When Sarah Smith, a linguist and senior lecturer at the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies at Trinity College, many, many years ago, appeared amongst Russians for the first time, the occasion required that she say a few words, recalling the memory of heroines in the novels of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
She had studied the ‘great and powerful’ language through the work of such classical writers, and was greatly surprised when she arrived in the homeland of the language, the USSR to find a very different Russian!
“I still don’t understand why I got so interested in the Russian language,” says Sarah Smith, “My first language is English, a second is French, and both are very natural to me. I started to learn Russian 35 years ago in the French Lycée in London, and then fell in love with Russian literature and thus fell in love with the language.”
Sarah’s father comes from a line of provincial millers and her mother was born in to family of intellectuals in Dublin and grew up among writers, actors, journalists and lawyers. They married in the early 50s and then went abroad in search of a better life. Their daughter, Sarah Smyth, was sent to a French Lycée because they believed that bilingual education will benefit the child. “To paraphrase Chekhov, English is the language of my roots, my comfort zone,” says Sarah Smith, “French is the language in which I was educated, it gave me wings and taught me to fly, and Russian is the language of my dreams, it opened a door to limitless space, where I was able to spread my wings.”
Sarah Smith now heads the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies in Trinity College Dublin and is a lecturer in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies, which promotes relations between Russia and Ireland by teaching the Russian language to Irish students, conducts research, including studying the Russian-speaking community of Ireland (project title: “Our Languages”). The College is also negotiating with the “Russian World” fund on the opening of the Russian Cultural Centre in Dublin, helps Irish secondary schools to teach Leaving Cert Russian, assists in arranging the Russian Festival “Maslenitsa” in Dublin and supports the Russian schools of Ireland.
In November 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev awarded Sarah Smith the Pushkin Medal for her contribution to the development and preservation of the Russian language abroad. “I hope that this award will raise the value of Slavic Studies in Ireland,” says Sarah Smith. “I hope that now the Russian language and culture will now become more important in the eyes of the public, in the eyes of my colleagues in the eyes of our government. I also hope that the Russian-speaking community of Ireland will warmly accept this award. “
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