Maria Pavlova

Modern Languages at St Hilda’s College

When did you arrive in Oxford?
I arrived in Oxford three years ago, but before coming here I had completed A levels on the Isle of Wight. My school in Moscow had an exchange programme with a school in the UK, and I was the first student to participate in it. It was supposed to be my gap year, but I surprised everyone by doing very well in my exams and they asked me if I wanted to stay and do another year. Then I applied to Oxford and received a Hill Foundation scholarship – a miracle!

What are you studying?
I am studying French and Italian, a fascinating course which combines the study of two languages with an array of papers covering all literature written in French and Italian from the Middle Ages to contemporary works. One of the greatest things about this degree is that we can choose from a wide variety of literature papers. So far I have really enjoyed exploring the Italian Renaissance and the French Enlightenment. And Dante – reading the Divine Comedy in the original Italian is an incredible, deeply moving experience! Language papers constitute roughly 50 per cent of my course, the rest is literature.

You are completely fluent in both languages?
I should be fluent by now. I think I am.

Do you speak any other languages?
I know some Latin, which I started learning last year when I went to France for my year abroad and I am planning to work on it next year (Latin is of course extremely important for those studying medieval and Renaissance literature), when I have more time. I am also very interested in learning an Eastern language. Most probably Arabic, a beautiful language with a rich history.

What are your plans when you leave here?
I am planning to apply for a masters in Italian or in comparative literature. I am madly in love with the Italian Renaissance, but I do not know if I’ll be able to do my postgraduate studies in the UK. It all depends on whether I can get another scholarship…

That second degree would take how long?
One year and then hopefully a PhD after that.

What age are you now?
I am 21.

What will all this study lead to in the end?
I’d love to pursue a career in research and teaching. My dream is to become a university lecturer.

And it was not possible for you to study in Russia?
It would have been more difficult to study in Russia, considering that I wanted to study three languages (English, French and Italian) at the same time. It is relatively easy to pick up a foreign language. However, if you want to gain an in-depth knowledge of a language you need to find a course with a strong emphasis on culture and literature. Oxford is arguably one of the best places in the world to study languages precisely because you are encouraged to study literature.

Do you have any Italian blood in your family?
Believe it or not, I sometimes get mistaken for an Italian, even in Italy. But no, nobody in my family speaks Italian and I have no Italian blood in me as far as I know.

Have you ever lived in Italy?
I spent five months in Bologna last year. That was the second half of my year abroad, an extremely enjoyable and tremendously enriching experience.

How did you get to know about the Hill Foundation?
When I applied to Oxford I had no idea how I would fund my degree if I got in. I did not think I would get in. I thought that Oxford was for privately-educated high-fliers, not for regular people like me. To my great surprise and delight, I was offered a place and then I contacted my college (St Hilda’s) and asked them for advice. They suggested that I apply for a Hill Foundation Scholarship. Needless to say, I was extremely lucky.… it is almost impossible to get a scholarship as an undergraduate.

How do you find Oxford and the whole system here?
I love it because it is a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment. You are encouraged to push yourself to realise your academic potential.

Couldn’t you do that elsewhere?
Perhaps, but Oxford is one of the best places to grow and develop as a person and as a scholar. Last year I studied at the University of Bologna and I decided to sit a few exams (even though I did not have to). I got full marks in those exams, quite an achievement. I felt happy but at the same time I realised that my results did not reflect what I was capable of as a scholar. I knew that my knowledge of those papers was relatively superficial… At Oxford you are encouraged to do your absolute best and the tutors who mark your essays are often world-renowned experts in their field.

So not much social life for you then?
No, I have social life, even if at the moment it is not as exciting as it was in my second year. I have to study hard, because it is my final year and I would love to do a masters and then a doctorate. I shouldn’t complain – I am here because I am truly passionate about my subject. And yet I do find time for friends, I do go to events, and I do meet new people. Oxford is a magnet that attracts amazing individuals from all walks of life. With so many incredibly smart and inspiring people around it is important to go out and meet them.

What is the student/tutor ratio?
Four or five students in most of my translation classes. Some of them are quite large, up to ten students. As for the literature papers, we have tutorials, that is two-to-one or even one-to-one classes. One of the greatest advantages of Oxford is that you can shape your course to suit your personal interests and this means that you can study little-known authors and texts with a tutor who is an expert on them.

Are you interested in politics? Do you follow it?
That’s a difficult question. I enjoy reading newspapers (in English, French, Italian and Russian). I am addicted to reading news. And yet I find politics frustrating and depressing… I am glad I am not a politician.