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'Get a Ticket': Maria Menshikova on Her Exchange Studies in France

Maria Menshikova is a third-year student of the Bachelor's programme 'International Business and Management'. This semester, she went to France under the international academic mobility programme to study at the Rennes School of Business. Find out how the student chose the university, how the course in B2B marketing helped her and which pastries people in Brittany love in the article.

'Get a Ticket': Maria Menshikova on Her Exchange Studies in France

Photo courtesy of Maria Menshikova

How you chose the university

I applied to France because I have been coming here since my childhood. I understood both culture and mentality because I wanted to be in this particular country. So I was!

While choosing a university, I looked at students' feedback and rankings. There was lots of positive feedback about the Rennes School of Business, besides, its positions in rankings didn't disappoint: according to QS, their master's programme in logistics was the 51st in the world, and the programmes in marketing and business analytics were among 110 best ones. 

I also paid attention to the university environment: I wanted a university with well-developed student organisations. At the Rennes School of Business, one can always find something to their liking. Such attention to students wins everyone over, and I will say right away—I am not disappointed!

How the educational process changed

Here, I realised one more time how well HSE University had adopted the global educational experience. There are no radical differences between the universities. The same grading system, the same platforms. It's very comfortable. 

Another difference is that there are no lectures, only seminars. During the classes, they give us some theory, and then, we start practising: do some tasks in groups and discuss the results. Usually, we work with business cases. Sometimes, it is a little hard as they are about local companies about which I don't know much. But it's okay, one can get used to it. 

I like how much professors from Rennes School of Business are involved in their job. They are practitioners, teaching is not their main activity but they put their hearts into their subject, it is obvious. They are always well prepared and full of enthusiasm: they are truly passionate about their jobs.

I have only four obligatory subjects: 'B2B Marketing', 'Strategic HR Management', 'Financial Markets' and 'Interdisciplinary Approaches to Global Markets'. I like the classes in B2B marketing most of all. We were given a group project, and for a whole month, we studied the company 'Adobe': looked at its prospects, conducted a SWOT analysis and made matrices... I was really fascinated, though the subject was humanitarian, and I have a technical mindset. 

The classes in HR management were also very interesting, they focused on multinational companies. During the course, we were given a task: choose two countries and see how a company from one country can be opened in another. For this task, we had to develop an HR strategy: how to recruit staff abroad, what budget is required, and which cultural peculiarities should be taken into account.

Except for compulsory subjects, I also had an elective course. I signed up for a French course: I studied it at school, reached B1-B2 level but it became a little rusty with time. I wanted to brush up my knowledge—and that's what I did! I had a wonderful professor with whom it was easy to communicate. She also immersed us in the cultural peculiarities of the country and helped to find something that our native languages have in common with French. It is very useful for your horizon!

All classes at Rennes School of Business were held in English. At first, I was a little shy to speak but after a lot of practice, I snapped out of it. Moreover, if people passing by are chatting in the street, I can't understand straight away in which language: I am used to English and French so much that I perceive it automatically.

The only thing that surprised me about the studies was the shorter length of semesters than at HSE University: only four months. There is only one exam period. So I will go back home in the middle of May and go on vacation earlier than my groupmates. But it is very pleasant!

What you like about the foreign university

Its appearance. The main building is done in a way that glass-fronted classrooms go up to several floors, and in the middle of it, under a dome, there is a garden with palm trees. Besides, I really like that there is a lot of light in the university space. You come in and can easily breathe! All this is due to glass fixing and minimalism in design and furniture. Studying in such an environment is a sheer pleasure.

Apart from that, I like that students have a great choice of extracurricular activities. Do you want to monitor stock quotes on the stock exchange? You can go to the Bloomberg room, there is always someone. Do you like music? There are classrooms with musical instruments to suit any taste. You can come and play just for fun even if you are not a member of any musical clubs. You won't disturb anyone: these classrooms are equipped as musical ones, and they are completely soundproof. Some students have recently participated in a race in Morocco—the university sponsored the trip. It is nice when the university takes care of students in such a way!

I didn't join any student organisations: by the third year, you just want to study and then go home, minding your own business. But I think that if I happened to be here in my first year, I would have signed up for all the clubs. This is interesting, and it's easier to make new acquaintances from different countries.

How your daily life is organised

The hardest thing to deal with was accommodation: the dormitory didn't suit me, and there were not so many apartments. Rennes is a student city so the demand for rented accommodation is very high, the search drags on. But my groupmate and I were lucky. We had an acquaintance who went to Rennes School of Business in the semester before us. She offered us to rent an apartment where she lived. We wrote to the landlord and negotiated everything quickly.

