The Polish Business Club

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Alexander Janeczek, head of the Polish Business Club

“The Polish Business Club was created 15 years ago to develop contacts between Polish and Russian companies, and to provide business support; such as help in renting an apartment, how to get medical help and advice on where to go in your free time. The Club’s main mission is business development in Russia.

“Representatives of Polish businesses operating in Russia, and also citizens of Poland who work in Russian and multinational companies in Russia can join the Club. The Club unites now about 60 Polish companies.

“Members of the Club receive support in terms of business contacts and business consultations. There is also an opportunity to use the club’s activities, as a platform for the development of their business.”

Link to the Polish Business Club’s website: www.polskibiznes.ru

The Mature English Teachers

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Selection_022Why do people with business careers start teaching English? Simon Green, who has been living in Russia since 2002 told his story: “I came here to work for a Russian office equipment company because they needed people to knock on the doors of international companies, that a Russian account manager simply couldn’t get into. I did that job for nearly three and a half years, which is longer than any other expat they’ve employed. Then the company predictably went bankrupt (nothing to do with me I might add). I didn’t know what to do, so I moved into real estate, and then started working for a relocation company. I also tried executive search, but the trouble with that was that the money wasn’t regular; high spots and dry spots would sum it up. None of these occupations really worked for me. I thought I can’t go on like this, I knew somebody who was teaching and he said you’d be great at teaching. I said that ‘I’ve never done it’, he replied: ‘neither have most people here.’ So I started my first lesson very nervous, I didn’t know what the students would think of me, whether they’d spit me out alive! But suddenly I found myself really enjoying it. I’ve been doing this for almost three years now, and I’ve got almost more clients than I can handle, which is a lovely position to be in, long may it continue.”

Mike Winn, another Brit, has an interesting story: “I came to Moscow as a banker, working in a high level post for a German bank. I resigned from that post in 2006, when the economy was booming to form a new company. At the time there was a lot of demand for financial services, corporate financial restructuring, advisory services etc. We were doing OK and were starting to make some progress when BANG, the crisis happened. Coming from a poor background, a big part of my motivation was simply to earn some money. The other part was a genuine desire and interest.”

Can anybody teach English? All teaching needs an outgoing personality. Timid English teachers don’t last very long. Beyond that, in Russia, where there are so many opportunities that it is still possible to reinvent yourself every few years, being a native speaker and having a degree – any degree – are the only basic qualifications necessary. Because most expat native speaker teachers teach spoken conversational English, a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) qualification does not seem to be necessary. As Simon Green commented: “I teach business English; how to write business letters, that sort of thing, and general conversational English. Because of my rather limited Russian, my audience is from pre-intermediate level upwards. I can just about teach elementary, but beginners, certainly not. The truth of the matter is that a Russian grammar teacher will explain things so much better than an English person can.” Mike Winn said: “I invested in an online TEFL course, I received the certificate, but it was of very limited use. I don’t think they really teach you the essential skills, particularly at the level I wanted to teach at, which was upper intermediate and advanced. Also, I wanted to bring into play business skills and things I’ve learned on my MBA and other courses I’ve been on. Whilst still in London I taught Russian for three years and had already developed my own teaching style. I had been bitten by the teaching bug.”

Selection_019Interestingly, it is the qualified teachers who have previously taught younger children who think they need a TEFL qualification. James Martin is an American with a degree in sociology and a licensed teacher who taught in the US, before leaving to ‘see the world’. First stop: Azerbaijan. That was 17 years ago. James, whose favourite course at university was Linguistics 101 has taught adults and children in Moscow for 2 years. James commented: “previously I had been teaching mostly elementary students at general schools when I signed up for a CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course in Moscow, in September 2012. Because of visa problems, I didn’t take the course until the following January. The language school I was contracted to teach at after completing my course let me teach without the qualification, so it turned out that I didn’t really need it. But it was a fantastic course, it helped me a lot. As a native speaker, I knew WHAT to say, but not WHY. Things are not so mysterious now. I know that there’s a rule for just about everything, and where to find the rule.”

There is much debate as to whether it is better to teach in a language school or strike out on your own. Most teachers started at schools and established their own basis of private students, however the visa, and who pays for it, is a crucial issue. Russia’s visa system is tightening up, but still allows just enough room for individuals to work here on a private basis. James Martin commented: “All the time I was here, I worked for language schools because they sponsored my visa. Last year, I received a tolerable salary. This year, my boss said I have two options: work 30 hours per week for the school, and they would pay for my visa; or work 20 hours and pay for the visa myself. I took the 20-hour option because over and beyond the school hours, my time was my own. I filled the remaining hours with private students who are much more profitable. I ended up working for six different entities this year. Teaching English in Moscow has been rewarding both financially and professionally. It’s also been fun.”

