Perm Term: Durham University Students Share Their Impressions
In 2019, HSE University launched a semester-long programme in cooperation with the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Durham (UK). Known as the ‘Perm Term’, it brought students from Durham to HSE’s Perm campus to study Russian and history for a period of four months.
As the spring semester came to an end, three students who took part in the programme – Phoebe Landers, Athena Tzallas, and Eleanor Hunt – agreed to share their impressions. They talked about everything from how well their initial expectations aligned with reality to the highlights of their time in Perm to their plans for the future.
© HSE University
I like living abroad. A big benefit is not only the excitement of the new place but what a new place can offer you in terms of culture. It’s not just a new place and new people, but a completely different culture. The university system is so different from the one in England in a lot of positive ways, but it also feels more like school for me. Because there’s a lot more structure, there’s a lot more discipline. At English universities you are encouraged to be independent and to live your own life, and you are forced to be an adult.
Everyone speaks only Russian, so you don’t have a choice – you need to react quickly otherwise you can get frustrated. We were travelling around, and we needed to organize things and buy train tickets and bus tickets, so it made for a lot of useful vocabulary. You will never remember it sitting in a classroom unless you use it every day. At the end of the day, we can have those basic conversations on a bus, in a coffee shop, at the gym or canteen, etc.
This experience has definitely made us more confident. Now I feel free within any conversation because I have a lot to say.
For the exchange students from Tajikistan who came to Perm during the same semester, Russian is their second language, so they were not that critical of us. Perhaps that’s why we made friends – we knew that they were trying their best to speak fluent Russian too. It’s more challenging when you talk to Russian students and you feel uncomfortable making mistakes.
For some people it can be too much, and I know people who wouldn’t be able to spend a semester in Perm. But if you are doing a language degree and you choose Russian – Perm is a perfect place! St. Petersburg and Moscow can’t offer that.
© HSE University
We had a choice. We could have chosen St. Petersburg or Tomsk, which have a long-running collaboration with Durham. Perm is a new collaboration, and the Perm Term is a new programme.
Personally, I chose it because I liked the number of contact hours, and I was sure that I could make more progress. The intensity has been good. I also chose because of opera and the ballet theatre. I heard from a Greek family friend that Theodor Curentzis directs here (I have Greek origins as well), so I wanted to come see him. But he hasn’t been here the whole time we’re here, so I haven’t had a chance to chat with him…When there’s a good show at the theatre, there’s almost electricity in the air; we hadn’t witnessed that before. It was profound, the voice, the whole audience completely matched, beautiful! It was nice to see the international collaboration. There are subtitles if the opera is foreign, so theatre breaks all the boundaries…
Here in Russia, when someone wants to get to know you, hospitality is the key. We felt really welcome here.
No matter how much time you spend somewhere you get used to the place, to the people and everything so it is a very emotional moment to leave. We started to feel very comfortable in Perm and definitely it’s sad to leave. But it all was worth it! Thank you so much to everyone who helped us. You have made a huge contribution to our development!
© HSE University
I’ve never seen so much snow in my life! On the way from the airport we saw that huge golden cathedral, and I thought, ‘Wow, we’re in Russia!’ I remember our first walk in the city centre. We rubbed the Perm bear’s nose for good luck. But honestly there was so much snow, I was really excited and only could think of that. And it was freezing! We were talking and realizing it was -9 degrees – it got us shaking. We saw the ice sculptures, and it was amazing. Cold but beautiful.
I chose Perm because of music! I sing in a choir, which is very important for me. We’ve seen quite a few operas, which were amazing. We also had a chance to see Russian opera done by real Russians just the way it is supposed to be done. Eugene Onegin was really good, it was something that we couldn’t ever experience in England with the proper Russian voice which is completely different from English voices. I think for me ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ will be my highlight of Perm.
I want to bring my choir to Russia and Kazakhstan. And I could practice my Russian again. It’s a win-win.
I just want to show people how different life can be. Mostly people go to Europe or America, but I don’t want them to miss such an incredible opportunity.
I think a lot of my expectations were completely accurate, but only before spring. After returning from our small trip we expected to see Perm snowy and cold and grey like before. But we saw greenery and that the sun does sometimes shine. We’ve been able to travel. We were in Gubakha twice, in Moscow, in Kazan, in Almaty, Omsk, Nizhniy Novgorod, and Yekaterinburg.
Since there’s no communal area in the Perm dorm, it was a bit difficult to make friends with people who live in the same building. We got along very well with the boys who share the corridor as we cook at the same kitchen. We are good friends with Nastya and Alina, our buddies - they were absolutely a godsend; they have been amazing, really lovely and so helpful. They have made integration with the Russian students a lot easier. The buddy system is brilliant.
I remember our first experience at the airport, I was struggling ordering a coffee or a sandwich, it was torture. But now it's so easy! Such progress. I’m very surprised by my capacity to improve in such a short time. I see how significantly my Russian has improved and I almost can’t believe this is real.