The Perennial John Roche

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Has working and living in Russia changed you as a person?

It’™s all about flexibility. I’e always had an ability to multitask, to tackle something else within a related sphere. For example, somebody came to me and said: “œYou€™’re a hotelier, we need hotel standards, can you help us out by formulating them?” So I wrote some hotel standards for Russia, and that involved training programmes and creating branding. It was one of those occasions where people said: “œWell John might know.” I had a lot of connections in Moscow, so I was able to arrange things quite easily.

Does that mean that multi-tasking is a really good thing to be able to do in Moscow?

There are many many opportunities in Moscow, and the longer I stayed here, the more opportunities I saw. The one thing I didn’™t want to do was to be involved in things that were boring. It’™s never been boring, it’™s always been challenging. It’s not an easy place to live, but it’s a lot easier now than it used to be. If we parachute ourselves back 20 years, one of the biggest differences is that it wasn’™t so difficult to find people, because there were only about four places where people used to meet. It pushed us all together, and you all helped each other.

When I first came here, the first things I was involved in was marketing a pub called the Red Lion. This was a challenge, because my Russian was limited to what I had learned in James Bond movies. I used to communicate using card tricks and by doing tricks with glasses. People said: “œcome and see this crazy Englishman down at the pub”; and they did in great numbers. I was very fortunate. Mick Lange who now runs AAA English and I worked together and he knew a company that supplied Karaoke equipment, which we installed in the pub. The pub was mobbed, as karaoke was something new in Moscow then. There was this short Japanese guy, who was a regular who stood a little way back with the radio microphone and when his music came he changed completely into Nat King Cole. It was spookily brilliant. So it’™s not just the things I’™ve done, but it’™s the friends I’ve made and the delight of being asked to be involved in things.

The crisis in 1998 was not so easy for everybody. The Scottish Society which had been going for three years, and was run then by Tom Crozier who was leaving, had a problem getting people to keep it going. I was asked to help out at the St. Andrew’™s ball. The Chieftain that year was an Irishman, Michael O’™Leary. Anyway the ball was at the Radisson Slavyansky and it was huge, and very amusing. They did a Full Mc Monty, it was hilarious. Up until that time I had spent seven days a week working, incredibly busy, doing different things, and it was really nice to be involved in something like this. Then the Irish Club asked me to get involved, in the days when they took over the New Arbat to have their parades, I became known as the kind of Master of Ceremonies of Choice. “John’™ll do it, he doesn’™t talk too much, he’™ll keep things moving.” And that takes me back to my hotelier days before I came to Russia, when being toastmaster and master of ceremonies was part of the deal.

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Presumably you must like Russians or you wouldn’™t be here. But what do you do when things go wrong? What advice would you give?

I think it’™s all about honesty. A Russian proverb explains a lot: “˜I’€™d rather be slapped in the face with the truth than kissed with a lie.”™ If things are going wrong, or have gone wrong, that’™s it, that’s a fact. If everyone knows exactly what the situation is, and acknowledges it, then you can solve the problem or move on from there. I have been involved with the Taganka charity for children for the past 10 years, and I was there just this Saturday. The mums were there, and it’™s not easy for them because some of their children will never grow up. It’™s all about honesty, which you can see in their faces too.

Do you prescribe to the current image of Russia from abroad?

I don’™t see it as being any different from anywhere else really. The alphabet maybe is different. I think it’™s easy to stereotype.

Have you had any really bad times here?

Health was a bit of a concern at one stage. Although medical treatment can be very expensive here, my trust in Russian doctors has been reinforced. In general, I have been very fortunate here. My life has been interesting.

How long do you plan to stay here? Do you have a long-term strategy?

I did five years plans, at the end of the first five years, I thought: “˜will I be here in another five years? I don’™t know.”™ I never had a plan to leave, so therefore I had a plan to stay by default. There have been a succession of really interesting things which have kept me here. I worked abroad in France, Germany and Switzerland before coming here. To be in one place for so long is remarkable. Yes, I could go to the South Coast of the UK where my family now is, and I suppose that one day I’™ll ‘˜retire’€™ in inverted commas, but when, I don’™t know. I think I need to work in England for a while before I could respectfully retire, to re-acclimatise. I remember being in New York after Moscow, and the taxi drivers there would say: “œslow down!” I think every day has a challenge for me. As long as it stays like that, I will stay. Obviously this relates to employment, and it will be a choice that ultimately will be taken from me, as opposed to one that I can make. But in the mean time I enjoy it, I love it.

Why did you grow a beard?

I used to have a goatee type thing. Then in 2005 or thereabouts, I grew it for Christmas, to be Santa. In the pub a month later the idea came of selling my beard for charity, so that’s what we did, and we raised quite a lot of cash! So it used to be grow the beard then chop it off in January. I have now become a really popular Santa and invited to appear in a large number of places from the Irish Embassy to hospitals and schools. A few years after my Santa debut I decided to stay in Santa mode all year round, although I may need to trim it down next year if we have another really hot spell in the summer.