Simon Green commented: “I started teaching at a language school, and obviously there are advantages. With schools, you get regular money and, you are protected if the students cancel, which they do tend to do a lot. The cancellation rate can be as much as 30%. At first it might seem a big risk branching out on your own, but you can get to a stage where you have almost too many clients. I get my students almost entirely from recommendation, so I don’t have to go looking for clients anymore, and that’s nice.” A few teachers go straight into teaching private students. Mike Winn commented: “All my students came from contacts, one was a friend of mine who was the managing director of a leasing company.”

Working in a school is clearly a lot easier on the travel front. You don’t have to travel all over Moscow. Private students means teaching in apartments and if you are lucky, on a company’s premises. If a class is arranged within the company, there will be fewer cancellations. But travelling between locations can take hours each day, as much as the actual teaching. This can seriously eat into hourly rates. But seasoned teachers say that teaching privately, especially at the ‘nouveau riche’ level is worth it, as rates for individual students range from can from 1500-3500 roubles an hour, as compared to 600-1,000 roubles an hour in a school. Going private means no paid holidays, but paid holidays are not exactly common in language schools either. For newcomers, getting a job in a language school is clearly the way to go.

The successful English teachers all say that they enjoy teaching, that is, those who don’t quickly move into other areas of communication-orientated employment. Teaching on a private level appears to appeal to people who enjoy their freedom, and provides room for creativity in the form of lesson content and materials. Time management skills and a basic business sense; to make sure you are actually paid are vital, and these are skills this group of expat teachers have already attained in their previous occupations. Teaching has one other key benefit. It allows one to do other things. Once a teacher has hit the private student circuit he or she can shift work hours around to provide time for other things, like setting up a new business, reading books and/or writing.

Selection_020Most English teachers say that it is becoming easier and not more difficult to find students. There are a large number of Russians and Russian companies who realise that to succeed they have to speak good colloquial English, despite reports by some international observers that Russia is becoming cut off from the rest of the world. Mike Winn who used to work at a senior level in a large German bank commented: “When I came here, I was working for a 100% German bank in Moscow, but the working languages were Russian and English, not German. It’s only when you work in a foreign environment do you realise how truly far reaching and powerful the English language is. All the sales and communications at Bank Austria for example, were in English; I think that’s a worldwide phenomenon. When you have a truly international organisation, you don’t have the time to translate everything, English has taken over.” The fact that there are fewer expats working for Russian companies only plays in the teachers’ favour. Apart from business people, English native speakers are in demand to teach a sizeable group of children and spouses of the Russian nouveau riche. Parents are prepared to pay well, in some cases very well, in the hope that their children will speak English without a heavy Russian accent if they start young. In a flip to pre-revolutionary practices of hiring servants, many well-to-do Russian families now hire live-in nannies, helps and private tutors to look after their children. However there are fewer private tutors being hired and more nannies, and one of their many tasks will be teaching English to their wards. It is possible to save up a large pile of cash in a short time, as most positions involve a live-in situation, expenses are paid and the salaries are good.

Mature English teachers welcome the relatively unregulated Russian EFL market. But how does this reflect on teaching standards, particularly when teaching adults? James Martin commented: “People ask me: ‘who do you like to teach more, kids or adults?’ I’m not avoiding the question when I say: both. With children, it is easier to get them to like you, but it is easier not to make progress in the lessons, because the children won’t know it. With adults it is harder to make them like you, but you can talk about really interesting stuff, that you are interested in yourself. It’s so great when students do like you, they’ll remember you and spread your name around, it’s really nice.” Mature students are often highly educated and may know a lot more about history, for example than the teachers. Such students are difficult to teach, although they appreciate simply being able to talk with a native speaker. However keeping such students is not easy, as they complain that they are not really learning much. Classroom situations present their own problems, such as mixed ability classes. Lack of consistency of classes makes it very difficult for the teacher to move things forward.

What do established English teachers do after years, or in some cases, decades of teaching? Most carry on doing the same thing, which says something about job satisfaction, or that it is a rut, which is difficult to get out of. Some venture into ‘educational consultancy;’ helping arrange visas and courses for their students abroad. The increasingly inhospitable visa departments of some countries only make the services of such people more important. Others open up their own schools, or prefer to run courses for companies without facing the hassle of state educational regulations. They, in turn, employ some of the many new, younger expats who come here in there twenties and thirties.

For the foreseeable future, the going looks good for teachers of English as a foreign language.

Peter Sobiecki, Board Member of The Polish Business Club in Moscow

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What made you come to Russia?

I was born in Moscow and lived more than half of my life here, with the rest spent in Poland, USA and Australia. I graduated from the Department of Journalism of Moscow State University, with specialization in TV Journalism, but never made it to work on TV. I have worked for the largest international companies such as Allianz, SAP; I was head of the media relations department at Philip Morris. I have my family here – two lovely kids and a Russian Korean wife.

