Best Bachelor`s Student of 2019 Alina Petrova: you can't learn in MSSES and forget the next day.

Best Bachelor`s Student of 2019 Alina Petrova: you can't learn in MSSES and forget the next day.

At the 2019 graduation ceremony, Alina Petrova was named the best graduate of the Bachelor's degree program. We asked Alina about studying in the bachelor's degree program "World Politics" and about how to become a best graduate, where to live during foreign internships, how differ the students who managed to stay at MSSES after the 2nd year, and what patriotic concerts on Russia Day can say about the country.

— So, for those who are just starting to study at MSSES: what do you need to do to become the best bachelor?

I don't think I did anything special - I wrote essays on the topics that were interesting to me, I did homework. As it happened, I was well assessed, and this gave me an incentive to do something further. And I am very touched that I was awarded such status for what I usually do.

When we started studying at MSSES in the 2nd year (the first year we spent on the Liberal Arts program at RANEPA, which is common for all the specialties of the British bachelor`s program), it seemed to me that I was far from the strongest — there were very talented and purposeful guys in the group, much stronger and more able-bodied than me.

It was such a turning point - it seemed that you were a student in a new way: you had to break yourself, adjust to the Manchester standard, to the academic reality. It was hard for me, especially when those who I communicated the most decided to change their specialty. I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing, and it was hard, and then everyone left me. So the first year at MSSES was hard, and then it got going - and here I am the best student.

I think in the end I was just lucky because while I was studying, I didn`t feel the best at all.

— But there are probably formal criteria..?

There are, of course: the average score is not lower than 75, without satisfactory grades, etc. Plus, class presentations, extracurricular activities are also assessed. We had only two majors on the stream — "World Politics" and "Creative projects management". There were 15 people studying in total — by the 4th year there were 12 left. So the teachers didn`t have a particularly big choice.

— Many of those who are interested in studying at MSSES worry that they won`t be able to enroll with their school English or it will be difficult for them to study later. Tell us about your immersion in learning in English, as you remember it.

It's hard. Reading IELTS texts is one thing, but reading Hobbes in the original is quite different. That is, you need some skill, the habit of looking for the necessary information in the text. This is difficult until you understand how an academic text works in principle. In this regard, the course of academic writing helps a lot.

We were lucky to have our English teachers - one way or another, we left them with some new skill, which helped later a lot. The same academic writing was difficult for the whole group. But we have memorized this writing structure so that now any text — even Russian — is automatically checked for it.

— So, are you learning how to express your thoughts, or are you just expanding your vocabulary?

One is connected to the other. As soon as you understand how it works, you automatically start thinking differently. And as soon as this happens, it is easier to write and more interesting to learn, because the language barrier is passed, and everyone seems to be in the same environment.

"Learning in English is hard. Reading IELTS texts is one thing, but reading Hobbes in the original is quite different"

- Let's say I enter MSSES. And I am told that academic reading or writing will help me a lot in terms of language. I have no idea what it is. Can you explain what it isin a few words?

It's like physical education, just for the brain. You should regularly force yourself to speak differently. It`s studying a language in a sense, including Russian: we had academic reading not only in English, but also in Russian. Learning to speak in a scientific way and, in principle, building your thought so that they are understandable to the reader, and not just to you alone — this is what you get after courses of academic reading and writing.

You know a language well when you can express yourself in it in a structured way. I always had a strong English, but it became really good at MSSES.

— That's why you wanted to learn Arabic and Farsi as well...

This is my great and inaccessible love. The situation is that I probably won`t learn the languages I want to speak soon. Because no one else needs them. These are Arabic, Farsi and Hindi.

I master them on my own, the way I can, but everything rests on the question "What for?". My teachers, relatives and friends say that any language is necessary for something, language is a tool, you need to use it. I agree with this only in part, because for me language is a beautiful phenomenon in itself. And if I like the language, it's quite areason to learn it. Many people like Italian — they learn Italian, I like Farsi — I learn Farsi.

Of course, I am attracted to a certain exoticismin these languages, because there is completely different writing, different phonetics, not like what we usually learn at school or university. These are not Romance languages, but something from a completely different planet.