Selection_038Final words of wisdom:

It’™s a big city, a small village, a great place if you come at it with good grace. Then it will delight you. It can be a challenge like any big city, and I’™ve lived and worked in a number. But there are some great people here, the friendships you develop in a situation of diversity like this brings out strength and unity. Also I think it is really important to get involved. If you can do something to support the less able, or do anything like go to a school and give a talk about something that you are interested in, in a language that they would love to learn, do it. If you have time, or you can make time, the rewards on your investments are going to be huge.

Moscow Good Food Club at OSTERIA della piazza BIANCA

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Genuine, warm Italian hospitality welcomed members of the Moscow Good Food Club to the Osteria della Piazza Bianca for their September meeting. The Osteria della Piazza Bianca is located in the White City Square which is now becoming quite a centre for restaurants and bars.

The eclectic mix of Russians and expats members were greeted personally by Salvatore the Executive Chef and Giovanni the pasta and risotto chef. These artists created an ambience of superb food and hospitality so typical to an Italian restaurant (but sadly missing in Moscow).

Members were tempted to a range of tasty Italian snacks as they arrived accompanied by a refreshing Prosecco. When called for dinner they eagerly took to their seats in anticipation of the special meal to come! The third member of the Osteria della Piazza Bianca team, Gabriele the sommelier had prepared special wines to accompany the dishes prepared by his colleagues. These were young and fresh and most complementary to the dishes.

Starting with Red Tuna tartar beautifully presented with a trio of goat cheese and followed by an amazingly rich risotto with mint, mushrooms and prawns, MGFC members had to remember to keep space for the main course of wonderfully fresh see bass filet with sautéed fresh artichokes. A spectacular dessert rounded off an amazing Italian experience.

Whilst new and rather brash in a downtown city style, Osteria della Piazza Bianca offers superb fresh Italian cuisine with friendly service. The keys to the success of this new establishment are the most amenable chefs and sommelier who constantly check on all guests from start to end.

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Moscow Good Food Club members have to work hard for their food! Not only do they have to share their opinions on the food, but also answer a question or two about living in Moscow.

The evening’s question was: Sergey Sobyanin has been recently re-elected as Mayor of Moscow.  What is your ‘wish list’ of the 5 main changes that you would like to see him make to improve the quality of our lives in Moscow?

Table 1

Glen Collins: clamping vehicles should be reinstalled, signs on the walls in the Metro to be in English as well as Russian, air ambulances should be introduced, a fine should be introduced for spitting, people should be made to smile more, proper public toilets should be built. When I first came to Moscow it was 11 roubles to go to the toilet, it’s now 30. All new buildings to have compulsory underground car parks.

Table 2

Lucy Kenyon: 24 hour metro, drivers to move their cars to the side of the road when there is an accident, Russian state schools should be opened to expats, people who jump red lights should be fined, all street markets should come back so that local people can sell their produce from their dachas. We want faster trains to the airport, and air traffic at Domodedova should be limited so that the airport doesn’t get clogged up.

Table 3

Simon Scotting, Director of Shoreline: friendlier policemen, no more hot water stoppages during the summer, and shorter winters please.

Table 4

Mike Winn: less road works, more questionnaires in restaurants.

 

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A quick guide to property in the UK

tom-wisemanIt is remarkable how quickly conversation amongst the British moves to property, particularly in London… or perhaps that is just me.  Soaring prices, school catchment areas, loft extensions – all subjects to thrill or bore to tears, depending on your point of view.

A lot of people in the UK have been using property as a pension replacement or supplement for a long time – hold for long enough, and you won’t go wrong.  In fact, with low interest rates, a kindly bank and very little effort, the returns can be considerably better than anything any fee-hungry equity fund manager can offer. And with conservative planning laws and a growing population, the supply-demand dynamic surely points to an endless, upward trend.

map-londonStill, depending on when you left the UK, you might get a shock when you see the cost of entry. For years, there were two stamp duty rates – 0% and 1%. Then in came Labour in 1997, and stamp duty has been creeping, some might say lurching, upwards ever since.  The top rate, applicable to properties over £2m, is now 7% if you buy privately, and 15% if you use a company.  What is more, residential properties bought via a corporate structure to be lived in by the owner and valued at over £2m, are likely to get clobbered by new annual taxes of £15,000 or more. Even the more modest end of the spectrum, such as a 4-bed house in a good area of London, is likely to come in at over £1m and lead to a 5% stamp duty payment. All this means that if you are buying as an investment, there is quite a hurdle to jump before your property will be worth more than your total investment. Fortunately, to date, central London property seems to be managing some serious growth, with official Land Registry data showing average property prices in the City of Westminster rising some 55% since January 2007, even taking into account a dip from 2008-09.

thames-viewOne key factor before investing in the UK, is to plan all the tax logistics well in advance, particularly if you, or your immediate family, are thinking of becoming tax resident.  The UK tax authorities have ideas about what is rightfully theirs, which are somewhat at odds with what might seem fair or just, but these potential pitfalls can be avoided by planning before becoming UK tax resident.

