Martin Pioch has an MA degree from the University of Hamburg. Starting from October 2014, he has been a Trainee Researcher at the Department of World Economy, SPbU, as a participant of the Marie Curie Initial Training Network programme.
Interviewer: How did you get to SPbU? Why did you choose Russia as a place to do your research?
Martin Pioch: When I applied to the international PRIMO (“Power and Region in a Multipolar Order”) programme, I was looking for a project that would be interesting to me. The PRIMO programme focuses on the role of regional and emerging powers, such as the BRICS countries, in contemporary global economy and politics. Ten universities and research centres from Brazil, China, Germany, India, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and the UK participate in this programme. My research project was in line with the studies carried out at St. Petersburg University. But of course I thought about where I would go and where I could imagine myself staying for the next three years.
Interviewer: Can you tell us more about your research?
Martin Pioch: The topic of my dissertation is “BRICS in the WTO: (Re-) Emerging Powers in Global Governance”. This is an interdisciplinary study at the intersection of political science and economics. In the course of my work, I have realized how close these two branches of knowledge are, but they speak in different languages. Researchers — political scientists and economists — examine similar problems, but only from one side, while, in practice, political decisions are made with due consideration of the economic factors and the economy depends on the political agenda.
Interviewer: What language will you use during the defence of your dissertation?
Martin Pioch: English.
Interviewer: And what can you say about the level of English language proficiency at the University?
Martin Pioch: English is the language of world science, and those who understand this, of course, put a lot of emphasis on improving their language skills. My colleagues, and many of the students with whom I had a chance to talk, show a good level of English language proficiency. But in general, the level can be very different. I feel that there are not enough postgraduate courses that are read in English. In any case, I find myself faced with the language barrier issue pretty much every time I deal with administrative matters. I would have never figured out all the bureaucratic intricacies connected with filling in the necessary paperwork without the help of my tutor, Dr. Alexandra Koval. This is outside the scope of her responsibilities, and I am very grateful to her for all the support. Perhaps knowing Russian would have significantly simplified the learning process for me, from a technical point of view. The programme description, however, did not mention any requirements concerning the knowledge of the Russian language; quite the opposite, the working language was stated as English.
Interviewer: I know that international education programmes have provisions for arrangement of language classes for foreign researchers. Were any Russian language classes available to you?
Martin Pioch: During the first six weeks upon arrival, intensive Russian language courses for foreigners were provided. For anything beyond that I had to pay my. My Faculty could only offer me an advanced Russian language course, but it is not currently my level. Besides, I am constantly travelling; so I continue to study Russian privately, but I still do not know Russian well enough to use it for communication in academic circles.
Interviewer: Do you have meetings with other participants of the PRIMO programme? Do you have a chance to compare the conditions of life and work in different countries?
Martin Pioch: Yes, we regularly meet at seminars and conferences. Apart from our research work, we certainly discuss the conditions in which we work. In SPbU, as I have already mentioned, there is not enough knowledge of the English language in administrative departments. As compared with my colleagues from other countries, there is also not enough English during academic seminars and meetings, which make deep integration in the academic community more difficult. On the other hand, I am luckier than my colleagues when it comes to working with materials and publications, which can be accessed from the University library; I am also very grateful for the support I get from my colleagues at the Department. Besides, the Department of World Economy participates in The WTO Chairs Programme, which holds a lot of interest for me.
Interviewer: Would you recommend other foreign students to come and study in Russia?
Martin Pioch: I would certainly recommend students to come and study in Russia, though it is not for everyone. It may sound like a cliché, but it is true. You should come here if you are broad-minded, open to new things, free from stereotypes, if you are ready to accept a way of life that is different from the one you have been used to in Germany or in Europe. At the same time, you will gain invaluable experience; this is a country of a rich culture and wonderful people. But you must understand where you are going and be ready to solve the problems you are bound to encounter here.
Interviewer: What are your impressions of Russia and St. Petersburg?
Martin Pioch: Before coming here, I read a lot about Russia, but still the reality was quite different from what I imagined. I did not expect St. Petersburg to be such a European city, very beautiful, possessing an enormous cultural heritage. Indeed, this is just a part of Russia, and the country is really big. I would like to travel across the whole of this country, probably, on a train from Moscow to Vladivostok.