Katie Kassam Shares Her Impressions of Perm Term
Katie Kassam (Durham University, UK) spent the past spring semester studying Russian language and history at HSE University, Perm as part of the programme ‘Perm Term’. This programme was first organized by HSE in 2019 in cooperation with the School of Modern Languages and Cultures of Durham University. A year ago four students from the UK shared their experience. This year Katie arrived alone in February, but had to return home in March due to pandemic and continue her studies remotely.
What was your first impression of Russia when you arrived?
My first impression was definitely of the snow, which was very thick when I arrived at the airport in Perm. I had never seen snow so deep, and it was very cold, so it really made an impression on me.
What is your major at the Durham university? What do you study there?
I study History and Russian Language. As part of my Russian studies I also study Russian history and culture as well as language.
Why did you choose this major?
I studied both history and Russian in school. I really enjoyed them and I knew there was a lot more to learn.
What did you know about Russia before you visited? Did the reality correspond with your expectations?
Because I have been studying Russian for a long time and because of my cultural modules at university, I did know quite a bit about Russia. However, I think learning about a country’s history or other aspects such as education or traditions is quite different to actually living there for a period of time. I found that there were some differences, mostly small things about the types of snacks in the supermarket being different, or the way that shops are often in the same building. I didn’t have expectations for these things, I had just not thought about them. I was also surprised by how different the experience of university was, from what I could tell. In particular, people seemed to be closer with their professors, using social media to talk to them or contacting students on the weekend for example. In the UK it is quite rare for professors to communicate in this way, especially with undergraduates.
One thing I definitely underestimated was the winter weather. I had to get used to walking on the icy ground very quickly! I was also surprised at how quickly it became warm again.
How is the Russian mentality different from yours?
I think some people have a stereotype of Russian people as being quite cold or unwelcoming, but I don’t think this is true. I think there are more similarities than differences and I found people to be kind and helpful. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay very long so I’m not sure that I can comment too much on this.
Were you happy with the conditions that HSE University offered you—the dorm, transport, etc.?
Yes, I was very happy with my room at the dormitory and the other facilities. I did not have access to a fridge for a short time, but this was fixed. I also found it very convenient to use the bus system, as it’s very close to the dormitory.
What are some of the highlights of your stay in Perm that you will remember?
I think a highlight would be the field trip to Khokhlovka that I went on as part of the Historical Geography course. I really enjoyed learning more about how people lived in the past and seeing the buildings on site, as well as the traditional games. I also enjoyed going to the Perm Art Gallery. Another highlight was meeting new people in Perm.
What courses did you enjoy?
I really enjoyed my Russian classes and a course on translation, which was my favourite. They were both extremely helpful and the teachers were excellent. I also enjoyed the Public History course, which was very interesting and informative.
Was it difficult for you to study?
I did struggle a bit with some of the work, such as following lectures and doing group work, as I found it difficult to understand some of the new subject-specific vocabulary. I also felt quite self-conscious about speaking up in classes as I didn’t want to make some language mistakes.
I do think I got more used to these things, and being in the classes helped me to develop better comprehension and reading skills, especially of academic writing. Due to the pandemic, there were some issues with the time difference during online learning.
Did you gain any insights after the programme?
Looking back on my time studying in Perm, I am very glad to have had some time there, even though it was cut short by the pandemic. It is so valuable to be studying in the country whose language you are learning and I think it taught me a lot, not only from an academic point of view, but also about day-to-day life.
Did you learn anything new about yourself?
I learned that I should recognize the progress I have made in Russian and be more confident in my skills. I had to get over being shy about speaking in Russian and I think that helped me improve my confidence in the language. My writing skills in Russian were also challenged by some of the modules and this allowed me to grow.
Would you recommend the Perm Term to other Durham students?
Yes. I think Perm is a great option for improving your Russian, as the staff and students are very supportive and the teaching is very good. I think coming to Perm will help you to appreciate new aspects of Russia and also to better understand the country in an immersive environment.
Anything you want to share after your experience or any words to HSE University or staff?
I want to thank all of the staff who helped me and taught me while I was in Perm and since I have been back in the UK doing online learning. Thank you for your support and all of the time and effort you put in to help me specifically, especially since online learning has started, as I know this has added some extra challenges.