Our next interview hero is Jeanne. She is a Political science student from Strasbourg University, France and she did her Erasmus in Kyiv during the academic year 2018/2019. In this interview she proves that babushkas are actually amazing, gives hints on where to meet local students and shares a very unique point of view on Ukraine.
Q: What was your biggest stereotype about Ukraine? Did it turn out to be true?
I don’t think I knew any stereotypes before I came there. When I got to know that I’m going to Kyiv, it was like “Okay, let`s see what it is”. But I think from my experience with Russian people, I thought Ukrainians will be cold, not smiling, not really friendly. It turned out to be partly true. Maybe from the first glance at them, it does seem like it but as soon as you start talking to them, they are super nice, very friendly, they will be always here to help you.
The thing I expected was Kyiv to be cold. It turned out to be totally true. At first, I was always thinking “Ugh, I am so cold”, but then I got used to it. And then I came back home. So winters in Strasbourg where I live are cold for the French people but they became totally okay for me. At that moment I realized how actually badly cold it was in Ukraine.
Q: What is one thing from Kyiv you wish you would have in France?
Borscht. I loved it. We do have some places here where they cook borscht but it is so expensive. Obviously, I am too lazy to cook it myself. So I would really love to have some places with cheap borscht here.
Q: What was your favourite class at the Shevchenko university?
Courses of Russian. Professors were these old babushkas (grannies), very Soviet Union style, and they were so, so nice. They had to make us speak Russian, so they were always asking us about our day, about our personality or preferences. They knew everything about us. At the beginning of the year, there were like ten people but in the second semester, there were three of us. It was a great opportunity to get to know them better not only as teachers but as people as well.
Q: Have you met a lot of local students? If yes, where?
Actually, it was a problem. Russian courses were only for foreigners, and in KIMO we had to take only the courses taught in English which are not exactly popular among Ukrainians. So we had like six Ukrainian students in the class who didn`t visit that often, you know. So mostly we`ve met locals through ESN. My Erasmus was at the time when ESN Kyiv just appeared so they needed some time to figure things out and start organizing events. It is not something that can be done easily but in the end, they got into it and they helped a lot with meeting local students.
Q: Talking about ESN, what was your favourite event?
I loved the event where we were sharing our Erasmus experience with local students. (Erasmus week, live library part). We were divided into different groups and students were just asking about how our stay in Kyiv turned out. We met a lot of new locals in that way, it was nice to talk. I also enjoyed small get-togethers at the bars. It is not hard to organize: you just need to get people to come to the same place at the same time but this type of events feels so good. You get to know that ESN people are not just some official managers or organizers, they are just people who are very interesting to get to know to.
Q: Would you recommend other people to do their Erasmus in Kyiv? Why?
Of course! If they are curious, if they need to improve Russian or learn Ukrainian, if they want to stay in Europe but have an exotic experience. If I went to Italy or Germany or the UK, it wouldn`t be that different. I wanted something that I didn`t know before. Still, I didn`t want to go to another part of the world. So in Ukraine I could discover something that I had no clue about without leaving the continent. Also Ukraine is geographically in the middle of the part of Europe I knew nothing about and it was super convenient to travel from there. I went to Poland, Turkey, Balkan, Moldavia, Finland, etc.
The country is pretty interesting itself. As a Political science student, I was interested in understanding what is or was actually happening in Ukraine. Like Maidan, what is with Crimea, what is with Donbas. In western media they talk about it but not that much and from a very western point of view. When you are there you start to understand everything. It is weird – Ukraine is on the border with EU and we don`t talk about it.
It is kinda a mix of many identities for me. It is somewhere between EU, Balkan, Caucasia and Russia. It has been a part of the Soviet Union for so long. It appears to me as a very complex and very unique identity. And also this mix of languages – fascinating.
Interviewer: Anastasiia Mykytenko
Photos: Jeanne's personal archive