She now has her own distinct preferences with a solid empirical basis to share.
We meet on the Dahlem campus of Freie Universität Berlin, where Irina is taking her class on Schlüsselwerke der deutschen Literatur von der Klassik bis zur Gegenwart at FUBiS, the international summer and winter university of Freie Universität. "I like it when there is a systematic approach. It turns out, that is mostly true about higher education in Russia," she says.
The young lady ruins my stereotype of "Germany = system" in just no time. Then she goes on elaborating on her point. When studying for a bachelor’s degree, Russian students have no freedom to choose disciplines to attend; there is a pre-designed study plan, and every course is obligatory.
Irina believes that is good, as not many can make an informed, farsighted, and wise choice in their teens. She cites some of her German friends being sorry for missing some courses that turned out to be necessary later.
A thing like that could never happen in Russia. A future PR professional like Irina, for example, has to study history and philosophy, literature and Russian (yes, Russians do study their own language for 11 years at school and then 4 years more at a university), and only then come some field-specific disciplines like journalism or an introduction to public relations.
"I don't want to miss anything."
I ask Irina to introduce Spain into the comparison. "Oh, the Spanish are sooo relaxed," - she leans back and starts pronouncing the words longer and lower as if she was about to start singing something from Carlos Santana’s repertoire. "They never care too much if they miss anything at all… Way too relaxed to my mind!"
Irina thinks the German language is a perfect system. "Emotions never prevail. You will hardly ever see an inverted word order to make an emphasis here, the verb always has a certain place reserved for it," Irina mentions. She likes "cracking the code" of a language and was quite successful with German, English, Spanish, and French so far, German being her favorite.
Winning the 2015 Deutscholympiade in the highest (C1) level is a fruit of this passion of hers, which was rewarded by Freie Universität Berlin. "As one of the German Universities of Excellence having a strong focus on humanities and social sciences where German is a language of instruction and very important for publishing scientific results, we are interested in supporting those who learn German and are motivated enough to participate in such a competition," says Tobias Stüdemann, who heads Freie Universität’s Moscow Liaison Office.
The Deutscholympiade was conducted for the second time now and almost 1500 students from all over Russia took part in it. "We are supporting their efforts by granting one of the winners participation in the FUBiS program," Stüdemann adds. Irina has – goal-oriented as she is – chosen the only course which is taught in German. "I see no reason going to Berlin to practice English," she says.
Time to Feed Her Soul
Studying the main pieces of German literature in a mere month seemed too much. She told me, "We could have spent half a year contemplating just one work by Tolstoy back at secondary school, you know, and German authors are not short on words either."
But Dr. Anja Richter, who teaches the FUBiS seminar "Schlüsselwerke der deutschen Literatur von der Klassik bis zur Gegenwart," made the course an exciting experience, Irina admits as we start off to the famous Philological Library of Freie Universität Berlin. Reading at home gives her one perspective, but then, in class, there are suddenly many different ways to regard the text, due to the instructor’s skill of posing the right questions to the group.
Literature and linguistics are now the main focus for Irina Bakhareva. She is seriously considering entering a German master’s program in the field. "With my degree in public relations, I can earn a living now, both in Russia and internationally, and I will be always able to go back to PR," she says. "But I have loved languages for all my life, and I’m striving to go deeper into linguistic studies. Now the time has come to feed my soul."
The author of the article, Evgeniia Sinepol, is from Saint Petersburg, where she works in the Press Office of the University of Saint Petersburg. She is currently a graduate student in the master's degree program Global Communications and International Journalism. The double degree program has been carried out since 2014 in cooperation between Freie Universität and the State University of Saint Petersburg.