Needless to say, box-ticking is a major hassle in the UK – whether you want to open a bank account, get tax advice or hire a solicitor, they all require proofs of address and ID.  We now advise our clients to get their names onto their utility bills (seeing as they usually show their landlord’s or grandmother’s) and then make several certified translations, all because British institutions believe that a utility bill is somehow vital in order to prove one’s address.

street-londonIt isn’t really possible to cover everything in a brief article like this.  I believe the most important thing to remember is that, to take advantage of all the opportunities that UK property provides, it is well worth preparing the ground in advance.  Although not tax or legal advisors, we are used to guiding our clients through the issues that arise so that our clients can act quickly and decisively.

Tom Wiseman-Clarke worked in Moscow between 2001 and 2007.

He is now  Director of Profit Properties Ltd (www.profitproperties.co.uk).

Big Brothers, Big Sisters

bigbrothersbigsistersBig Brothers Big Sisters of Russia is a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters International, one of the most efficient mentoring programs for children. In Moscow BBBS helps children living in institutional care (orphanages) and disadvantaged children. A volunteer becomes a Big Brother or a Big Sister to a child, visits him or her once a week for at least one year. Studies show that children who have a mentor have higher self-esteem, are more stable emotionally, have better motivation to study and show more initiative. Currently there are 162 matches in Moscow.

Olya Fedchenko, a Big Sister, and Zhennya, a Little Sister, have participated in the BBBS programme for almost a year. Olya is 27 years old, she works in finance; specializing in loan debt. Zhennya is now 16 years old, and lives in one of Moscow orphanages. She loves photography and drawing and would like to be a designer. Olya and Zhennya talk about their experiences of being a Big and a Little, about their friendship, best memories and dreams for the future.

On joining BBBS:

Olya: I have wanted to be a volunteer for some time, because I wanted to do something useful, to help people. I read about Big Brothers Big Sisters and I liked this idea, in that it lets you interact with people and that it helps children – I love children. So I decided to try – and I ended up staying!

When I applied for the BBBS programme I imagined that my Little will be a small child, in elementary school. But then the case managers explained that most children in orphanages are teenagers. I was really worried that they will find me a teenage boy – what would I talk to him about! But they told me that my Little will be 15- year old girl – Zhennya, who likes to read and draw, and I relaxed.

Zhennya: I wanted a Big Sister because I wanted diversity, something new in life, someone to talk to. I like hanging out with people who are older than me – they are interesting and they know a lot. When I thought about my Big Sister I just wanted her to be cool, lively and a good person. Now I think life would be boring without Olya. Having a Big is really important for kids, for all of them. It supports them and provides them with a base in life.

On meeting for the first time:

Olya: We met at a BBBS sport event for Bigs and Littles last May. I remember the case manager showed me a group of teenage girls, pointed at one of them and said “This is Zhennya”. She was so shy and tiny.

I asked her about her interests, tried to get to know her as much as I could in a short time. We were talking about books and it turned out she liked fantasy while I prefer classics. She draws animation, and I know nothing about this. So I was contemplating that I should learn about all these things so that she and I can be on the same page!

Zhennya was also testing me, as teenagers often do with adults. For example she told me she smokes and trying to quit and watched my reaction. I was very calm, just told her that she shouldn’t do what everyone else is doing but should consider that it is harmful for her and decide for herself. I have the same attitude until this day – not to turn into one of Zhennya’s teachers but be a friend who she can tell things to and receive a piece of advice, I never pressure her.

On best memories:

Zhennya: Open-work dandelion Fedya! That’s the nickname I gave Olya. Open-work dandelion because she has curly hair and Fedya comes from her surname Fedchenko.  I drew a dandelion on her vkontakte page! Mostly my best memories with Olya are just emotions – emotions of joy. I always think of Olya as someone who likes crazy fun, we laugh so much together!

Olya: My best memory was when we exchanged diaries for the summer. Before Zhennya went on summer holidays I gave her a diary and bought one for myself. The whole summer we were writing whatever we wanted there and when we met after the holidays, we exchanged diaries. Zhennya surprised me – I expected a diary full of events from summer camp but instead it was full of quotes from the books she read. My diary was more about travelling experiences from that summer.

Zhennya: I wrote down quotes from the books I read at that time and their titles. Which quote do I remember now? “Someone always leaves first, but the one who stays suffers”.

On what they learnt from each other:

Zhennya: I learnt a lot. I learnt openness. Usually it is hard for me to talk to people and let them know what I am like. You can say she taught me to be more comfortable with who I am, to be myself. My relations with other people improved, with friends, with teachers. I have many problems with one particular teacher. Recently I sat down with her and we talked honestly about what is going on. And then we arranged a meeting for the whole class and we all talked, because the relationships between the class and her were not working out. The meeting helped and the situation is improving now. It is not like Olya to tell me to do this, but I was wondering what she would advise me in this situation and I thought that’s what she would do.

