold and unfriendly to Asians. But I have met so many kind and nice Russians, so it was really great experience here. I chose this programme because I’ve developed an interest in Russian literature, plays and films, and I loved this place so much that I’m thinking of spending a semester here. The most interesting part for me was taking the Russian course, because the teachers were so great. We had no problem communicating with them and they were real professionals; the teaching system at the university was very impressive. Also, thanks to our student bodies, I visited Sergiev Posad and other places, which I liked very much.


Rinke Hindricksen, Erasmus University

I’ve been interested in Russia for about a year now. My girlfriend is Russian and I need it for communication. The language also helps me to know Russian culture better. I first studied Russian language by myself, but I had a feeling that I needed some really good classes, so I decided to go to Moscow.  This is my first time here, and I think that Russia is really different from other countries. It is very big! The streets, the flats, supermarkets. And I like it. I feel that this course has been really helpful for me.


Michael Beckers, University of Cologne

This programme is a good opportunity to improve my language skills and to learn more about Russian society. I chose the course about Russian history. I’m also very interested in Russian literature (Dostoyevsky), which is why I decided to learn Russian.  Russian is very different from other languages, so it is very interesting for me. The course itself is really well-organized. We read a variety of texts, learn grammar, and I can feel the progress. Even after the lessons I still hear Russian everywhere and have to use it.

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