Peter, what’s your official position within the Polish Business Club?

I am a member of the board. There is a Chairman, Mr. Aleksander Janeczek and several other members of the board.

How long has the Polish Business Club existed for?

The Polish Business Club was established back in 1999. There was always a group of people who helped organise networking events for Polish business people, and the commercial department of the Polish embassy has always played a role in this. I have noticed that recently there has been a tremendous desire for business people to come together to help each other.

What does the business club try to do?

The main focus is to foster relationships between Polish business people in Russia. For example, if you are a newcomer, you can come along to some of our meetings free of charge and get some advice from people working in your trade, from embassy people, from people working in small companies and also some very large companies. You can speak to people who have been working here for 5, 10 or even 30 years.

Our key tasks now are to increase the number and variety of our activities and to increase the membership. We cannot compete with AmCham or AEB both in membership strength or lobbying power. But we want to become a mini AmCham or AEB for Polish companies doing business in Russia, or wanting to.

What about Russian companies wanting to do business in Poland?

We’re now discussing the possibility of opening membership to people from different countries. For example, we have one British man who wants to join the club and his membership application is pending at the moment. All of our decisions are taken by members of the board, and members collectively.

How many members have you got now?

We have about 60 active member companies and over 100 ‘supporters.’ Living and working in Moscow is, as you know complex and not everybody can find the time to come to all of our meetings.

How do you finance your meetings?

We have agreed that our club should be non-commercial. The club charges a membership fee of 6,000 roubles a year, which we consider to be a modest fee. We stage several major events each year. Recently, we had an event in June to mark 10 years of Poland joining the EU, another one in July – organised jointly with AEB. Such joint events are very good, because there are a number of Poles who work for non-Polish international companies, and we like to include them in our activities. However, we welcomed many Russian and European business partners at these events.

Are your meetings social events or do you have lectures conferences?

We organised seminars on various business-related subjects (taxation, doing business in Russia and similar). A company that specialises in this field comes and does a presentation, and shares its knowledge with members, and also benefits from making new contacts. We will continue with such seminars. As I said, our main goal is to foster networking, grow our membership, to invite people to speak at our seminars and to organise joint events with other organisations.

And you are able to pay all your bills from the membership fees?

We also helped by the embassy, they let us use the embassy building, support the logistics, and recently provided genuine Polish alcohol and food, which goes down very well! We are a small organisation, and a little help goes a long way.

Karina Łosiewa

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How long have you been living in Russia?

I grew up in Poland, in the beautiful city Gdynia. My parents got divorced, and in 2001 I moved to Russia with mother (my father is Polish, my mother – Russian). I went to the Polish school, which was attached to the Polish embassy. Then I got enrolled in MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations), which is one of the best universities in Russia. I graduated from MGIMO in 2012 and then took a year off. Completely out of the blue, I got a phone call from the HR department of the Russian branch of LPP S.A., Poland’s leading fashion retailer. They needed a translator for two weeks, and I ended up almost moving in! I have been here ever since.

In September of last year I started a postgraduate course at the Diplomatic Academy, and decided to study International Security. I study part-time, in the evenings, so I am kind of busy, as I work from 10 am to 6 pm, then attend lectures from 7 pm until 10 pm, 4 days a week. But I really enjoy it. I think that it’s important to live not only your work, but also widen horizons and meet new interesting people. Even after lessons, I don’t always go home, but meet my friends and have fun. In Moscow you don’t have a problem with what to do in the evenings. I like this crazy rhythm of life; I feel that I am living.

Selection_026Do you consider yourself to be Russian or Polish?
I love Poland, and Moscow, but of course I’m Polish and my heart belongs to Poland. Although Poles and Russians share the same Slavic culture, I was brought up in a Polish home, and of course this is different from growing up in Russia. I didn’t speak Russian, for example, until I came to study here. At MGIMO I studied as a Polish student, and identified with the other international students.

Do you have more Russian than Polish friends?
Most of my friends are Polish and I am friends with other foreigners who I studied with at university. I carried on my friendship with them after graduating, and I meet up with them at various social events. Also I help organize the Polish Social Club – for Poles in Moscow. This club has been operating for many years now, and it’s really useful, especially for people who just arrive here; they have a thousand practical questions, like how and where to arrange childcare etc.

Are you going home when you finish your studies?
Going home wouldn’t be the best decision to take right now. Moscow is a place of great opportunities. Also, I really enjoyed my work – the promotion of our brands in social media its perfect work for me – I like spending time on the Internet and its great as they pay me money for that. I think that if I get bored it will not be difficult finding a new job here. I really love my motherland, but I have a feeling that all talented and intelligent people moved abroad. When I come to Poland to visit my family I start getting bored after less a week. People in Poland have fun in a different way than in Moscow – they prefer home parties, they are much more calm than young Muscovites. As I have just said; there are great opportunities, a lot of job offers, like nowhere else I think.

