Russian Student’s Traditions – Are We Really That Different?

No matter what school you’ve attended, chances are some of your fondest memories, whether cheering for your favorite football team, or swimming in the fountains during finals week, were all part of a long standing tradition.  At least for me, traditions give us the backdrop against which we see ourselves as the successors to those that came before us. Repeating these same actions we tie ourselves and our hearts to those places where we spent so much of our time and efforts. I think it’s important to see how we remember those times because it’s such a common denominator across cultures.

School traditions give us a reason to connect ourselves to our Alma Mater and regardless of where that place might be located, all places have certain rituals that students will cherish and remember.

In Russia, the school year begins on September 1st known as День Знаний (The Day of Knowledge.) This is an exciting time in the lives of Russian students. Parents and students come to celebrate the 1st day of school and it’s marked with assemblies, speeches from local veterans and the faculty welcoming the students back and wishing them success in their studies. Flowers are often presented to the teachers, poems are read by the upcoming senior students and in some towns a 1st grade girl is hoisted on the shoulders of a senior male student and paraded around as she rings the “Первый Звонок” (First Bell) heralding the start of the academic year. After the assembly the 1st year students are led by 11th graders to their classes. This is a time honored tradition and despite its Soviet roots has easily made the transition to the present day. Comparing my own memories of the first day of school here in the United States, it sounds like Russian students might have a bit more fun during their first day back. – source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Day

Opening Ceremonies – 1st of September – Simferopol

Uniforms are a big part of the Russian school tradition. Girls and boys dress in their best outfits, especially to mark the beginning and end of the academic year. Although not necessarily a requirement in all schools, the tradition is making it’s way back into the lives of Russian students as uniforms are expected to become mandatory.

 School Uniforms Coming Back?

Soviet Children on their way to School
Photo Credit: RIA NOVESTI

Uniforms usually consist of a suit and tie for the boys. Back in the days of the Soviet Union and even prior to that, during Tsarist times, the boys uniforms sometimes reflected military roots. Since most men upon graduation would find their way into the Armed Forces, it was only natural to begin some of their military education while still in school.

The dress code for girls usually consists of important items. A black dress is worn, over which goes a white apron. Stockings are worn but the fun part, as my mother recalled were the hair bows. Girls would compete to see who could wear the biggest bows and great care was taken to look your very best in front of your peers.

While there is a potential backlash against schools requiring uniforms; I would suspect that most people would generally want to wear whatever they choose. However, it seems that especially when it comes to holidays and celebrations, uniforms are just part of the culture. On those days students will wear a sash around them, but most of the time the sash is reserved for graduation and marks the wearer as a proud graduate completing his or her years in school.

 

More info on Russian school uniforms here: http://listen2russian.com/russian-culture/last-bell/last-bell.html

One of the biggest days in a Russian student’s life is Graduation Day. Although the experience is probably just as exciting from our own memories – Russian’s do love to put out all stops when it comes to having a last send-off for their students.

Graduation in Russian schools is the long-awaited cherished memory for many students. Just as in the beginning of the year, the Last Bell (Последний звонок) is rung to signal that school is finally over for the graduates. Usually around May 25th, the academic year comes to a close and many students take this opportunity to have one last party with their friends before departing for the next stage in their lives. To paraphrase a lesson from “http://listen2russian.com/russian-culture/last-bell/last-bell.html“, the getting ready and taking extra care to look sharp on their last day, students dress up in traditional school attire. The entire school gets involved in the preparations for these festivities. The day is marked by assemblies, speeches, tearful farewells and warm wishes for the future. Following the same traditions as on the 1st day of the year, a 1st grader accompanied by a graduating senior rings the last bell signaling that 11 years of academic studies are finally over for the graduates.

 

Just as in any country, students take the opportunity of their new found freedom to celebrate in their own style. The day is usually marked with parties, walking around the cities parks, and most students find their way to the fountains where it is tradition to splash around. Most can easily imagine what takes places at the end of the day when the recent graduates, realizing that this might be the last time with their school friends, get together for parties to mark the end of one chapter in their lives and the beginning of a new one. Although the party culture is as much a part of student life in Russia as it is in the U.S., I feel it’s interesting and different enough to warrant it’s own blog post. After all, they’re Russian students and that part of their culture is a rich and fascinating story all it’s own.

Despite having graduated from school, the students are not quite finished with their academic obligations. They now have to pass the official state exam for graduates and receive their diploma. The Единые государственные экзамены (ЕГЭ) – or Unified State Exams are held about one week after the completion of the academic year. The diploma won’t come for at least a month. But once it does, it’s time to celebrate again!

Russia’s equivalent to Prom takes place after everything else is finally over. It’s called the выпускной бал, (Graduate’s Ball) and the evening is filled with familiar prom dresses, dancing and a final conclusion to their time together much like the ones experienced in the U.S.

 

My best memories of senior year came from the last days of school. When the anxiety of exams is finally over, graduation has come and gone, and a last farewell party with friends still ringing in my ears, my thoughts turned toward the exciting realization that my next journey was up to me. It seems that my experiences are not so different from my Russian compatriots after all. Despite the differences in academic structure and even academic traditions, the desire to celebrate together and reflect on a closing chapter of our lives binds all students in their memories.

I am sure that there are a few traditions that I might’ve overlooked and I am very happy to invite you to share your own.  What traditions do you have at your school? Are any of these similar to your own?

– Dima

 

Some worthwhile links I found on this subject –

Quick overview of September 1st Holiday:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Day

A small collection of photographs from that day:

http://sennaya.com/forum/index.php?topic=37.0

Very interesting blog/article about the Last Bell celebrations. This one has a lot of information on the uniforms and traditions. I highly recommend giving it a click.

http://listen2russian.com/russian-culture/last-bell/last-bell.html

Great collection of photographs of a Russian school and it’s students:

http://englishrussia.com/2012/09/09/time-to-study/

An expatriates experience with the Russian school system:

http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/03/a-summer-cut-short-for-russian-school-children/