Finland / Great Britain
I volunteered at School #27 during September 2006. It was one of the best things I have ever done. I was a little nervous when getting off the train at Izhevsk station, not sure exactly what I was letting myself in for. But my host family (parents and a daughter two years younger than me) who greeted me then were the best hosts possible throughout my stay, so accomodating and kind, and living close to the school and city centre. I spent my days working at School #27, helping out in English lessons for ages between 7 to 16 in a number of ways, mainly based on oral classes, basically acting as an aid for the teacher. Lessons varied from teaching some kids their ABCs to discussion of Walt Whitman’s poetry. The teachers at the school are lovely, and the students unbelievably well behaved compared to those at UK schools! Don’t worry if you have limited teaching experience. The atmosphere is fairly relaxed, and you won’t be made to do anything you aren’t comfortable with. In my case, my ability to think on my feet and co-ordinate a small group of people improved, especially when attempting to enthuse teenagers about English grammar. I highly recommend the lunches at the school’s stolovaya, with hearty dinner ladies keen to fatten up any skinny looking foreigners.
Izhevsk is not a big, bad, industrial city as I had feared. I soon realised that there is so much to love about it, especially the welcoming people like the bustling babushkas. There are internet cafes and phone cards (with connections of varying quality) widely available to stay in touch with home, and it’s easy to buy a Russian SIM card for your mobile. Russian roads may be what they are, but public transportation (trams, trolleybuses, buses) in and around the city was reliable and affordable, with taxis easily available too. Trains can take you to other great cities like nearby Kazan. During my month in Izhevsk, I found that there was a lot more to do there than I first thought (cafes, bars, clubs, parks, shopping etc.).
Living in a Russian household and socialising with Russian students and adults alike will immerse you in Russian culture that is different to life in St Petersburg and Moscow, but still not enough for you to get homesick! The Svezhy Veter agency can help you to organise a lot of things and meet new people. For example, Michael (volunteer) and I found ourselves giving presentations at Izehvsk’s university to a hall full of students. I would say that a little previous experience of the language would be a good idea, but I don't think it would be a major hindrance. You'll probably pick up the basics as you go! If you want a memorable Russian experience, this is the way to do it. Email me at email@example.com with any questions!
Volunteered: August - September, 2006