More opportunities than in Warsaw?
Yes of course, many more. But I see two types of Poles here – first, people from small Polish cities, who do not feel so good in this big megapolis which is Moscow. Second, ambitions people who are not afraid of anything, and they are successful. Moscow is a perfect place for working, for partying, for having fun. Where in the world can you gather together a group of friends at very short notice, go to a bar and have a really good talk. And you can do this every evening, if you have time, not to mention the weekends. Bachelorette party on Thursday? Its not a challenge for Moscow, you can arrange it in a few minutes and it will be legendary. Only in Moscow. Of course you should remember that if you want to live this kind of life in Moscow, you should get used to spend a lot of money easily. The city has changed a lot over the time I have lived here, basically it’s got a lot better; there are now hundreds of places to go.

So right now, I don’t really want to leave Moscow at all. Maybe in 10 years or so, when I want to have a family, when different priorities appear, then I will go back home, but not right now. The ecology in Moscow is not so good, so maybe when that time comes, I will go home. But for young people, Moscow is the place to be!

Outgoing Polish ambassador to Russia, Wojciech Zajączkowski

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Ambassador, you’re just about to leave Russia, what’s it like leaving a country where you have lived for four years?

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I’m happy that I can go back home. I have been abroad now for six years, four years here and two years in another country and this is a long time. I feel the need to go back home and recharge my batteries. On the other hand, when diplomats leave a country where they have been working, they leave a part of their lives behind them. In professional terns, it is a piece of their professional career, but it is also something emotional. Emotions may be negative or positive, it doesn’t matter, but they all make up a chapter in one’s life, and this concerns any country.

What are the main cultural differences between Poland and Russia?

I think that two basic cultural differences should be mentioned. The first dates from the 10th century when Poland joined the western church. This led to a profound cultural difference between Russia and Poland. The other big cultural difference that I have noticed whilst living in Russia, is Russians’ perception of communism. In Poland. communism lasted 45 years and had a relatively mild effect. In Russia communism lasted for over 70 years and Russian society was devastated. The 1930s and the 1940s were the worst. These two elements are pretty decisive when we talk about cultural perceptions.

The fact that I come from Poland has worked in my favour. When I say that I am a Pole, most people reacted in a positive way. If I had told them that I am from a western country a long way away, they would simply have been indifferent.

Do you think that these cultural differences have come out onto the surface now?

They have always been there. Of course there have been moments when Russia made an attempt to impose its political will on Poland; in the second half of the 19th century, and to some extent in the 20th century as well. Poles made a similar attempt in the 17th century. All these attempts failed.

Selection_028How many Poles live in Russia at the moment?

It’s hard to say. Officially I think about 50,000. There are a lot of people of Polish descent living here. They are Russians, but at the same time they recognise openly that they have Polish roots. The biggest centre is in St Petersburg, because at the beginning of the 20th century, the Polish community in Russia’s capital exceeded 100,000. There is also a sizeable community in Moscow, not as big and active as in St Petersburg, and in the eastern and southern part of Russia such centres as Tumen, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Irkurtsk, Stavropol, Pyatigorsk, Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don. In all these cities there are Polish organisations, which are quite active.

Historically, you can see that there are quite a few Poles who played a major part in Russian history. One only has to mention Malevich, Tchaikovsky, Nizhinsky, Dmitry Shostakovich, there are a lot of such examples.

How many Polish expats live here; that is Poles who come here for a short period of time to work, like you?

This is an even harder question, because in the case of Polish citizens, there is no requirement to register with the embassy. But on the basis of the number of people who attend different events, the number of children who attend the Polish school and so on, we can say that in Moscow there are around 600 Polish expats, if you don’t take into account the embassy. There are also other expats in St Petersburg, in the Volga region, and in Siberia. Some of them represent Polish companies, but I think the majority represent international companies.

I suppose it works the other way around; there are a number of Russian business people in Poland?

There are not so many Russians in Poland as there are Poles in Russia.

Being a Polish expat in Russia is probably an advantage, because you are close to Russian culture and can understand Russians?

In cultural terms it is easier because it is not too difficult for Poles to learn the language, and this is an advantage. If you start to speak and understand Russian, you start to function in a different way, it becomes easier to do business here. Russians know something about Poland, and Poles know something about Russia, so people who come here are not surprised by the way life is organised, it makes is easier to do things here, at least in the beginning.

Are the activities that Poles are involved in here in Russia different from what they were involved in, say 20 years ago?

There has been a significant change in the roles that Polish expats play. 20 years ago, the Polish expat community was dominated by people who worked for state-owned companies. Today we have no state-owned companies represented in Russia. There are also a lot of Polish specialists working for international companies and Russian organisations.

So Poles are now more entrepreneurial than they used to be?

