Richard Baughman understandably had a few concerns when he headed off to Russia for five months last September as East Central University’s first exchange student at the State University of Management in Moscow.
For one thing, he didn’t know much Russian. He had been in Dr. Mara Sukholutskaya’s Russian language class at ECU for only two weeks before he left. In Moscow, his business classes were taught in English, but in a Russian language course, “no English was spoken whatsoever,” he said.
Fortunately, he discovered most of the people he interacted with spoke English or were glad to help him.
“If I could convey my needs,” he said, “people would try to help me.”
After awhile, he was comfortable jumping on the Metro and taking off around Moscow.
“If I was hungry at 2 a.m., I would go out and get food. I didn’t feel uncomfortable,” he said. “The Russian people are so friendly. It was kind of like being home.
“People are all the same,” he added. “People are just people. I met a lot of different people, and they’re all the same.”
Most of his classmates, however, were other international students. His roommate was from France, and his classmates and friends were from Germany, Poland, Finland, Austria, mainly European countries, and China.
“When we started out, I was the only American anyone knew at that point,” Baughman said. “I stayed with that group (through his classes). Later on, some of the Russian people were integrated into our classes, I guess to improve their English.”
The State University of Management schedules classes for foreign students from 6:30 to 9:30 at night. They take one business class for three hours a day for eight days, not counting weekends, then start another class. A junior majoring in business administration at ECU, Baughman took classes in finance, economics, management, team building, leadership and Russian entrepreneurship, plus a Russian language class.
“Here, we study American business models,” Baughman said. “There, we studied how Russians conduct business and how they perceive how they conduct business.”
He also was in a large language class that met three hours a day, three days a week.
“They don’t really assign homework,” he said. “At the end of a course, you take an exam or make a presentation. We had case studies that we read and talked about in class. It was more conversation than anything else. It was a cross-cultural program where Europeans, Americans and Russians could get different viewpoints.”
Baughman said he was surprised so many cultures were represented.
As an Ada resident, he never had lived in an ECU residence hall. In Moscow, he lived in a 20-story dormitory with between 40 and 50 students on each floor. He was surrounded not so much by Russians as by other international students speaking French, German, Arabic and other languages.
“We used hand signals and basic communication. Somehow we communicated with each other,” Baughman said with a smile. “Sometimes it took several translations. By the time something gets translated to several other people, they don’t know what was said.”
Everyone came to him to learn English, Baughman said, but he wanted to learn Russian.
Being with people from other countries for five months made them something like a family, he said. They often talked about cultural differences but there always was a concern about saying something inappropriate or crossing a line.
“Everyone is a nationalist at heart, I think,” he said.
Other students asked him about Hollywood movies – the way they portray American life, or if everyone lives in big houses like they see in the movies.
“I noticed that everyone watches American films and listens to American music. A lot like hip hop music. Everyone likes Michael Jackson,” he commented.
Baughman said restaurants and cafeterias on campus offered good lunches of soup, meat and salads for $3. In the evening, he and other students went to a market, bought food and cooked it in the dormitory. That could be a challenge, though, because there were only two stoves and hot plates for each floor, and it took 30 minutes for them to heat up.
To make cooking easier, they usually had one meat and an ethnic meal, such as Chinese or German, usually after their night classes.
“When it was my turn to cook, everyone wanted hamburgers,” he said.
“We had no TV, so there was a lot of time to talk. It was like a simple life, compared to back home. I had to wash my clothes by hand.”
He also visited the Kremlin and all the main museums and went to an opera.
“I saw everything I could,” he said. “International students got a card where we could go see things for a dollar. International students got treated better than the people who live there. It was a pretty nice opportunity.
“When I got back home,” he said, “I started cooking for my girlfriend and listening to classical music. She said, ‘What happened to you?’ I guess it kind of made me grow up.”
Baughman didn’t learn as much Russian as he wanted, but now knows everyday language. He said he wouldn’t change any part of the experience.
“It was a chance to learn about different countries’ cultures. That’s the general idea. With me in business, I need to know about other cultures. You can read all the books in the world, but you can’t get the emotion, or how they feel. Living with these people, you can see what’s there and what they incorporate into their way of life,” he said.
“I would advise other students that if an opportunity comes along like this, don’t hesitate to take advantage of it. It was an experience of a lifetime.
“Before, I thought why would I want to leave the states? Now I want to see everywhere and go everywhere. There is so much to see and do, so many opportunities out there.”
Baughman’s stay in Moscow overlapped the time Russian exchange students Ekaterina Sazonova and Valeriya Kazakevich were at ECU during the fall semester.
Through the agreement between ECU and the State University of Management, credits earned at each university are transferred to a student’s home institution. For information about applying for the exchange program, contact Sukholutskaya at 580-559-5293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.