Olya: Lots of positive emotions. Zhennya truly became my younger sister. Her opinion is important to me. I never have a question in my head: “What am I doing here?” I feel that Zhennya is happy to see me and that she is interested in meeting me, she is waiting for me. We often call and write each other just to share something.

On the future

Zhennya: I would like to find a good job that I would really love. I would like to lead, but without humiliating other people. There are some women who I find inspiring. Recently I saw a movie about Margaret Thatcher, she was really cool. I also admire Coco Chanel, she changed a lot of things. She was brave, she wasn’t scared to take risks. I like to take risks too, in my drawings. At school we are supposed to draw according to certain rules but I often break them and draw in my own way. I step away from what is expected and do things the way I think is right. Afterwards teachers say I did a good job!

I would like to still be friends with Olya after BBBS programme finishes (Littles participate in BBBS until they are 18 years old). It would be a shame to lose such a good person and a great friend.

Please keep in mind that you need a good knowledge of Russian to become a Big Brother or Big Sister because the children don’t speak English very well.

Contact information for BBBS:

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia


Старшие Братья Старшие Сестры России

http://nastavniki.org

To become a volunteer leave an application http://nastavniki.org/ru-application/ or call +7 (495) 500 40 42

2013 Rugby Sevens Update

rugby-headerAny recent developments in the planning since April?

The planning continues to progress well. All the teams are now qualified, so we are entering the exciting stage where the teams thoughts and activities turn towards preparing for the Rugby World Cup Sevens. We had a very successful Pool Allocation Draw in the Petroff Palace back in February. The last legs for the men’s HSBC Sevens World Series are taking place in Glasgow and London, and for the women, their final tournament in the Women’s series will take place in Amsterdam in mid May.

From then on, the focus will be on the World Cup in June.  The intensity for this tournament is bigger than usual, as it is the last one before rugby sevens re-enters the Olympics in Rio 2016. The last time rugby featured in the Olympics was in the 1920s, so this is a really exciting opportunity for the game and the teams.

One of the reasons we have come to Russia is to expand the boundaries and horizons of the game, and we’re looking forward to the welcome we will receive in June.

rugby2How have the Russian team been preparing?

I haven’t seen any of their practice sessions, but the Russian team did well in Hong Kong, and have qualified for the London qualification tournament for the HSBC Sevens World Series next year, so the men’s team has continued to develop. The women have done very well on the circuit this season with two top five finishes, and there is no doubt that in Amsterdam they are looking to repeat that. So the Russian teams continue to improve and I think will offer very competitive matches especially with a home crowd behind them.

rugby-gareth-jenkinsWhat do you think of the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow where the tournament will be held?

It’s a great iconic stadium. It’s held everything from the Olympics to the Champions League and will host the World Athletics in August and the FIFA World Cup in 2018. It’s a world-renowned stadium for world-renowned competitions. We are really excited about the Rugby World Cup Sevens being held there. A lot of effort has been put into getting the stadium ready; the usual surface is coming out and a grass pitch is being put in specially for the tournament.

As we have said, this is a great opportunity for the Rugby World Cup to expand its horizons into new territories, but it’s also a great opportunity for Russian rugby to develop and move forward. The stadium certainly helps with these aims and is an exciting place for the teams to show their skills and showcase Sevens.

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How can you get tickets?

We have been working with the British Business Club, they are offering great hospitality packages and it will be a great opportunity for businesses and individuals to come along and get behind the event and enjoy traditional corporate rugby hospitality. You should get in touch with them in Moscow for tickets, but you should hurry.

British Business Club for Tickets:

Telephone: +7 495 727 1478,

Email: hospitality@britishclub.ru

Ordinary tournament and day tickets are available through rwcsevens.com

 

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The European Businesses Association

Dr. Frank Schauff

Dr. Frank Schauff

What is your role in Moscow’s business scene?

AEB plays an active role in Moscow business life. We are developing cooperation between Moscow and European business circles through high profile conferences, briefings, round tables and other business events. The AEB is working on improving the business and investment climate in Moscow in the interests of its member companies and promotes a favourable image of Russia abroad to improve business development conditions inside the country and attract foreign investors. AEB also works with state entities, international financial organizations and cultural institutions in Russia. Our association members have been working for several years to make Moscow a top international financial center.

Who are your members?

Our members are both leading European companies as well as small and medium companies.  AEB is an active community of about 630 members, providing a network for sharing opinion and experience. The AEB is an advocate of its members’ opinions, generated in 40 industrial and cross-sectorial committees, sub-committees and working groups.

In your opinion what are the greatest challenges facing expats in Moscow?