We have always been entrepreneurial, but conditions were different.

Good point. What advice would you give any Pole coming here to work?

In Russia or in Moscow?

Let’s take Moscow.

First of all I would recommend taking a close look at the practical side of the contract that you sign. Moscow is huge and as a matter of fact rather unfriendly for people in general, and I’m not just talking about expats. So if you are coming with children, you have to take into account the problem of schooling. You have to calculate how much you, or your company is ready to pay for schooling; you have to think about transportation to school and back. Are you ready to let your children travel alone? If you don’t take this into account, your life, at least at the beginning, can be very difficult, especially as the English language schools are all located a long way out of the centre.

Has your family enjoyed living in Russia?

I think yes, firstly because my wife found her place in the International Women’s Club, where she presided for two years, and I think she has done a great job. One of my sons has attended the Anglo American school, and studying in Moscow has given him some important experience. My younger son went to a Russian kindergarten, and I think he actually learned something.

Karolina Skrobotowicz, owner of the Unique Estate Company.

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How long have you been in Russia?

We have been here for seven years, although it feels like a really short time. Time seems to have gone very quickly.

Why did you come here?

Like almost all expat women, it was my husband who got a job here. Three years ago I started a real estate company, which specialises in renting apartments and houses for expats. I work mostly with Polish and French clients as I have dual nationality.

Do you like it here?

It was quite tough at the beginning when I saw that not so many people are smiling, but I met some foreigners who have lived here for a long time and they said the same thing about the Polish when they went to Poland! There are little things; one of the things I personally find difficult is that you don’t find any local airlines. Easyjet is coming but I don’t think that €250 is an awful lot off the ordinary fare. The other thing is that it’s not easy to send things here. For example, I wanted to send a new carpet here but I couldn’t because it’s so expensive. But in general I am fine here, I like it.

Is the weather very different from in Poland?

Here the winter is longer. In Poland we usually have a really long Indian summer, which can last until the end of October or the beginning of November. Here at the end of August suddenly you’re coming into long periods of rain. So for us, it is really a must to go for a long vacation during the winter, and then everything is okay.

You have had children here?

We have had two children; one of them was born here. I was a bit afraid of having my oldest child here, so I went to Paris for the birth. I was encouraged by my friends to have my daughter here, and frankly speaking it was wonderful. It was also very expensive.

Do you feel that you’ve changed living in Russia so long?

I think I’ve changed a bit, I’ve become a little bit more global in the way that I think. I have started to think not only about myself, but also about how to do good for other people. Of course my business is not a charity, but I have decided that I really want to help to create better communication between Polish people who live here. I found that it was quite easy to do that because the Poles living here are quite homogenous. So with a little effort from a few of us, we managed to create something worthwhile quite easily.

What’s sort of things do you organise?

We have our business club, which I was the president of for two years. I had to stop doing that when I started my own business because of lack of time. Now, I help organise a Polish Social Club with some friends. Basically we get together on the last Friday of each month and have a few beers. Then I created a Polish language Internet site called: www.wielkamoskwa.ru, which is full of practical information like how to find a hairdresser, a plumber, ideas for gifts, lists of events and so on.

For the past 6 months, we have been holding meetings for Polish women, which we hold in the mornings. We have a facebook page and we meet every month. We then started holding business meetings for polish girls also once a month. This has been going really well and we have 40 or 50 participants.

We also organize our own carnival gala dinner every year, which is our main social event of the year. Most of the participants are Polish. We have already held four such events. It’s always at the beginning of the year, during the last weekend before the Easter fast begins. We always have a Polish DJ who comes from Poland, and we dance our national dance, the Polonaise, which is really lovely. Your heart sings when you see 60 couples dancing the Polanaise, it’s wonderful!

Many of these events and many others have been organised with the help of our embassy. All of the people around the ambassador and his wife, who are unfortunately leaving Moscow, have been really wonderful.

How many Polish expats do you think there are now in Russia?

The Polish embassy does not hold such records so I can’t tell you officially, but I can say from my Internet page, that there are about 1,000 Poles living here who you could call expats. Poland is only a two-hour flight away, so there are a lot of other people – I think about 500 – who come here for a few days and then go back.

Is there a Polish school in Moscow?

We used to have a full-time Polish school, now we have a part-time school where they teach Polish, history and religion; as 90% of Poles are Catholics.
Is there a Polish church in Moscow? There is a Catholic cathedral on Bolshaya Gruzinskaya, there are two services on Sundays in Polish.

How do you see the future working out for Poles in Moscow?

I think the political relationship between Poland and Russia is quite tough but on a social level things are fine. As a Polish girl, I have never had any negative reaction from Russians. They are very nice, and they say I have a very cool accent when I speak Russian. I think it’s a pity that there aren’t so many Polish companies coming here but there are reasons such as the costs involved in opening a company here.

