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Life of International Students in Sochi: Amazing Experience

Life of International Students in Sochi: Amazing Experience

Several years ago international students mostly came to Russia to enter universities of Moscow and St Petersburg. Nowadays regional universities become increasingly popular. One of the newest and the most prestigious ones is the Russian International Olympic University (RIOU) in Sochi, where specialists in sports management for Russian and international sports industry, Olympic and Paralympic movements are trained. How international students live and study in Sochi? Why have they chosen a Russian university, what challenges do they face and what do they think about our country? The Vladimir Potanin Foundation has taken an opinion poll of students studying under the Master of Sport Administration English-language program in academic year 2016/17. The cohort includes 18 students from 13 countries of Europe, Asia and Africa, winners of the Potanin Foundation scholarship program. For most of them this is the first trip to Russia, and they look forward to learning more about great traditions of the country, meeting its people and … seeing snow.

Coming to Sochi for Olympic Heritage

Almost all students, when asked why they have chosen Russia to get education, indicated academic reasons – Russian education is particularly valued for its high quality. Moreover, the RIOU is a unique university; its professional retraining programs are based on Olympic knowledge. Its faculty includes Russian and international scholars and practicing experts in the field of sports management. The major educational product of RIOU is a one-year program Master of Sport Administration, launched in September 2013. Its key modules were developed by a group of international and Russian experts in accordance with the concept approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). All students studying under the program describe their current educational experience as interesting and efficient, and they are ready to recommend the program to others. A big advantage is that the program is taught in English. Foreigners rate colloquial English of the faculty and students as “4” out of five.

The answer to the question: “How do you interact with Russian students, professors and personnel of the University?” of the majority of respondents was: “Easily. They are always ready to help”. Only one issue regarding educational process was voiced: “Some professors may be too busy to answer e-mails from students promptly”.

All the students gave the top mark for technological infrastructure of the University and living conditions in the campus. It cannot be denied: the campus occupies more than 90 thousand square meters in the very center of Sochi, at the waterfront, and consists of four high-tech high-raisers – educational and office building, apartments and hotels for faculty and students. The buildings were designed by famous Russian architects using the state-of-the-art technologies and advanced environmental standards.

International students assess monthly living expenses in Sochi at the rate of RUB15,000-18,000. Their key sources of income to cover the expenses are the Vladimir Potanin Foundation fellowship, personal savings and family support.

Apart from academic reasons prompting to choose Russia as a country to come for studying, foreign students noted such reasons as culture, cost of living and a possibility to get new experience.

Daily Routine of a Foreigner: Language Barrier, Food, Security

The first challenge for everybody coming from abroad is unusual linguistic environment. Russia is still on the way to creating an international atmosphere. The majority of signs are in Russian, few people, mostly youth in the cities, can speak English. Not everybody is ready to help a foreigner. Routine shopping trip may, for the first few days after coming to Russia, be a challenge for a foreign student. Some of the RIOU students noted such national peculiarities of Russians as reluctance to smile, unfriendliness to foreigners in public places.

If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain: almost all respondents would like to study Russian language – this would make time spent in Russia more interesting and eventful, they could be deeper involved in cultural and social life. Almost everybody expressed desire to have a course of Russian. The University had experience of organizing and conducting Russian language courses for foreign students, but they were not popular enough because of a tight curriculum. The students simply did not have time to attend it. Therefore foreign students rely on Russian friends for assistance with the language.

While interacting with Russian authorities (for example, to get registration) very few indicated that they had difficulties, the majority did not have any problems. All respondents note that they got assistance from the University in solving any issues that arise.

Funny stories also happen sometimes. For instance, a student from Africa wrote that in Sochi he learned for the first time that many people have never met black people, and this is why everybody wanted to take a picture with him. “I was shocked at first, but then I got accustomed to it. My Russian fellow students explained me the reason and I started to take it easy.”

Foreign students were also asked to assess quality of Russian food – both in canteens, cafeteria and supermarkets. Alas, our Russian borsch and porridge leave much to be desired. Almost everybody misses home cooking of their native countries. Some students noted that they miss fresh farmers’ products.

On the plus side, the answer to the question: “Do you feel safe in Sochi?” was one hundred percent “Yes” by all respondents.

Foreigners and Russia: Cross-fertilization

Almost all students of RIOU assess their experience of living and studying in Russia as amazing: “This is more than I expected!”, “I’m having wonderful, magic time here”. All respondents would like to visit other Russian regions – especially Moscow, St Petersburg, Crimea, Siberia and Urals, to go from Moscow to Vladivostok by train, and to visit Far North to see permanent snow cover and bears. Russia attracts foreigners by its history, cultural traditions, snow, people, classical music, Russian literature, arts, language and cuisine.

Answers to the questions: “In what kind of activities that have not been suggested yet, would you like to be engaged?” were as follows:

  • More events for international students;
  • Russian language courses;
  • Travel to other Russian regions;
  • More opportunities for practice, onsite trainings; and
  • Sport events at the University, especially winter sports.

International students willingly participate in socially important events, including charity actions. For instance, on December 10, 2016 this group of responding RIOU students, jointly with the “Luchi Dobra” (“Rays of Good”) Charity Foundation, initiated a charity event “Play for Life” in the Olympic Park in Sochi. The students came to the Ice Cube Arena to play curling and raise money for an artificial limb for a four-year girl from Sochi. She was born without the right arm and a part of the forearm, and her parents cannot possibly afford buying her a functional artificial limb. This charity sport event was a part of the “Giving Tuesday” action, the amount was partially raised and the child received assistance.

“This was an exciting day, my first time on ice, I fell down all the time, laughed, but was learning to play curling and interact with the team – says Adewuyi Ololade John, sport journalist from Nigeria. – We have also seen the Olympic heritage in Sochi, it’s a cosmopolitan city, a very interesting place with many positive people. We decided to join the “Giving Tuesday” charity event because we have something to share. We would like to raise money for an artificial limb for the little girl, to make her feel better. For me it’s an opportunity to give, to contribute to the community where I live at the moment.”

“This was a wonderful idea to unite and participate in a charity event, to help a child by taking part in a play and integrating into local community, – says Pereira Carvalhosa Ivo, a student from Portugal. – In my University in Portugal we had many charity event of similar kind. I tried to use my knowledge and experience and had very positive feelings. On the one hand we are pleased to be interacting with each other. On the other hand we are glad to help others. It’s great to be a part of such charity event in Russia.”

The poll has shown that international students get a unique experience while studying in Sochi. The curriculum and living conditions meet the highest international standards. At the same time the students want not only get valuable knowledge for their professional growth, but give something to the community where they live at the moment, make it better. With adequate communication and some efforts of the University and its administrative team, this process may be inspiring and cross-fertilizing.

The poll conducted by Julia Sukhenko

Text and photo by Natalia Dorosheva