'In Trento, You Can Meet People from Totally Different Backgrounds'
Victoria Sharonova is a second-year student of the Master's programme 'Modern Social Analysis'. She is combining work and studies and recently moved to Italy under the double-degree programme between HSE University-St Petersburg and the University of Trento. In her interview, Victoria speaks about the admissions process, difficulties with accommodation and food, and the peculiarities of studying in Italy.
— How did you become a student of the Master's programme 'Modern Social Analysis' at HSE University-St Petersburg?
— I am 33 years old and I was born in Barnaul. In 2011, I got a Specialist's degree in Regional Studies at Altai State University. I studied the Chinese language and region. After graduation, I moved to St Petersburg, where I lived until autumn 2022. Now, I am an import manager with ten years’ experience. I work remotely and combine it with my studies.
I chose HSE University because I was looking for something that would be interesting to me. A year before I decided to enrol, I watched a video of a presentation about my future programme. My first thought was: 'Wow, what a cool programme. That might be interesting to me!' But back then, I thought it was too late to enrol. It was a coincidence that helped me: my friend decided to apply for the same programme and suggested doing it together. It was hard to do it after so much time. We went to the library together to prepare for the entrance exams.
The fact that I manged to enrol was very unexpected. I did not believe that I would be able to do it till the very end. But now I understand—it is so great that it happened this way.
— What new things did you learn about yourself at the beginning of your studies?
— At first, I chose a quantitative track. It seemed more attractive to me as I already had some abstract knowledge of programming. But after some time, I realised that I was interested in something in between—I like both quantitative and qualitative methods.
The first year of studies focused on getting to know qualitative methods and mastering them. In the second year, I switched to quantitative ones. That is what led me to mixed methods, which allow me to combine everything that I like.
— Why did you decide to take part in the double-degree programme?
— I learnt about this programme even before enrolment, but I didn't think seriously about it. It seemed too difficult. I did not even submit documents during the main selection stage.
It so happened that the deadlines were extended, and I finally decided to try to apply just in case. My approach here was similar to the one during admission—I didn’t expect anything. But in the end, everything turned out great.
To apply, we had to send a research proposal, CV and a motivation letter—a standard set of documents. The research proposal had to be in English, and they also required a document confirming your English language proficiency. I attended a course in English at the beginning of the first year, and I contacted my professor to ask for a certificate. In total, I spent two weeks preparing for the application. There were no difficulties with it in particular. The only challenge was getting myself together.
Later, I learnt that I passed the selection. And I was really happy! But there was a long road ahead—I had to collect a lot of documents. It wasn't clear till the last minute whether I would go or not. Besides, it wasn't easy to combine the exchange with my work. But I still left at the beginning of September.
— What were your first impressions of Italy? Did reality match your expectations?
— I didn't have any prior expectations—only the desire to experience living in Europe and studying at a European university. I had no fears either, except for the exchange rate of the euro, because my salary is in roubles.
At first, it was hard to adapt as Italy turned out to be a very bureaucratic country. But everything is very beautiful and delicious here—I feel very comfortable. I don't know if it became harder or not. When you leave your usual network of acquaintances, it is not easy to find new ones, so I had to spend some time on it.
— Where do you live?
— Now, I am living in a dormitory. I live in a single room with a private bathroom. I share a kitchen with several neighbours; there are not so many of them. The dormitory is located within a 15-minute walk from the centre and university. I have a bicycle, and I ride it everywhere.
In my dormitory, there are a lot of buildings. All of them are different: some are newer, some are older. I live in the newest one. You cannot choose a dormitory building in advance, but a room type. I can't say that I am excited about living here—there were some problems communicating with the people in charge of the dormitories, but everything is fine now.
— How do you find Italian cuisine?
— I like Italian food. The quality is very good. I thought that everything would be more expensive, but that wasn't the case. If you cook for yourself, it costs as much as in St Petersburg. But if you eat out, then it is significantly more expensive.
I rarely go anywhere, mostly because I am a vegetarian—I don't eat cheese or meat. Italian cuisine is not the best fit for me. But I have managed to find some places with vegan dishes.
— What do you do in your free time?
— I don't have much. I work from seven to three o'clock and then study. Sometimes I have needed to be in a class and at work at the same time. Despite that, during the last semester, I managed to travel a lot around Trento's outskirts and other Italian cities. It is a great opportunity to visit places you usually don't have enough time for during tourist trips. I've been to Venice three times somehow. You can take a one-day trip there, and it is quite cheap.
— Are studies in Italy different from at HSE University-St Petersburg?
— Frankly speaking, I liked studying at HSE University more. The educational system here is different—there are subjects for six credits which last for six months and you have to hand in a big assignment in the end. My exam period has been going on for two months already and still hasn't come to an end; I'm exhausted. There are also a lot of lectures, even when the subject is practical.
I like when the final grade does not depend (or fully depend) on an exam, when there are formulas for assessment and middle control points. Here, the system is different; the main element of assessment is an exam. It's hard to say how my knowledge is assessed, and through which indicators. At HSE University, it is clearer, as you can calculate your approximate grade for the course yourself.
In addition, they have a different approach to sociology. It is more quantitative. I felt more comfortable at HSE University—you can pursue gender and youth studies there, and it fits me better. Here, they focus on research into inequality.
— What are your general impressions of studying on the exchange programme?
— I believe that it is an amazing opportunity to expand your ideas about where and what you can study. In Trento, you can meet people from totally different backgrounds. It significantly enriches your social circle and ideas of what kinds of people there are and which cultures they come from.
If there are students who think, as I once did, that it is hard to participate in the mobility programme, I can say: it is entirely possible, you just have to try!