Maksim Todinov on Exchange Studies at the University of Trento, Business Courses and Travelling
Maksim Todinov, second-year student of the Master’s programme ‘International Business’, went to the University of Trento, Italy, under the academic mobility programme. There, he took courses in management and finance, travelled in his free time, and immersed himself in the activities of local leather manufacturers. In his interview, Maksim explains how studies at the Italian university are structured, and shares five pieces of advice for those who plan to go on an exchange.
— Why did you choose Italy and the University of Trento for your academic exchange?
— Three main factors influenced my decision. First and foremost, the course syllabus at the host institution had to correspond to my programme at HSE University. Second, it was crucial for me to have the option of selecting additional courses that would be of special interest to me. Finally, I checked whether the university offers scholarships to international students.
The University of Trento in Italy was the best choice among the remaining possibilities. Furthermore, I had already been nominated for an Erasmus+ scholarship at that time.
— Were your fears and expectations justified?
— To be honest, I had no special expectations, because it was my first experience of an exchange, and I was thrilled about the upcoming trip. Plus, I had carried out some kind of research about the country, region, and university beforehand, and I knew exactly what I want to achieve there.
— What are your impressions of the university itself and the academic process there? What stands out?
— The University of Trento has an excellent reputation in the country and is ranked high among public universities. It is obviously the best university in northern Italy.
The Sociology, Law, and Economics departments are in the downtown area, while Engineering and Computer Science are in Povo, a tiny village nearby. Almost every building has fancy co-working areas with plenty of space and a nice modern interior. You should visit the BUC main library and the BUM Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering library to understand what I mean. Students live in the well-appointed and comfortable San Bartolomeo and Mayer residences. From study spaces to a bar, music studio, and locations for a range of sports (soccer, volleyball, climbing, cardio), there is everything you need to study productively and enjoy yourself. It's also convenient, because both residences are close to train stations. For example, from San Bartolomeo, you can travel to several sites in the Trentino region or get a train to Venice for a weekend.
The University of Trento is a classical university with lectures, seminars, and homework. Students can attend classes throughout the semester, then come back at the end of the semester to take tests based on the lecture content. Even on master's programmes, classes begin in the morning and may last until late afternoon. If you are hungry after classes (or simply want to have lunch), there is a student canteen nearby. A set lunch of pasta, salad, and soup costs four euros. For five euros, you can have a delicious pizza. If you prefer fast food, there's a fantastic kebab place nearby!
We also had some amazing lecturers. For example, on the last day of the course, Lucio Gobbi, Professor of Finance, brought prosecco and treated all the students there.
— Are there any differences between your programme at HSE University and the programme in Trento?
— I enrolled in the Master’s programme ‘International Business’ at HSE University. In Trento, there is a similar Master’s programme in Management that is quite famous in the field of global business education. The syllabus of this programme is almost exactly the same as mine. About 90% of the courses I took in Trento were from this programme: Strategic Management, Finance, Economics, Business Analytics and Data Analysis, Marketing, etc. Just like at HSE University, Trento allows you to choose courses from a pretty wide range of subjects.
The key difference so far is that my programme at HSE University has a strong focus on teamwork, case studies, and group presentations. It makes our programme closer to the 'business school' format. At the University of Trento, on the other hand, there's a bit less of that. There are also not as many corporate ties—only a few local firms or more or less large companies. I believe that for business education, this is a cornerstone in terms of networking and getting real experience from industry professionals. In the Master’s programme ‘International Business’ at HSE University, there is also direct access to companies from retail, pharmaceuticals, strategic consulting, oil production, and the banking industry.
Studying at the University of Trento was way easier than at HSE, where you need to be 100% productive all the time in order to keep good grades and complete all your assignments on time. At Trento, there is a more ‘chill’ atmosphere and it is slightly relaxing. Deadlines are more stretched out and you have three attempts to retake exams within a couple of months. I also noticed that our classmates in Trento, although they studied quite well, showed little interest in the classes and were not very active. My friend Maksim and I were on the exchange together, and we tried to maintain friendly contact with all the professors and in general were the most active and curious students.
— How did you spend your free time in Italy? Did you have a chance to travel?
— In Trento, there are a lot of options for leisure activities. After classes, you can take a walk through the cosy streets of Trento and then go to a coffee shop or pizzeria afterwards. For the most part, my friends and I spent our time doing just that. Almost every week, UniTrento organised student activities, dancing classes, hobby meetings, and discussion clubs. For instance, I participated in several meetings of the local English-speaking club ‘English Link Trento’ run by students from the United States. There are also the great people from Erasmus Student Network, who constantly organise joint trips to the countryside or other cities.
