Parlez-vous Français? #6: Bienvenue à l’Institut Français

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As I've already mentioned on my blog, this semester I decided to switch French schools: back in April our classes at Excuse My French were put on pause, and in August I signed up for classes at Institut Français - the official international language center of the French Republic which made its first appearance on Russian soil back in 1992.

Just to make things clear: I really like the concept of Excuse My French, I think it's a great school and I will definitely keep recommending it to people around me. However, when choosing a language school, remember that the most crucial thing is that your teacher is a high-level professional who has the required qualifications and experiences. Because in the end, it's your teacher who will decide what are you going to study and how much time you will spend practicing certain grammatical constructions, what are you going to do at home and how the exercises you will do will contribute to mastering the language and «digesting» what you've been working on at class.

Unfortunately, my teacher at Excuse My French didn't live up to my expectations. Upon arriving at Institut Français, I quickly realized that I don't know many of the grammatical constructions and rules that my classmates studied at level 1. It turned out that I didn't know a lot of the essential verbs and nouns - what I knew instead were some ludicrous words that are not on the frequency lists and that an A2 student really doesn't need to know. Moreover, I found out that some of the phrases I was taught pretty much do not exist - French people simply don't understand them. Looking back, I realize that for the better part of the 3-hour classes with my previous group we would just chat, drink tea, eat sweets and watch videos (when you don't understand a single word the people in those videos are saying, it's quite frustrating, 'cause it doesn't contribute to neither your knowledge, nor your self-esteem). Like-minded people gathering together to have a good time, you know. Not quite what I needed.

Luckily, I didn't waste too much time: the amount of time I studied at EMF pretty much equals the amount of time I needed to reach my current level at Institut Français. It's just that my actual current «level» differs quite a lot from my classmates'. I don't remember how to form Futur Simple, I don't know anything about Conditionnel or Subjonctif Présent (we sort of studied them with my previous group, but, honestly, I pay more attention to the amount of milk in my morning flakes than we paid to these two very important topics). Finally, I have no idea whatsoever how to use «y» and «en». Thereby, I have to catch up on all of this myself - which is quite tricky considering how busy this pre-graduation semester is and how much homework we are being given.

Anyway, enough about the sad things! I really like it at Institut Français. Our teacher, Alexey Igorevich Tarasov (with years and years and years of corresponding work experience), ensures we are constantly being challenged and doesn't let us use simple grammatical constructions. Things we study give us an opportunity to learn a bunch of useful words and phrases - the ones that we use in our native language all the time: «crème fouettée», «retraité», «employé municipal», «bricoler», «en cachette», «les voisins du dessous», «connaître de vue», etc. And we also speak lots! After hearing quite a few ex-students complaining about not having enough opportunities to practice speaking French at class, I was a bit concerned, but in reality our teacher is giving enough time to every one out of 10 students to make sure everyone gets to talk.

We haven't studied any major grammar topics so far, but during the last 1.5 months we learned about such things as gérondif, ne ... que, omission de l'article après la préposition «de», different ways to express negation and reason/cause. I like that we use «Le Nouveau Taxi» textbook a lot and that we check homework in class - it should be mentioned that Alexey Igorevich makes sure every single student understands the rule and can repeat it out loud on their own. What's more important, thanks to the type of homework we are being given and the way the programme is built I noticed that I really use actively the new constructions and phrases.

There's finally some sort of structure to my French, and I couldn't be happier. Learning it doesn't give me any negative emotions, I don't see it as my worst enemy anymore - it seems unbelievable, but I feel like we may even become friends soon! I promise to keep you posted on how our relationship evolves from here.

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For the Love of the Beautiful Game, Football

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Zenit 3-1 Real Sociedad at St. Petersburg Stadium | Europa League, Group Stage | 28.09.2017

I've been writing and rewriting and rewriting again what could've been the introduction to this entry for the past 15 minutes. Turns out it's not that simple to compose a love letter - even if that letter is devoted to football, a game that, oddly, became an essential part of who I am during the last 10 years.

I genuinely don't know what to begin with. I suppose it would make sense to start off by telling you about the very first time I went to a football stadium in the late 1990's - although back then I was much more interested in the concert of the Swedish pop band 'Vacuum' (whose single 'I Breathe' I was obsessed with at the time) than in the club legends fixture. Or should I recount that Sunday morning in November when I was watching the derby between CSKA (Moscow) and Zenit (St. Petersburg) together with a handsome dark-haired young man that 15-year-old me was in love with? Needless to say, I was cheering for the 'militarians' just to tease the aforementioned guy. But maybe I should've started this entry by describing how I listened to the live match commentary on the newly founded 'Radio Zenit' - instead of listening to what my preparatory classes professor at St. Petersburg State University was saying?..

Then there was the game against Bayer Leverkusen - my first ever game at the stadium which I attended together with my school friend - and the epochal two-legged tie between my hometown club Zenit and FC Bayern Munich in May 2008. I remember how I was walking home and how I passed by a few supporters in our blue-white-sky blue scarves; deep down, I really did not believe that we could win against the team that had the great Oliver Kahn to defend their goal. But that night St. Petersburg couldn't sleep: we won 4-0 and a couple of weeks later our players put on the golden jerseys and brought home the UEFA Cup. In June of that same year Andrey Arshavin made the ball go right between Edwin van der Sar's legs - and straight into the net, earning the Russian National Team the bronze medals of the UEFA Euro 2008. Despite my family's explicit protests, I rewatched that game on New Year's Eve.

