RUSSIAN CULTURAL CENTRE IN CHRISTCHURCH
(NEW ZEALAND)

   The Russian Cultural Centre of Christchurch has officially been functioning since February 2000. We teach children and adults, organise concerts, theatrical performances and festivals and take part in many cultural events of the city. We generally work within the usual areas of charitable non-profit organisations.

   Apart from the aims, indicated in the Russian Cultural Centre Statute, our main goal is to promote and preserve the Russian language and culture. Furthermore, we have a wider goal: to give everyone an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with other people in the Russian Community.

OUR HISTORY

   The Russian School in Christchurch is part of the Russian Cultural Centre. Dozens of children have been studying here since its inception in 2000.

   Initially, there were more questions than answers, such as: is it possible to give children the basic knowledge of grammar and teach them to read and write with only one lesson a week? Should groups be formed according to skill levels or age? What teaching methods should be chosen? At that time, I had already experienced teaching in the New Zealand context. It is common knowledge that Russian and New Zealand teaching approaches are totally different. I understood that I needed to find “a happy medium” and try to combine both systems of education.

   Today, there are still questions to be answered. However, I am certain about one thing: it is definitely possible to maintain and develop knowledge of one’s native language with only one lesson a week! Of course, the efforts and approaches of a teacher need to be supported and further developed by the family.

   Nowadays, our outstanding team has expanded to include both teaching staff and community volunteers, working cohesively with children from 18 months up to age 16.

ADOPTED CHILDREN

   Adopted Russian children make up another group that we work with. These children lose command of their native language far too quickly because, having settled in their new Kiwi families, they find themselves in an exclusively English speaking environment.

   I have a special feeling for those families. One cannot help admiring the new parents who give their children so much love, patience and attention. It is gratifying that so many of these adoptive parents are doing their utmost to develop the children’s knowledge of Russian.

ENGLISH LANGUAGE COURSES

   For many years now we have been offering English language courses for adults in our Centre. The courses are available for all people wanting to attend, including those who do not have New Zealand permanent residence.

   Our courses have a dual aim: English language acquisition and assistance to survive during adaptation and settlement.
   The younger generation and the middle aged learn from native speakers, find a job and adapt to the new environment. On the other hand, the elderly are taken away from their usual way of life by their children and in exchange offered separate flats, which are very isolating. Consequently, they feel very lonely. Without English they become merely dependent on their constantly busy children and grandchildren.

   In my opinion, our courses help people not only to acquire a certain amount of independence, but also to improve communication. Both factors are of equal importance.

DO WE REALLY NEED RUSSIAN LANGUAGE IN AN ENGLISH SPEAKING COUNTRY?

   Indeed, do we? If the children do not want to speak Russian — no problems! Their English is perfect. As a rule, the children of Russian immigrants are among the most successful students in New Zealand schools. Moreover, they can still remember some Russian. What else do we want?

   The English language is undoubtedly crucial in an English speaking country. The question is: can children master the English language without losing command of their mother tongue? I believe, this is both possible and absolutely necessary.

   During the period of the Russian Community school’s existence, I have heard many stories about the stress experienced when people find themselves in a new language environment. We can only guess how these changes affect a child’s psyche during this difficult period. We all know how hard it is and what a great effort we have to make to adapt to a new language and culture. I believe that the time a child spends in the Russian Community school cannot possibly undermine the process of English language acquisition. In fact, it actually facilitates the process of adaptation.

WHY HAVE A RUSSIAN CULTURAL CENTRE?
WHY NOT HAVE JUST A SCHOOL?

   Just having a school is not enough! Out of school communication is as valuable and important for children as a formal lesson. At first, we organised children’s socials, then concerts and theatrical performances. The help and support contributed by adults was invaluable. As these activities have proven to be very popular, we undertake to develop and extend them further.

   Every Saturday, one can hear Russian people speaking their native language in our school. Seeing parents bringing their eager children to school, gives me a warm feeling of joy and satisfaction. Families from all parts of the former Soviet Union and New Zealand are enrolled in our school. This fact leads me believe that the work accomplished so far has been important not only for me and my colleagues but also for our young students, who are at the heart of our community.


Anna Filippochkina,
Chairperson of the Russian Cultural Centre in Christchurch,
Principal of the Russian Community School.

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