Three Stories about International Academic Mobility
Academic mobility is not just about studies but also about travels, improving your foreign language skills, and making new friends. Read on to learn about the exchange experiences of several HSE students and their respective programmes. The opportunities are endless: study languages in China, study law in Italy, or complete an internship in the Czech Republic.
Dmitry Metelyov ('20), 'Asian and African Studies' programme
East China Normal University, China
Why spend a semester abroad?
The main reason why I decided to study abroad was practising the language. Learning Chinese requires immersion in the language environment: it is much more effective to boost your language skills this way. Besides, international mobility is a great chance to spend six months abroad gaining new knowledge and experiences.
I studied at East China Normal University. Initially, I was supposed to attend three courses taught in English in the evenings and Chinese language courses several times a week in the mornings. However, I was assigned to an advanced group as my Chinese was pretty good. So instead I had the language classes every morning until lunch. I did not mind having a more intense course load because my purpose was to study.
As for my evening courses, I took Chinese Philosophy, History of China, and Fundamentals of Logistics and Supply Chains. It turned out to be a little challenging for a person with a humanities bent like me: I knew philosophy and history well, but it was the first time I was introduced to the logistics. A lecturer from the USA taught this course. We had a lot of work during the course, and we were constantly doing practical tasks: we were looking for real companies, negotiating with them, and then we were presenting outcomes of the negotiations in a classroom. It was easier for me to master the previously unknown subject because of the applied training
It is difficult for me to compare studying in China with studying at HSE in St. Petersburg since the circumstances are so different. I was a foreign student in China, so I was getting good grades just because of regular attendance of classes and humble efforts. However, I liked the approach to teaching the Chinese language in China more: they unhurredly spoon-feed material to students, take their time, and strive to enjoy learning. The language itself becomes more vivid and makes you love it. I hope that one day the language learning system at Russian universities will prioritise enjoyment over a curriculum.
In general, studying at East China Normal University was nice and not difficult. I did not feel any pressure from the workload because all the educational process was built around positive energy: no one was afraid of taking exams and anxious during the examination period. The atmosphere itself was very positive—I would start thinking in Chinese and therefore want to live it.
China is a very diverse country. I was living almost in the heart of Shanghai, in the modern concrete jungle. I would say it neither gained my heart nor disappointed me. People who love big cities and nightlife are going to like Shanghai. My heart was rather won by a city I managed to visit called Hangzhou. I was able to feast my eyes on a local lake and nature. I still cherish my memories about these picturesque and peaceful landscapes.
Experience gained abroad
I was a 4th-year student when I went to China. During the exchange semester, I learned to wake up early before classes, at 6 am, to work on my graduation thesis, write reports, and I had my exam period at HSE at the same time. These complications occurred due to the difference in credit transfer between the universities. At HSE University - Saint Petersburg, you have many courses during a semester with 4-5 ECTS. In China, you study 4 courses during a semester, but they are comprehensive and difficult. However, on coming back to Russia, you have to take some extra exams to maintain your academic performance due to the lack of credits. The thing is that courses taken abroad are transferred without taking into consideration the number of credits. Therefore, in my case, it was better to get a cumulative part of my grade while studying in China.
This travel helped me improve my language skills significantly, and I got much energy to keep learning Chinese upon coming back home. Besides, international mobility let me relax and see a countless number of amazing places!
I advise everyone to go for it. It might be difficult to study abroad, but the experience and the improvement of your language skills make it worth it!
Natalia Zaytseva, 4th-year student, 'Law' programme
The University of Turin, Italy
Deciding to do a semester abroad
A major in law at St. Petersburg campus does not imply international focus. We study predominantly Russian law in our department, so many students do not consider academic mobility valuable. However, when I had a chance to go abroad through the international mobility programme, I could not say no. I believe it is great to get experience of living on your own in a new place and studying in another language in a new environment.
Studying in Turin
There were not mandatory courses at the University of Turin, and I could choose whatever courses I wanted. However, my curriculum had to consist of law courses predominantly as I was assigned to the Department of Law. At the same time, I could take courses in other areas so that they could be transferred as HSE minor courses.
The educational process differs from HSE's. There was not any separation between lectures and seminars - the classes were held in a blended format. So students were required to prepare in advance: we had to read some materials on a topic or do individual tasks. The task was usually a topic discussion and analysis of some tense moments and cases.
Attendance was rather optional and it affected exam format: non-attending students had to take an advanced version of the exam while attending students had some advantage thanks to a cumulative grade. A system of retaking examination differs too. At the University of Turin, you can retake examinations up to three times even if you have gotten a passing grade. It is a good practice for those who intend to graduate with honours.