Life in Russia, and in particular, in Moscow is full of challenges and surprises! However, a little preparation both before and after your arrival can be of immense benefit throughout the rest of your stay. You should be prepared for the fact that not many Russians speak English and navigating throughout Moscow might be difficult at the beginning. You might also discover that current immigration procedures are quite complicated. The Moscow bureaucracy still appears to be consolidated and pervasive, but the authorities are moving to improving conditions for doing business and living in Moscow.

Kitchenette Breakfast Forum

In the first of a series of honest talks about subjects relevant to expats, Moscow expat Life invited two experts; David Gilmartin, General manager, Troika Relocations and Lucy Kenyon a public health nurse and expat parent to breakfast at the magnificent Kitchenette at Kamergersky Pereulok 6. To a tasty breakfast which included eggs benedict, croque madame, cheese omelette (the best omelette in Moscow said Lucy Kenyon), croissant and pancakes, David and Lucy shared their views on education opportunities available in Moscow.

What education opportunities are available for expat children in Moscow?

David: Schools are available which follow the American curriculum such as the Anglo-American school, the British curriculum as at the International School of Moscow and International Baccalaureate (IB) at the British International Schools. In recent years the English international School in Moscow has opened a second campus, and Atlantic International have opened three new schools. Atlantic International is so far aimed at the Russian and Turkish communities, and is under Turkish management, but I believe that in the future they will refocus themselves more on international families.

How many campuses are there in total now in Moscow?

Lucy: There is the International School of Moscow, also opening a new campus in Angelovo, EIS have two campuses, BIS has nine, Atlantic have three, then there is the Anglo-American school, the Hinkson Christian Academy, and the International School of Tomorrow. That’s about it for the English-speaking schools, but Moscow also has a Lycée Français, a German school which follow the French and German curriculums, a Swedish school which goes up to the age of 16, and in the same building on Leninsky Prospect, there is a Japanese, Finnish, Italian and a Hungarian school, so there are about 25 international schools at present in Moscow.  Several embassies also run their native curricula from their premises.

David: There is very much a pecking order of where parents want to place their children, but at the same time there is a much bigger selection available than people understand.

What about kindergartens?

Lucy: There are a number of kindergartens, set in both the city centre and strategically located near expat residential areas. There is the Montessori Preschool, the Jewish Kindergarten, and there are several bilingual and trilingual preschools. There is Busy Bees at Barrikadnaya, which is very popular, the Americans have their own preschool, there is a pre-school at the International School of Moscow. There is a foundation stage school at the same location on Leninsky Prospect run by a Russian, but which follows a British curriculum. There are a lot of schools, but as with the secondary schools some are in much higher demand because of word of mouth.

All the secondary schools are expensive?

David: You are looking at average starting fees at the best schools of approximately €20,000 per annum, or higher.

That equates to the fees of a pretty top-level private school in Britain?

David: A good private Irish boarding school is cheaper than many international schools in Moscow.

So why don’t people send their children off to boarding schools in the UK?

Lucy: Because they want to keep their children at home, to keep the family together. One of the things that Moscow does offer is the opportunity to keep your family together rather than having to send children off to boarding school, if this is not right for them.

David: For many 11-14 year olds, the quality of education is the same as what you would receive in Britain. There is no need to go anywhere.

What is the quality of teaching like in these schools? Do they suffer because of a high staff turnover?

Lucy: Most international schools have now addressed this issue. They have looked at the packages that they offer teachers and adapted them to encourage staff to stay. I don’t think that staff turnover is as much an issue as it used to be.

David: I’m from Ireland, where it is difficult to get rid of under-performing teachers. Here, if a teacher isn’t up to scratch, he or she is out. The schools here are able to afford to hire better quality teachers, and if there is a problem with a teacher, he or she can be replaced. I tend to look at that situation as being positive.

Kitchenette Moscow

What are the important issues when trying to choose a school?

Lucy: There are a number of issues. Schooling is the biggest investment that parents make in their children’s future. Education is the cause of the most worries for people when they are moving anywhere new, and as David has mentioned you can’t just turn up and expect to be given a place at the best schools; there is a shortage of places. But I think it is important for parents to take a step back and ask what kind of personality has their child got, who does he or she associate with best? Would they be better in a structured environment or a situation with vertical streaming, where they would be streamed across a two or three year groups. Both environments are better for some children, but not for all.

Then there is the question of pastoral care, because children who are arriving here are going in with local children who may not understand the issues that accompany the displacement that expat life brings. Some of these children may have different types of emotional baggage. So parents should find out if the school has behaviour and welfare policies, because a child who is used to having an armed body guard sitting outside the school waiting for him or her may have different a very different experience and expectations to a child who comes from a school where they used to walk to school with their mum, for example.

Emotional, not just curriculum issues are really important to consider.

Of course the curriculum is highly important, different curricula teach subjects and skills at different ages – particularly relevant if you are going back to a set exam system or to a country like Germany, Italy, Holland or Belgium, because in those countries, if the child is not up to standard, they will put the child back a year. Although the English national curriculum is quite prescriptive, you do move ahead with your peer groups; but parents should stay informed about the curriculum their child will return to, in order to keep as many options open as possible for their child.