Five key Russian words to unlock the soul

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Sophia Tupolev is a Russian-American who splits her time between Central West Moscow, Central Park West, and the rest of the world. A seasoned expat in Moscow, Sophia leads the Russian Conversation Club, which she founded in 2009, and is now sponsored by RT. She is the Russia Representative for American Citizens Abroad, an advocacy group for American expats’ rights and is an active member of several community organizations such as the American Women’s Organization and the International Jewish Community. Sophia currently is the Corporate Social Responsibility Advisor to the Editor-In-Chief at RT. She can be reached at www.asksophie.ru

These commonly used Russian words have simple translations but a hidden level of meaning which hold the key to understanding some of the values that define the Russian soul.

Ремонт (pronounced reh-mont) means ‘renovations.’ The word flutters on banners on the sides of residential buildings and is de rigueur in any kind of real estate listing. Indeed, the sounds of ongoing renovations seem to be unrelenting in Moscow. Remont in a flat can be ‘European,’ ‘Modern,’ ‘Classic,’ or non-existent – bez remonta. The Russian penchant for remont is a manifestation of a core belief that tomorrow will be a better day, and a feeling that one can bring about positive changes in life via physically improving one’s surroundings.

Завтра (pronounced zavtra) means ‘tomorrow.’ Since tomorrow is generally perceived as a better day, it naturally becomes the optimal time to accomplish things that don’t seem to be working out today. This includes both personal and professional tasks, which are often relegated to ‘zavtra,’ which is a concept, rather than the actual next day. ‘By tomorrow’ can be used to mean ‘by the end of the week,’ while ‘by next week’ often becomes by the end of the month.

Можно (pronounced mozhno) means ‘May I’ or ‘You may.’ This word is arguably one of the most useful words in Russian. Used in combination with hand gestures, one must only wait for a mozhno in reply for permission to do or take something, order a beverage, or enter an office. Russians use phrases like ‘would you be so kind…’ and ‘May I…’ even when ordering a croissant. This feature of the language reflects the refined imperial past, a sense of which lives on in the modern Russian soul through the built-in politeness of the language. While there were many more niceties in common usage a century ago, the word mozhno is now a stand in for the more complex phrases of yore.

Дача (pronounced dacha) means ‘country house.’ Most city-dwelling Russians, irrespective of age or socio-economic standing, have a place out of town. Come late April, Friday night and Saturday morning traffic goes one way: to the countryside. Dachas are for relaxing with family and friends, enjoying the fresh summer forest air, and of course, grilling shashlik (kebab) on an open flame. Mushroom-picking, light gardening and landscaping are national weekend pastimes. Dacha homes are the common thread that weaves in and out of generations. Despite a love of modern conveniences and well-renovated urban landscapes, the dacha is where Russians get back in touch with the land cultivated by their grandparents, a place that is not only a physical state but an essential part of the national consciousness.

Maмa (pronounced mah-mah) Not just the woman who brought you into this world, but the woman who will be the undeniable authority and a true matriarch for your own children for life. Many Russians live with or near their parents, even after they get married, for as long as possible. Later in life, parents often move in with their children. Partly, this is due to a disproportionate ratio of salary to home prices, but it goes far beyond that. Mama is the one who guides you through life until marriage, helps raise your children while you work, and God forbid you think of putting her in a home for the elderly. Irrespective of logistical or material challenges, Мама is an irrevocable part of Russian life.

There’s naethin’ loch a Scottish reel!

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Selection_031In June, it seemed as if Scottish dancing had become Moscow’s newest craze.

The day started with a Highland dance competition in the open air and finished with a fun Scottish dance party in one of Moscow pubs.

The competition was adjudicated by one of the top people in the world of Highland dancing, Mrs Delma Wilson (Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing judge and a dedicated teacher, whose students have become World Highland Dance Champions 17 times!). It was Delma’s third time in Moscow as a judge so she must be clearly enjoying the determination of Russian kids, teenagers and adults to master the art of Scottish solo dancing. The competition, organised by Moscow Scottish dance school ‘Shady Glen’, attracted dancers from Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Ufa, Orenburg and Perm. Visitors of Bauman’s Garden watched in amazement as dancers in full highland outfits leaped to the sounds of traditional Scottish bagpipe played by Russia’s best bagpiper, Anatoly Isaev.
After all winners got their trophies and were cheered by their peers, friends and general public, everyone moved to Youngs Pub, a cosy and spacious venue not far from the Tretyakov Gallery, where Anatoly Isaev had a break from playing his bagpipe, switching to a traditional Scottish button accordion. Accompanied by Vladimir Volkov on a fiddle, he played all evening at a dance party organised by Moscow school ‘Shady Glen’ and Moscow Branch of the Royal Scottish Dance Society with the support of the International Women’s Club of Moscow Ceilidh Dance Group. Social dances of Scotland were enjoyed by Russian connoisseurs of Scottish dancing together with expats from Scotland, England, the US and even Serbia! The guests of the pub who had never seen Scottish dancing before joined in the fun. What a night!

