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“Teachers are the same age or younger than me. Personal experience: how (and why) to enter a creative university at the age of 37

On July 2, 2021, the State Duma of the Russian Federation passed a law, thanks to which even having a higher education you can get another one – a creative one – completely free of charge. 

After all, people very often face a common problem after university. They do not know what they want to be and do next. Someone simply goes into freelancing, and becomes a paper writer or manager, for example. And someone goes to get a second degree to get a dream job. 

How does it feel to go to college at 37 years old, to pass exams without taking time off from work and children, and whether the game is worth the candle.

“At 16 to study to be a director is not always appropriate.

The law on the possibility of getting a second degree in the arts for free is probably the smartest decision in the field of education made in the last few years. Because studying to be a director, cameraman, screenwriter or writer at 16 is not always appropriate. You can understand the “how,” but it’s not yet clear “what” or “why.”

I would never even consider a second degree, primarily because it is expensive. And if you study seriously – how to combine study with work? And if I quit my job – where do I get the money to study? A vicious circle. Another thing is to study for free.

Sofia Remez

Several years ago I learned that people who received higher education before they were introduced into the division into bachelor and master programs, have the right to apply for a state-financed place in the graduate program on general terms.

And it is not necessary to choose the magistracy on the basis of the first education. Absolutely any higher education institution, where there are budgetary places for masters is suitable. For example, if you studied to be a physics teacher, you can enter psychology or literature as a teacher. There are no restrictions. But the exams, of course, will have to be passed.

“I chose the institute, as in a toy store.

For me, a wonderful new world of free education opened up. I think I’m not the only person who, after graduating from school, could not immediately choose a profession for life. I went wherever it was easier to pass my exams. In my case, it was the history department of Moscow State University, Department of Art History. My mom is an art historian, and she prepared me for the exams. With pains I received a broad liberal arts education and for many years I did not know what to do with it. I studied poorly, because it was not very interesting. And it’s great that now I have a chance to study in a human way.

Why did you go to Gerasimov Institute? Since childhood I dreamt of making movies. But when at the age of 16 I had to decide what college to go to (for some reason I was ashamed not to go to college straight after high school, but now I don’t think so), I decided that I had no story for my own movie. And I was right. There was no story. Stories come much later, and ideas about how to make something interesting and understandable to others out of those stories come even later. A couple of years ago I co-authored with the writer Alexandra Mozhgina two scripts for the TV series Prostokvashino. They made cartoons based on them, but it was hard to work without experience and the simplest knowledge, and the process dragged on. We were reinventing the bicycle. That’s when I wanted to learn the basics of the profession.

In short, I learned that I could apply, but for three years I did not go anywhere. I studied the websites of different universities I chose, like in a toy store. There are a lot of interesting masters programs at the Russian State University of Humanities, at the Pedagogical Institute, and in theater. I realized that I could only use the option once. Finally, during the 2020 quarantine, I made up my mind. To enroll not just “somewhere,” but somewhere that will teach me to do what I am already trying to do.

Taking the entrance exam at age 37 is a pleasure. Because you just know so much stuff because of your age. I’ve seen a lot of movies, read a lot of books, I know a lot about fine art, even better about the history of architecture, I know the history of design (I worked for many years in magazines about architecture and design), I have traveled a lot, learned several foreign languages and written several books for children. In short, I have lived a decent chunk of life, which included a lot of things.

Sophia Remez’s classmates

So I did not need to write something specifically to submit a “creative folder”: I accumulated a lot of stories, which remained just to send. The interview was easy and interesting. The opening sketch, which is written by those who passed in the third round – also.

I can say for sure that at the age of 16 I would not have passed these exams without very serious preparations.

In kindergarten they made us sleep during the day. And it pissed us off. And now if you offer any of us a couple of hours of sleep during the day at work… It’s the same here. The sessions are much easier than they were back then. For one thing, we don’t take as many things. Teachers already understand in lectures and seminars that we ourselves are interested in learning and already know a lot. For example, all of us have already taken philosophy, and many of us have taken it more than once. For some exams you don’t need to prepare: you just know. Another thing – the exam in the specialty (in my case is the scriptwriting). There is always an intrigue. If at university it was enough for me to get a “C” and crawl to the next course, then there is a healthy competition. And you want to study for straight A’s.

“Students are the same age, professors are younger.”

In my course, in the workshop of Arkady Yakovlevich Inin and Natalia Alexandrovna Pavlovskaya, where I am studying now, there are almost no yesterday’s bachelor’s graduates. And I am not the oldest in the course. All my classmates are very interesting people, each with their own story. There is a specialist in Russian folklore, a driver, an electrician, several journalists, current employees of film studios, a lawyer, two writers, a child and an adult (that’s me and Ilya Ohanjanov), one big boss and a very beautiful actress. There are twenty-somethings, but there are more who are closer to forty and even well into their forties.

Since classes were held in the buzzer, master’s students sat in on seminars and lectures with children

And one fellow student, Gulshat Smagulova, a cinematographer from Kazakhstan, had a baby between exams. She managed to prepare for everything and handed everything in on time.

Half of my classmates are from other cities. With those who live in Moscow, we sometimes meet up and get on well with each other outside the zoo. But everyone has their own life, and that’s fine, too. Everyone is an adult, everyone has little time, no one is ready to live a “real student life”, everyone wants to study. With one of my classmates, the writer Ilya Oganjanov, we started to write a short story together – a script for a short film. We meet once a week and make up stories. That’s the kind of student life during the pandemic. I like it.

Sofia Remez is writing a short story together with fellow student writer Ilya Oganjanov.

Among the teachers there are people of our age and even those who are younger. This is really unusual and interesting.

“Everyone thinks you’re doing nonsense.”

The hardest part, I think, is accepting the attitudes of those around you about your studies. They’re always going to think you’re doing nonsense. Because you already have one degree. And you would sit quietly, take care of your home, your kids, your work. Because “you’re an adult.”

You just need to understand yourself: if education makes you happy, you need to learn. Because, after all, we live for joy, not for conscience. Life is short, so why not have time to learn and do more? In time, your children, your parents, and your employers will all be proud of you. If everything works out. But there is still, of course, the fear that nothing will work out. Because you may not be strong enough.

I decided for myself that regardless of what happens next, what’s important to me is what happens now.

I am responsible for this choice and I defend it. I have the time to study and work primarily due to the fact that the master’s degree is by correspondence. In addition, all classes are held remotely, as we began to study during the most severe isolation. As they say, there was no fortune but unhappiness helped. But all the same I have to take time off during sessions, otherwise I have no time to write anything, read, pass tests and exams. I don’t know if I would have been able to study for a full-time master’s degree. Probably I would have had to quit my job. But that’s why the Master’s program is free. You can save up for two years and tighten your belt.

When I first started studying to be a screenwriter – I found it harder to write prose. Nothing worked at all – no scripts or texts. But after a year, it was like a dead battery had finally been replaced. Before I made up almost nothing in prose, I took everything from life, and I was very afraid that it would be unreliable, but now I am not afraid of anything. I try new genres for myself and enjoy it.