Our day at Vytegra School Number One was vastly different from that of the previous day. First of all, only four of us went to the school, Clark, Katie, Kaitlin, and myself. We arrived and were brought into a small classroom where elementary school children presented with a cultural song and dance performance by similar to the one the night before. Next, one of the older elementary school children, in full traditional clothing, came up to the table in the back where we were sitting and presented us with a large loaf of bread and a basket of salt for us to munch on during the presentations. After the administration told us about the school, we were broken up into two groups, so Clark and I went into a neighboring classroom of third and fourth graders where we were presented with a performance, in English, of the play “The Turnip.” Next we had a little question answer session before they all ran up to Clark and me presenting us with candy and papers for us to sign our autographs. Next we had a “round table” meeting with the high school students in which we were able to ask each other questions about high school and college life in our respective countries. In the evening, we met a few of the same people at the town’s learning and community service center. After a few interesting icebreakers, we talked about how people serve their respective communities. For dinner, we met us with six college students from the nearby city of Vologda and had open discussions in groups of four about anything we wanted. Even at the college level, many of the students were struggling with English, although not as much as the high school students.
After having observed two Vytegra schools, I can conclude that they are very similar to those in the United States. School Number Two, built as an all girls school before the Soviet regime, has gorgeous high ceilings and full length mirrors everywhere, but still feels like a school because the student’s posters cover many of the walls. School Number One was a bit more disappointing. Not only did it have ugly Soviet architecture, but it also smelled horrible and was very cold. The students are just like American students, especially the younger ones. They easily get distracted and are often scolded for whispering to each other while the teachers are talking. During our question and answer session with the younger children, they asked us what are favorite foods are. I replied chocolate and I expected the children to say something along the same lines when I asked them. But to my surprise, many of the elementary aged children replied that cabbage was their favorite food. Others said meat or eggs but not one said candy, chocolate, or any other kind of junk or dessert food like American children often say. I wonder if these children are often allowed to have sweets, and if so, if it is considered some kind of expensive luxury for them. The tastes of children is very different in the United States and Russia and it is clear that food that is filling is valued more to children in Russia than it is in the United States. Nonetheless, Russian school children eat very well. As guests, we were served a three-course meal, but the students also receive soup, a main course, pirozhki, and tea all on real dishes.
During the round table discussion, we talked about the student’s future plans after graduation. Most want to go to university, but that is not saying most students their age want to go to university. From my understanding, when they are in either eighth or ninth grade, all students are required to take a test determining what school they will attend for high school. If they do well, they can continue their studies at either School Number One or Two, whichever they have been attending their whole lives. However, if they do poorly, they must attend the vocational school for four years. Many of those who plan on attending university, plan on going to school in Vologda, although I met a few who want to go to either Moscow or Saint Petersburg, but that is uncommon. Their aspirations range anywhere from being a doctor to a translator. I was surprised to hear that many wanted to be English-Russian translators because that is not a job that many people aspire to in the United States, but I’m sure in Russia, where not many people speak English, it is a very well paying job. We also asked a few of the students if they plan on coming back to Vytegra after graduating from university. I was surprised at how many said they plan on getting a job and having a family in Vytegra and that they wouldn’t think of going anywhere else. However, I was happy to hear from some with huge goals in life and said they would love to go to Saint Petersburg, Moscow, or even England or New York. I would like to find out how the parents of these students feel about their children wanting to go so far away. I know in many small towns in the United States, families want the children to stay close by to help with a farm, store, or just to keep an eye on them. I can only hope that we inspired these students to strive to do well in their university of choice and follow their dreams to travel to wherever they choose.