Attending the University in the Soviet Union: English and PE

The list of subjects we studied was very limited. In addition to math classes and very politicized social studies, the only other classes we were offered during the first and the second year in the University were English and PE.

We had two “pairs” of both of them each week. Since my English was considered to be very good (I will explain later why) I was assigned to the most advanced level. This didn’t have any effect on the grade and was not reflected in the final transcripts, I was just fortunate to attend the better class.

Even in this better class, we had very little of conversational English. We’ve studied tons of grammar (to be forgotten the next day after the test) and completed lots of grammar exercises. Also, each semester, we were supposed to “pass thousands.” In this case “thousands” stand for thousands of symbols. I forgot both how many symbols per page was considered a reasonable estimation. I also forgot how many “thousands” we were supposed to prepare. But that’s how the process looked like.

Each student had to find some articles or books in English, relevant to their major. The total number of pages should have represented the required number of “thousands.” In addition to the “major-related thousands,” we also had to buy some newspapers in English and translate some articles from them. In most of the cases, it would be a “Morning Star,” the British Communist Party newspaper. “The Moscow News” was not considered to be English enough.

You would bring your “thousands” to the class and tell the teacher: I read this. You were expected to write down all the new words you found in your notebook, followed by their translation. Then your professor would open a book, an article, or whatever at random place and ask you to translate a couple of paragraphs. If you show your understanding of a couple of random paragraphs, you passed.

As for PE, everybody was required to take PE for the first two years in the University, two “pairs” a week. We were assigned groups according to our abilities. Since at that time in the Soviet Union doctors believed, that people with high myopia should not do any physical exercises, except very mild, I was assigned to the group which would do “physical therapy,” rather than PE. We hated it and considered it a waste of time, but you had to get “pass” for PE to be allowed to take the rest of the exams. People often flunked, but then you still had to come some other time with some other group and make it up.

Oh, I almost forgot: there was also a “Practice in computer programming,” which I will cover.

But overall, you get the picture: we had 32-36 hours of in-class instructions per week, plus homework. It was impossible to keep up with such a schedule, so everybody had compromised to a certain extent.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

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