Giving her best | ELPNZ

Giving her best

08 January 2013

When Larissa Mastakova arrived from Russia, her home tutor, Annie Pratt, became her lifeline. Fourteen years on, they are still great friends.

Larissa’s husband Victor had arrived a year earlier, but when she joined him, Larissa didn’t know much about the country.
“It was only the stories my husband would tell me about the lifestyle and the very nice people, and that’s it,” she says. “When we were still in the airport, I was looking around and saying, ‘Gosh, this is a paradise.’”
Larissa’s grasp of English was limited. “I could probably say: ‘Hi, my name is Larissa,’ and that’s all.”
With Annie’s help, settling in became a lot easier. “I was pleased we had a person leading us, showing us where to put our feet and not stumble; to stand up, go ahead and reach our goal.
“When we arrived, our daughter went to school and we didn’t know about the schools at all. Annie was taking us to the school, talking to the teachers. I could not understand other people, but I could understand Annie. I couldn’t reply to her, but I could understand her,” Larissa says. 
Annie says it helped to put herself in Larissa’s place. “I realised how confusing it all was. New country, new cultures, and things to learn. “Within a year she drove a car and had a job. Amazing! I had a very bright ‘pupil’ so I was the one that had the easy ride,” Annie says.
Larissa says lessons were centered on the language she needed. “We didn’t have a particular plan that she would come and say, ‘Now we’re doing this and that, but we had ‘What questions are there? What would you like to learn today?’ 
“Sometimes we would go shopping and she would teach me practically, saying ‘What’s this?’. We’d go to the supermarket and this was a different way of learning. You need to practise different ways,” Larissa says.
“I had bad days too. Because sometimes I would try and say something but I would say, ‘Sorry I’m tired,’ so she would talk and I would listen. This was another way of communicating, of learning.” 
After a year, Larissa was asked to join her English Language Partners’ committee, and found being the secretary a challenge. 
“I still had problems with my spelling, and when I was offered this opportunity, it was quite a frightening experience,” she says. “They said, ‘Look, just come and give it a try, we’ll help you.’ And yes, I was secretary for a year and a half! 
“At the beginning it was quite tough, but when I knew what to write, I started getting more involved in discussions because in this way, I was improving my English. 
“I was trying to pay them back for the help they gave us, our family,” she explains.
Today, Larissa works in White Cross Healthcare’s head office as Central Processing Unit Administrator, after starting as a receptionist there nine years ago.
She and Annie keep each other up to date about family news, catching up for coffee and meals when their busy schedules allow. 
Larissa says Annie’s been a great support. “Every problem we had and we still have, we first call Annie. We had this bond from the beginning. “She is a wonderful friend, our New Zealand ‘mother’”. 
Annie says Larissa has blossomed over the years. “She is always keen to better everything about her life and respect her ‘new’ country by giving her best.”