But when I told my mother that I wanted to study Arabic, they said: "Learn French!" And I started studying French — so it was easier to solve the problem. The question was actually purely practical: what will you do with the Arabic language? This is the same as learning Chinese at the academy — I applaud those who choose to learn it, because they agree do something extra to come out with at least some knowledge. You need to work very hard on yourself to learn Chinese in 4 years. The time of classes at the university is not enough. It's the same with Arabic: There`s little time, few resources, and even less practice.

"Many people like Italian — they learn Italian, I like Farsi — I learn Farsi"

— You wrote that during your studies at MSSES, you traveled all over the UK and France. Is this an artistic exaggeration? Or did it happen during the training internships?

During my time at MSSES, I visited England twice: after the first and after the third year. I didn't really travel around the country during my first internship, because there was a lot of study. But I've had a good look around Manchester. And during the second internship, we had more free time and wanted to see something other than Manchester — this is quite a small city, you can get around in a week. We went to York, Liverpool, someone was in Edinburgh, in Leeds, in the Lake District National Park — an absolutely amazing place in the mountains, with lakes where the water is just like in the picture.

But I remember my French internship most vividly, because it was a completely new experience. I'm used to speaking English when I'm abroad. And here was the attitude that you were in the same conditions as the others, and I knew that I may not say something. But since everyone around me — the students — felt the same way, it was somehow unifying.

There we also saw a lot of small French towns. One of the most striking impressions is the Museum of Film Decorations in Lyon. I really love the movie "The Perfumer", and the whole first floor there is a set from "The Perfumer": I surely just got leterally lost there.

— That is, two English internships and a French one. First English internship - after the first year, it is a language course. The second English ...

After the 3rd year, this is already a professional internship — we went together with the masters, there was a design of a research paper. We were taught how to compose your text so that it was readable and received good grades.

French was after the 2nd year, it was also a language internship-and I think it would not have been so cool if I hadn`t lived in a family. Here I consciously chose to live in a family.

— Can you choose from there?

Yes. My friend lived in a dorm, and I lived in a family. And they were two completely different experiences. My Madame Riff and I had heart-to-heart conversations about everything every night. There was home-cooked food, French cuisine — everything was great, in general. And my friend got to know France on the other hand, independently-household: where to go, in what market and from whom it is more profitable to buy, how independent life in France is arranged. I went to her every time, as if on an excursion.

— What kind of families take in students there?

Oh, these are actually very cool people! Vichy is a small town with a population of only 25,000. Young people, of course, leave — there are not so many prospects there. But their parents stay, including for the sake of students like us, who come to study in Cavilam in the summer — this is a school that is located in Vichy.

In summer, the city comes to life: there are students, festivals, life is in full swing. As I understand it, there is no one there in winter.

And these people come to Vichy in the summer, rent apartments to students, communicate with them. And in the winter, they go to where they have a job.

"Madame Riff and I had heart-to-heart conversations about everything every night. There was home-cooked food, French cuisine — just everything was great. I went to my friend's dorm as if on an excursion."

I must say, Vichy is a small, but very atmospheric city: you walk in the evening  and hear the clinking of dishes in restaurants, smell the food, the river flows, there is no one at all. That`s just fine.

— We also understand that you were at Tufts University in America. Independently or also from MSSES?

I saw the announcement that there will be a conference on migration in Boston, and this is one of the topics that I do. There was a competition, I had to write something, then an interview - it was conducted by Mark Simon, a MSSES teacher, a specialist on the topic of migration.

At first, there were 15 of us, then half of us were eliminated, and then four of us were chosen from the second half. We had to make a project on migration in Russia — on the one hand, to describe something as broadly as possible, because it should be an overview of the situation in the country. And on the other hand, there was a risk of repeating the topics with the team from MGIMO, which also participated.

As a result, we made such case studies on the stereotypical perception of migrants in Russia. At that time, I was a volunteer at "The Same Children" integration center — an NGO that works with children of refugees and migrants, and I knew a lot of such stories. We generally built our project on them.

We stayed in Boston for a week — and each of these 7 days there were reports from American researchers on migration. There I heard a report on a topic that I had never thought about before, and then I wrote an essay on it in MSSES. About human trafficking. You could say it was useful.

