Luka Stevanovich, the preparatory course student, shares his experience of studying Russian during the pandemic

The Serbian student Luka Stevanovich studies law and is looking forward to taking up a master’s degree programme at St Petersburg State University.  Currently, he is a student at the preparatory course. With the pandemic restrictions, the University delivers the language course remotely; this has not become an obstacle in achieving high benchmarks in Russian language competency at all even within a semester.

He shares with us his expectations, his plans for the future, and his perception of the Russian system of education.

Why have you decided to obtain your degree in Russia?

I have always considered the profession of a lawyer to be the most thrilling and challenging. Thrilling – that is because we encounter different people at work every day, and challenging – that is because we have to keep continuous learning to propose innovative solutions to the client problems and meet high ethical standards of the profession at the same time.

After I had graduated from a compulsory two-year internship in Serbia, I decided to take up the masters’ degree programme to broaden my knowledge.

 Russia has become my choice because it has well-developed industry and trade relations with various countries in the East and in the West. Russia is the ideal location to obtain juridical practise in such branches of law that neither exist nor developed in other countries.

Where did you get the information about the preparatory course at St Petersburg State University, and why did you decide to be enrolled?

Since I viewed St Petersburg University as the choice number one for my master’s degree programme, I decided to join the University preparatory course. I learned about it in Serbia; my teacher of Russian told me about it. He had been visiting SPBU several times, and each time he used to come back with a positive experience.

What about your expectations, then?

I had been studying Russian for two years back in my native town before. And I got worried that the course wouldn’t be challenging and advanced enough so that I wouldn’t become well-prepared to acquire the master’s degree programme delivered in Russian. I had a presumption that everyday Russian would mostly be in the focus of the training, but not the language for special purposes. Some of my friends occurred to have such experience after similar language courses. With the escalating of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University had transferred the language course into an online format, and I got frustrated. I had to get used to the unusual form of training.

During your first semester, you are just studying Russian.  Could you share your impressions?

Despite my worries, and owing to my trainer from St Petersburg State University, I was able to see results quite soon. In the one-month time after I had started my course, I successfully passed TORFL-1, which would have taken me two more years to prepare for in my native town. I advanced not only in the use of grammar and speech patterns but also in Russian for professional communication. I did not expect such results at all, at the end of the first semester.

Has COVID affected your plans for academic studies?

Yes, it has. Unfortunately, the worst thing is that I haven’t left my native town for Russia to study in yet. They have restored air communication between our countries lately, but I have to stay in Serbia so far, at least by the end of the New Year’s holidays. However, I am confident that I will be able to accomplish all the tasks on time.

What assistance does the University provide to you before visiting Russia?

I don’t see my adaptation would cause any problems. My collaboration with the University staff has been just about paperwork for my student’s visa so far, and their guidelines have helped me a lot.

Does the course contain any reference points of how you might perform in the future?  Do you plan your future?

We have spoken about my studying within the master’s degree programme, and I suppose that will suffice for now. Now, I have to focus on Russian language studies.

I have some views for the future after I have graduated from the master’s degree programme. No doubt, the SPBU diploma gives a unique opportunity, which benefits to achieving very challenging professional heights that I have never even thought of.

Could you compare the two education systems: the Serbian one and the Russian one? Are there any advantages of being trained in Russia?

In Serbia, from the very first stages, we have to memorise loads of information of little significance. I presume lots of students might say the same about education in their countries, but I suspect that such an issue is more evident in Serbia than wherever. In my opinion, this is the most significant difference between the Serbian education and education in other countries, and Russia is among them. That is the reason our graduates are strong in theory and weak in its practical implementation.  It seems that Russian graduates are different, and, that is why more competitive.

I also believe that the variety of master’s degree programmes is likely to be the next great advantage which allows for taking up any master’s degree programme in Russia. Academic curricula in the bachelor’s degree programme in my native town and at SPBU are quite similar. However, the SPBU bachelor’s degree programme offers much more advanced content.

Would you tell us what do you do in your leisure time?

Most of my free time I go in for sports. I have been in martial arts for a couple of years already, and quite recently I have started kayaking.  I am also fond of being outdoors with my friends – bicycling, jogging, and swimming. I am a person of action. I love nature. I assume that all St Petersburg recreational locations will become my favourite ones soon, as the cultural attractions.

Have you ever been to Russia? What was your first emotion?

In November 2018, I travelled by plane to Samara with Moscow as the connecting airport. It was surprisingly warm and sunny in Beograd then, plus 15 Celsius, and in Moscow, it was dull and minus 15.  I expected the weather in Samara to be better or at list a bit different the Moscow’s. I boarded the Samara flight, and as they delayed the flight, I fell asleep.

Having awoken, I eyed similar scenery and the similar weather behind the window. We were still at the airport, and the plane was taxiing. I questioned the flight attendant when we were going to take off, and she answered that we had already landed in Samara. I slept over the entire flight and didn’t notice that we had arrived at a different city with similar weather at all.

What piece of advice would you give to the enrollees?

I would advise that those who have to learn Russian watch Russian TV channels, and films, listen to Russian music, and the radio as much as possible. Such activity is likely to help memorise phrases in complex grammar units long before learning the rules themselves and exceptions to these rules.