'It was Interesting to See What the European Educational System Looks Like'
Vasily Khodakovskiy is a 2nd-year student of the Master's programme 'Modern Social Analysis'. During this time, he managed to go on a mobility programme to Italy. At the University of Trento, the student started studying the Italian language and had a chance to communicate with people from different European countries. The latter turned out to be especially interesting to Vasily, as it is important to him as a sociologist to immerse in another culture and meet new people. Find out how the student applied for the mobility programme, what Italy surprised him with and how the studies at the University of Trento are different from those at HSE University-St Petersburg in the interview.
— Tell us about your admissions process to the programme 'Modern Social Analysis'.
— I graduated from the Bachelor's programme at St Petersburg University. In the fourth year, I found out about the Master's programme 'Modern Social Analysis' when I was choosing a master's degree. Back then, I already took an interest in a double-degree programme, and in many respects, it was the reason why I decided to apply.
I did not take a gap year, but before I learned about the programme 'Modern Social Analysis', I had wanted to take a break, and maybe, start working. But I saw an opportunity to engage in quantitative research and spend a year on the mobility programme as I had been willing for a long time already—in spring 2020, I was supposed to go to Germany for a semester, but, unfortunately, the pandemic happened.
I chose the quantitative track on purpose—quantitative research seems very interesting to me, I like the combination of Sociology and the IT sphere, and the studies in the quantitative track embodies it all perfectly.
— How did the contest and application for the exchange programme go?
— I remember that even in my motivation letter for admission to HSE University, I wrote that I wanted to participate in an exchange programme. To apply, I had to prepare a CV and a motivation letter and write a project proposal. I also needed to prove my English proficiency level. I did not have an English exam as such—I took an elective course in academic English, and the lecturer proved that my English level was В2. I wrote my project proposal on the topic which somehow correlated with my Bachelor's thesis because I had already known where to find the necessary literature.
To be honest, there were some problems with the participation in the competition—the application deadline was March 4, and my thoughts were not about the application. I had a feeling that my exchange programme would be cancelled because many mobility programmes with European countries were closed. I had some thoughts that I shouldn't apply, but I finally got myself together and applied. I am very happy that in the end, everything turned out like this. Actually, it was the main difficulty.
The competition wasn't very high. I think it happened since at that moment, it was hard to plan such things for many people. Applying for an academic mobility programme was not a primary wish of many students. Besides, everything was changing quickly. In the middle of April, when I found out that I won the contest, there was uncertainty—it wasn't clear what to do further. For instance, in the summer, Italy stopped accepting documents for a visa for several days as one of the banks fell under the sanctions. As far as I remember, there were plenty of small elements, which could get in the way, they were there all the time. Until the last minute, I wasn't completely sure that as a result, I will go. But at the beginning of September, I finally left Russia.
— How did Italy meet you? Did the reality meet your expectations?
— It was a very interesting experience. I had never left St Petersburg for more than a month before. That is why the fact of leaving for such a period was something unusual to me and a little stressful, I won't hide it. But there was also an anticipation of something new.
Italy met me with the discovery that life here doesn't follow any timetable: all the transport I needed was late, and I arrived in my city not at 11 pm, but around 3 am. I had been to Italy twice before, so I already had some understanding of the country. I was excited about student life in the European community, I wanted to live in a dormitory, and this desire, fortunately, came true. It was interesting to see what the European educational system looks like and basically change my lifestyle for some time.
Life in Italy, according to my feelings, is not much more expensive than in Russia, but my lifestyle became more ascetic anyway, such things as food ordering and taxis are a lot more expensive. In the dormitory, I have my own room, a bathroom, a kitchen, which I share with the neighbours and I really like it that way because I have a personal space and an opportunity to be alone as well as an opportunity to go to the kitchen and talk to my neighbours. We share the kitchen with around 20 people. This year, a place in the dormitory is given to either citizens of countries which are not EU members or Italians who meet certain criteria, which is why my neighbours are Italians or people from other, non-European countries.
I was very lucky with the kitchen I was assigned to and my neighbours, who are mostly Italians. Although many of them speak English poorly, it is nice to talk to them, and spend time with them, and, in general, we have built a good neighbourhood community, I am really happy with it. In fact, Italians are very inclusive, especially in comparison with many other European cultures, which is why it is easy to be here for me. At first, I had difficulties with people, who do not speak English, and due to this fact, it was hard to interact with some people. But I am studying Italian, now my level is А2. So I even communicate with those who do not speak English, and everything is fine.
There weren't any difficulties in adaptation, but the only thing is that I missed communication in Russian. In fact, Russian is the language, which I use the least in real life at the moment. English is the first, Italian is the second and Russian is only the third.
— Do the studies in Italy differ a lot from those at HSE University?
— Here they have almost complete variability, which I like a lot. There is no curriculum with obligatory subjects as such, almost all the courses you can choose yourself, which is really great. I also like studying at the University of Trento because of the opportunity to communicate and exchange experience with people from different European countries. But it should be mentioned that even in the second year of the Master's degree, most of the courses are aimed at theory, not practice.
The educational process here is very different from the studies at HSE University. For instance, there is no accumulation system of assessment, only exams and final projects. That is why the intensity of studies also varies. During the semester, students might have leisure time, but during the exam period—no.
— What are your general impressions of studying under the exchange programme and what advice can you give to future participants of the mobility programme?
— The general impressions are amazing! To be honest, I am very happy that I went for it and that everything happened this way. Partially, studies in Italy were a surprise for me, until the last minute, I didn't believe that I could win the competition and get a visa.
I think Italy is a wonderful country to spend several months or even years. I as a sociologist am very interested in immersing in another culture and communicating with other people, changing my lifestyle, and living in a completely different way.
To all the students who want to participate in an exchange programme, I would recommend applying and participating in the competition. Of course, the most important thing is not to be afraid of anything, everything will work out!
Text by Ivan Shabalin