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‘I Simply Need to Want It—And Everything Will Be Within Reach’

In her fourth and final year, Veronika Gareeva, a student of the Bachelor's track 'Environment and Interior', studied at Politecnico di Milanо under the academic mobility programme. She did so while working on her thesis project at the HSE Art and Design School and, as a result, enrolled in a master's programme at the Italian university. In this interview, Veronika talks about her studies in Italy and shares her personal story.

‘I Simply Need to Want It—And Everything Will Be Within Reach’

Photo courtesy of Veronika Gareeva

Did you plan your trip under the academic mobility programme in advance or was it a spontaneous decision? What university did you enrol in?

— Even before I enrolled in the university, I was thinking that I should go abroad to study. The pandemic started during my first year of studies, but I was determined to make my dream come true during my bachelor's degree. In the fourth year, I managed to do it; I went to Milan at the beginning of the academic year.

I studied at Politecnico di Milanо, one of the best universities in Italy. Here, everything is oriented around engineering, architecture and design. I enrolled in the school of architecture and studied in the Bachelor's programme 'Architecture Design'.

What were the admission requirements? Did they consider scores, additional achievements, and other factors?

— Yes, they took additional achievements into account. I had a lot: participation in various competitions and working as an assistant at the Art and Design School. They looked at the student rating (mine was consistently good), a motivation letter about myself, my interests and goals, and some reference letters. As a language certificate, they accepted the results of the internal independent exam which all second-year students at HSE University have to take. The whole procedure is held online.

When I found out that my application was approved, I felt happy, but also stressed because I had to gather a large amount of documents. I'll have to go through the same process again, as I have enrolled in a master's programme in Italy this year.

What language did you speak while studying and living there?

— Mostly English. I hadn't studied Italian before—I've just started now. But you can easily live in Milan without Italian. In other cities, it is probably harder.

Did you have to study a lot or was the pace comfortable?

— Yes, it was quite a lot. Besides, as I was in my fourth year, I was still studying at HSE University, working on my thesis and research, and attending online classes. In Italy, I had only three fully busy days a week. I was surprised, because I took only two courses. But I still felt the workload. Once a week, I even had a double class which lasted for nine hours straight with a lunch break. It was taught in English as well, so it wasn't easy. But it was a very interesting experience.

Are there a lot of students? Did you make friends within the group?

— The university has a lot of students. There were around 60 people in my group in the interior design studio, all from different parts of the world. There were even five Russian speakers. So it was very comfortable.

The group wasn't really tight-knit, as they started their studies in the year of the pandemic. However, there were tasks we had to do in subgroups. My mini-group consisted of four people, and it happened that I communicated only with them. Apart from studies, the university organised lots of student events where we could meet new people and communicate. There, I found new friends and acquaintances among international and Russian-speaking students.

How different are studies at Politecnico di Milano and the HSE Art and Design School?

Perhaps the biggest difference is that at HSE University, I study to become an environment designer. At first, it was a little scary to study strictly in the architectural specialisation, but it turned out that I had gained quite a lot of knowledge at the HSE Art and Design School which I can use under any circumstances. Besides, they use a more technical approach to architectural projects, more theory. In addition, I was very surprised that in practical classes, the professors delivered plenty of lectures. The first two months consisted of lectures only. As for the educational system, it is similar to the one at HSE University—they also have a system similar to LMS for instance. Everything is similar, so it was easy and comfortable for me to find my way around under the new circumstances.

I think that architectural and conceptual thinking helped me during my studies in Italy. Before HSE University, I studied at the Ioganson State Art Academy Lyceum, and the Art and Design School strengthened this approach and developed the conceptual method.

Tell us about the projects you've created.

We did our project work in the real space and went to the north of Italy, near Mantua. We were told about the working trajectory and given a tour. It was the territory of an operating hydroelectric station, a dam with locks for the key waterways of Northern Italy. It was a modern, or even eclectic building by the architect Piero Portaluppi, with 19th–20th century architecture. There is already an eco-museum there. The main task was to update the concept and create a full-fledged eco-museum on the territory with public transport, as well as permanent and temporary exhibitions. We worked in an international team of four people and ran the project together. As a result, for the implementation, we chose a metaphor which I came up with, and then everyone developed it in their own spheres. So the project was global, not easy to implement, but very beautiful.

Projects have to be printed out and handed in at the university. We printed big A0 boards and presented them. For me, it was also unusual and uncomfortable in some sense, as we present everything in digital form. However, the experience is very interesting.

Senior students at this university focus on developing soft skills and teaching young architects to work in teams. So there was no 'individual project' option.

What feedback did you get from lecturers on your project?

— We were awarded the maximum grade for the project—30 out of 30 possible points. It wasn't easy, as it took quite a lot of time to agree on everything. We consulted with two professors. One is an expert in architectural theory, and the other one is a practitioner engaged in museology. They were both surprised by our unusual approach and way of thinking. In the process, they made a lot of corrections.

Tell us about your further career plans. Are you planning to start your own business?

— I have enrolled in a master's programme at the same university but in a different track—space interior design at the Design School. This is the sphere I want to continue working in. The university itself is located in Milan, which is the capital of design and fashion. I would like to work alongside my studies. The university offers opportunities to connect with employers. Just like HSE University, they have career services. A student visa allows you to study and work for a certain number of hours a week. In addition, the master's programme requires you to undertake an internship in the second year.

It would be perfect if I could start my own agency in the future and work all around the world. I will push myself, work, understand the intricacies and adjust. I would definitely like to work on public spaces, cafes, restaurants, and exhibitions. And perhaps urban land improvement projects. I still have a wide range of interests, and I haven't chosen a narrow sphere—I just want to work everywhere and try everything.

Out of everything you learned at the Art and Design School, what helped you to adapt and study at a foreign university the most?

— Of course, the global approach to tasks and the absence of restrictions while creating a project were helpful. The main thing is not to impose limits. At the Art and Design School, they taught me to think conceptually. In my opinion, that is why our team created such a good project—at some point, I pushed it forward and offered to make it big.

Projects Veronika created at the Design School

Could you tell us how your daily life was organised? Where did you live? Did you manage to travel?

— My situation is rather extraordinary, as I went there with my future husband. As a result, I moved five or six times in six months, living in apartments or rooms at Italians', foreigners' and Russian-speaking people's places. We rented accommodation together. Milan is the most expensive city in Italy, so rent is also very expensive there.

I did manage to travel, but not as much as I wanted to because of the constant moves. Nevertheless, I travelled around the suburbs of Milan, visited Lake Como, went to Venice twice and flew to Paris on my birthday and then Belgrade. I also went to Armenia and Georgia.

What were you like when you left and what are you like now?

— I became more mature in many ways, for sure. My worldview became much 'broader', and I saw myself in a new light as a professional and person. I realised that there were a lot of possible paths; I simply need to want it, and everything will be within reach!

Learn about academic mobility on the HSE website