Another thing to be aware of is that it takes about a year for a child to settle back into his native culture, because the emotional experience, academic standards, the level of sophistication of your lifestyle here are all going to be different to that back home. If you come from a non-English speaking country and your child has been attending an English speaking school here, parents have to ask themselves: what is the impact going to be on our child’s progress?

One cause of frustration for parents who cannot get places, or do not want all of their children to go to the same school, is that every school in Moscow seems to observe different holiday dates. This makes it impossible for the family to go on holiday without taking one or other child out of school. None of the half terms coincide, the summer holidays are staggered across a number of weeks. As a parent, I don’t know why it is so difficult for schools to coordinate their holidays.

Parents need to understand all of these issues before they place their children. This is difficult for many parents, as what is often uppermost in their minds is: where is everyone else going? What is the best school? If the family is on a compound, the number one concern will be: where is everybody else going so that my children can come back home with the other children and play with their friends?

If a family has a child with special needs, an important issue for parents to consider is the reality of accessibility in Moscow and the lack of disabled facilities. It is a fact that all these schools are privately run and do not have any legal obligation to provide for special arrangements.

Breakfast Forum

Who do you talk to, to find out the answers to these very questions which you have put forward, without actually putting your child in a school?

Lucy: You can talk to one of the relocation companies. They visit the schools regularly with families who are arriving in Moscow, so they have a feel for the schools. However there is nothing better than for the parents themselves to visit the schools, because they know what is comfortable for them and what feels right for their children.

So David, you also play the role of an education consultant?

David: Rather than recommend a particular school, we would recommend families to come over early and visit at least three schools. Very often they will limit their choice to the Anglo American school for example if the child is coming in from an American high school, or to a British school if the child is coming in from a British curriculum-based school in Dubai for example. However we would always encourage parents to be more open in their choice, because parents are not always guaranteed the first choice. Continuity of curriculum is very important as Lucy mentioned, but it is also important to be slightly open in terms of one’s expectations.

How important is the location of where you live in terms of schools?

David: We would encourage the family to put the school rather than the office as being the primary location. If you live next to your office the child will very likely have a long commute to school.

The Expat Football League

The Expat Football League has been running for 12 years, and has hundreds of members.
This is the largest expat sports  group in Moscow, yet not everybody knows exactly how the League operates and  how to join. Moscow expat Life talked to Juan Lopez, the League’s Highest scorer ever!

How did the League start?

The expat League started out in about 2001, with just a few guys who wanted to play football every week and to have a bit of fun. Then gradually more and more people became involved, and we started the League.

Eventually we got to 8 teams, each of which has 20-25 players, currently we have 7 teams.

In each squad there are enough players to have one team playing another team?

Every week there’s a fixture, apart from holidays. We use a Round-robin scheduling, so we play each other alternative weeks. There are people from all walks of life: UK, Irish, Italian, Spanish, American, Turkish; not many Russians because we try to keep it as expat as possible. Those Russians that are in it are there because they have been part of it since the beginning, or they are American, British or some other nationality. There are a lot of Turks, they supply three of the teams. There is a fair turn out of Brits and Americans.

At the moment there is no major sponsor of the league. It pays for itself with a little bit of help from a couple of guys who put in a lot of money each week. We pay to play, normally about 1,000 roubles a week per person, because the pitches are expensive and it depends on how many people turn up. We play on very good pitches, normally at Luzhniki and previously MGIMO. We play inside during the winter season which normally runs from late October to April. We play at Spartak Moscow’s indoor stadium during the Winter.

But the good thing is that in Moscow there are enough places around to allow us to play indoors or outdoors if we need to change places.

The League is mainly for people over 30 years of age, because the guys who started it were mainly over 30 now. Now the age limit is 28 and over. You don’t have to be experienced, you are more than welcome, but you probably won’t play much because it’s gone from being fun only to very competitive.

I’m 39, I still find that I can compete with the younger guys but need a warm bath after playing or a nice Banya to relax as it’s hard to play against players who are 10 years younger than you.

Is it a problem that people may feel that they aren’t good enough to play?

It depends on the person, sport is a very competitive environment. When you get an element of youth coming into the league, it makes it that bit more competitive, because for players who have played at a very high standard, they want to play against other players at the same standard. Most of us have been here playing for 10 years. The Turkish guys have come and made it very competitive and therefore I think the league has gone on from there and is only getting stronger!

Do you have a shortage of people?

It varies from week to week, from team to team. One week a team can have 11 players, the next 18. It is mostly businessmen, and students who are mainly from Africa. The Students are often subsidized, by other members on their teams to play. It’s not really an issue, as we all chip in, plus helps keeps the numbers.

You don’t have a women’s team?

