The foreign language teaching assistants (TAs) at Bates offer students the tremendous opportunity to engage with members of the cultures they seek to explore in higher education. The TAs are able to ease our foreign language experience of its daunting “foreignness” by providing Bates students with a chance to interact with a language and its cultural implications beyond verb conjugations and imperfect tenses. This week, I spoke with my own foreign language TA, Lera Fedorova, from the Russian Department for an interview. Lera hails from the small Russian city of Oryol, not far from the nation’s capital, Moscow. She is perhaps somewhat reserved and unassuming at first, but boasts a massive linguistic knowledge of Russian, German, and English and currently is in the process of learning French at Bates.

Madeline Polkinghorn (MP): Hi Lera! What made you interested in teaching Russian in America, and at Bates in particular?

Lera Fedorova (LF): Well, I studied teaching English [at university], so I was just interested in foreign language, and then I got the opportunity to teach at Bates, because we have some kind of cooperation with my university in Russia and Bates. TAs from my university have been coming to Bates for the last twenty years… I’ve just always been interested in languages.

MP: How long have you been teaching at Bates?

LF: It’s my second year in America and at Bates!

MP: How has your experience both in America and at Bates been so far?

LF: So far it’s been really great – I’ve been enjoying my time here at Bates and in the U.S. I’ve traveled a bit around the U.S., mostly the main cities, like New York, Washington D.C., Miami, and Detroit.

MP: What was your favorite place you visited in America?

LF: I really loved New York. I liked Brighton Beach [a neighborhood in Brooklyn known for its large population of Russian immigrants and culture). I both hated it and loved it… I loved the beach, but it was very depressing. It feels like you’re going back to Soviet Union times. What my city used to look like fifteen years ago is what Brighton Beach looks like now.

MP: Are there any substantial differences between the American and Russian education system that you’ve noticed?

LF: It’s totally different. In Russia, when you go to university…you’re assigned the subjects you have to take. So you have to choose your major and apply to this position, and then you study according to this schedule that the university makes for you. The teaching style is also different. Here, it’s more inclusive and more personal. In Russia, you have to work hard to make a good impression.

MP: What’s been your favorite part of working at Bates?

LF: I’ve been really impressed with all the facilities provided for teaching and all the equipment that you have. In every room, there are computers, there are screens, projectors. It’s much easier. At my university, there are only two rooms in the English department with a projector and you have to bring your own laptop when you want to use it.

MP: When you finish your education in Russia, would you ever consider moving back to America?

LF: Only if there’s a good job for me, because I am not one of those people who wanted to blindly move to America. I see no sense in just coming here to live in bad conditions, in bad work, just to survive. But if there is a good opportunity for me, why not?