By Amy Wyatt, Third Year Russian and History.
This summer I was lucky enough to spend 3 weeks in Russia with 6 other Durham University Russian students, volunteering at an English-teaching summer camp in Volgorechensk.
During my time in Volgorechensk I stayed with a host family. Staying with a host family was undoubtedly one of the most valuable aspects of my time in Volgorechensk. Not only did they welcome me with open arms- adopting me as their “English daughter” and insisting that we take “family photos” at every, and I mean EVERY, opportunity- but being constantly surrounded by native speakers was invaluable in improving my Russian fluency. Although extremely mentally taxing (and challenging at times), I genuinely couldn’t have asked for better language practice- or better home-cooked Russian food!
My time in Volgorechensk provided me with an entirely unique insight into what life is like for the majority of Russians, as opposed to the minority of Russians who live in the bustling, cosmopolitan centres of Moscow and St Petersburg. Of course, these cities, with their gilded cathedrals and world-renowned museums, are breath-taking, but, in many ways, they are much like any other European city. Volgorechensk, however, was the ‘real Russia’- barely anyone spoke English, mushroom foraging was a more common occurrence than a film actually showing at the local cinema, and the town’s main attraction was its state-of-the-art Soviet-era power station (a visit to which was, of course, included in our extra-curricular programme).
The fun didn’t stop there. We somehow also managed to squeeze in a stay at a Soviet-style sanatorium; a televised meeting with the mayor of Volgorechensk and visits to the beautiful towns of Kostroma, Yaroslavl and Ivanova as well as the local fish farm.
Above all, however, I will remember my time in Volgorechensk for the time I spent teaching. Every day I planned a variety of lessons for a group of 11-12 year olds and their eagerness to learn English and throw themselves into their learning was truly heart-warming. It was truly a privilege to be able to teach them.
As a second year Russian and History student, required to spend the entirety of my third year in Russia, this experience provided me with invaluable language practice and an entirely unique level of cultural immersion. With just 3 weeks in Russia making such a lasting impression, I can’t wait to see what my year abroad holds.
Photographs by Amy Wyatt.