No, the expat league is just Men. I think due to the nature of the game we play, it would be difficult to introduce women in to the league. I like women’s football, there are some women’s league’s around Europe and back in the UK where the standard is very high, but football is a game different from many others, much like rugby (it’s the physical nature). I think to play tennis, golf or another sport where the physical side is not a major obstacle to the players it can be more enjoyable for both sides.

Is there a yearly competition to determine the top team?

There is one league and we have two seasons (Winter/Summer) and normally once a year we have a cup competition in the summer. The most successful team to date has been the Moscow flagons they seem to have a habit of winning.

Each team has it’s own name, and at the end of each season we have a special event where we award the winning trophies for the winning teams, and for the best players. Normally we organize a Ball and the proceeds go to charity.

If someone wants to join, how do they get allocated to a particular team?

Each captain recruits himself. I know a couple of people advertise, but normally it’s through a friend or somebody they know. But if somebody wants to play and they don’t know anybody in the league, we can put them in touch with various teams. Basically you won’t be paying 1,000 roubles a month if you are a complete beginner. Players have usually played somewhere else before. The standard is high; it’s not walking into a park on a Sunday afternoon knocking a ball around with a few guys.

Having said that, anybody is more than welcome to come down and join us, you need to buy soccer boots and shin pads, we supply the rest of the kit, sponsored by certain people in each team. Normally we play every Saturday, sometimes we have games on Sundays. You are welcome.

The Expat Football League’s website is: www.moscowfootball.com

The British Women’s Club

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How did the British Women’s club start in Moscow?
Fiona Johnston: It is quite young, it was set up in 2000. When British women arrive here they may need help and support from each other to understand basic things like where to shop for food, information about schools and to get to know other British ladies. Mainly it is a help group, because it can be quite a shock settling here if you don’t speak Russian.

Una Allan: And it is good to meet other British expats who have been through all the pitfalls and are ready to help.

Fiona Johnston: Women generally introduce themselves before they move to Moscow. And we (consult) let the ladies know on what is going on in the city. We get their telephone numbers, addresses, than meet women all the time and participate in their lives.

Fiona, how did you take on the responsibility to run the British Women’s Club?
Fiona Johnston: I was already the membership secretary of the BWC when the last chairwoman had to leave for family reasons. I stepped up and said “I can do it!” I’ve lived in different countries all over the world for quite a long time: South Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and now I am in Moscow. I’ve been here for two and a half years. A lot of the members are in the same situation.

Do you often meet couples from the places you lived in here in Moscow?
Una Allan: Sometimes we find people again, that’s a fun part of living abroad. The British Club is not as big as the International Women’s Club. It has maybe 90 members but it is very friendly. There is a split between those ladies who don’t have children with them and live in the centre, and those who have kids and live in the suburbs like Rosinka or Serebrennai Bor near where the schools are. They have to be at home earlier to meet children after the classes.

Who can join the club?
Fiona Johnston: As long as you have a British passport yourself or you married to somebody who does, you can become the member of BWC. We have quite a few Russian wives who are members. It is not because we welcome our nationality only, we are confined by the rules of how the embassy works. Once a month we hold our monthly meeting there.
Una Allan: – But we welcome anyone else to the coffee mornings which are held every Tuesday.

Who plans the activities of the BWC?
Fiona Johnston: We have a committee with ten members. We meet once a month and make decisions about what we are going to do during the months ahead. It is a kind of a job we do together. Una is responsible for the newsletter and the website. Our Membership Secretary looks after everybody’s contact information: emails, telephone numbers. There is another lady who is our treasurer and deals with all the finances. We have a charity’s coordinator and another member who runs the family network, which is specifically important for young mums with children.

Una Allan: We also have two activity coordinators who are responsible for events throughout the year. Our major activities are planned almost six months ahead. The ladies themselves decided what they want to do. This month, for example, we are concentrating on museums.

Fiona Johnston: We apply for help to travel agencies like ‘British Bridge to Moscow’, and ‘Patriarchy Dom’. They always give us an English-speaking guide. Moscow is especially nice and quiet in summer. When the schools close and everybody goes to the dacha we have Moscow to ourselves again. We enjoy it.

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What are your favourite places in Moscow?

Fiona Johnston: The Banya. We have been a few times there and really like these places.

I love the ballet and going to the theatre, but I don’t go because I can’t speak Russian which is a shame. My husband is very keen on classical music, so we go to the ?haikovsky concert hall quite a lot. I love the Kremlin, the Novodevichy Monastery; the iconic places that everybody recognizes.

Una Allan: They never disappoint. You go to Red Square and it is fantastic! When I saw Time Square in New York I was a little disillusioned.

Fiona Johnston: We remember television footage of Russia during the Soviet Era when the country was almost closed to foreigners. I never dreamt as a child or as a teenager that I would ever be allowed to visit Russia. For us it was and it still is something extra special and exotic.

Una Allan: I enjoy the winter so much, especially when the first snow comes and everything is white and crystal.

