Studying Culture in Russia

This morning was the day of the lecture I was invited to at Alisa’s university. We arrived just in time as the teacher was taking roll. After introducing myself to the teacher and students, the class began.

First we discussed some general communication differences between Russians and Americans. Some topics covered were attitudes toward conflict and goals of fighting (winning an argument and getting your point across vs. solving a problem) as well as future orientation (Americans tend to plan for the end from the beginning, Russians tend to be more spontaneous), money and saving (Americans are for it, Russians against it; spending your whole salary and living paycheck-to-paycheck isn’t a negative thing), and attitudes toward authority and rules (Americans tend to respect them, Russians don’t like such restrictions and try to bend or even break them).

Then we moved onto the topic of gender and communication. They’re reading Deborah Tannen’s book “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.” They took several excerpts from the book and discussed possible cultural differences. Some of the popular situations discussed were men not asking for directions and a woman being offended that her husband didn’t consult her about a decision. We discussed why the people in these situations behaved in this way and where such behaviors stemmed from (cultural values). Then I was asked if I thought they were accurate and to explain some of the reasoning behind them. Several Russian students then came to the front of the class and acted out scenarios of how they would respond to the situations.

On another note, I was very impressed at how well they spoke English. I know many people in Russia start learning English from a very young age and continue even through university but I was nonetheless impressed that the class was almost entirely in English. While I was studying Russian at university, we rarely conducted entire classes in Russian, read original Russian texts and discussed them in Russian. I know it’s a different situation but it was just so impressive and such a drastic comparison between universities and the abilities of students.

Some of the students seemed a big shy with their English and kept glancing at me and worrying about mistakes. Also the teacher kept apologizing for typos in her presentation and kept correcting the students’ English, seemingly for my benefit. I don’t know if they felt intimidated but I tried to be as non-threatening as possible with my speech and body language. I wish I could have told them that I wasn’t sitting there judging them and counting their mistakes and that I was very impressed with them and they should be proud of themselves for all their hard work.

Switching to a completely unrelated topic I’m happy to add that the internet has finally been sorted!

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