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Student from Africa talks about winter, stroganina and Russian language

In an interview the student from Burundi Emmanuel Niyoyitungira told why he decided to get a second higher education in Yakutsk and what his compatriots think of Russia

Emmanuel arrived in Yakutsk last November. Here he is going to undertake a master’s degree at the Psychology Institute of the North-Eastern Federal University. Now he intensively learns the Russian language at the faculty of pre-university education.

"In the first days, of course, I was shocked by the climate of Yakutia," says Emmanuel. He speaks English with a French accent. Earlier, Burundi - a small country in East Africa, one of the poorest states in the world - was a colony of French-speaking Belgium. "It's always hot in Burundi, and I did not have any warm clothes with me that would save me in 50-degree frosts." Compatriots of Emmanuel - a Catholic mission in Burundi, which supports him and pays his expenses in Russia - helped him buy warm outerwear.


Before coming to Russia, Emmanuel had never heard of Yakutia and could not even imagine that he would study in Russia. Many residents of Burundi, according to the student, have a vague idea of life in modern Russia, although many young Burundians go to Moscow and St. Petersburg for higher education.

"In our country there are no widely accepted narratives about Russia. If you ask someone about your country, people usually say: "This is a strong, powerful country with a large army. Oh yeah, it's cold there." It is also interesting that some still believe that absolutely all Russians are Communists. Apparently, this point of view remains from the time of the Soviet Union. In general, Burundi has friendly relations with Russia. I personally was pleasantly surprised when I came here and saw how Russians are open and benevolent. From the outside, it may seem that Russia and its inhabitants are somehow closed and fenced off from the rest of the world, but when you personally communicate with local people, you realize that these are just stereotypes."

Emmanuel admits that since childhood he wanted to travel outside the African continent, to experience what it's like to live in another country and to get an education abroad. His parents, farm workers, also dreamed of this and they raised seven children. "Mother and father had a hard time, not every family can bring up seven children. I cannot say that we live poorly, we have a middle class family. My parents wanted us all to get education, so all my brothers and sisters went to school, everyone has a secondary education. And I always wanted to study abroad - I was constantly asking everybody in order to find out who could help me with this."

After school Emmanuel entered the university in Burundi and received a bachelor's degree in philosophy. During his studies, the head of the local Catholic mission, who knew about the dream of a capable student, offered him to go abroad to obtain a master's degree. Emmanuel agreed without hesitation. "I fully trust the head of our mission. I was ready to go anywhere. When I was told that I could go to Russia, to a republic called Yakutia, I began to scrupulously search for information about your region - geography, economy, sights. Most of all I was interested in the climate here: how long the summer lasts, what average temperature is in winter. And then I myself wanted to see the Lena River and the taiga with my own eyes."

Before moving to Russia, Emmanuel was troubled by three questions. "First of all, I was afraid of the climate change. When I found out that here the temperature in winter can drop to minus 50 degrees, I asked myself: "Can I live normally in a place where such frosts occur? Can I cope with it?''. There were, of course, doubts. Secondly, I was worried about health, again because of the unusual climate. Thirdly, I was a little worried because of the lack of knowledge of the Russian language."

The Russian language, Dostoevsky and the works of Lenin


Emmanuel speaks five languages - English, French, Hindi, Burundian and a little Italian. He began to study Russian a month before he came to Russia, took lessons with a tutor in Moscow. "Russian is completely different from the languages I know, which is the main difficulty," explains Emmanuel. “The most difficult is to understand the Russian cases. I do not use translators like Google Translate, it's critically important to me. I do not trust them. It is better to ask once again, to learn how to pronounce one or another word correctly. When you communicate, even with difficulty, then you learn and remember new words and expressions much faster. I try to talk to local people as often as possible. They ask me something in English, and I answer them in Russian. Now I have many good acquaintances among the Yakut people."

Dostoevsky is best known of the Russian classics in Burundi. "It is very difficult to find books by Russian writers in English and French. So my acquaintance with Russian literature was limited to Dostoevsky's books. I read Lenin's articles at the university. I'm not a communist, I do not share his convictions, but I think that anyone who is interested in history should know what ideas were suggested by well-known historical figures and what they worked on."

Gold and stroganina

In Yakutsk, a student from Burundi mostly made the rounds of the museums. Recently he visited an industrial enterprise where he saw how gold is mined.

"Most of all I wanted to see the nature of Yakutia," says Emmanuel. “Here everything is completely different: both the climate and vegetation. It was interesting to see how gold is mined here. Employees of the company explained that they try to extract natural resources without harm to the environment.”

I am also interested in the culture of the Sakha people. In a few months I've heard so many times about your national holiday - Ysyakh, that now I'm really anxious to see it all with my own eyes.

I got used to Russian cuisine quickly, I'm not very choosy. The only thing: I noticed that it is accepted to eat bread all the time - for breakfast, lunch, dinner. We do not eat that much bread, only sometimes for breakfast. Of the Yakut dishes I liked stroganina, it’s really very tasty."

In May, Emmanuel took part in the contest among foreign students of the NEFU - Miss and Mister International. "To be honest, I've never had a desire to participate in such competitions before, I did not understand their meaning. And this spring, we discussed with my friend, a student from Indonesia, whether it was worth trying, and came to the conclusion that such contests are not a competition. They are held in order to pull foreign students together so that we can get to know each other, communicate, learn and try something new. Besides, the contest was charitable, all the funds raised were handed over to the family of a seriously ill child. So here everything depends on the meaning that you put into the basis of your project."

"My country needs change"


After studying in Yakutsk, Emmanuel plans to continue his studies - at universities of Europe or America.

"I dream of becoming a teacher and working in a college in Burundi. Someone will say that for this it is not necessary to study abroad. But, it seems to me, the teacher should not only be highly educated, but also have a store of knowledge and experience, and know how people live in other countries. That's why I have no desire to just travel. It's one thing to be just a tourist, it's quite another to live abroad, to see from the inside how people live, how their life is arranged.

I perceive life in another country as an opportunity to learn as much as possible about another culture, then to adopt something useful from their experience and realize it in Burundi. Undoubtedly, my country needs change, and I would like first of all to change the way of thinking of my generation - people who in the coming decades will directly influence the life of my country. I am glad that some changes have already begun, but they have not yet affected the whole society. I think the teacher's profession is valuable in that you can influence the young people's outlook, shape their values.

My family, of course, was worried when they saw me off to a country they hardly knew about. Now they no longer worry so much. When I return home, what I'll do first - I will tell them about the nature of Yakutia and will suggest to come here: it's better to see the Lena River and the Yakut forests once with your own eyes than listen to countless stories about them."