Four years later, I traveled to Ukraine to take part in UEFA Euro 2012 as a volunteer. There I met Keisha who became one of my closest friends - we rented an apartment next to the National Opera of Ukraine (cockroaches and all), worked as part of the Hospitality team for a month and spent our evenings watching the games at the Khreshchatyk fan zone. In the end of the month we visited Donetsk to attend the semifinal match between our beloved Spaniards and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal - and during the final we were there, on the front rows of the Spanish fan sector, waving flags and making up chants about Sergio Ramos, who we met a few days before that. It's funny, but 5 years later I'm still passing the exams I had to miss because of that trip - but I've never regretted going to Kyiv, to this day I still consider it the time of my life.

Shortly after, I heard the news about Total Football (the only magazine I read from cover to cover in 2008-2010) being shuttered, and my full schedule was not allowing me to watch the games regularly or follow all the latest news about Zenit and Real Madrid.

But once you let football into your life, don't expect it to ever leave you. And it doesn't even matter how often you tune in to see the game, whether or not you know the names of all the benchwarmers and how long it's been since the last time your team lost. It only takes 90 minutes - 90 minutes at the stadium, where the atmosphere is charged with electricity, at the stadium that sings as one and where people truly feel united by the love for this beautiful game. You will want to come back, you will want to jump out of your seat again, you will want to support your team until you lose your voice. Because football truly makes us experience the most pure and unfiltered emotions.

Dear football, thank you for all those unforgettable memories I got to make thanks to you. I'm looking forward to many more adventures together.

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September Update

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"Firebird Descent" installation by Poetic Kinetics at New Holland | Trench coat - La Redoute

It feels like I didn't have a spare minute ever since this photo was taken on the first Sunday of September - which has been exactly a month ago.

Over the course of these 30 days I've managed to pass 7 exams, translate 3200 descriptions from English to Russian, go to Helsinki for a one-day trip to pick up this perfect camel coat for chilly autumn days to come, attend 6 French classes (more on that soon!) and a football match between Zenit St. Petersburg and Real Sociedad, watch a couple of movies (including the absolutely charming Un Profil Pour Deux) and TV shows, catch up with a few friends - and, somewhere in between all of this, browse through approximately a myriad of photos from Spring/Summer 2018 collections.

As you can see, it has been a truly intense September - and it has also been a very vivid preview of what the next 9 months have in store for me. The key to surviving the schedule that's overflowing with errands, meetings and obligations? Set weekly goals, don't stress out over things you're not working on at the moment, be realistic and don't be afraid to say 'no' to things that are not your top priority - and, pleeease, stock up on some good vitamins.

I think that's gonna be it for today's update! Keep an eye on this space though: over the next few weeks I plan to (finally!) publish my photo diary from French Riviera, a mini guide to Helsinki, my thoughts on the incredible "Christian Dior: Couturier du Rêve" exhibition and a bunch of summery photos from Paris.

Photo edited by Sergey Povoroznyuk

Always Pack a Party Dress

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As a final year Theory & History of Arts student who's been working in fashion since 18, I've profoundly enjoyed reading Amanda Brooks' "Always Pack a Party Dress". If you are aspiring to build a career in fashion, I would highly recommend reading this book - it is very honest, very well-written, very funny. I am sure that those who already have some experience in this field will definitely relate to the love/hate relationship the author has with the industry - as much as it is inspiring and exciting, it is also quite exhausting and at times it can also appear shallow and superficial, making you want to either switch to something 'more serious' - or just move to England to make jam, as Amanda Brooks has done.

Last Days of August

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There's something alluring about those last days of August - when the colour of your sunburned-turned-light-golden skin still reminds you of afternoons well spent gazing at the planes on the beach and the city is pleasantly quiet, allowing you to focus on those ambitious new plans, goals and tasks that you can't wait to start bringing to life come September. I always come back home from abroad immensely inspired - and with the new season upon us, I felt like it's time for a change.

After returning from Paris last week, I realized that I really want to change my French school. As much as I love the school that I've been studying at for the past 1.5 years, I had to admit that I haven't been making any progress whatsoever since last September - moreover, somewhere along the way I managed to even lose motivation. It pains me to say that, but last year was a waste of both time and money in terms of French. That's why this autumn I'll be starting my Mondays and Thursdays at 10.15 AM at Institut Français - and I can't express just how excited I am! Let's hope that my "Parlez-vous Français?" series will be back soon - and this blog will be updated more frequently in general.

However, I'm not gonna promise anything - this semester is going to be intense: in the next seven months I will have to pass 24 exams in total, then take my finals and then present my graduation project in the end of March. Things I will be picturing when it gets especially tough and Ancient Egyptian ornaments start looking the same to me? How I'm gonna start the next academic year in Paris. As they say, don't give up a lifetime of happiness for a few moments of pleasure.

Photo edited by Sergey Povoroznyuk

Parisian Rooftops

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Printemps panoramic terrace offers an almost 360-degree view of Paris: from the gable roof of Opera Garnier and the monolithic building of Montparnasse Tower to the elegant silhouette of the Tour Eiffel and the snow-white domes of Sacré-Cœur. And between them - an array of white and grey sunlit rooftops, thousands of windows and balconies with flowerpots, tree-lined boulevards, people running their errands... The whole city in the palm of your hand.

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С террасы универмага Printemps открывается практически 360-градусный вид на Париж: от двускатной крыши Оперы и монолитного прямоугольника небоскреба Монпарнас до изящного силуэта Эйфелевой башни и белоснежных куполов Сакре-Кёр. А между ними - множество залитых солнцем маленьких серо-белых крыш, бесконечные окна и балконы с цветочными горшками, обрамлённые деревьями бульвары, снующие взад-вперёд люди... Весь город словно на ладони.

Photos edited by Sergey Povoroznyuk