Olena Gundarina

Olena Gundarina


I come from Ukraine, I lived and worked in the USA and China before I came to the UK. I am passionate about learning and teaching, and I have been involved in Education and Literature for the past nine years as a student, teacher, and workshop-leader. I have a First Class Bachelor Degree in English Philology and Teaching English and Foreign Literature during the second year of which I was awarded a scholarship for high performance before completing my Master's Degree (also first class) in the same field from Luhansk Taras Schevchenko National University.

Before enrolling on a PhD in the University of Leeds, I was employed as an English and Russian Languages Instructor in Zhejiang Yuexiu University of Foreign Languages in China. Before that, I was working as a Kindergarten and High-school English teacher for speakers of Chinese. I have also taught part-time a wide age range of students and children in different private schools in China. As a qualified teacher, I was invited to work as a methodologist at the English school “Surpass” (Shaoxing, China) in summer 2012. The work consisted of giving lectures to trainee teachers imparting methodologies of teaching the English Language to the speakers of other languages. I have also been involved in volunteering with children since 2007, previously in Ukraine, and continued to volunteer for London Hackney Playbus, funded by the Hackney Charity organisation until 2016.

As well as completing my PhD, I currently work as a Research Assistant (part-time, 0.3) in the School of Education for the Project: ‘Fostering Effective Parent-practitioner Partnerships in Character Education’ PI: Dr Shirley-Anne Paul. Funder: Leeds Social Sciences Impact Acceleration Account in association with the ESRC.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

My interest in teaching, learning, and research per se have motivated me to undertake PhD study, which I see as a natural progression of my past years of experience in teaching English for speakers of other languages.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

I am passionate about my area of research with children of immigrants in the UK primary schools as, while being a teacher, I felt that my pupils have inner versatile worlds unknown to me and, possibly, their parents. I believe that an understanding of children’s own views and experiences can help to improve teaching, dealing with migrant linguistic minority children on every day basis, trying to make their learning a happy and smooth experience. In my study, I am interested in reflecting the inner worlds and ‘voices’ of children who possibly have rare opportunities to make choices in their lives, and hope to effect some change in the education of language minority migrant children.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

I hope to continue my academic work and will be looking for employment opportunities in UK universities or abroad.

Research interests

In my research I focus on Russian-speaking immigrant children in UK state primary schools.

As seen in other migrant children studies, initial immersion in a foreign language environment may cause difficulties engaging with the school curriculum and comprehending learning tasks. This can result in frustration, anxiety, linguistic barriers in classroom culture, and behavioural problems followed by low achievement.

Conversely, such immersion is a way to self-formation and contributes to academic achievement (Immigrant Paradox), supported by recent comparative statistics that show that many language minority students tend to progressively outperform students with English as a native language.

My research aims to investigate these issues and to consider possible constraints and opportunities confronting the children with particular interest in their personality development, language learning motivation and their experiences and responses to a new foreign language school environment.

By using the qualitative methodology of a longitudinal ethnographic case study, I hope to provide an in-depth investigation of the above outlined foci, contributing to an understanding of Russian-speaking pupils’ experiences in UK primary schools and their implications, which would allow for comparative studies with other language minority migrant groups.

Professional memberships

  • British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL)
  • British Educational Research Association (BERA)
  • National Association for Language Development In the Curriculum (NALDIC)

Relevant links:







  • MA English Philology, Teaching the English Language and Foreign Literature
  • BA Teaching the English Language and Foreign Literature
  • Teaching English as a Foreign language (TEFL) certificate