— Is your diploma subject related to ... state concerts?

This is my pride, on the one hand, and on the other, I don`t know how to cover it. One day I turned on the TV on the Day of Russia and came across a concert. I thought: "God, what a nightmare..." I switched the channel, but thoughts of patriotism didn`t let me go. And I thought: I'll write about patriotism!

Initially, I had the idea to look at the transformation of the patriotic idea before and after the Crimea events. I was sure that at these concerts, this break should definitely be noticeable, before "The Crimea is ours" and after it.

And I was right! My scientific supervisor Tatiana Weiser supported me, saying: "Well, thank God, someone will study them..", and let me to choose this topic. Only we pushed the time limits a little: I planned to take only 2 years - 2013 and 2014, and she said: "No, we need to look at a long period", so we took from 2011 to 2018, that is, from the beginning of Putin's third term until now.

What I saw shocked me. I didn't expect it to be so obvious.

— What was the formal name of the study?

"State concerts for the Day of Russia in the patriotic idea construction".

It turned out that everything was quite optimistic up until 2014: there was Skolkovo, there were the 2014 Olympics, there was the World Cup, which we were going to. This was constantly being discussed from the stage — I compared the concerts with the President`s speeches on the hotline and on the Valdai.

— But you didn't analyze the songs at the concerts..?

Songs, too. But, for example, Pelagia, who sings "Valenki" is not quite the same. At concerts, there is such a theme that all the participants gather on the stage at some point and sing a song written specifically for this event. And then the anthem. And at first everything was very positive: Russia is a well done, we have a great scientific future ahead of us, we will come there with Europe, America, everything will be great.

And in 2013, the story of spiritual bonds suddenly started. That is, literally in one moment -crash! - and everyone is already wearing kokoshniks. There was already an emphasis on ethnicity and all that.

Then there was 2014 — the Moscow concert on the Day of Russia was not shown on federal channels, but the one that was in Yalta was shown. And there was already unbearable emphasis on ethnicity: the whole concert was dedicated to the fact that Russia is a multiethnic country, with the Russian culture, which very selectively composed of kokoshniks, Nadezhda Babkina, some jokes, etc, intertwined there with a red thread.

Not a single word has been said about the championship, SKOLKOVO, about the future since that moment!

– The future was over, the past began.

It's not that it was over, it just dissolved! And the present has become the eternal past. And this past was constantly deepening: if earlier it was represented by the Great Patriotic War, now the Great Patriotic War was miraculously connected with Prince Vladimir, for example.

"Suddenly, the story of the spiritual staples began. That is, literally in one moment -crash! - and everyone is already wearing kokoshniks "

– Do you think this is how they prepared the ground in the cultural field? Or was it developing in parallel with political events?

I think it duplicated political events. This is one of the ideas of my diploma: I tried to prove that these concerts explain the political agenda to people in the most accessible way and legitimize the actions of the government. Why do we do this? Because that's what we are. And what are we? We are the kokoshniks, we are the bears, we are the priest with the cross.

– Let`s fast forward to pleasant France again. What is this story about an interview about Gorbachev for French television?

We must thank Vasily Pavlovich Zharkov for this, who invited us to the presentation of Gorbachev's book "I remain an Optimist" in the "Moscow" bookstore in the fall of our 3rd year. He was the guest of honor and decided to take it with him.

Gorbachev himself presented the book, signed it, and so on. We were standing in a queue for 3 hours, and journalists - Russian, French, and English – were swirling around us. We were approached by the French ones fromTV5 Monde. They started talking to us in English, and for some reason I blurted out that I spoke French. And the interview continued in French.

This was the most stressful situation of the 3rd year. I should have at least formulated for myself what Gorbachev meant to me and what I was doing here in general, and secondly, express it in French. But I kind of did it.

— And later you even won a short story contest in French by Didier publishing house.

Yes, I often write such short notes in social networks with my ideas or observations that my subscribers usually like. And there was a note, a memory from the first year: I was in love with a man who I often crossed paths with, returning from studying in MSSES. And I was trying to calculate it so that we could meet again.

