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25 Feb 2013

Foreigners in Belarus: A Lithuanian student

Expats in Belarus

A Lithuanian student talking about studying at University and Belarusian "Trasianka"

Katya Bolohovetskaya, a student of MSLU, born in Lithuania, Klaipėda. In 2008 year she entered the University in Minsk.

From Klaipeda to Minsk
My mother was born and grew up in Belarus. After graduating from high school she left for Vilnius to study, where she settled. And in Klaipeda, where she remained to live, there was a community of the Belarusians. My mother was told that through these people it was possible to apply to the Minsk State Linguistic University. As I was keen on languages since childhood, my parents and I decided that the Department of Translation and Interpreting at MSLU was a good option for me. Besides, a room in the hostel is given and scholarship is paid to those from the community.

I’ll tell you about my particular case. In addition to school exams after the 12 form, I went to Vilnius to a school for Belarusian children, where I took Belarusian language, history and English exams. I passed the exams and was waiting for the results.

I have never been to Minsk before entering the university. Frankly speaking, going to the city, which population is almost half of my country, I thought that I would suffer from a shock – cultural, or because of my own dullness and abandonment in a huge number of people. But neither has happened. I came, looked around - it was spacious, clean (not a stereotype of Minsk, but a fact!), and a lot of people. I adapted to it, accustomed as if had lived here for a long time.

The University syllabus is packed with completely unnecessary, obsolete various subjects
After five academic years of studying, I can say that everything depends on the student. If there is no desire for knowledge, if you cannot make conclusions on the basis of the erudition, if you are simply lazy then even neither the most fascinating subject, nor the high-class teacher will be able to stir up. I think that the education system in the former Soviet Union is still "Soviet", but the level of teaching is not so high any more. Syllabus is choked up with absolutely unnecessary, obsolete subjects, such as philosophy, political science which are of no use in my profession. I can say that of all five years of studying the most productive was the first course. 70% of the new and useful material of all 5 years I learned during this period. And different "programs and opportunities" are offered only to a charmed circle (activists from BRSM and KVN, athletes – in general, these are the people who do not study throughout the year). Students from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Turkey are in the first place who move into the hostel. As a foreign student I didn’t have problems with obtaining a room. I know that people of other towns of Belarus  sometimes have such problems, and life in the vicinity of the citizens of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Turkey wasn’t always peaceful.

Groupmates left home to America but I continued my studies and found a source of income
With regard to the job by distribution, the University distributes the students itself, but as far as I know if a student finds himself an employer, he/she can work for  him. Those who got a private education have 3 ways – to continue studying abroad, to receive a second higher (usually economic) education or to work as a translator. Usually graduates find jobs that are not really connected with languages. As for me, I know the Lithuanian language and occasionally I did and do odd jobs working as a translator. I can say that it’s difficult to live only on a scholarship.

My groupmates don’t think one and all that life in Minsk and generally in Belarus is very bad and it’s better to move away. Guys are aware that in order to change something, you have to stay and change but not to whimper and escape. Now several friends went to China for half a year, one went to Germany to work and improve the language. As far as I know, everybody is going to come back. I was in a group of foreigners, almost all of them were from Russia. Some group mates left home after the first course, someone went to America, and someone like me continued his studies and found a source of income. Self-assured people make their way anytime, anywhere, in any field. Although confidence doesn’t always mean professionalism. And there is a great number of opportunities to break out even in Minsk and Belarus. You can improve yourself anywhere, either here or abroad in case if the level is insufficient. And then bring this new level here. Everything is possible, you just need to want to pursue the aim.

Presently I am working on a Web project, where the knowledge of English is in the lead. When I wrote my resume I stated that I am fluent in English. Now I lead all the communication and correspondence in this language.

In Minsk there is a large concentration of people and I interact with them in silence.
I don't see a big difference between Belarusian and Lithuanian cultures. We are neighbors, we have a common history, so I haven’t found any shocking and unusual rules of conduct. The only paradox is that in large Minsk with such a large concentration of people I interact with them silently, and generally less than in Klaipėda. This is trifle, of course, but in my town at every turn we hear "sorry", "thank you", "please", "I’ll let you pass". But perhaps it is side effects of big cities where nobody cares to the rest. But I’m lucky with personal contact, all the time I was in circles of like-minded, adequate, intelligent people. It’s nice to realize that there are lots of such people in Minsk.

Klaipeda is a small town, in fact it is a street along the sea. So when I moved to Minsk, I immediately drew attention to the wide streets, multi-band avenues. In architecture Soviet traits strike the eyes: Stalin’s "cake" in front of the station, the inscriptions on the roofs of the buildings (Minsk-Hero City) typical names of streets (Komsomolskaya, Marx, Engels), metro stations (Proletarian, October). There are modern buildings, too. The city has a number of fairly interesting skyscrapers, cafes, bars, restaurants, clubs and supermarkets.
I like Trinity Hill very much. It's a bit like Vilnius: small houses, narrow streets, stone pavement. Walking in Minsk I try to choose new routes, wander around the uncharted places.

I love going somewhere with narrow streets and chamber atmosphere. If I yearn for the movement and bustle, I go in the shopping center Korona. When mum visits me, we go to the "Stalitsa", where we often have lunch at a cafe. I often go to the cinema. I usually choose cinema Kiev or Mir. Kiev--because it is located near the hostel and the audience is good. Cinema "Mir"-for the same reason and it has a convenient location because it is close to the University. It looks nice after being repaired. On weekends I sometimes go to Church of Saints Simon and Helena.

Sometimes “the human” factor occurs: a waitress in a café may be rude, a dish may be served in a plate smelling bleaching powder, at a film show neighbours may be noisy ... These are trifles, but negative impression remains. It’s sadly as this is widespread, and there is no escape.

More often you can hear not the Belarusian language but Trasianka
The matter is that we have only one official language - Lithuanian. Therefore, every citizen of Lithuania is obliged to know it. But we communicate on both. Young people, schoolchildren and students know Russian poorly but older people and those who conduct business with Russia or Belarus speak it fluently. But here almost everybody speaks Russian. Although many people practice the "language", but in my opinion it’s limited. More often you can hear not the Belarusian language but Trasianka. I like Belarusian. Of course, when reading the materials in it I have some difficulties, but gradually I learn many new words. It’s weird why having two beautiful national languages they cannot combine them, duplicate the inscriptions in public places. For example, the above would be written in Belarusian, the bottom - in Russian. One of my friends said that if you speak Belarusian in the street you’ll be reckoned in an anti-grouping. At our University only a history of Belarus, Belarusian literature and Belarusian language were in the Belarusian language. And nothing more. That’s a pity …

Great interests in Belarus are China and Venezuela
Minsk is calmly enough, safely, transport system is well-organized. Like in any metropolis, here you can find everything – clubs, diverse items, your favorite cuisine. The city is constantly expanding. In general the minuses are almost non-existent.

The city is defined by the people and their way of thinking. Perhaps the Belarusians lack broad-mindedness. In this regard it’s easier to live in the capital rather than in the backwoods, because the city develops, grows, there are a lot of young people, foreigners and that affects its appearance and content. Everything is here: museums, theatres, cinemas, clubs, bars, restaurants. There are places that merit a visit, there are things to be seen. Isn’t it a European city?

With regard to cooperation between Belarus and other countries, today I see that the great interest is shown by China and Venezuela. Minsk is a developing city, sites for business abound in it.

Nadezhda Naimushina

Translated by Katya Klischuk


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