My name is Anastasia Valeeva and I’m a journalist from Russia.
There are several reasons why I decided to move to Germany. I had already studied in Europe before. I visited the CFPJ (Centre de Formation et Perfectionnement des Journalistes) as an exchange student, while I was studying at the Moscow State University.
This experience in Paris and Rennes opened up a totally new universe of languages, people, European lifestyle and education for me.
After my studies I was working at NTV, federal television chain in Russia, but the political situation after Spring 2012 has seriosuly influenced the media market and freedom of speech. Many journalists in Russia, who didn’t agree with the new political guidelines, had to change to entertainment or culture productions or acquire new skills. I chose to go study abroad.
By that moment I already had been doing some research and preparation. I applied to several programs, but eventually chose the one in Germany, entitled Roads To Democracy – an interdisciplinary Master Program mixing Social and Political Sciences. I find that Germany has lots of advantages for students. Additionally, the country’s social care system is good and you even can find programs where no previous knowledge of German is needed. Besides, it’s a prosperous country with high living standards – in comparison, I wouldn’t, for example, consider going to Spain or Greece at the moment.
Do you feel accepted in German society?
I have to admit that during the first three months I felt quite isolated in Siegen, North Rhine Westphalia, where I did my studies. We were frustrated to find ourselves locked in the international community and not getting to know the “real” German students. But on the other hand, we were welcomed by the staff and, besides that, I was very lucky with my landlord – she is a warmhearted and caring person. It made me feel welcome in Siegen, where the local people are generally believed to be hostile towards foreigners. And, with the exception of my landlord, this is kind of true… So as a foreigner I do feel myself much better in Bonn or even more so in Berlin. I can imagine quite well living in Berlin. Other cities are maybe too “German” for me – although this is clearly just a question of how far are you willing to go with the compromises that successful integration requires from you.
I guess it is always a question of how far are you willing to go with the compromises that successful integration requires from you.
Have the stereotypes of Germany and Germans proved to be true?
I have to admit that in Russia we do have stereotypes about Germans. First, our cultural perception is still influenced by the WWII narrative. Second, all those stereotypes of Germans being too pedantic, boring and strict. Finally, we as people are believed to be very different from each other, as the proverb says: what is good for a Russian, is a death for a German. But I was more or less free of those typical stereotypes since I knew that you meet all kinds of people everywhere. I actually have the habit, that before I travel somewhere, I read local literature. So I read several books from Heinrich Böll before coming to Germany. He elaborated on different types of Germans: some were cold and somewhat arrogant, but the others were sincere, sentimental, sacrificing…
Heinrich Böll was in a way my inspiration: based on his writings I changed my expectations and came to Germany with an open heart.
Indeed, I had some moments at the beginning. Like when I got just mad at Germans not letting me to buy an ice-cream just because I made one step to the left to actually see it -– I would just leave, saying: “немцы!” (the Germans – ed.) out loud. But the turning moment for me, was seeing how the Germans deal with bureaucracy. I expected them to be very rigid, which some of them, of course, are, but I also saw that they can be very human as well. Compared to Sweden, where I have also lived, Germans can be very flexible and understanding. It was surprising to see them break their own rules and be really helpful. I think we have this rigid image of Germans because they try to structure their time and this is very different to our somewhat chaotic Russia.