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Italian Student Shares His Thoughts of the Master’s Programme in Finance and Confesses His Love for Saint Petersburg

Lorenzo Fava is a student of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. He came to HSE University – St Petersburg to study in a double-degree Master’s Programme in Finance. In his interview, Lorenzo tells why he chose a university in Russia, what are his favourite subjects and what he thinks of a distance learning mode.

Italian Student Shares His Thoughts of the Master’s Programme in Finance and Confesses His Love for Saint Petersburg

© Lorenzo Fava's Private Archive

— Why did you decide to study in a Master’s programme in Finance in Saint Petersburg? What was of interest to you?

I decided to choose the programme in 'Finance' because I am a brave and crazy person. Well, of course, I am joking. The actual reason is that I really like Finance and everything related to it. When I got my Bachelor’s degree in Economics, I decided to continue my studies and do my Master’s in Banking and Finance. A year ago I saw that the programme in 'Finance' in St Petersburg School of Economics and Management collaborates with my programme in Milan. After that, I decided to spend a year in Russia. Frankly speaking, when I was analyzing different double degree tracks, I got caught by HSE University and the study programme. I am really fond of Corporate Finance, so I got acquainted with the curriculum of the Master’s programme in Finance and decided to go to Russia. 

— What subject has been the most interesting for you during your studies?

It is not easy to select one course. In my opinion, the course in Mergers and Acquisitions, led by Elena Rogova, was very useful and interesting, as it is directly related to corporate finance, which is of great interest to me. Professor Rogova has been helping me since the very first day we met. We saw each other for the first time in Milan. I had some doubts about my decision, so we met in the International Office to have a talk and help me to learn more about the Master’s programme. My first impression of Professor Rogova and HSE University was really great. She convinced me that the programme was worth coming to Russia. Now I can say that she has become my 'Mom' to some extent, as she helped me not only in the frames of her classes, but supported me in choosing a programme and adapting to a new environment during my first days. 
If speaking about other courses, the course in Strategic Financial Management by Angel Barajas, and the course in Business Evaluation, were very useful for my future career. I loved the classes by Professor Barajas because he is 'in tune' with the students. It is great because when you feel such an attitude, you adapt better to the new course and its requirements. When there is no extra pressure, the lectures and seminars are way more effective and pleasant. During the first classes, it became obvious that Professor Barajas is a great expert with a sound experience in his area. I also liked it that the professor gave a lot of examples from his personal experience. It helped me understand the subject better. 
I liked the method employed by Ivan Kotlyarov in the course 'Strategic Management of Expenses': the classes were very impressive and engaging because students had to express themselves during the seminars. Professor Kotlyarov is not like a regular professor you expect to meet at the university. When you take a course by the 'regular professor', you attend lectures and seminars, pass the exam and that is it. But the lectures by Professor Kotlyarov were much more interesting. During the first lecture, he showed us the presentations, materials and topics, and at the third lecture, we already had to present the material ourselves. I think that his course helped me to develop my personal skills, communicative, in the first instance. I would also like to add that Professor Kotlyarov is very attentive to his students. He tries to deliver the material in such a way that every student in the class understands it. 
I really like that at HSE University you have a lot of opportunities to express yourselves, and you have direct contact with professors, it is really important. You can always ask questions after classes, or meet your professor on campus and have a discussion. I really like it. 

Lorenzo Fava's Private Archive

— What is the most interesting or funny situation during your stay in St Petersburg?

I have had a lot of funny cases, but I will tell you about one I remembered best. It was my first day in St Petersburg, and I went to a supermarket to buy chewing gum. I went to the cashier and wanted to pay for my small purchase. She told me something, but I did not understand as I could not speak any Russian. I just said: 'Yes', having no idea what we were talking about. She started laughing and gave me a plastic bag. For some reason, I just took this bag and put my chewing gum in it. At that moment I felt that the cultural difference between Italy and Russia is huge. Now every day I try to analyze different situations and think of the differences in the reactions of the Russians and the Italians. It is interesting and funny. 

— What is the best compliment you have ever got?

I love to cheer people up; it is very important to smile, laugh and feel good, as life is too short to treat everything too seriously. And I really appreciate it when someone says: 'I feel great thanks to you!'. I think it is one of the best compliments you can get in your life, as my personal goal is to make people feel better when they communicate with me. 

— What are your overall impressions of your studies? What do you like and dislike?

HSE University, and the School of Economics and Management, in particular, have brought me a lot of wonderful memories and moments. I thought it was difficult to be 100% satisfied with something. Here I have changed my point of view. I have felt completely comfortable from the moment I found myself in this nice atmosphere. It is difficult to recollect something I did not like about this university. I love the ambience, the building on Kantemirovskaya street, but what impresses me most is the people I have met here. I am in love with Russian people, as they are super-crazy, very honest and true. They do not have fake emotions and feelings. 
In terms of the study experience, classrooms in Russia are a bit smaller, but I like it. You can also ask a question and get feedback from your classmates and your teacher. Both in Russia and Italy, my professors and subjects have always been great, and I am very happy about it. 

— What were your first impressions of Russia? Have they changed?

