Three Times in the UK on Erasmus+ Scholarship
Tatiana Tarasenko graduated from the programme 'International Business and Management' in 2020. While getting her degree, she had three academic mobility trips to universities in the UK — in Lancaster, London, and Hertfordshire. All three times Tatiana had Erasmus+ scholarship. In this interview, Tatiana tells how international mobility has affected her, what is interesting about studying in the UK, and what students should pay attention to when applying for a scholarship.
Visit the International Student Mobility Office to lear more about study abroad opportunities for HSE SPb students.
— Why did you choose to study at HSE University — St. Petersburg? What educational programme did you choose and why?
— I was born in Kazakhstan in the city of Pavlodar. I entered the 'International Business and Management' programme in 2016. The admission process was much easier for me than for applicants from Russia. After an interview, I was admitted under the quota for international students.
I wanted to major in international relations, but the St. Petersburg campus did not have such a programme, so I chose international business. I liked to picture the future myself travelling abroad, working for large companies, and solving business cases.
While studying, I looked at the international mobility opportunities offered by various organisations. Then I found an HSE's extensive list of partner universities, and I got curious about HSE's collaboration with University College London (hereinafter — UCL).
— Why did you decide to participate in the academic mobility programme?
— I wanted to move to Europe, specifically to the UK. I think there are a lot of career opportunities. Besides, I like its language and culture. So my practical purpose was to study and live there.
Ever since I entered HSE, I was showering the International Office with emails because I desperately wanted to study abroad. I wanted to go to the University of Jena and I applied there when I was in my first year, but I got rejected.
— Which universities did you study at during your academic mobility?
— I took a chance to go for mobility three times. I first went to Lancaster University in 2018. This university is amazing! Even though it does not stand among the world top universities, it was interesting to study there. Besides, the building is very cosy: there is a huge four-floors-high tree in the middle of the library, there are modern computers with large screens. The University has a close-knit community of Russian-speaking students. We spent time together and celebrated such holidays as Defender of the Fatherland Day and International Women's Day.
Then I went to study at UCL. There is an interesting story about it. When I was applying, UCL allowed applicants to send IELTS results after submitting main documents. I took my exam after I had sent all my papers. I was not successful in one section of the exam and lost 0,5 points, so I did not meet the admission requirements and received a rejection letter. Later I knew that one of my groupmates had the same situation. He narrowly failed, but he was admitted. I contacted the university to clarify the situation, and UCL accepted me! I think it happened because European universities are careful when it comes to issues of equality and fairness among students. I learned not to give up after a rejection, but to understand its reasons.
I went to study at the University of Hertfordshire in January 2020, it was my third exchange. Initially, we had full-time studies, but due to the epidemiological situation, we went online. The university did not strictly control our attendance and treated students with empathy, so it was easier to study. The management and lecturers understood that such a stressful situation was challenging for many. While studying online, I decided to stay in the UK. When my exchange semester ended, I went to London and finished my last year at HSE remotely.
— Which city impressed you the most?
It is difficult to say what city I liked better. Lancaster conquered my heart with its cosiness and beautiful buildings. I used to think that small cities remind each other like in Kazakhstan or Russia. However, when I went to Lancaster, I was surprised by a great variety of beautiful dollhouses and the castle in the very city centre. People impressed me too because they were very friendly and polite.
Hertfordshire is a small and pretty city too. I expected it to be similar to Lancaster, but it was greyer and less picturesque.
London is a big modern city full of possibilities, what I always liked about it. When I came there and watched its architecture, I fell in love with it even more. Old houses were standing along with modern ones, but the city looked harmonious. I studied in the university's building of the XIX century. It was very impressive!
— You had Erasmus+ scholarship for all three academic mobility trips. Was it difficult to get it? Why do you think you got the grant three times?
— My parents could not help me financially, so I immediately started looking for a scholarship. Erasmus was the most popular among them. The living standards in England are high and, therefore, the scholarship does not cover everything. However, if you manage your budget and learn about discounts and perks for students, you will not spend much.
Getting a scholarship is not as difficult as it seems. I had good academic records, composed a proper motivation letter, and asked good professors to provide me with recommendations. It was a key element of the application. The host university does read your letters so you must write as much as possible about your strong sides. You should also explain your interests and why exchange experience is important for you. For example, you can tell them about your research, especially if its topic is about the host country. Tell them, what you can discover and how academia can benefit from it.
Besides, some universities can ask for your IELTS, TOEFL, or other language certificates. If you have a high level of language proficiency, you have nothing to worry about. Just keep in mind that it is better to prepare in advance.
— You went to the UK three times. Why did you choose this country?
— I estimated the opportunities the country and the universities could give me. I was thinking about both a place to go on an exchange and place to move and find a job. I guess that the most developed startup culture is in the UK. I felt it in London: many people create and develop their projects. Besides, there are many cool world-known universities in the UK: Oxford, Cambridge, UCL.
