When I applied last summer for a placement in
For a Western European volunteer, such discipline took some getting used to. Brought up to believe it to be polite to take time over meals, I now found myself in a country where the opposite seemed to be the case, at least as far as camp life was concerned. I had to explain to my Russian friends that in this situation, as in many others, children in our two countries were brought up in different ways. What was acceptable in one country was often unacceptable in the other. I always found it paid off to take the time to explain these differences. Nobody I met at Elektron had ever been to the West, many had never spoken to a foreigner before, so my friends realised that a British perspective would often be very different from a Russian one!
Given the poverty of the region - Marii El is one of
My first three weeks at Elektron had not exactly gone smoothly, but I was fascinated and full of admiration at how my Russian friends had coped with the adversity. I was convinced that if the same had happened in many other countries, there would have been a knee-jerk response and the camp would have been forced to close. This being Russia, however, only when the causes of the epidemic were fully known was a decision taken on whether the final season should go ahead. What struck me most was the maturity of the children throughout the crisis. They did not understand any more than we did what had caused their friends to be taken to hospital, but knew that life went on and kept themselves busy by playing cards, reading and often talking to me about life in the West.
My first season also included an English summer school, so many of our discussions took place in informal English lessons, where the children also played games and were shown postcards and photographs from my native United Kingdom. Many Russian children do not distinguish between different Western countries, and when occasionally I was introduced as an American, I would point out that Marii El was far closer geographically than the
I for one would have no hesitation in applying to a Russian volunteer project again. A sense of adventure, a fascination and tolerance of other cultures, and a knowledge of the language are all you need. If that sounds like you, then go for it. Barney Smith, email@example.com Û
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