Russia Study trip 2012
In the last week of the Easter holidays, 18 members of Year 10 and four members of the Lower Sixth travelled to Russia. They initially followed an intensive language programme, undertaking 16 hours of classes over four short but enchanting days in St Petersburg, the northern capital of Russia. Blessed with sunshine and unseasonably warm weather, they navigated the famous canals, discovered art treasures in the Hermitage, and saw some breathtaking ballet. After St Petersburg, they travelled to Moscow on the night train for a day’s damp sightseeing, before commencing the next part of the trip – a weekend camp with local charity Maria’s Children and young people from Russian orphanages.
The Russian welfare system sets orphans on a very different life course to children from normal families, and often these children find it difficult to socialise and integrate in society. Together, however, we managed to find a common language (mostly of Russian and hand gestures) as we played games and sport, and drew and painted together. We even scripted short plays of Greek myths, which we performed on stage in mixed groups and full costume! Many new friends were made, even in such a short time. Our Year 10 pupils then returned to the UK, having learned a little bit about Russia, and what lies beneath the polished facade, as our four L6 IB students moved on to the provincial village of Kitezh, 300km to the south of Moscow.
This village, founded 19 years ago by social visionary Dimitri Morozov, consists entirely of foster families. Our pupils lived in these families for five days, and integrated fully into the quite unique life of the community: cleaning stables, building tables, collecting rubbish and sweeping floors. Most impressive was the deep understanding we gained of the ideology that underpins the work of the village, and their vision of how best to develop and support these emotionally damaged children. We saw first-hand many aspects of this, especially their hierarchy of social roles and their ‘economic games’, which used their own local currency to reward hard work and planning. The correlation between their self-created ideology and the IB learner profile was fascinating. There was, of course, plenty of time for fun and laughter, and so many memories that will bring a smile to my face for many years to come (morning exercise, circuit training in jeans and jumpers and the diverse qualities of smetana, to name but a few). Our hosts were some of the friendliest Russians I have met, and this will certainly be the first of many joint projects between us and the Kitezhans. Pleasingly, our group of students are already planning how they might raise the money to bring a group of orphans over to Sevenoaks.
My thanks go to Miss Cardon and Miss McQuillin for accompanying me on this wonderful trip and for being such good sports, and also to all our pupils, who were such excellent ambassadors of the school.