Many students do exchanges to have an extraordinary experience of living abroad and learn a new language, but adapting to a new environment for several months was not what I wanted. The British culture resonates with me, and I am proficient in English, so I can easily communicate with students, lecturers, and employers.
— What else did you do in the UK? Where did you go? Did you work somewhere?
— There are many opportunities for international students in the UK. For example, there were many discounts on student trips in Lancaster. I managed to visit ten different cities including Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Manchester, but I am not a big fan of travelling. Of course, it was interesting to see various places in England, but everything looked the same to me. I found some clear distinctions: Chester is an old city with classic English buildings, while Manchester is an industrial city. Frankly speaking, when you are a low-budget traveller, you mostly think about how to save your money, which blurs the impressions of the trip.
What about internships and work, they are subject to visa restrictions. In the UK, they usually issue a short-term student visa for academic mobility trips. It is designed for people coming to study and travel around the country only. To have permission to work, one should get a general student visa Tier 4, and exchange students may get it too. Unfortunately, I was given the short-term study visa all three times, that is why I was not able to have any internship there.
However, before my first trip, I managed to get a remote job in EP Advisory, a British company which helps Russian-speaking people to start a career in the UK. In the beginning, I worked as a copywriter, so I was talking to different people going to the UK, writing articles about them. Then I was promoted to a PR-manager and became in charge of event organisation, interaction with bloggers, and collaboration with other internet-resources. I had a contract with this company, so I was able to continue working officially on the same grounds.
— What is the difference between studying abroad and studying at HSE?
— The current idea of European education implies that studying in Europe is cool and prestigious, so I expected that I would become some sort of genius, the most desired graduate for employers after a semester in England.
I did not notice any significant difference in the quality of education if we compare HSE with UCL, for instance. There are a lot of courses at both universities, and it is not easy to study, but I noticed some differences. Firstly, in the UK, the final grade in a course is based on the results of an exam or final essay, and students' work during the course does not count much. Secondly, the teaching process differs: it easier to understand the material at UK universities. I think it might be related to the idea of equality existing among Europeans: each student should be able to understand the material.
I feel that our lecturers speak a complex language, and sometimes students do not understand it. In the UK, lecturers explain everything in more depth and spoon-feed the smallest details to students. On the one hand, it is great when you have a high bar stimulating you to improve, but I find it harder to perceive such complex information, so I prefer the teaching style in the UK more.
It also seems to me that students have more freedom in their classes in the UK. When a lecturer asks you a question, you do not have to answer and go up to the blackboard, and there will be no conflict after. I was less afraid of making some mistake or not coping with the task because of this. Probably this freedom can be explained by the fact that your work at seminars does not affect your final grade.
— How has the exchange experience affected you?
— I feel I became more open to the world and other peoples' ideas of life. When being in your home country, you think that everyone has a more or less similar way of thinking in terms of culture. Now I know that everyone has a unique experience, and everyone has a personal idea about how the world functions.
Besides, I stopped overcomplicating problems and tasks. Open communication and human simplicity are appreciated in the UK. There people like unusual attitude to some regular things, like searching for a job, for example. One friend of mine told me how he found a worker while being in a coffee shop. By chance, one girl at the next table heard him talking about his business to his colleague. She did not hesitate to approach and ask if he was looking for a worker, and it turned out that they were looking for someone of her skills. When I heard this story, I realized that even if some actions seem ridiculous, they can help us. It is not a secret that finding an employee is a problem for company management. You should not be afraid of getting a rejection, so join a conversation and tell about your strengths.
In general, academic mobility experience significantly boost communication skills. Sometimes you need to interact with people in the unfamiliar environment, be initiative, and cut corners.
Besides, I learned to work with criticism. In the UK, they do not roughly point at your mistakes, but highlight positive aspects of your work and give some recommendations about what can be improved. I feel that people in Russia tend to criticise each other and not provide enough support.
Studying abroad affected my private life too: I have a boyfriend in London. It changed my future projects a bit: now we are planning to get married, and I will settle down in London. In general, I am thinking about getting a master's degree, but I think I will put it off for about a year.
— What would you recommend to students who want to take part in international mobility programmes but are afraid of losing the competition?
— The competition is not so difficult as it is thought. A motivation letter and your academic performance are the main contributors to success. Provided that you have good grades and explain your motivation to go to study abroad, it will not be difficult to get a grant.
I recommend you preparing for a language exam and learning all the organisational information in advance. You feel better when you have more time, gradual preparation of a portfolio will cause less stress, I think. It is better to do little by little rather than rush and prepare at the last moment.
Do not hesitate to contact the HSE University - St. Petersburg International Office. Its wonderful team can help you with any question about competition and travel arrangements. They do support students and take care of them. Although my mobility is over, and I am a university graduate now, they still keep texting me to know if I am fine and how my life goes in London. This attitude is precious!
HSE University - St. Petersburg students go for academic mobility not only in the UK. The campus' partner universities list comprises universities from more than 30 countries: from Norway to Brazil. To learn more about international mobility opportunities for HSE University - Saint Petersburg students, visit the International Office webpage.