West Cork spirit impresses Russian visitors

Posted on: 10th September, 2015

Category: Features

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

Durrus resident Brendan Molloy recently came closer to his aim of forging links between the Russian Federation and Ireland. Promoting West Cork as a business and tourist destination, over the summer Brendan welcomed a group of students, ranging in age from 15 to 21, from Samara in the South East of Russia.

Always holding a fascination for the intrigue of Russian culture, Brendan delved deeper in to its mystery as part of his Masters Thesis at UCC.

His first visit to Russia in September 2012 cemented his interest in developing links between the two countries. “The hospitality, respect and camaraderie afforded to me, has inspired, encouraged and motivated me,” he says.

In 2013, a small group of young children from Samara visited Durrus, joining in with classes at St James’ NS. This was followed by another successful visit in 2014.

This summer was the first time second level and university students had made the trip to West Cork. The Russian group was treated to a special lunch at Goleen Community Centre and was very impressed at the wonderful community spirit and the facilities in place there for the local community, especially the elderly and youth.

Four members of the Russian group are students in the Department of Economics at Samara State University, studying accountancy, economics, tourism, marketing and business related courses. A number of parents and university professors also travelled with the group.

Within the Russian Federation, children attend school six days a week. There is a major focus on Math and Physics and Languages. Interestingly, in comparison to Ireland, students remain within the same school building for the duration of primary and secondary education. “In my opinion, the system from a sociological perspective, is very ‘functionalist’”, says Brendan. “Children are ‘slotted’ into a particular school depending on the subjects it focuses predominantly upon. In other words if a student wishes to focus on Maths and Physics he or she will go to a ‘particular’ school. The same applies with language studies — a ‘particular’ school is designated for this.”

This trip was the first time that most of the Russian students had ever seen the ocean and they expressed huge excitement at the possibility of seeing marine life like dolphins and whales. “We really wanted to see the flora and fauna in Ireland,” commented one student.

The lifestyle and social life in Samara varies depending on the season and the climate there is very different to the Irish weather. It’s very cold in winter and extremely hot in summer in Samara.” During the winter skiing through the surrounding forests and parks is a hugely popular past time. “We also love ice-skating and ice hockey,” said one of the students.

The river Volga (the longest and largest river in Europe) flows through Samara, and this river freezes over completely in winter. However, the locals ski and walk on the river during the winter months and in early spring. Hovercrafts can be seen constantly going backwards and forwards across the river during these periods.

In summer, the river Volga again plays a major role in the lives of the locals with the many manmade beaches all along the river packed with people. There is a beautiful, long promenade, right beside the river, which is very popular with walkers and rollerbladers. On the far side of the Volga, there are wonderful barbecue and socialising facilites, which can be reached by boat or ferry. There is a spectacular view of the city centre from the far side of the river, where many private and holiday homes are located. The ‘Dacha’ (a holiday retreat) plays a huge role in the social life of Russian people, including Samara. Russian people spend weeks on end from April to September at their Dacha on the outskirts of the city. They grow their own fruit and vegetables and throughout the growing season are basically self-sufficient. The size of a Dacha depends on the disposable income of its owner.

People of Samara also love to attend the theatre, ballet and opera. The local concert hall in the city centre is very popular and many classical music performances take place there on a regular basis.

This particular group of students gave the impression of being from well-off middle class families having funded their own trip in spite of the weakness of their own currency, the rouble. “From my experience, people who reside within the city centre are generally more better off,” explains Brendan. “It is quite evident with the standard of apartments that are located in the city — more modern and certainly far more expensive than outside the city. Class distinction definitely is evident.” Although unemployment is low in Samara, salaries for most professions are low also.

“Although the students who visited West Cork have an adequate and comfortable standard of living, this is not the same for everyone in Samara,” says Brendan. “My host family who lives in the suburbs outside the city centre has told me that on occasion they just get by and simply have to make do with what they have.”

The current rate of unemployment within the whole Russian Federation stands at around 5.3 per cent so employment is not a problem. However, since the rouble crashed earlier this year many foodstuffs have risen dramatically. “People there are resilient,” says Brendan. “They change the type of food they buy and make it last longer.”

The feedback from the Russian group on their visit to Ireland has been very positive; they were delighted with the welcome they received and are already talking about planning another trip next year. Brendan has been invited to an International Conference related to the ‘The Theory of Enterprise’ at Samara State University in November where he plans to promote West Cork further. “A lot of work and fundraising needs to done in getting local West Cork schools involved in the exchange programme but I have doubt it will only go from strength to strength,” he says.

Any schools interested in organising exchanges to Russia can contact Brendan Molloy by email on brenaussie2000@yahoo.com.

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