Those of you who have studied Russian may have met Naomi Britz, founder of the Ruslingua language school. For friends and acquaintances, her departure is a loss. Let’s hope she’ll be winging her way back here soon, despite her plans. Naomi studied Russian at Bristol University (UK), and came out to Moscow directly after graduation. After 3 years working in advertising, she thought she had had enough of Moscow (familiar story?) and went home but after two years in the UK she was back. Naomi has lived in Moscow for 8 out of the last 10 years.
What caused you to come to Russia – and what did you leave behind in the UK?
This time round I’ve been here for 5 years. I’d tried my hand teaching at a state secondary school in the UK but was always more passionate about the work I was also doing at a private English language school, teaching adults from around the world. My students were genuinely grateful and excited when I explained a word, the meaning of which had long eluded them, or provided them with a new phrase they were sure to use. I found this incredibly satisfying and felt inspired. I realized there was a way to combine my joy in providing people with real communication skills and my enthusiasm for the Russian language by moving out here and starting my own language school. I knew first-hand how incredibly badly Russian is taught, really old school, with all the emphasis on complicated endings and conjugations. I decided I could do better and designed a course putting the language in context, teaching useful words and phrases and keeping the grammar to a minimum.
I miss my friends and family in the UK, but that’s all. I decided long ago that I didn’t want to follow a traditional career path, that I’d rather do things my own way, so I don’t regret having gotten out of London, opting out of the big money and the rat race. And there were a lot of things about the UK I didn’t mind leaving behind. You only have to ride a London bus with a crowd of school kids on it to understand what those things are. The experience of teaching in an inner-city school, the policies of which I could not condone, honestly made me feel depressed about teaching in the UK.
Having spent most of your career thus far in Russia, what do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
For sure my biggest accomplishment has been negotiating Russian bureaucracy, about which I had no inkling when I arrived, excited and eager to start doing something worthwhile. You would not believe the paperwork involved in setting up a school. An educational establishment, even a private one for adults, has to be licensed. The premises need certifying, whether or not you teach on them (we mostly teach on location). Everything has to be ok’d by the health and safety authorities, the fire authorities, the licensing commission... I’ve had to learn about tax regimes, company charters, HR regulations – believe me, nothing has been user-friendly.
I guess I was most proud when one of the girls who worked for me took her mother on holiday to Spain one summer – neither of them had left the country before. I was so pleased to think that I’d created an employment situation which had made this possible.
Why did you stay here so long?
Not for the food, that’s for sure. I can’t stomach pelmeni, kasha, kvas... though I have developed an odd fondness for dill. Here I have been able to do something I truly consider worthwhile and it’s all been incredibly exciting. I felt like my life in the UK was staid, like the most exciting thing I could accomplish was to book an exotic holiday. Mad things happen here in Russia all the time. You’re always having to deal with one crazy thing or another, and while that’s frustrating, each time you do manage to achieve something, you experience true satisfaction.
I’ve also enjoyed meeting such a variety of high-achieving people from all different walks of life. The expats drawn to Russia are generally passionate, enthusiastic, even eccentric people. I’ve loved spending time with them.
Among the wonderful people I’ve come across here is the most lovely American, who I met at a party a year and a half ago. In fact, I’d planned to stay here for many years to come but leaving comes as part of the package: he’s a diplomat at the US Embassy and he isn’t supposed to stay here forever. Now that I’ve chosen marriage over Moscow and have agreed to leave with Geoff, I must admit I’m ready to go. I’m leaving Ruslingua in capable hands and I’m excited about my next adventure.