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SHEREDAR Rehabilitation Center

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From the 22nd-29th of May, the charitable foundation Sheredar, which is in Sosnovy Bor, 95 kilometres east of Moscow, organized its eighth rehabilitation program for children who have suffered from cancer. More than two hundred fortunate children have participated in these eight Sheredar rehabilitation programmes. This time, 25 children participated. They came from all over Russia; from Belgorod, Bryansk, Vladimir, Voronezh, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Ryazan, Samara, and St. Petersburg. Every child who comes to Sheredar has his or her own history of struggle with this terrible disease.

One child just completed a course of chemotherapy, another has just had a bone marrow transplantation, others have to relearn how to walk, talk, see in the dark and in the bright sun, believe in life and feel themselves to be carefree children once again. All of them have a huge problem with communicating with their peers. Many experience heightened feelings of isolation, increased anxiety and uncertainty of their own abilities.

“Sherada’s programs are based on the therapeutic methods of the International Association of Rehabilitation Camps ‘Serious Fun Children’s Network’. Professional standards are applied.

“Participation in the programs is completely free of charge for children and their parents. We were fortunate to have benefited from having 25 volunteers with us on the May programme. They are students of psychological, pedagogical and medical universities; experienced staff of Russian children’s cancer funds, and just caring people. All of them were selected on a competitive basis, and then trained specially by Terry Dignan and teams of volunteers who had worked on previous Sheredar programmes.

“During the May program, the children were able to take part in exciting outdoor activities as well as taking part in various studio workshops and clubs. Horse-riding and archery lessons turned out to be the most favourite activities.
During the eighth program our first kayaking activities were held, which were conducted by our friends – professional athletes from the Russian Association of Rowing Sports.

“Many workshops such as jewellery, candle-decorating, soap-making, ceramics and fabrics-colouring were held. Every evening the children experienced unforgettable evening events, one of which was a magnificent concert held on the summer stage of the Sheredar camp for the first time.

Terry Dignan (Ireland), head of the rehabilitation programs Sheredar mentioned:
“A child who has survived a serious illness has lost a part of his childhood. Our program gives them back the inner feeling that they lost whilst at hospital. They recover their self-confidence and self-esteem.

“The main aim of Sheredar is to help a child to overcome these challenges gradually and painlessly. Over eight days, the children are coached to handle their fears, to find new friends, to discover their inner potential which was blocked by their cancer, and finally, to understand that each of them has the right and the power to live a full, active and amazing life; just like any healthy person.

“On the final day of the May programme, the children were able to demonstrate to themselves and their friends some of the skills they had learnt on their course. Individual and team performances, songs and dances, a photo exhibition – this is just a small list of what happened in Sheredar that day.

“The main goal of all the rehabilitation sessions is to help children realize their capabilities and understand they can be successful in almost any sphere and direction! Some of the children will be back at Sheredar in September, others already feel confident enough not to need us any longer. But there are still many, many other children who have a real need for this kind of rehabilitation, and are not getting what they need.”

According to estimates, there are 15,000 Russian children under the age of eighteen who need to participate in a specially designed program of therapeutic recreation.

The next rehabilitation program will be held at the end of September and we hope to invite sixty children aged 7-13.

For more information about possible opportunities of help you can write us via info@sheredar.ru

or contact us +7-499-372-15-53 or +7-903-177-64-92.
Help us to help!

Riding Halfway Home the singular luxury of slow travel

 

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When I came to the realization that having hit 40, it was time for me to take a break from the very stimulating but somewhat overfull life that I lead in Moscow, I simply could not imagine being back in London after a 4 hour flight from Moscow. So I started to think about other ways to return to the UK.

I had long been interested by slow travel and I had some pretty good examples, one of which was my friend James Galitzine, who returned to Russia, following in reverse, the path that his grandfather had taken when he left after the revolution. This route was Istanbul, Crimea, through to Russia. I decided to ride home.

Selection_045Making the trip happen took some organizing and provided an interesting insight into the mentality of the people in the countries I would be riding through. Romania and Ukraine basically organized themselves, whereas in Russia, I was initially told that it be practically impossible to make such a journey and that I’d probably go mad during the process, so it would be best not to bother! But with perseverance, it all started to come together.

I was greatly assisted by friends and am particularly thankfully to Anna Jackson-Stevens and her contacts at La Roche Posay, who provided great encouragement and litres of top quality sun-cream, which has allowed me to remain for hours in the saddle without getting burnt. In Belarus, I even used the suncream on my horse, as he had a very pale nose and without it, burnt quite badly.