Our landlord is a jewel of a man. My groupmate and I landed in France at 3 am, and he met us at the airport, bought some groceries and explained everything. The apartment is also in perfect condition: the owner has just finished the renovation and keeps improving it. 

As for daily life, there are no big differences. However, food delivery is much more expensive. Once, my neighbour and I got sick and couldn't go to a shop ourselves. We had to spend up and wait: here, food delivery takes more than 15 minutes. Russian services have spoiled us.

Three things that surprised you in the new country

Daily round

In France just like in many other European countries, supermarkets close very early. In St Petersburg, you can go grocery shopping at 11 pm but you cannot do the same in Rennes. Shops start working in the morning, in the middle of the day—a lunch break, and they close at 5 pm. At the same time, the schedule differs depending on the day. It is not that easy to adjust your timetable to it!

Sport is a lifestyle

For French people, sport is an integral part of their day. There is always someone running or riding a bike outside at any time of day or night, and in the parks, they hold group classes for people of all ages. It is nice to see, there is nothing like that in St Petersburg! On the other hand, our snowdrifts won't let you run properly in winter...

Changeable weather

Sometimes, it seems to me that from St Petersburg, I arrived in St Petersburg—this is how unpredictable the weather here is! Once, I woke up and saw a bright sun outside, but just in a minute, it changed to heavy rain. There could be no rain according to the forecast, but here it was. The air temperature changes all the time: +10 or +23 or +13... Just like at home.

Three things one has to do during a trip

Visit Paris

I had been to France before, but never to Paris before this trip. This city gave me the most vivid impressions, it's a must-see for everyone. But I didn't get the atmosphere of Paris during the first trip, it was quite chaotic. I was a little tired and tried to do everything in one day: look at impressionists in the Orsay Museum, have a walk in the parks, see the Eiffel Tower in the evening... And I didn't even go to the Louvre! The second trip was more relaxed: for two hours, I sat at the Palais-Royal and watched the locals who had snacks near the fountain, then roamed about the city and listened to street musicians.

Try local cuisine

It often seems that France is only about croissants. But of course, it is not true: they are more popular in Île-de-France. People in Brittany like other pastries: almond and prune pies, kouign-amann with butter and sugar, hardtacks... Here you can also try signature crepes, and traditional French pancakes. I liked them much less than the Russian ones.

They also said that French people regularly eat baguettes, and it turned out to be true! They are sold everywhere, even in our university canteen. I often have a baguette with some kind of stuffing, it is substantial and tasty. But the locals eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I cannot imagine how they stay fit!

See the Atlantic Ocean

During the mobility programme, I went to the ocean twice. The feelings from what I saw are unspeakable, words cannot express it! Enjoying the ocean is better in coastal towns in Brittany or Normandy, commuter trains go there from Rennes.

What the exchange programme gave you

I realised that everyone should try going on the mobility. At least, to compare the approaches to studies and get new knowledge. One more time, I made sure that HSE University provided us with a great education because I managed to study in France easily.

After three months in France, my language barrier completely vanished. Yes, perhaps, I haven't reached the C1 level yet but speaking has become much easier for me. Besides, I think that now I can find common ground with anyone. When there are lots of people from different countries around, you constantly have to look for compromises and negotiate something. For instance, European students are used to greeting each other with a kiss on the cheek. For us and Asian students, it was uncomfortable, and we agreed not to do it. They understood us, it was very pleasant!

Besides, in France, the small talk culture is very widespread: any stranger can come up to you in the street and ask how you are doing. I started doing the same: it is very uplifting and helps to feel unity with other people. If in St Petersburg, there will be more of such casual conversations, I will be very happy!

And the last thing I'd like to mention: I was very glad to see in person the places which I used to look at only on maps—the university and Rennes in general... I simply compare the pictures and cannot believe that I have made it. After a long preparation for the mobility, I am finally here—it's incredible!

What you dream of now

The mobility programme is an amazing opportunity because it teaches you to adapt to any environment. You deal with any difficulties on your own, without the help of your family and friends, and not everyone around you understands it. It is like your life starts from scratch. At first, it scared me but now, it gives me energy. I need movement, I don't want to become listless in one place. Now, I will go back home, to St Petersburg, but I will get used to everything very quickly. Perhaps, I will get bored. That is why, probably, next year, I will apply for academic mobility in Moscow. Another city, a new environment... I would like to try this!

Students can choose an international academic mobility programme, ask questions and get informational support on the website of the International Student Mobility Office.