In Italy, all people kept telling me: 'You are crazy, you go to Russia, a foreign country, people are rude there, everything is different, you will not be able to cope with it'. So, I was a bit scared, but I really love challenges, so I was determined to come to St Petersburg. My first impression was like 'I am in a different world', and I still think so. Russia is a different world for a person from Europe. People have a completely different culture, but I like this culture very much. 
Still, on my first day I felt really lost. My first impression was that I am on a different planet with very strange people, but then my feelings changed. Now I feel at home because Russian people have done everything for it. I am very grateful to all my Russian acquaintances. 

— Do you like St Petersburg? Can you name five places you like to visit?

St Petersburg has become my favourite city; I like it more than any city in Italy. Yes, we have a lot of beautiful cities: Rome, Milan, but I have fallen in love with St Petersburg because of its atmosphere and the people here. I cannot compare it to any other in the world. 
Five places I like to visit: the first will be the Palace Square, the second - the Kunstkamera Museum, it is my favourite, I like it even more than the Hermitage. The fourth place goes to the district near the metro station 'Begovaya'. I love Lakhta Center, Gazprom Arena Stadium and the beach near them; I would like to visit this place more often. The fifth place goes to the clubs, as I love music and dancing. I cannot choose one, because every club in St Petersburg is unique. 

— You stay in St Petersburg during the quarantine. Do you have more spare time now?

Yes, I have got more free time for myself, for my hobbies, music, for instance. Still, my main focus is my final project at the university. I think a lot about my Master’s thesis I need to write in Italy when I come back in June. Actually, quarantine has changed my lifestyle a lot. But in the context of studies, I try to stay focused and do all the tasks in the most quality way. 

Lorenzo Fava's Private Archive

— How are distance studies organized?

I think distance learning is held in a very efficient manner. I do not have too many classes, I feel fine. I like that our professors treat the situation very understandingly, they are focused on delivering the material in the most quality way even online. Presentations and extra consultations are also of help. I am really touched by the fact that professors are always ready to help and support. 

— What will be your first thing to do after quarantine?

I will go to a Georgian restaurant and order the largest khachapuri they have because I love this dish and I am really looking forward to enjoying it again. My love for khachapuri started on the second day of my stay in Russia when I came to the restaurant on Nevsky avenue and tried this dish. I am a fan of this Georgian-style pie because it reminds me of a mix of Italian pizza and something else. At the same time, I cannot say you can put them on a par. They are competitors, but they are very different. 

— Is it difficult for you to manage your time during quarantine? What advice can you give to someone who cannot be productive, when staying at home?

It is not difficult for me to organize my work. The main problem is to make your brain work. We think that while on quarantine, our brain 'rests'. But I think that after quarantine there will be a very long period of coming back to normal, and the winners will be those students who stay focused and active not only in the university but outside it as well. So, it is important to plan your time and use it efficiently. My advice is: use this time to concentrate on yourself, to get away from the activities that were not useful, focus on your future to understand what you can do for yourself in the next 3-4 months. 

— Do you think that our life will change after the pandemic?

This period has taught us that we should take care of each other. We cannot live thinking about ourselves only, with no regard for the lives of other people. We should listen to ourselves because freedom sometimes leads to the fact that people don’t think about others. But today’s situation teaches us that the actions of one person can influence the lives of people all over the world. It is important that all people understand it.  

— What would you recommend to other international students who plan to enter HSE University? What they should get ready for? Will there be any pleasant surprises for them?

International students coming to study at HSE University – St Petersburg should be ready for an incredible experience. And I would like to underline that coming to Russia is not regular international mobility to any other country. In the first instance, for us, international students, it is a great opportunity to see a completely different culture, to immerse oneself in it, to get to know it from the inside. In Russia, everything is different, unfamiliar. For instance, almost all countries in the world use another alphabet. In Russia people use Cyrillic alphabet – these letters are completely incomprehensible for a foreigner. The fact that I had no Russian and this experience helped me to broaden my perception and push my way out of my comfort zone. When I just came to Russia, I had not known a word in Russian, and it took a couple of months to learn to read even some words in this language. This country has its own traditions that no other country has. For instance, in Italy, you have lunch at one and the same time every day. Here you choose when you want to eat and do not stick to some specific time. It seemed very interesting and unusual to me. 
Russia is not a very popular study destination. Many people do not know, but there are a lot of beautiful places here. It seems to me that they do not pay enough attention to it in Europe. We always hear something about the significant and beautiful places in Italy, France and other countries, but there is practically no information about Russia. I think foreign students should repair this injustice, build relations between our countries, learn more about the cultural peculiarities of Russia and tell about their countries. I think it will open up a lot of opportunities that we don’t see know. 
To sum up, I would like to say that St Petersburg is a perfect city to spend a part of your student years here. It is full of life, movement, culture, museums, and all things that are interesting to students. HSE University is definitely a place where you can express yourself and make friends not only from Russia but from all countries of the world. Studying here brought me extremely positive feelings, emotions, an incredible experience and a lot of new friends. I encourage all international students who still have doubts to make this decision and feel this unique atmosphere in a completely different world.