Russian Alisa Chukanova has just arrived at Southampton University to start her PhD and is feeling hopeful about a future in UK academia: "I just came yesterday. My first impression is very good. If I like it, I would like to stay."
Chukanova, 22, comes from Chernogolovka, a "scientific town" an hour's drive from Moscow. Her parents, who are both scientists, work in physics and chemistry institutes in the town.
She studied for five years at the Russian State University of Humanities for a diploma in the humanities, the equivalent of a masters. "It was mostly cultural studies. I learnt English and a bit of Spanish, and I specialised in Spanish culture and the theory and sociology of culture."
Her choice of specialism meant that she worked mostly alone on her degree thesis. "Here in England, cultural studies is more specific. In Russia, we study the philosophy of culture and world culture. I could not find a specialist in Spanish cultural studies. I was pretty independent."
Chukanova saw an opportunity to continue her research with specialist supervision on a visit to see her fiance, who is now a doctor of physics at Sheffield University. "I was looking to continue my subject in England and saw this post on the internet. It exactly matched my subject," she says.
Her one-year contract in Southampton's department of modern languages is for six hours' teaching a week. In return, the university pays her fees.
Chukanova's thesis will focus on what she calls "mediate" cultures that "don't exactly belong to the West or East". Although she will concentrate on perceptions of the Spanish, she includes Russia within the "mediate" category.
"The subject is very important: does Spain belong to Europe or not? Does it belong to the East or West? what is its self-identity within these cultures? The materials I will use will be philosophical works and other sources."
Chukanova started her research during her diploma, looking at the interaction of Jewish, Muslim and Christian cultures and at the ideas of the 20th-century cultural philosopher Americo Castro. "In a way, I will continue this subject but also touch upon a later period of mass culture to see if this tradition continues."
Chukanova is looking forward to the closer relationship she will have with her UK supervisor, Jo Labanyi, and her tutors. "In Russia, tutors interact less closely with students. They position themselves on a higher stage."
Chukanova believes her hours spent teaching Spanish popular culture will lead to fruitful exchanges. "It will be a good collaboration and very useful for both sides."