Selection_046I am also very grateful to David Siuykaev, my trainer at Planet Fitness, who pushed me pretty hard before the ride, and this meant that I have hardly had any aches and pains during the ride. It is very heartening after hitting 40 and having spent so many years in a sedentary job, when you are able to rise to such a demanding challenge.

So, the ride? Having to look after the horses and the riding team immediately puts you into a different pace of life. In contrast to office life, you have to respect the weather (the heat is as hard for the horses as it is for us, rain is easier for the horses, but hard for us), the surroundings (bogs are deadly dangerous and there are lots of them in Russia and Belarus), the horses, and once you remember that you are doing this ride purely for your own pleasure and interest, if you find an interesting place or meet some people you want to spend longer with, it is simply a question of deciding to do exactly just that.

One of the most incredible aspects of the trip has been the people I have met along the way. Horses are a complete magnet for people of all ages and riding through the villages and countryside, people stop to ask about the journey, invite me for coffee, and to offer stabling for the horses. We’ve given children rides on the horses in certain villages, and some of the older people look back with great nostalgia to times when everyone had a horse, whereas now their villages are becoming empty as the young are leaving for the cities, and the old die young.

Providence has also played a large role in the trip and this has meant that I have been able to witness some amazing events, such as the birthday party of Viktor Kulakov at the Gribodeov museum that he restored (Khmelita). We arrived at the elegant mansion at Khmelita to large tables in the ballroom creaking with fine plates of smoked meats, fish, caviar, vodka, champagne and cherry juice. The great and the good of Russia’s museum world had gathered at Khmelita to celebrate not only Viktor Kulikov’s 70th birthday, but the restoration of a crumbling wreck of one of Russia’s great poets into an elegant mansion, reconstructing tiled stoves based on fragments of tiles found in the rubble. This is a wonderful, but rare, example of restoration work in Russia. I hope it will be repeated. Russia’s famous hospitality was at its best and in addition to being invited to join the celebratory feast, we were given a guided tour in English of the museum by Viktor Kulikov’s grandson (also Viktor).

Also by chance, we were able to enjoy the Ivana Kupala celebrations (St John’s Eve) of a Belarussian village. The lady running the event was the curator of a local museum and clearly had a strong desire to invest in the future and the youth of the country by reviving old traditions. The night sky was lit up by huge bonfires, shooting sparks high into the sky, and as dawn drew near, a thick summer mist rolled off the lake into the fields. The atmosphere was electric and the lady in charge, like a high priestess, with a wave of her hand, ushered in bands and girls wearing garlands of flowers performing traditional dances and singing eerily discordant and pagan-sounding songs. As dawn rose, all danced hand in hand around the bonfires before throwing everything off to plunge into the cool waters of the lake.

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Njasvizh, the cradle of the Radzivill dynasty was absolutely incredible. One of only 4 UNESCO sites in Belarus, it is just beautiful – it was designed by the Italian architect Bernadoni. There are at least 72 coffins in the family crypt and while it is pretty impressive to visit, it is not the kind of place you’d want to lose your way.

At the start of the journey outside Moscow, I was joined by a dog who we called “Friday”. This provided great entertainment during the Russian chapter, as Friday turned out to be quite a character, quick at making friends (or foes) with villagers, naughtily chasing hens and cows, guarding the camp at night and rolling in mud straight after being washed. She is now back in the village where she joined us. It didn’t seem right to take her further through areas of wolves and bears.

I stayed in Ukraine until the 10th of August and from there I will head South to Bucovina and Transylvania. More friends and family are joining to ride in Romania and we plan to have a big celebratory dinner when we finish in Sighisoara at the end of August. Western Ukraine is very beautiful and there are some great castles. It is tough for the locals as they are saying goodbye to fathers and sons who are being conscripted to the war effort in Eastern Ukraine. We all want peace and I hope it will come soon.

I am very grateful to my friend Nick Denny for suggesting that I use the ride as way to raise money for charity. Having seen the amazing achievements of paralympians at Sochi earlier this year, I plumped to raise money for paralympic sport and am raising money for the British and Romanian Paralympic Committees, respectively. I am also raising money for St Andrew’s Moscow, which was a wonderful sanctuary during my time in Moscow. Details of how to donate to the British Paralympic Association are at justgiving.com/michaelpughnew and my blog at http://www.ridinghalfwayhome.com/make-a-donation contains details of how to give to the other charities I am supporting. My cousin Liz Bligh, who will join the ride in Transylvania is raising money for the Heart of Kent Hospice in Kent where she is a trustee: justgiving.com/LizBligh

Our sponsors and supporters have been great and in addition to La Roche Posay and its fantastic sun-cream, I am very grateful to Anna Jackson-Stevens of Coast Magazine, my former firm of 14 years (Hogan Lovells), the Russo British Chamber of Commerce, and all the rider support teams and guides who have helped me to get this show on the road.