The Perfect City for a True Russian Experience
Alex Christiansen, a student from Utah Valley University (UVU), came to HSE - Nizhny Novgorod this winter to study Russian. International Students’ Club leader, Sara Olmi, interviewed Alex to find out about how he ended up at HSE, as well as his impressions of the city and the university.
Alex grew up on a farm in Northern Wyoming and is the youngest of six children. When he was 9 years old, his family moved to Mexico so that he and his siblings could learn Spanish and experience a different culture. After living in Mexico for 3 years, his family moved back to Wyoming, and shortly thereafter moved to Provo Utah, where he has been living with his family for the past 8 years. Alex graduated from Timpview High School in 2015, and is now studying at Utah Valley University (UVU).
‘For me, Nizhny Novgorod was the perfect city for what I wanted to get out of my Russian experience’, says Alex. ‘Because I was only here for 3 months, I wanted to make sure that I was getting the most out of my Russian experience, without spending all the money I had saved. I chose Nizhny because living expenses were considerably less than in Moscow or St Petersburg, fewer people spoke English than in the big cities, and it was central enough to be able to travel around the country and see the things I wanted to see. Nizhny Novgorod is the perfect place to study Russian; it’s historical, it’s central, and the people are some of the best in the world.’
His decision to study Russian goes back to his youth. Since he was very young, Alex has been encouraged by his parents to better understand people, languages, and cultures. He strongly believes that the vast majority of people in the world are good, and that there is far more that unites human beings than divides. He also believes the old adage that there are always two sides to every story. Alex is all too aware of the history of misunderstanding and distrust between Russia and the United States- a dynamic that he knew wasn’t going to change anytime soon. Thus, for Alex, studying Russian was a way to better understand both sides of this relationship, as well as to open doors to a massive area of the world that was previously inaccessible.
Nizhny Novgorod is the perfect place to study Russian; it’s historical, it’s central, and the people are some of the best in the world
Overall, Alex is very impressed with Nizhny Novgorod. ‘What’s not to like?’ he asks. ‘It is the ideal city for studying Russian.’ In addition to exploring Nizhny Novgorod, Alex was able to travel to other cities in Russia, including Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kazan. While he enjoyed them all, he feels most at home in Nizhny Novgorod. ‘Its history is fascinating, its people are friendly and helpful, and there is always something to do. I can confidently say, with a whole lot of bias, that Nizhny Novgorod is easily the best city in Russia!’
Alex’s experience at HSE as a student has been a very positive one. ‘I study the Russian language with other students from around the world’, explains Alex. ‘It has been an engaging experience and I have learned the most from spending time with my Russian peers at university. The students and faculty at HSE are so warm and welcoming, and in addition to the regular lessons there are plenty of activities and clubs to keep you busy learning the language.’ Alex was looking for an opportunity to help students at HSE who were studying English, and he soon began teaching a weekly English course with two other Americans. He is convinced that, as a student of Russian, he will only get out of his studies what he puts in. ‘If you want to get involved, there are language clubs, student-led activities, and a plethora of opportunities to speak, interact, and connect with students around you, all in Russian,’ says Alex.
When asked whether or not he had any preconceived ideas about Russian people and the Russian culture before coming here, Alex answered, ‘Aside from the stereotypes from the movies, all my perceptions of Russia stemmed from the history I had studied, the news I read, and the few Russians I had met in my language courses. I had a generally positive outlook on the country, but I also knew that modern Russia faced some serious problems as well. After coming to the country myself, I would definitely say that my perceptions have changed. The people are friendlier than I would have ever imagined and the culture and traditions are unique and elegant. Everyday life in Russia is very similar to in other places in the world. And,’ he adds with conviction, ‘the people are just as good.’