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Higher School of Economics

Understanding Russians: Contexts of Intercultural Communication

Higher School of Economics via Coursera

This course may be unavailable.


This course is planned to give the learners a general outline of the main rules that control the Russian-Western relationships at different stages and focuses on the differences between people that represent these opposing cultures. It also introduces the leading concepts of the Theory of Communication to facilitate investigating intercultural communication with Russian people.
Various cases are analyzed in this course to demonstrate how the Russian culture’s values appear to be misunderstood by Western Europeans due to the incorrect choice of the language items and expressions.
Here are the issues we are going to discuss:
• Why should we study the cultural context and take it into account?
• Which cultural aspects have the greatest effect on communication?
• What do we have to know about business communication in Russian organizations?
• How do fundamental values of the Russian culture shape a present-day Russian’s consciousness?
• What distinctive communication features do modern Russians have?
Not only is this course suitable for ICC students and specialists, but also for those interested in the subject and willing to learn more about ICC theories and concepts. It is also designed to organize more efficient remote working and distance learning activities.


  • Introduction to the Course
    • Dear Student, welcome to the first module of the course "Understanding Russians: Contexts of Intercultural Communication"! My name is Mira Bergelson and I will teach this class, assisted by Yulia Badryzlova, Tatiana Golubeva and the team of Coursera and HSE technical specialists. Thanks for joining us and for your interest in the Russian communication patterns.
  • Intercultural Communication as an Academic Discipline
    • We want this course to be not only a learning experience, but a cultural journey full of discoveries and fun. We will begin by introducing the notion of Intercultural Communication. We will look at ICC as an academic field: have a glimpse of its history, look at its place among other disciplines, discover possible approaches to it, and see why it is important to study the context of cultural events and phenomena.
  • Culture in Intercultural Communication
    • This lecture will focus around Culture per se and the language we need to be able to discuss it. The more complex and less formalized is the subject of the discussion, the more crucial are its instruments. We will introduce various dimensions that are applicable to different cultures and will also start to discuss the Russian culture in these terms. Starting this week we will also present short interviews of Prof. Bergelson's with people (non-Russians culturally) who have lived and worked in Russia, and who will serve as experts on various issues and contexts of communication with Russians. As stereotypes are one of the central concepts in the cross-cultural discourse, this week we will see interviews centered on this topic. The experts you will meet -- and not only this week -- are Anna Skaya (CEO VisualDNA Russia), Michael Johnston, (Private Equity Sector Lead Director of Strategy at Deloitte), and Ilya Gnoensky who specializes in crisis management.
  • Theory of Communication
    • In this week's lectures we will shift our focus, and will be looking at the basics of communication in order to apply them later to the Russian communication style. We hope you will find this information useful for understanding various motives that govern the way people (not only Russians!) interact. Anna Skaya and Michael Johnston will continue to be our experts, and your weekly quiz will await you as well. We wish you a nice learning experience in this section of the course.
  • Culture’s Impact on Communication: Politeness
    • The lectures you'll see this week will be devoted to the linguocultural aspects of Politeness in Russian communication style and to other dimensions of Russian communication. We will meet an exciting new expert, Jennifer Eremeeva, an American author and blogger based in Moscow. And it's time for the first peer-reviewed assignment, "Critical incident analyzed". It offers you a critical incident of communication with Russian partners, in which you are expected to both simulate your response and give your analysis of what is culturally sensitive in this piece of discourse.
  • Communication in Organizational Contexts
    • This week of the course is devoted to Russian communication in organizational contexts. Organizations are crucial: they shape culture and are shaped by culture. You will learn how Russian organizational culture developed throughout Russian history and how it influenced the way today's Russians behave in organizational and buziness environment. Our guests Michael Johnston and Ilya Gnoensky will add to the discussion by sharing their impressions on the Russian corporate culture and management styles.
  • Social Stratification and Occupational Cultures in Russia
    • The material covered in the remaining weeks of the class will contain less theory of intercultural communications and more information about contemporary Russia, its ways of life and their historic background. This week we will speak about the social stratification (plus the recent history of the social strata) in Russia, as well as the Russian professional and occupational communication (including the recent changes in it) – both domestically and in the context of international contacts. The lecture will be wrapped up with a case study in which Prof. Bergelson took part some time ago to demonstrate intercultural communications studies at work – in the analysis of an international educational program between a major Russian and a major US university. As in the previous weeks, we will have guest experts to enrich the lecture material with their first-hand experience of living and working in Russia: Margaret Sullivan will describe what it is like to work for an NGO in Russia; Dirk Meissner will speak about teaching students and doing academic work at our home university, the Higher School of Economics.
  • Interpersonal Communication
    • This week we will talk about the specific Russian features of interpersonal communication, communication across genders, and the generational discourse systems.Specifically, we will have a look at such issues as: friendship, dating, role of women; family structure, having and raising children, education, demographic and generational issues, ideological orientations, cross-gender communication, and forms and modes of address across various discourse systems. The Weekly Reading (one of which is optional) will provide further lively examples and evidence about some of these topics.Our guest speakers Anna Skaya and Jennifer Eremeeva will will share their experience of cross-gender communication in Russia.
  • Culture as a Narrative
    • Sad to say, this is the last week of lectures in our course. And in this last week we present not factual data or charts or tables, but rather a narrative -- this time a narrative of Russian history in broad impressionistic strokes. We do believe in narratives: they are never complete, but they provide attitudes. And culture – more than anything else – is a narrative.This time we will look at narratives as a source of knowledge about a culture, and, specifically, at such cultural narratives as: national Russian holidays, the key events of Russian history, personal stories of Russians in the 20th century, and Russian jokes and humor. Two video interviews with Jennifer Eremeeva will be dealing with some of these topics.

Taught by

Mira Bergelson


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