Siberia, through the eyes of the foreign languages faculty’s international students

All international students (from France, England, Italy, and Ireland respectively) who study at the Faculty of Foreign Languages are invited to get to know Russian culture, Siberian traditions, and local lifestyle during their stay in Tomsk. Here is a brief account of their experiences, through the eyes of William Huntley (Durham University).
William wrote:
As my teacher in England told me before I came to Siberia, Tomsk is “proper Russia”. That is not to insinuate that the other fine Russian cities that I could have visited such as Moscow or St. Petersburg are in some way “fake Russia”, but I understand her point. Tomsk itself, though the university is very welcoming of international students, is very Russian, untainted by the homogeny of globalisation that one finds in capitals and other large cities. As such, Tomsk and its surrounding area have retained an almost undiluted Russian – more specifically, Siberian – flavour, and it’s a strong taste. Furthermore, our teachers here at TSU were very keen to make sure that we tasted it, and to that end, have organised a series of excursions for us international students (from France, England, Italy, and Ireland respectively).

Swan Lake in Novosibirsk
Admittedly, this is not in Tomsk. I’ve been informed that Novosibirsk and Tomsk are considered “next-door neighbours” by Russian standards. (If in England, you say that something is next door, it implies that one can walk there comfortably.) We set off at a silly hour in the morning in order to arrive in Novosibirsk in time for the start of the world-famous ballet, but thankfully, we arrived on time, (probably because we went in a minibus, not on foot). We took our places in Novosibirsk’s grand theatre – already in awe at the decoration – and waited for the curtain to be raised.
Once the production, we were spellbound by the beauty of the dances, the music, and the costumes; it captivated us for the entire performance. I will concede that I was left utterly clueless as to what was supposedly going on in the story, but that didn’t detract from the overall effect, and the plot was explained to me afterwards.

Then, we spent a couple of hours doing very little in Novosibirsk (a city I deem inferior to Tomsk), then returned on the wobbly minibus and ended up most tired. But it had been worth it; to see such a fantastic rendition of Swan Lake in Russia isn’t the kind of opportunity one has every day.

Dog riding

unnamed_11.jpgAgain, this one didn’t take place within Tomsk either, but we were in the right oblast’ at least. Back when there was more snow than we knew what to do with, we were invited to a husky club in a nearby village, where we had the opportunity to ride these beautiful dogs. Thankfully, we were not straddled atop them but being pulled along on skis by a pair of huskies, leading us through a snowy forest at varying speeds.

The instructor had told us that if we yell “HUP!’ or “RRRRYAA!’ at them, they might be persuaded to go faster, but when I tried, it seemed to have the opposite effect; when the trainer was nearby, the huskies would run with great pace (to the point that I even fell off the skis!) but when we were deep in the forest, far from view, the dogs pranced along at a snail’s pace.

After the ride, we were fed to hearts’ content with biscuits and tea, and had the opportunity to see all the hounds kept at the enclosure (one of which was so huge that I reckon even the bears would be frightened of him).

Finally, in threes, we were invited to ride on what can only be described as a large, inflatable banana, being pulled along by a loud snowmobile. Sat at the back, even if I was enjoying the ride, I found myself clinging on for dear life. The whole thing was truly exhilarating, even if the guy sat in front of me spent the entire ride with his hands in the air and taking selfies.

The First Museum of Slavic Mythology

Finally, something that is actually within the city of Tomsk! If you’ve never been, I thoroughly recommend it. We started off by perusing the gift shop, admiring the intricate wooden carvings and – of course – the Russian dolls (матрёшки). Then, we were shown around the museum upstairs, full of beautiful paintings that depicted medieval heroes, warriors, and wonderful landscapes. Furthermore, we had the opportunity to wield old weapons. And the final treat for us was the fact that we received a lesson in painting our very own Russian dolls! (It turns out that I’m not a particularly talented painter!) Finally, I bought a little wooden toy from the gift shop, and my fellow countryman bought a hunting knife.
In addition to this, we visited the museums of Tomsk State University and that of the NKVD. Furthermore, we took a tour around a church and other places of interest. Here are the accounts of some of the other international students in this group:

Carlotta Garbi:
When I arrived in Tomsk, it seemed to me that the city was strange and cold – like a nightmare. I thought that the people too were equally cold. But now, I consider that Tomsk is a wonderful city, the people are kind, and always ready to help. I really liked our excursions, especially dog riding and sledging. This doesn’t exist in Italy.

Alberto Gabrielli:
Before I arrived in Tomsk, they told me that Siberia is extreme, cold, and gloomy. But now, I know that that’s not true. The Siberians are very friendly, always ready to help. I really like Siberian nature, but most of all, I like the sunsets over the river. Furthermore, I like the fact that Tomsk is a very cultural city. Finally, we had the chance to travel to Lake Baikal, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, and not all foreigners get the opportunity to visit these wonderful places.