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Việt Nam - where the love begins

Update: February, 14/2019 - 09:00
Natalia Shafinskaya seen at an event for children’s literature organised by the Russian centre and Kim Đồng Publishing House. — Photo courtesy of the publishing house
Viet Nam News

Minh Thu

For Natalia Shafinskaya, Hà Nội is like a beautiful love. Her husband loves Việt Nam, too. They moved to Việt Nam for work, and feel proud to tell people their son is a Hanoian as he was born here.

Shafinskaya’s work as director of the Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Hà Nội has made her a bridge between the cultures and educational systems of the two countries. She is devoted to being a friend to Việt Nam.

Where the love began

Natalia Shafinskaya surprised her family when she decided to learn the Vietnamese language and move to Việt Nam.

She was born in the far eastern part of Russia, in Vladivostok city where young people often pursue Asian studies.

During 11 years in the Russian educational system, she learned Chinese very well. She spent much time and effort learning about China. She and her family always believed that she would become an expert of Chinese studies.

However, when she graduated and prepared to enter university, a teacher who spoke both Vietnamese and Chinese advised her to choose Vietnamese.

“He told me that I have huge potential if I learn Vietnamese,” said Shafinskaya. “Việt Nam and Russia have a long-standing friendship. He said I would find a lot of friendly people when I work here.”

“Many Russian enterprises want to co-operate with Việt Nam,” she said. “They need translators, so I would have many opportunities after graduation.”

So after 11 years studying Chinese, Shafinskaya started from the beginning and told her family she had chosen Việt Nam.

In Russia, there are big Vietnamese teaching centres in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Vladivostok, where Vietnamese diplomatic agencies are located. Luckily for Shafinskaya, she could learn Vietnamese at home with a Russian teacher.

“So that’s the way my love for Việt Nam began; it started even when I hadn’t been to Việt Nam,” she said. “I learned the language, history, culture, ethnology, economy and the relations between Việt Nam and other countries.”

“After six years learning, I had a feeling that Việt Nam was so close to me, like my second homeland and my faith,” she said.

She did not stop thinking about what to do. With her graduation paper in hand, she came to Việt Nam to start a new life. She began her career as a translator, Russian teacher and specialist at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Hà Nội.

Việt Nam, here I come

Natalia Shafinskaya came to Việt Nam in 2005 and stayed one year to practise the language. The country, familiar but strange, appeared in front of her eyes. Though she had learned Vietnamese with a Hanoian accent, she still made people smile when she spoke with the wrong tone.

That year was the first time she experienced Tết (Lunar New Year) in Việt Nam. Now, she buys kumquat trees and celebrates Tết like other Vietnamese people.

“Another Lunar New Year is coming, and it’s totally different from the one I spent in the first year,” she said. “We had to buy so many goods and food before Tết because the shops closed for almost two weeks.”

Shafinskaya’s first Tết holiday in Việt Nam left happy moments in her mind. She and her friends decided to travel from Hà Nội to HCM City.

“How daring and adventurous we were, we took turns riding and stopped in Đà Nẵng, Mũi Né and Nha Trang before reaching HCM City.”

“It was a wow moment for us,” she said. “The nature in Việt Nam is so beautiful. The beach is pristine with very few tourists. The people are always friendly. 

“HCM City is adorable, too, but I still feel a strong attachment to Hà Nội; it’s like my first love,” she said.

Wherever Shafinskaya goes, she always meets friendly and kind-hearted people. Once, her motorbike ran out of petrol and she could not find a filling station. She met a local person and asked him for assistance in Vietnamese. He kindly invited her to come to his family home and helped her find petrol.

No complaint

Shafinskaya says she has found many similarities between Vietnamese and Russian people, especially respecting friendship and a will to overcome troubles.

Many foreigners may find the language barrier, food, environment and traffic difficult when they adapt to life in Việt Nam. But Shafinskaya has no complaints. Instead of moaning, she tries to find a way to get on well with the situation.

“If I don’t like Việt Nam, I wouldn’t live here. I respect everything about Việt Nam,” she said.

“This is the home of Vietnamese people. If we want to live in a harmony with the local people, we have to speak their language.”

My Russian friends and I never make derogative remarks about Vietnamese culture and customs. We respect the cultural differences.”

If Vietnamese people feel something is wrong, they would make a change. If they get on well with it, foreigners should, too.”

Shafinskaya and her cultural centre, in close co-operation with the Russian Embassy, will host many activities from now until 2020 to celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations between Việt Nam and Russia. The activities of the Russian centre will focus on education and cultural exchange.

“We highly appreciate the effort of Vietnamese partners and friends in promoting Russian culture in Việt Nam,” she said. “We’d like to present Russian literature to Vietnamsese readers with close co-operation of a lot of translators, including Hoàng Thuý Toàn, Phan Xuân Loan and Nguyễn Thụy Anh.”

Shafinskaya is working on research about the relationship between Russia and Indochina countries.

“I married in Russia but had my son here,” she said. “The birth place on his birth certificate is Hà Nội and it’s something beautiful when my son says ‘call me a Hanoian.’”

“My family and I feel grateful to Việt Nam and its people for the opportunities and friendship. The life here is perfect for us.” — VNS

For Natalia Shafinskaya, Hà Nội is like her first love. — Photo courtesy of the Russian centre

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