• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site

‘Since School, Studying in Europe Has Been My Dream’

Daria Evlakova, fourth-year student of the Bachelor's programme 'Philology', spent almost five months studying at the University of Turku as part of an exchange programme. In her interview, Daria talks about how to believe in oneself, getting help from the HSE University study office, and organising a curriculum while on an exchange.

‘Since School, Studying in Europe Has Been My Dream’

Photo courtesy of Daria Evlakova

— How did you decide to participate in the HSE University mobility programme? Were you planning it since enrolment or was it an unexpected opportunity?

— The opportunity to go on an exchange might have been one of the reasons why I enrolled at HSE University. Since school, studying in Europe has been my dream, so when I had such an opportunity, I took it.

It all started when I saw on one of the university’s social media pages that the call for international mobility was launching. This was when I truly believed in myself: 'I can do it.'

— Did you know which country you wanted to go to? Why did you choose Finland?

— I had to choose three universities and rank them according to priority. The university in Finland was my first priority because I like this country and have been travelling there since childhood, but only to Helsinki. I was really interested in exploring other places in Finland outside the capital.

In many ways, of course, my choice was dictated by the high quality of education in Finland. I thought: 'Wow, I want to see this from the inside! I want to be a part of this system!'

— How far in advance should one start preparing for the mobility programme? How did you start preparing?

— I prepared the documents in two or three months. You shouldn't do it too late, as there is quite a lot of work involved in drawing up a curriculum: you visit the universities’ websites, draft your curricula, collect language documents and recommendations, and prepare a motivation letter. The biggest part of the preparation is selecting a programme and calculating the cost, so I'd say two to three months at least.

— You had to arrange an individual curriculum, study in Finland, and attend online classes at HSE University-St Petersburg. To what extent was HSE University involved in the process? Were the lecturers willing to make concessions to the only online student?

— Both during my preparation of the documents for application and my studies at the University of Turku, the study office was really helpful and always very flexible. Even after the year started, I had to change plenty of things and adjust to the classes at both universities. I was really torn between the two universities a little. In the end, I don't recommend that students do this on an exchange, as sometimes classes overlap with one another. I also had to ask professors to let me attend classes online, which wasn't convenient for all of them. That is why I advise all students to get as many credits as possible in your curriculum at the other university.

— How did you feel after your arrival?

— Studying on the exchange programme was a hugely positive experience for me.

I spent almost five months in Finland, and I have to say that this experience was very pleasant for me from the beginning. In general, the whole process—from crossing the border to the opportunity to get a free COVID-19 vaccine— was as clear as possible. All the information was available in English, and the study office at our university helped newly arriving students very eagerly.

— You managed to communicate with a lot of foreigners. What countries were they from? What languages did you speak?

— I lived in a dormitory that only housed international students. It was fascinating because there were people from very different cultures, and everyone was kind and open minded. I became part of a big group of international friends with whom I went hiking a few times. Among them were German, Czech, Japanese, and Belgian people, and we talked mostly in English.

There was one absolutely wonderful moment: I have an amazing collection of videos from the last party where my friends talk in Japanese, Czech, Dutch, and German about their experience of studying in Finland!

— Do you still keep in touch with them? Do you have plans to meet up again someday?

— Yes, we do. Whenever we talk on the phone, I remember how great it is: on the one hand, you come into contact with another culture, and on the other hand, you understand that you are a part of the generation of 'new Europeans', as you think and worry about some similar things.

Unfortunately, I haven't had an opportunity to meet up with them in person, but they meet in Europe in the summer and sometimes even run into each by chance.

— How would you describe your experience in general? What were the biggest challenges?

— I have absolutely wonderful impressions of the trip because I was in the country of my dreams—a place where you feel totally safe, where people are very friendly, and where people of all ages easily and eagerly talk to you in English. I felt at ease, in my country.

It was also a very important experience of separation for me because I was born and live in St Petersburg with my parents, so this was my first big experience of independent life. It was very interesting.

The trip helped me to strengthen my confidence in my English proficiency. After my return to Russia, this helped me to start working as an English tutor. It was a kind of entry into the profession, which I am extremely happy about.

All these memories are very warm. To be honest, they support me a lot right now. I have to mention that in Finland, you are constantly surrounded by nature, and it has some kind of healing effect: it helped me to improve my mental health and restore calm.

I have to admit that this experience wasn't fully positive; there were some downsides, as there are a lot of things you come up against: you go somewhere for the first time and build your everyday life all by yourself, and you have to deal with a tremendous amount of issues.

At some point, I realised that it was hard for me to adapt to such a huge number of new people and the language, but everything went well. Challenges aside, I have plenty of vivid and comforting memories.

— Would you recommend the mobility programme to other students?

— I believe that every student who has an opportunity to apply for the mobility programme should do it, because it changes you a lot. It changes your faith in your own strength, ideas about your career and what you can do. It is all worth it. All the fuss with the documents and stress are worth it.

Text by Bella Kozlova, 4th-year student of the Bachelor's programme 'Philology'