||Moscow is the New York of Russia, a city that never sleeps, where everything is possible,” enthuses Julia Patasheva from Liden and Denz Language Centres, which has schools based in St Petersburg and Moscow. “[The city] is Russia’s economic and political centre and, with around 11 million inhabitants, it is mainland Europe’s biggest city.”
Many of the language schools located in Moscow are keen to extol the virtues of this fascinating and often not-very-well-known city, as well as dispel a few myths. Simon Brooks from BKC-International House says that “cold winters, Russian mafia, poverty and shortages of items and food”, are often stereotypical images that come to the minds of those visiting Moscow for the first time. “It seems defined by rumour and out-of-date reports rather than the reality of the city in 2006,” says Brooks. “In fact, living in Moscow could easily be compared to living in London or any similar big city.” He adds, “It is cold in winter though!”
Russia’s capital city has witnessed many changes since its birth nearly 900 years ago and there must be few language destinations worldwide that can rival the diversity of historical record that can be seen while walking through the streets of Moscow. Recent development in the city has been fast and furious, according to Patasheva, but this does not detract from its charms. “Cosy cafés, narrow alleys, hidden artist’s studios and idyllic parks are as much a part of the city’s fabric as the huge Stalinist wedding cake buildings, expensive fashion stores and McDonalds,” she says.
Students studying in the city will find an array of tourist attractions on their doorstep. Some, such as Red Square (1), Lenin’s Mausoleum (2), St Basil’s Cathedral (3) and the Kremlin (4), have an iconic status and are a must-see for visitors, and offer a fascinating insight into the city’s history. Red Square is now inextricably linked with its political associations under both the communist and Tsarist rule, but, according to Patasheva, the square was originally a trading place with long rows of stalls and its original name, torg, means trade. “Only in the 17th century did the name Krasnaja Ploschad arise,” says Patasheva. “Krasnaja meant both red and beautiful. In the 20th century, this beautiful square finally became Red Square.”
Sally Morgan from Language Link says that the area around the Kremlin is the most frequently visited by students, although this is by no means all the city has to offer. “Other popular attractions are the Ismailovsky Park market perhaps the largest antique, cheap DVD, folk art, flea market in western Russia the Tretyakov and Pushkin Art Galleries for the more cultured students and the Arbat, one of Moscow’s oldest streets and now a popular tourist spot with souvenirs and pictures on sale,” she says. “Even the Moscow metro is not only a highly efficient and cheap means of transport, but also like an architectural museum in itself.”
Most schools in Russia offer trips to see the city’s popular tourist attractions, as well as excursions to sites a bit further afield, as part of their programme of activities for students. Morgan says that recent trips outside of Moscow have included visits to Sergiev Posad, “one of the most beautiful monasteries on the Golden Ring [a ring of historic towns and cities starting from Moscow]”; Alexandrov, the former residence of Ivan the Terrible; and Star City, “the previously secret Cosmonaut Training Centre nestled in the woods northeast of Moscow”.
As well as many tourist and cultural attractions, Moscow is gaining an increasing number of restaurants and nightclubs to cater for its growing population of young and wealthy local inhabitants, as well as tourists. “The club scene has developed rapidly in the last few years, establishing Moscow as one of Europe’s party capitals,” says Patasheva. “Moscow can stand proud with other metropolises in terms of bars, pubs and chic restaurants too. Going out in Moscow is fun if at times expensive.”
While Moscow’s reputation as a cheap destination for visitors may be currently on the wane Anastasia Pavlovic from Inlingua Moscow says that students are often surprised to discover that Moscow is the third most expensive city in the world bargains can still be found in some entertainment areas. “A ticket to see the Bolshoi Company (5) can be bought for as little as US$9.5 and there are many other theatres and performances throughout the year all over the city,” says Brooks.
Students can also find a wealth of restaurants that cater for all budgets and international tastes. And often a dining experience in Russia offers more than just food. “A boat restaurant called Mama Zoya on the Moscow River near Park Kultury metro station [is very well liked],” says Morgan, “where students can try a wide variety of authentic Georgian food and savour the atmosphere watching live singing and dancing.”
Introducing students to typically Russian cultural experiences is a priority for most language schools. Students studying at Grint Centre of Education have the benefits of being located on the campus of Moscow University for Humanities, which provides a true cultural immersion experience with Russian students, according to Alexander Rouchkin at the school. “As all students, they like socialising, getting together, clubbing, having parties, going downtown for some evening performances [of the ballet, opera, music, circus or sport],” he says.
Few visitors return home from Russia without experiencing a pastime that is an essential part of life for Russians, the banya. Revered in Russia for its health benefits, the banya is similar to a sauna and an important part of the process is to be ‘whisked’ with birch or oak branches in order to direct the heat to all parts of the body. Patasheva says that host families will often ensure that their charges experience this favourite Russian custom.
Other aspects of Russia may be harder for students to get used to however, at least initially. Morgan explains that while Moscow has become increasingly westernised in recent years, often students have to be educated in how to “survive the Russianness of Russia”. She says, “Whereas in the USA, everything should be done 10 minutes ago and in the UK it should be done right now, in Russia it probably won’t get done until the end of the working day or week [so] waiting is an accepted part of life here.”
Learning a language in a different country is, however, about more than just acquiring language skills and experiencing a different culture is a valuable life experience. Moscow’s importance on the world business stage is an important attraction for the clients of Inlingua Moscow, says Pavlovic. And for those with less formal motivations for learning Russian, visiting Moscow to study the language of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov can be a truly illuminating experience, according to Patasheva. “The Russian language helps to uncover the mysteries of the Russian soul,” she states.
"Moscow was popular [as a study destination] 15 years ago. Now it is very slow. At present, students go to study Medical Engineering and language due to the low prices and scholarships. Students enjoy the very different lifestyle from their home country and [visiting] Europe. Some students work during the evening and during the day go sightseeing in the country.”
Raj Bhandari, Hariyali Travel & Tours, Nepal
“Moscow is starting to be popular as a study destination. It is still less popular than St Petersburg which is the one people know as a tourist destination. Those who already know Russia tend to ask for Moscow. They choose Moscow because it is the capital city, at the cross roads of the mosaic which is Russia and it is a city that never sleeps. Students enjoy the idea of being part of a crazy atmosphere where everything is extreme and where you can find anything any time. They like to visit classic [attractions] that represent last century’s Russia such as Red Square etc.”
Krister Weidenhielm, ESL Sejours Linguistiques, Switzerland
“Moscow is preferred to other cities in Russia as it is the capital of Russia and is quite a big city with many places and cultural sights to visit. One learns so much about the history of the country, including that during the soviet period. The way of life is really busy there. Students spend their spare time visiting Lenin’s Mausoleum, Red Square, Reirigh’s museum, Arbat and feel at home visiting the European restaurants and night clubs.”
Marta Nazgaidze, Marta & Company, Georgia