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14/05/13

How the Russians came to Hogwarts

Dina Nagapetiants, 16, from Moscow, writes about her experiences as a boarder at St Edward's School, Oxford

It would be nice to say that Russian parents send their children to England because they think the education is of a higher quality, but in reality (from the experience of my friends and their parents) it is just considered a very trendy and fashionable thing to do. Nothing brings out the smugness in a middle-class Russian parent's voice more than saying: "Oh, my son/daughter/children go to school in England."

The school can only ever be in England or Switzerland, with England being slightly more popular, as Russians are obsessed with the country. But it's the England they see in the films and travel guides. The custom is to drop off the kid for the term and then jet off back to Moscow. If any chance of British citizenship is in prospect, so much the better – the true objective of the 21st-century Russian is to get out of Russia, and be free of the passport that is hated by most world embassies.

In my case, it has been quite a long adaptation process, but there have definitely been more good times than bad in England. For one thing, there is a lot more freedom than in Moscow, as Oxford isn't nearly as huge or as dodgy. Getting along with people became easier as they forgot a little about my Russian-ness. (My 10 years at Moscow's British International School definitely helped, but at first there was a lot to learn about British culture. I made myself a dictionary of British words as well as boarding-school terms such as "prep" and "tuck box".)

After all, it's never fun to be the foreigner, not quite knowing what to say when you are faced with someone aghast with shock after you tell them that no, you haven't ever been hunting or seen a sheep before.

There have been the usual questions ("Isn't it -60C in the winter in Moscow?") and everyone accuses me of alcoholism whenever they see me drinking any clear liquid – but that is only friendly banter. At the start, I got a lot of odd requests to say "atomic bomb", followed by "nuclear bomb" – for my Russian accent. It has been noted that my father has "a touch of Stalin" in him (must be the moustache). Am I sure that he's not in the Russian Mafia, someone else asked.

There was the assumption that, as I am Russian, I must be stinking rich (not true) but luckily there are always other Russians to point out that not everyone can afford a private jet, although one of my Russian friends did go to the annual dinner in a Valentino dress.

Another pupil customises his school uniform in a way that makes him resemble a Soviet engineer, complete with very high-waisted trousers and thick specs.

Once, when I was showing prospective parents around the school and boarding house, I opened a door to one of the younger girls' rooms and was faced with countless communist Soviet posters (even Yuri Gagarin was included) staring down at me. Luckily the parents didn't pay much attention to this unexpected display of patriotism, and I went on about how culturally diverse the school is ...

I guess some of the Russians really are proud to be Russian. I have now acquired some Soviet posters of my own – anti-alcohol ones – and proudly display them on my walls too.

Source: The Guardian

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