Emma Van Riper ’20 and Lily Kane ’20
Having grown up in an environment filled with gas masks and AK-47s, German teacher Liubov Ulianova’s story shows no resemblance to that of a typical Westport teacher.
Ulianova, known to her students as “Frau,” was born in Leningrad, which is now known as St. Petersburg. Her childhood was spent in the Soviet Union and her German education began in first grade at an elite school with a military curriculum.
“I had to shoot AK-47’s, wear gas masks and do a lot of training because we were fighting Americans. In case of nuclear explosions, we had to hide under the desks,” Ulianova said. “We had to shoot targets and throw fake grenades during gym class.”
Following her high school graduation, Ulianova received a scholarship to Heidelberg University, a prestigious school in Southern Germany. While moving there, Ulianova became the first exchange student from Soviet Russia to travel through Checkpoint Charlie, a Berlin Wall crossing point.
In May of 2001, she and her husband decided to start a family and immigrated to America. The 9/11 terrorist attacks that took place shortly after she arrived lengthened the immigration process. The language barrier also made the first few months challenging as Ulianova had to learn English as her fourth language.
Ulianova recalls that she was originally intimidated by the United States because of what she was taught as a child.
“We were always fighting you [Americans]. We were hiding from you under the desks,” Ulianova said. “But obviously, once I met [Americans], I realized it was all propaganda that the government made up to keep political powers in place.”
Ulianova teaches German at Staples from level one through AP classes. In all of these classes, she stresses the importance of bringing German culture alive in the classroom.
Many of her students admire her bright energy in and out of the classroom. “She isn’t afraid to have fun with her students,” Pauline Autaurd ’20 said. “Her focus is not to stress us out or load us with tons of homework, but to emerge us in German culture and have fun.”
Prior to obtaining her job at Staples, Ulianova worked at Yale University, Wesleyan University and Connecticut College.
She has also served as an interpreter for the German Counselette and a Corporate interpreter for CEOs in St. Petersburg, while on the side having created her own technical translation company.
Because of her many years spent in Germany, Ulianova is not only able to teach her students about the German language, but provide them with inspiration about furthering their German education in the future.
“She is always planning German field trips, telling us how we can win free trips from the German government and always talking about the benefits of European life,” Nick Bilotti ’18, a student in one of Ulianova’s level two German classes, said.
Ulianova’s eventful past contributes to her different style of teaching, which many of her students are fond of. “She’s a very unique teacher,” Bilotti said. “I really appreciate that.”