I described my feelings before those meetings in that note. Overall, the meeting itself was not as important for me as the feeling of elation before it. It was one of the most popular stories on my page, and I translated it into French.

– Why is this story so magical for you?"

It's not really a story that has a beginning and an end. This is a screenshot of my emotional background at that time. In fact, I was trying to be like a short film by Tykwer, whom I love very much, in the "Paris, I love you" almanac. I liked the way it narrated - in short sentences, as if they were flashbacks.

It coincided with my feelings: one long moment, divided into many episodes. I tried to repeat this in my story, and, apparently, it worked.

I don't know what happened to this story at the publishing house. I was only struck by the fact that I can adequately write something in French, and then it will win some literary competition.

— After school, at the age of 17, it is still difficult for many people to understand something about themselves. In your VK, there is such a formulation that you "wanted to study modernity". The desire to study modernity sounds like a meaningful formula. And what was behind this desire, why were you so interested in this very modernity?

To be honest, I just remember sitting on history lesson, looking at the cover of an atlas and seeing the skyscrapers of either Kuala Lumpur or Dubai. We were studying antiquity, but these skyscrapers seemed much more attractive to me. I've been waiting for us to get to where we are now. That is, it was an imagery preference: I like this picture better than that one.

But gradually it became meaningful. Modernity was interesting not because of any political events — in fact, I was always surprised by people who already in the first year were well versed in politics and could defend their position with reasoned arguments. It seemed to me that what they say in the news is also a kind of screenshot. This is far from everything. I wanted to understand what was going on around this.

And it seemed that when we started to study the present, it would be like a movie called Minority report - connections through time, from the past to the future. That is, I had the idea of the modern as if it does not exist, it is just a consequence of past events.

"Politics is the thing that permeates all layers of society, regardless of whether a person understands it or not. From how the beggar agreed with the beggar, decisions are made at the very top"

— You said about people who surprise you with the fact that they are already well versed in politics in the first year — are there such people in MSSES?

Sure. Half of my group are very cool guys who went for the word "politics" when choosing a program.

— You are working with freshmen now, are there such guys there?

Yes, you can see them. These are quite conscious young people who understand why they came here. There are also those who don`t really understand, but I hope they will soon understand. Because I remember my feelings in the first year: I don`t know what's going on right now, but I'll probably figure it out soon.

When we started our political science course, we were asked to write what politics is in our view. Everyone started writing that it was the news or people in suits who were making decisions. It was like it wasn`t about us.

And then we start to discuss quite practical issues that we solve for ourselves every day. Should I do this or that? And why this way? Is it because I want to, or because that's what everyone does? And you understand that politics is any decision you make.

When I was 12, there was a multi-part film based on Ken Follet's book "Pillars of the Earth" - a medieval story about how the cathedral was built. It is interestingly tied to the characters: who went to whom, how they agreed with whom. There was the phrase "Politics is a bargain between beggars." I only realized what it meant now.

Politics is the thing that permeates all layers of society, regardless of whether a person understands it or not. From how the beggar agreed with the beggar, decisions are made at the very top.

— You wrote once: "We have different standards - we define quality not by the wording, but by real work and real knowledge." What, in your opinion, is this work of a student at MSSES?

Well, it's a lot of things. For example, all our exams are some kind of reflection on a given topic. It's not the same as coming in, pulling a ticket, and starting to come up with an answer. To write something, you really need to understand something. And it's impossible to pass the MSSES exams if you come in zero. You can reflect on a given topic, but it won`t be the same.

The work is that you think about it all the time. It often happened to me that I left the seminar, went down to the metro - and was scrolling it through in your head, thinking about some thesis that caught you at the seminar. That is, you work.

In the end, you sit down to write an essay or come to the exam with some experience, you have an idea. In this regard, the work at MSSES is very creative. You understand what you are interested in and what you can do with it to make it interesting to others. It takes tremendous work to do this. I`m sending great respect to those who achieve something along the way.

In retrospect, many students have left the second year. This was not their format — they were used to studying for the goal. At MSSES, you can't learn it and forget it the next day. It's either what you came to, or you just didn't come to it at all.