It was a little difficult to transfer my courses because they do not teach Russian law abroad. I could allocate my study load and transfer the courses studied in the first semester in Italy—this saved me. Besides, some courses were transferred to my second semester.
I got 'excellent' and 'good' grades for my exams in Italy, so there were no particular study-related differences. Lecturers were always happy to help and ready to put themselves in our shoes. They knew we were not used to the local educational process.
Another distinction was a disproportional workload. It often happened that we had quite intense classes for a few weeks, and then there would be a midterm exam. Then we studied intensively again and finished a month before the examination period. The material was being taught and studied unevenly, so it was easy to forget it without revision and repetition. In addition, a lot of time was allocated for independent learning, which was unusual for me.
It was good that exchange students could choose both bachelor's and master's courses at the University of Turin. I could attend interesting courses that were either not taught at HSE University or not available for undergraduate students.
I studied law in terms of international and European law. I am keen on this field, so international mobility was a great advantage for me.
Being in Italy
I had never been to Italy before, so I had many impressions of this country. Delicious food, picturesque nature, a slow pace of life, stylish people, and warm family traditions - it is just a small part of those I could emphasise. The Italian language is so beautiful. I am so happy that I took an Italian course and passed the language exam.
I was living and studying in Turin. It is an Italian city near the Alps. The convenient location of the city allowed us to go hiking in beautiful mountain areas. Thanks to studying abroad I made friends from every corner of the world, and all together we were travelled across Italy to Rome, Bologna, Florence, Milan. It was a real adventure for everyone!
Future studies abroad
Next year I am going to study at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Since I graduate next year, I expect a high study load, so I am going to study more and travel less. Many interesting subjects at the University of Helsinki will help me to write my thesis—for example, Environmental Law. I hope that I will cope with everything during my mobility and gain useful knowledge.
Natali Tskvitishvili, alumna, 'Economics' programme
Masaryk University, the Czech Republic
I do my best to take every opportunity given by HSE University, and international mobility is one of them. I dream of earning my master's degree abroad, so I decided to study abroad to understand if I would like studying and living abroad.
I had high expectations because it was my first time travelling abroad on my own. Before, I was in Bulgaria once when I was nine years old. On my arrival in Brno, I did not have an Internet connection and I didn't like the dorm at all—it was very old. I got upset, burst into tears, and thought to myself, why did I come here? However, I never had these thoughts again for the next four months — everything was just perfect!
Studying at university
I was an economics student there. We had many classes in finance and econometrics. I learned international standards of financial reporting. We had a great professor who shared her accounting experience and gave us numerous examples that allowed us to understand the material better. The requirements were the same for both exchange and home students, so I did not feel it was easier to study.
International students are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week in the Czech Republic. So when I was preparing to go there, I had been planning on trying to get a job there.
I had been looking for job positions for a month, and, luckily, I found one. I got a call from TBM Evolution Group company. The company organizes business conferences, and it was hiring an intern to the marketing department. I did market analysis and searched for interesting people for the conference. I had two projects: a conference on sealing materials and on alternative energy sources. I had to do a lot of research on these difficult topics to be able to tell our potential clients about the conferences.
The company was in Prague, and I was living in Brno, 250 kilometres outside of the capital. I had to wake up at 4 am three times a week, take a train and run to the classes after. It was incredibly difficult, but I do not regret it. It was a great experience: I boosted my skills in market analysis and Excel and got a great line on my CV.
Living in the Czech Republic and travelling
The Czech Republic is an amazing country in which to study abroad for the first time. I did not have any difficulties adapting to the new environment. Although the European culture dominates there, the traces of former cooperation with the USSR are noticeable. For example, many people of the older generations speak fluent Russian.
The city of Brno is small and full of students, which makes it even cosier. I miss this place, it was nice to be there. You never stop discovering new places to go for walks and gather with friends.
I was travelled around different European countries and cities together with other Russian-speaking students. I believe it is impossible not to travel when you live in the very heart of Europe. I visited different cities in Austria: Salzburg, Innsbruck, Hallstatt, and Vienna. I went to Budapest and Berlin. We had a big tour of Italy, and we even did a little tour of France last winter. I saw almost all the Czech Republic. I loved Prague most of all - it is very diverse and full of interesting things and surprises.
Our trip to Austria was the most memorable — we saw stunning lakes, cities, and the Alps. If you are in Austria, you should go to Hallstatt: there is a beautiful lake in the mountains and very nice houses. I jokingly decided that I would buy a house there in my old age.