Teacher Focus Harrow School Russia
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Brilliant guides, great communicators. We were looked after so well and the students had a fantastic time.

Ted Savill Head of History

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Katarzyna (Kasia) Piotrowska-Fletcher
Russian Teacher, Harrow School

Harrow have run three trips to Russia with us, each being a huge success. Here, Kasia talks about her experience of organising her first residential trip and working alongside TCBC.

TCBC: Harrow is obviously a very unique British School. Please can you tell us a little about the department that you work in and what it is like to teach there?

Kasia: The Modern Languages Department at Harrow School is one of the biggest departments, if not the biggest. I think that at the moment there are more than twenty people in our department who teach seven different languages on the timetable and a few more off the timetable. The languages that are taught on the timetable include French, Spanish, German, Russian, Italian, Mandarin and Japanese and on top of that we also teach some other, like Portuguese, Greek, Polish and Arabic. It means that our boys can choose from several different languages, so, I suppose, they are spoiled in comparison with students from other schools. The Modern Languages Department at Harrow is a big, friendly and enthusiastic department and it is a pleasure being part of it.

TCBC: How important do you think educational trips are to the school?

Kasia: I think they are essential really, particularly when it comes to teaching foreign languages. They are a brilliant motivational tool and they definitely open the students’ eyes and broaden their knowledge of the country whose language they are studying. I think that they are absolutely crucial and, if at all possible, should be a regular part of the curriculum.

TCBC: Have you personally led school trips before this one?

Kasia: No, this was my very first residential trip, so I think that I was very lucky that I had all the support from you and your colleagues, because otherwise it would have probably been much more stressful and difficult but it was relatively easy.

TCBC: How did you hear about TCBC and why did you choose to travel with us?

Kasia: One of my colleagues, our former Head of Department, Nick Page, used your services to organise a trip to Russia a few years ago. It was through him that I got your company details and I decided to give it a go.

TCBC: How did you find our pre-departure service?

Kasia: Excellent right from our first telephone conversation or email exchange, whatever was first, I can’t remember. Today, as we all know, whenever you try to deal with a company you usually call them and you have to press one, then press two, then press three and you spend ten minutes on the phone before you actually get to talk to a human being, so it was a big relief that whenever I called TCBC, there was always a person at the other end to provide me with the information I needed straight away. The same can be said about emails – as soon as I emailed you or any of your colleagues, I received a response within an hour or two. So our communication was always very efficient and it was also great that both you and Dan could come and meet me at school before the trip, because it always helps when you deal with somebody you know, somebody you have met, when the person on the other end of the line is not just a voice but a person.

TCBC: Did the trip itself match your requirements and expectations?

Kasia: Most definitely! I think it not only matched but exceeded all the expectations, and not just mine but also those of my colleague who accompanied me and, most importantly, the boys’. The boys were absolutely amazed with the experience they got in Russia. I had travelled to Russia many times before and I had visited both cities, but for my colleague who was with me and for most of the boys on the trip it was their first visit to Russia, and one that, I am sure, they will remember in the years to come.

TCBC: You mentioned the boys and their experiences. What value does a trip like this have to the students?

Kasia: Well, the trip blended really well with our curriculum, for example with the books that the boys study for their A-level exam in Russian. As it happens the boys study two books. One is “The Bronze Horseman” by Pushkin and the other one is “Heart of a Dog” by Bulgakov. The action of the first book takes place in St Petersburg and the action of the second one takes place in the centre of Moscow, so the boys could actually go and see the places described in the books and I think it really helped them to understand both books much better and to imagine what inspired the authors to write their works. Our visit to a school in Moscow was excellent too, because the boys could not only experience true Russian hospitality, but were also given the opportunity to speak in public to a Russian-speaking audience in Russian about their school and their presentation was very well received indeed. It was great that they had some free time with the Russian students, so there was an opportunity to practice their Russian too. Then, only about two months after we visited Russia, some of the students from the school that we visited in Moscow came over to London and we invited them to Harrow, so they spent some time with our boys, which was fantastic.

TCBC: So some life friendships maybe started there!

