St.Gallen, Switzerland,
December 2003

Environmental Sanitation Specialist,


About "PRIVET!"

I will try to give you some comments on Privet and Kaliningrad. Difficult task, because it is - an adventure!

Privet is a small, not very formal School. The owner/leader, Irina Vinokurova (speaks only little English, but always has nice people like Evgenia, Pavel, Sergej etc. around her to translate), and all her co-workers and teachers showed to be very, very service-minded and were open to all my suggestions and requirements.

They will really take good care of you. Some examples: after one week of intensive course, 30 lessons/week, which I found too hard, they arranged for me to continue on a 20hr/week basis. They arranged for me a meeting with senior city officials in my professional field (environment), and drove me out to the landfill. They drove me out to the sea on sundays, etc. etc. The financial arrangement is fair and they manage it correctly (invoicing, trust etc.).

Were the methods, materials, and teachers effective? For me, yes. I was there in December and, as the only student at that time, had private classes with Raissa Petrowna, a retired, very competent and very energetic teacher of "Russian for foreigners" (this is, in Russia, a special career, different from "ordinary" russian teachers or slavists). Raissa and I agreed from the first moment that we would ONLY speak Russian, nothing else. So we did! I also stayed with her in her appartment and she was an excellent cook! So I really had a "total immersion" experience, talking Russian from the first minute, going to city, market, concerts, learning poems and songs.

The one teacher - one student system could have, though, its risks and limitations. (1) In case you do not go well along with your teacher. Privet would in such a case probably help you to change to somebody else. For me it was just right, I liked the combination of learning - not only the language, but sharing everyday life in a post-soviet province capital, with all its surprises and limitations. (2) Some people prefer to work in groups rather than alone with one teacher. I did not have that option in that time, but would probably have prefered the dynamics of a group. Difficult to assess if learning effectiveness would have been higher or lower.

The book and cassettes are modern, good, practical. You do not have to fear academic style. My teacher was, though, pretty strict on grammar!

What did you like best about the program? I succeeded in learning some Russian, and besides that I learned a lot about Russia (yesterday and today), about Kaliningrad, about people, about myself.

What did you like least? Border control when entering by bus (from Berlin via Poland). The high visa cost.

What did you like least about the living arrangements? As commented above: You can not know in advance what you will find. If you are ready to put up with what people have - actually: share it, you will be happy. But forget "western" standards of comfort and privacy! If you can appreciate what people will share with you, you will be right. Is there anything that you didn't bring with you that you wished you had brought? No. You can get anything there. Good dictionaries are much cheaper there.