Russia still Unknown to Foreigners

Russian woman uses her mathematical knowledge and becomes successful in New Zealand

Irina Zhdanova left Rostov and Russia in 1997. The woman had a very good education and a strong wish to work, but she was not in demand in Russia as a lot of other scientists. She could not help her children have a good education, realize their creative ambition, it was hard for Irina to maintain her family. The candidate of physical and mathematical sciences and her two children eventually emigrated to New Zealand. During six years of living abroad, Irina has managed to obtain a very prestigious job of a mathematical analyst in the largest private bank of New Zealand, a good apartment in the center of Wellington and very good wages. On her way to the financial conference in Switzerland, Irina visited her home in the Russian city of Rostov.

Is it hard to be an emigrant?

It is a hard question to answer. When you find yourself in an absolutely different country no one can explain anything to you. Virtually, you do not understand the sense of another system. There are a lot of problems with Russian and English words. For example, let's take the Russian meaning of the word "friend" - it is totally different. These are two different notions from the English and the Russian points of view. The English word does not have the deep Russian meaning of it - it actually corresponds to the Russian word "priyatel", a "pal." Such things can be problematic on numerous occasions. Here is another example: if you ask a person in a restaurant, whether he or she likes a dish or not, the typical answer will be: "Yes, it is a great dish, very interesting." This is absolutely clear for a Russian person. However, it turns out that an English-speaking person was talking about the opposite thing - "This is a horrible dish, I have never eaten anything worse than that." This meaning is packed in a nice formulation with a little criticism. It was often hard for me to understand, what people actually mean. Such things spring from the British mentality: the British people live on the island, enemies have attacked many times, they do not like being close to anyone and they do not need sincere emotions. One may hear this question all the time: "How are you?" At first I did not realize that the sincerity of the question did not at all imply the sincerity of the answer. This is a question which does not need an answer, it is a cliche - people have no interest in you. A conversation in loud and angry voices is already a scandal. Clever people say that it takes a person about ten years to become accustomed to a new environment. This is an absolutely correct thing to say. I can speak English very well and I understand everything. But a foreign language also carries history, culture, associations, various quotes from movies and songs, and so many other things that I will never be able to grasp. One has to try to understand the Western world since 1917, when it was closed for the Russian people.

How do foreigners treat Russians?

They treat Russians in a simple way. There was a phrase during the Cold War era - "Russians are already under your bed," meaning that Russians are advancing and threatening. New Zealand is a very open, democratic country, there are a lot of emigrants living there, but one may feel coldness anyway. Russia is still the world of the unknown to them. New Zealanders celebrate the victory in WWII on April 25th. I once attended a celebration with some friends of mine. I knew that the country had suffered huge losses in the war, so I understood their feelings very well. Russians celebrate the Victory Day on May 9th. That day, a Russian friend of mine, a colleague, posted a message on the forum of our organization. In the message, he tried to explain that May 9th had the same significance for Russians as April 25th had for New Zealanders. He also assembled a selection of stories and photographs about WWII: the Russian troops entering Germany, Vienna, the Victory Parade on Red Square in Moscow in 1945, Russian people's faces filled with joy and happiness. I responded to the post immediately, because I am a Russian. However, no one else was interested in the topic - people did not post anything. Only one woman wrote that Russians had a different point of view regarding Russia's contribution to the war. My son told me after school that the Soviet Union was virtually not a winner in the war - the victory was accomplished by Great Britain, the USA and others. They do not even know how many people the USSR has lost in the war. They know nothing about repression victims either.

How do your children feel about being emigrants?

I cannot imagine that they will lose their Russian connection and forget their roots. I would like them to be integrated on a different level. My daughter, a sophomore student, listens to Vladimir Vysotsky's music when she drives her car. She bought that car herself, with the money that she had earned. When she entered the university, she rose an educational loan that she would pay back after her studies.

Will it be hard to do it?

The loan will be paid on a special scheme not to limit her living. The interest on the educational loan starts growing after a student graduates. That is why, a lot of graduates leave New Zealand trying to avoid the payment. The state is gradually saving the debt. However, an educational loan is a gift to emigrants because it means that every person may have a good education. I used to raise a loan myself to learn another skill.

You have been studying theoretical physics and mathematics for your entire life. What was that other skill?

Do you understand what applied mathematics is? It is a very broad mathematical structure that can be applied to various sciences. The government of New Zealand does not fund the fundamental science, but mathematicians can work there in the financial field. This is a universal language and method, equations of one type describe the physics of atom and molecule vibration and stocks fluctuations on the world markets. Russia was excluded from the global development for a very long time, that is why Russian scientists started working in the same field a short time ago. That is why Russian mathematicians have left abroad - they are in demand everywhere. I quickly realized where and how I could use my knowledge. There is a gap in New Zealand – between competent financiers and specialists of mathematics.

What about the love to your fatherland? Where is it?

The Russian imagery for me now is about two things - an icon and a portrait of Alexander Pushkin, the great Russian poet. I like what I do here. My daughter is coming to the Rostov Medical University next year, my son has started studying recently. I like my hometown of Rostov, my friends, and I am not intended to forget them.

Natalia Zogrobyan

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Author`s name Olga Savka