Kasia: Possibly. Who knows? Also, as a result of the trip, as we are speaking now, two of my boys are doing their work experience in Moscow. Lots of them fell in love with the city and wanted to go back. One of the boys who was on the trip is now working for one of the Russian investment funds in Moscow for three weeks and the other one is doing his work experience at Azbuka Vkusa, the Russian equivalent of Waitrose. They liked it so much there that only six months later they decided to go and work there during the summer holidays!

TCBC: That’s fantastic. What did you think of your guides on your trip?

Kasia: Again, they were absolutely top class! More than just guides, I would say. They attended to all our needs and answered all our questions and they were there for us all the time. Whenever we needed them, both, Lena in Moscow and Natasha in St Petersburg, were ready to help and when we go back, and it is when rather than if, because, I am sure, we will go back, we would definitely want to have the same guides.

TCBC: We will put in a request for you. How about the accommodation? What are your thoughts on the hotels?

Kasia: After some hesitation, as we were not sure where we wanted to stay at first, we opted for the Holiday Inn in both cities and the hotels were very good. New, clean and the food was excellent. We were all very impressed with the service that we received.

TCBC: You answered some of this already when you mentioned the school visit, but can you describe a couple of highlights of the trip from your point of view.

Kasia: Well the whole trip was just one big highlight, I think. It’s really difficult to choose individual highlights. I think that the boys were amazed by the fact how different Moscow and St Petersburg were. They didn’t expect them to be so completely different, it felt almost like visiting two different countries. The first visit to Red Square on the day when we arrived was, I think a big event, because for most of the boys this was their first experience of Moscow and they enjoyed that evening tremendously. Interestingly, this is where our trip started on the day when we arrived and then, just before we left Moscow, the last evening, we spent on the ice rink in Red Square. Then there was a very special tour of the Kremlin, where we visited some parts of the Kremlin that are not normally open to the public. This was definitely a once in a lifetime experience! The visit to the Christ the Saviour Cathedral was great too. The boys were amazed not just by what they saw but by the whole story of the Cathedral and what happened to it. Our evening in the Bolshoi Theatre, where we saw the ballet “Ivan the Terrible”, was simply unforgettable, and I think that the boys will remember the performance for the rest of their lives. It was absolutely astonishing. In St. Petersburg, the visit to the Museum of the Siege of Leningrad was very educational for the boys. I not only encourage them to read books by Russian authors as part of our curriculum but also books by English authors about Russia, Russian history and culture. Many of the boys prior to the trip or after the trip, as a result to their visit to the museum, read the book entitled “The Siege” by Helen Dunmore and then “The Betrayal”, which is the continuation of the story. I think that if you visit a place like the Museum of the Siege of Leningrad, then reading a book like that is a very different experience. You really know what you are reading about. It is really hard to give you just one or two highlights of the trip, because the whole trip from the very beginning to the very end was one big highlight. It was absolutely amazing!

TCBC: Would you be happy to recommend our services?

Kasia: Definitely yes. I would be happy to do that, provided you remain as good as you are or improve further, if there is still any room for improvement!

TCBC: Finally, what words of advice would you offer to any teachers reading this who are considering organising a trip to Russia for the first time?

Kasia: To get in touch with you and then let you lead them and tell them what to do. They will be in safe hands. They won’t need to worry about anything too much. I was first worried about the visas and the overnight train and how it will all work, but it was all absolutely fine, so I think that they shouldn't worry too much. Of course, they need some time to put it all together, a trip like that cannot be planned and organised in a month, so you need to give yourself sufficient amount of time, but, other than that, I think they should just contact you and let you take care of everything. I would like to add, if I may, that what was really, really good for us was that, although it was an organised trip, it wasn't just a standard package that you are usually given, where you see some places that you like and then some places that you probably wouldn’t choose to go to etc. Our trip was really custom made. Prior to the trip, I spent a lot of time with Kristina, telling her exactly what we wanted and how we wanted things, and, as you know, we had some additional entertainment organised for us, so it was great that this could be included in the trip. Having the flexibility was fantastic. Thank you again for everything and I hope that very soon we will start organising our next trip to Russia, because the boys who missed this one keep asking for another one. Almost every week I get questions when the next trip will be. We are hoping to run the trip every two years.

TCBC: Thank you very much Kasia!