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Found in translation

Humanities

- Phillip Cox

Ziminova. Credit: Geneviève Arsenault

Olga Ziminova’s love for the French language always stood out in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia, where a majority of people speak only Russian and very few learn a second language that isn’t English.

“It is very unusual to study French in Russian schools,” she explains. “But, since I was a child, I felt like this was all I wanted to do.”

Now graduating with a master’s degree in French and teaching for Alliance Française, an international organization that promotes French language and culture, Ziminova is contemplative about the unlikely path that has led her to success.

“Even my dad couldn’t understand my love for languages. He wanted me to learn math and physics,” she recalls. “But my mom saw the opportunity for me to learn French as something special.”

Lucky for her, one of the few grade schools in St. Petersburg that offered French courses was located just down the street from her childhood home.

The fluency Ziminova gained during her childhood later paid off when, in high school, she entered a prestigious, nation-wide competition for French speakers. As one of the top competitors, she was awarded entry to any language-based university program in the country.

“I had been thinking about doing a degree in chemistry, because I was pretty good at it. But then I had this opportunity to study languages, so I did a bachelor’s degree in French-Russian translation at St. Petersburg State University.”

It was while completing her undergraduate honors thesis that Ziminova learned about the French master’s program at UVic, when her supervisor showed her a pamphlet published by the French Department and suggested that she investigate it further.

“I did of bit of research, but most of it was to find reasons for my parents that it was actually a good idea for me to move to Canada for this program. And they said ‘yes, go for it!’”

Once here, Ziminova fell in love with the rich variety of people, cultures and nationalities in Canada. It was not long before she realized that her advanced language skills could open up professional opportunities for her here as well.

“This is a much better place for me to actually use my language skills,” she states. “There’s so much more respect for people who speak multiple languages and are able to translate or teach. I saw many opportunities here that made me want to stay.” 

Among these opportunities were those created within the French Department itself, which puts great emphasis on professional applications of language skills cultivated in the classroom.

“I started working as a teaching assistant in the third semester of my degree, which gave me experience that I could put on my resume. Now I’m working at the Alliance Française, teaching French to youths, teenagers and adults,” Ziminova states.

“I like sharing my passion for French and trying to make learning it fun for my students!”

“Olga is an international student from Russia who fell in love with the varieties of French spoken in Canada. Her thesis was highly acclaimed and highly original. I am glad she has found such success here at UVic” 
French Graduate Advisor Pierre-Luc Landry

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Keywords: convocation, student life, international, languages and literature

People: Olga Ziminova, Pierre-Luc Landry

Publication: The Ring


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