Trento is surrounded by unbelievable nature. I had a lot of fun hiking in the surrounding mountains. For this purpose, I especially recommend visiting the Bolzano region, namely the Wolkenstein area. In the autumn, while the days were warm, I even took a swim in the local Lago di Lamar and Lago di Caldonazzo. I am also a big fan of mountain skiing. Fortunately, in Trentino, this no problem, as the town is located near the Dolomite Alps. In the winter, my friends and I went out three or four times to nearby resorts or to the neighbouring region of Bolzano. A big plus is the availability of discounted ski passes for students of UniTrento who are members of the student sports club. So, if you adore mountains and nature, you will not find a better place in Italy!
During the exchange, I visited Germany, Austria, Finland, and Estonia. The money that Erasmus scholars receive is enough to travel around Europe. In Italy, I visited such cities as Milan, Bolzano, Rovereto, Vicenza, Verona, and Venice. I also travelled by train through almost the entire region of Trentino. By buying an annual pass for 50 euros, you can travel on all regional trains.
— Can you recommend any places or sights in Trento that future exchange students should visit?
— For me personally, the entire central part of the city is one big attraction. The architecture of the old cathedrals and squares is very memorable. Trento itself is an incredibly beautiful, calm and comfortable city. One of the first places you will see, of course, is Piazza Duomo, the central square and one of the best locations for an evening promenade. I also recommend visiting Castello del Buonconsiglio. There, you can enjoy the atmosphere of a medieval castle with a great view of the city. UniTrento also organised an excursion to MUSE, a modern museum about the history of the city, with exhibits on the sustainable development of the Trentino region. Next to this museum is another one—Palazzo delle Albere. In the autumn, works by the street artist Banksy were exhibited there. Another great museum of modern art is Rovereto, located only 15 minutes from Trento.
Be sure to visit Bolzano—it's a little town in South Tyrol (an hour by train from Trento) with unforgettable Austrian architecture. And during the Christmas holidays, there are fabulous street fairs! And of course, Riva del Garda which is next to Italy's largest lake. There are no words for it. It's just a small piece of paradise on earth.
Advice for those who plan to go on an exchange
Even before you apply, thoroughly study the university and the programmes it offers. Find appropriate courses and activities that will meet both your academic interests and your self-development goals. Once you have been selected for an exchange programme, take enough time to prepare all the necessary paperwork and plan your budget. Once you arrive in Italy, finish all the paperwork and other bureaucratic stuff on time.
Learn new things
Don't be afraid to take courses outside of your programme. Experiencing new subjects will give you an insight into what students from other fields are doing and broaden your view of the world. There are also opportunities to take additional courses, such as carpentry or programme development. Also, learn the language. Although many students at the university speak English, the vast majority of ordinary Italians don't know English. Knowing Italian lets you immerse yourself deeper into the culture of the country.
Never forget to get involved in student life. For example, you can try your hand at organising cultural events or become a part of the local community of student investors. If you have a business idea, Trento has a startup incubator where you can create your project. The university offers a huge number of opportunities for tourism, creativity, and exploring new areas. For me personally, it was a valuable experience to take part in events from the School of Innovation (SOI). So, in the SOI Challenge (mini-case championship) my team and I had the opportunity to develop solutions for sustainable development for UNIC, the largest association of leather manufactories in Italy. During a tour of the tanneries in Vicenza, organised by UNIC, I learned many insights about how the industry is structured and how consumer business in general runs in Italy.
Lifehack: Pay attention to the bulletin boards in the halls of the university. They constantly post announcements of current activities and upcoming events. And you can also sign up for the newsletter from UniTrentoMag.
Even before you arrive in Trento, get to know the students who are coming on the exchange with you. Together, it will be easier and more fun to prepare for the trip and adapt to life in a new country. At the university itself, you'll be surrounded by incredibly cool people from all over the world. Try to make friends with them and find common topics to talk about. I'm sure you will discover a lot of new things about their culture and customs. And don’t forget to keep in touch with your professors and supervisors. These people will help you not only in your studies, but also support you with valuable advice.
The Trentino region is one of the best places to travel, whether climbing mountains for hiking, visiting the surrounding towns, exploring the ruins of old fortresses or swimming in the mountain lakes. All these locations can be easily reached by train or bus. It is worth travelling around Italy as well. Visit Milan, Venice, Verona, Rome, Naples, and Sicily. And of course, as I said before, you can fly to other European countries. Austria and Germany are very close!