Fiona Johnston: I organise cross country skiing for the International Women’s Club, which is open to the all ladies of the British Club as well. We don’t do sports specifically within the BWC.

Is it difficult to bring your culture in Russia? Have Russians adopted any aspects of British culture?
Fiona Johnston: The British pubs! There is one across the road from my apartment (smiling).
Una Allan: There is a lot of tea everywhere. We feel very home drinking tea.

british-women2What do you think about the Russian mentality?
Fiona Johnston: I find some aspects of Russian culture a bit challenging. Moscow seems bigger than London. To use public transport is hard from the point of the language and the crowds. For example in the metro sometimes there is a lot of elbows pushing on the escalators. Taxi drivers don’t speak English.
Una Allan: We are trying to learn Russian, but, it is useless. I for one am not very good. It is not an easy language to learn, predominantly because of the alphabet. We have a few Russian speakers in our group. Some of our ladies studied Russian at university, which is a great help for the rest of us. I think it is different for people who travel a lot and for those who are here on a first posting.
Fiona Johnston: I love Moscow. It will go on my list of one of my favourite places to live. People are friendly. Quite often when you are at home you expect Russians to be closed. In my opinion they are quite Scottish. I relax with Russians and that aspect doesn’t worry me anymore. Especially I like the younger generation, who are very friendly and want to practice their English on us.

Can you share with your experiences of communicating with strangers?
Una Allan: I can only remember positive experiences. Once I was wearing a golden bangle, which fell off. A Russian man saw this and gave me it back to me when I didn’t even know that I had lost it. It was a very nice gesture.
Fiona Johnston: When I go to the bigger shops to buy something, the people behind the till sometimes can be not very friendly but I usually find them very helpful and we usually end up laughing because I’ve ordered too many of something or not the right things because my Russian is not good enough.
Una Allan: Not long ago, we went to a bread shop to buy two loaves of bread. I was trying to find 10 rubles in my pockets. As usual the shop had no change and the man behind us laughed and gave us the money.

Are Russian men gentlemen?
Fiona Johnston: I met only one ‘ungentleman’ in Russia. When I was cross-country skiing, a man came up behind me, pushed me from behind and I went face first down into the snow. Then he stood and berated me. I just looked at him. But that was very unusual. Normally if I carry a suitcase someone always helps me. I don’t have problems. Russians sometimes have false ideas just how polite English men are. There are plenty of men in the UK who don’t hold the door open for you. We are not such a perfect land of manners as you think.

Where do you recommend to go to for tea or a meal?
Fiona Johnston: In one of our trips we went for afternoon tea at the Kempinsky hotel which was very good. The Swedish chef learnt the tradition of the British afternoon tea in London. The baking, the sandwiches and the tea, everything was very British!
Una Allan: My favorite place is Vet café. That reminds me of Vietnam where I used to live.
Fiona Johnston: There are many good restaurants in Russia. I like Ragout, and the Fosiano café. But eating out in Moscow is considerably more expensive than in London. I often wonder how average Muscovites cope with the prices. I have never been to the nightclubs here but I heard that they can be overpriced too. You pay thousands just to get the table.

How do you spend your time here?
Fiona Johnston: My weeks are full. I go to a yoga studio, play bridge, ski, I organize the BWC. I am a part of a group of ladies of the International Women’s Club who do voluntary English conversations at Speransky hospital. Friday is my day-off. I have two children. My elder son lives and works in London. My other son studies in Oxford. My children come once a year but I go home five times a year, maybe even more because the UK is so near.

Una Allan: I have two children too. My daughter works, my son studies at Portsmouth University. I also go home quite often. You can get anywhere to the world from Moscow. I am a housekeeper of many years standing. I help Fiona with the BWC, do the website, play bridge and sing with The Moscow Mellow Divas twice a week. We have two concerts coming up in June.

Fiona Johnston: It is really hard to get a job in Moscow because most countries don’t allow us to work. The visa is done on the basis that your husband is the employee and I was forbidden to work in America, Venezuela and Colombia. What would I be if I were working here? My profession is a nurse. I worked in the UK, in South Asia before I had children. The restrictions in working are one of the reasons why we try to fill our day with useful, not frivolous things.

What do you think about Russian women?
Fiona Johnston: They have their own mind and go with it. British women are the same.

The BBC at Luzhniki

bbc-meeting-luzhnikiThe beginning of the summer was marked by a meeting of the British Business Club in an unusual location; at the Luzhniki stadium. Members and guests were transported to and from the nearest metro in a bright red double decker bus. Don Scott, the president of the BBC expressed that hosting the Rugby Sevens World Cup in Moscow in June is to be one of the biggest events that the club has ever put together, and invited everyone to attend.

Don also mentioned that St. George’s Day is an event celebrated both in England and Moscow! With this in mind, members of the British Business Club got down to some serious networking, aided by the generous amount of liquid refreshments supplied by the BBC’s often un-recognized sponsors.