From the Arctic Circle to Edinburgh…we both like soup!

Oksana Sokolenko and Irina Buglak are from Gubkinsky, near the Arctic Circle, four hours west of Moscow. They have never visited Scotland before, but have recently spent two weeks with their students, studying at Global School of English in Edinburgh.  They kindly agreed to spend half an hour being interviewed about their experience of the school and the city.

“This visit has surpassed my expectations,” said Oksana.   “The pace of life is not very different from our part of Russia, but the people here are so friendly and the beauty of the city – the architecture and the parks – has made a big impression on me.”

“I’ve been to London before, but it’s totally different from Scotland.  It’s more expensive and seems like a different country.”

Irina has also been to England before and she agreed with Oksana, telling me, “I really enjoy the heritage and history of Edinburgh and, as Oksana says, the people really are extremely welcoming. It’s also a safe place to bring teenage students, which is very important for us as teachers.”

As regards the School itself, both ladies agreed that, “the teachers are friendly and very competent. All the Russian students tell us they find the teaching to be good and well-structured for the different levels of study. In Russia, English is compulsory from age 8 and more people nowadays are interested in travelling around Europe and the rest of the world, so English is especially useful for them to be understood across the globe.”

I then asked what had surprised them about Edinburgh.

Irina said that she knew before she came about the famous Edinburgh sites – the Castle, the Royal Mile, Arthur’s Seat, etc. but what she didn’t know about was the people and the lifestyle.

Oskana added that when she had been in some other countries, like most visitors, she felt “foreign,” but here, after a couple of days “I didn’t feel like a foreigner because everyone was so friendly.  It’s particular striking that people say thank you and even the bus drivers say good morning to everyone who gets on their bus.”

As regards Scottish food, Irina admitted that although she had tried haggis, “it’s not my cup of tea!” while Oksana said that the students generally liked Scottish cuisine.  One thing both Russia and Scotland have in common is that we both like soup!  In contrast, on a trip the USA, Oksana said it was very difficult to get a nice bowl of soup.

Finally, both agreed that, as they had stressed throughout our chat, the one really big thing for them and their students was the friendliness of Scotland and the Scots. They also agreed that “we’ll be back soon, with more students!”

Interview, Alastair Blair  


The teachers are very good, especially the way they engage with the students

Uzbek students

Dostonbek Nuraliev and his sister, Shokhsanam Nuralieva (pictured above) live in Uzbekistan, where they run a small but growing education centre and agency.  They are keen to expand their markets and recently spent a week with us at Global School of English in Edinburgh.  I met up with them on the second day of their visit and spent a very enjoyable half an hour listening to their views about Edinburgh and the School.

They have both been to Scotland before (Dostonbek studied at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh), and their other sister has actually studied with us at Global School last year. It was her recommendation that made them want to come and see for themselves.

Shokhsanam told me that she thinks “the teachers are very good, especially the way they engage with the students,” and she particularly liked the fact that the teachers, “as well as helping us improve our vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, also tell us lots of interesting things about Scotland and its culture.”

Both Dostonbek and Shokhsanam have also been to London, which they enjoyed, but they did say they found that Scotland was a much friendlier place – and also cheaper, especially when, like most students, you only have a little money.  However, it was really the friendliness that impressed Shokhsanam the most.  She said, “I think London is very, very busy, but Edinburgh people are very nice, very helpful and if you ask them anything they will help you.”  Dostonbek added that he thinks Scottish people are more friendly than those in many other countries he has visited, where, he said, “they don’t try to help, but here, in Edinburgh, even the bus drivers say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ to the passengers.’

In fact, the public transport generally was another thing they both commented upon, with Dostonbek saying, “The buses are very good, here, very frequent so you don’t have to wait very long, even if you are living on the outskirts of the city.   The public transport system works very well and the cost is good – much less expensive compared to London.”

Finally, I asked Shokhsanam what she would say to any student in Uzbekistan thinking of coming to study in Scotland – Why come to Scotland to learn English?  – She replied, “Everyone knows about the Scottish kilt – although we still think of it as men in skirts! – but you really need to come here to experience the unique culture. There is a lot of ancient history, some big and impressive castles and outstanding architecture.  But most of all, it’s the politeness and friendliness of the people that stand out.”

Interview by Alastair Blair