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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mastering New Studies a la Francaise

With flawless French, Gallic looks and a degree from Russia's best school of international relations, Sergei Sobolev has all the makings of a successful diplomat. But the 22-year-old Muscovite is not interested in that.

"I have no desire to work for the Foreign Ministry, where the pay is low and there is nothing to do," said Sobolev, who recently graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, or MGIMO. "In Russia, we have become pragmatic and I want to broaden my horizons."

A new program at the institute funded entirely by the French government is giving Sobolev a chance to keep on studying in a graduate-level political science program staffed by some of France's top professors. Like a dozen other French-speaking Russian students, Sobolev enrolled in September in the two-year program sponsored by MGIMO and the Institute of Political Studies, or IEP, in Paris, France's top school for political science.

Along with the political science curriculum, a master's program in journalism also started in September. Together the two-year programs currently have 24 Russian students and next year are likely to have 70. Forty have enrolled on another five-year-old French-Russian program, in international management.

All three programs, funded this year by an $800,000 grant from the French Foreign Ministry, draw teachers from elite French schools, including the Paris College of Commerce, or ESCP, for management and the Training and Perfecting Center for Journalists, or CFP.

"It is a French tradition for the state to take the initiative on questions of education, to show the example," said Bruno Baron-Renault, director of the management program, which is designed to produce indigenous managers for French companies in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The journalism program, for example, was set up primarily to address a lack of Russian journalists who are knowledgeable about France.

"The objective is not to train Russian journalists to work for the French media, but to train specialists on France," said Edouard Hubert, the program's coordinator and a journalist. "I was very surprised by how little students know about France."

The French government regards investing in education as an effective way to better Russians' understanding of France, improve economic ties and generally promote the two countries' relationship. The Foreign Ministry sponsors similar educational ventures throughout the world.

However, for many students, it is not a love of France and its culture that leads them to enroll. Many consider it a way to broaden their job prospects.

For Olga Basova, joining the one-year management program meant a chance to get a promotion. A commercial assistant with the French computer-maker Bull, Basova said she will be named marketing director after she completes the program.

"I learn about new subjects like marketing and management, but also about creating a team spirit at work, which is something we don't know about here," she said.

For some, the programs are a chance to make an in-depth study of subjects of their choice.

"I am very interested in conflicts and instability in the newly independent states. Here I can concentrate on these interests, whereas the regular Russian program looks a bit at everything," said Konstantin Makienko, 24, a political science student. "Social sciences are recent in Russia and there are not many books available in Russian," said Makienko, who uses the program's small library stocked with French political science classics, newspapers and magazines.

In the small, dark classroom of the journalism program at Moscow State University on Manezh Square on a recent afternoon, a French journalist, sent from Paris for two weeks, was assigning articles and giving interview tips.

"Don't prepare your questions or you'll get stuck. Prepare themes and work around them," Jean-Pierre Len™tre advised students.

The students, mostly in their fourth and fifth year of journalism study, said they are learning to look for an angle to a story and to respect journalistic rules. It all seems new, they said.

"Here, we get to practice professional journalism. We have to go out on the street do interviews and write almost everyday. At Moscow State University, you are free to work or not, nobody cares," said Sasha Krouglov, 25, a graduate student who is interested in working for a French publication.

It is not so much the style of written French that baffles Krouglov and most students of these programs. Rather, it is the legendary Cartesian method, the requirement that all French students organize their thoughts and write them out in two or three parts.

"I have problems structuring my ideas to make them fit the square, French logic. It's really hard to master the techniques of plan and presentation," said Renata Tretyakova, a student in the management program.

Cathy Rousselet, coordinator of the political science program, acknowledged this. "It's difficult to know if the famous French plan, thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis always works when applied abroad, where people think differently," she said.

But some students love it. "Super, c'est super," said Sobolev. "It's a totally new form of teaching. We learn how to process and organize information, which was never taught to us before. It really made me grow, even physically, I felt it. It changes the way I look at everything," said the enthusiastic student.

The Cartesian French teachers, sent by their schools for a few weeks, are among the best in France in their fields.

"They're incredibly competent and not afraid to be asked questions," said Tretyakova.

It is still too early to tell to what extent graduates from the new masters programs will work in relation to France. Only a third of the graduates from the management program work for French companies in Russia.

"Those who work for French companies are not always our best students," explained Pierre Coutaz, head of the academic section of the program. "Others go on to create their own companies or work for Russian firms and often have business relations with France. All in all we have created a network of over 100 graduates who work with France."