To Go or Not to Go

To Go or Not to Go

Are you thinking about studying abroad through the International Mobility Program? We spoke with a few students who participated in the program, and they shared their impressions and some interesting stories.

The Call for International Student Mobility Applications for the fall semester 2019-20 will be held from February 1st to March 1st. Due to high interest in the exchange programs, we spoke with a few HSE students who participated in the program, and they described what it was like to study abroad in their countries of choice.


Anna Neznamova, Bachelor’s programme ‘Economics’, 3rd year

Studied at George Mason University (the USA)

HI: Why did you decide to participate in the student exchange program? How did you choose George Mason University?

Anna: I have always dreamed of going to a different country to study because I think it's an amazing experience. I initially chose HSE due to the amazing opportunities it provides students. For my study abroad experience, I chose the USA as my first choice. I did not see the point of going to a non-English-speaking country to study, because otherwise all the other students would continue to speak in their native languages in their free time from lectures. Besides, America seems to me a very interesting country both in terms of education and culture. So there was no doubt in the final decision. Moreover, I do not like British English; it grates on my ears and even becomes unpleasant when I watch movies. In contrast, lively American is much nicer—maybe many will disagree with me, but this aspect also influenced my choice of country.

As soon as I learned that two professors who are Nobel Prize winners in Economics teach at George Mason, I thought, 'I have to be there!' Additionally, the University is located only a half an hour away from Washington DC—a great place not only for studying, but also as a starting point for traveling around the country, which is very important for me.

HI: What was the first shock or surprise when you arrived at the other country and began studying?

Anna: Most of all I was struck by the organization of the whole system. When I arrived at the end of the summer, I already knew the date, time, and even the place of the final exam at the end of the year. It turns out that such an organized educational process is possible in real life. It was convenient for planning everything - from going to the store to going on a trip, because there was an exact schedule for 6 months.

And… people smile! Everyone, anytime, everywhere. A stranger can come to you with a warm smile and give you a compliment just because she/he wanted to. It was surprising and strange at first, but then you begin to smile and make compliments back. Just like that, just to cheer up someone by saying, "Hey, your sneakers are so cool!”

And last but not least, what I found interesting is their style of clothing. The main priority there is comfort, so students go to class with huge backpacks, with huge bottles of water and in huge sweatshirts. It was very unusual to see classmates in sportswear always and everywhere, because I'm used to Russian university life, where students dress like they're in a fashion show.

HI: What are the three main differences between study at HSE and in the USA?

Anna: 1) the system of educational process works perfectly

2) You can choose almost any subject with a suitable time/schedule and teacher

3) You NEVER are 'called to the board' and generally will not be asked to say something if you don't want to.

HI: What experience and skills did you gain due to the student international mobility program?

Anna: Now I am sure about what really interests me in life, and even if my choice surprises the people I'm closest wish, or they don't understand it, it's still my choice. Also, I  understand that during my stay, others' opinions or judgments do not mean anything. What really matters is what you want and think is right. And from the standpoint of standard skills, of course, my level of language and communication has skyrocketed.

HI: Did you have any problems with exams, credits when you came back home?

Anna: Actually, I had some… When I passed all my exams, I checked my email and saw that there were changes in the credits transferring system, so according to new rules I did not have enough credits to complete the session successfully. So, to those who plan on participating in the exchange program – I would recommend carefully rechecking your individual study plans by yourself and making sure to take courses for additional credits so that you don't get into a situation like mine. It is better to take an additional course (something not too important or difficult) and have no future problems with the transfer, rather than confusion with your own schedule in HSE.

HI: Why would you recommend participating in the international student mobility program to others?

Anna: This is an amazing opportunity for self-development, improving your language skills and, most importantly, studying in a new place and changing the whole environment around you, which is necessary in order to understand yourself and separate your own thoughts from the imposed opinions of others. The memories you will have after your stay will last forever, and, as for all the different and interesting people you meet—it's amazing.

Nataliia Aleksandrova, Bachelor’s programme ‘Philology’, 3rd year

Studied at University of Bergen (Norway)

HI: How did you choose the University of Bergen?

Nataliia: Actually, I did not choose the University—I was more concentrated on choosing the country. There was no strict criteria for me; I was thinking about a destination where I have either never been before or a place that I really like. Ultimately, I went the second route and applied to a Norwegian University.

HI: What would you suggest that applicants write about in their motivation letter? What should they highlight?

Nataliia: In the motivation letter, I would recommend focusing more on the educational part. Write about why you need this opportunity and how you plan to use the knowledge gained at the partner University. Do not go into a lot of detail about your extracurricular activities; stay focused on education and research work. But if you do have something interesting to tell about your experience outside of education – go for it!

HI: What are the three main differences between study at HSE and abroad?

Nataliia: Usefulness, freedom and cooperation.

HI: What experience and skills did you gain thanks to the student international mobility program?

Nataliia: First of all, I improved my language skills. My spoken English has become just awesome. I started to learn a new language and for half a year I have already learned it at a fairly decent level. I also came to understand where to move in the next couple of years. Moreover, of course, I have become friends with many interesting people from all over the world.

HI: What was the most remarkable, memorable thing about your stay in Norway? What was most interesting about interacting with foreign students?

Nataliia: It is actually hard to choose one thing. But were I to choose one, I would name spending time in nature, and going to parties, and traveling, and even ordinary dinners surrounded by close friends.

The understanding of how different all people are, but at the same time how similar our stories are. It has always been interesting to talk about cultural differences between countries. The most interesting topics were the so-called taboo issues: religion, politics, history, etc. Because this is how you learn real perspectives from native citizens about various aspects of life in different countries. It was a very valuable experience for my own personal development and expanding my horizons. All of these have changed my worldview a lot.

HI: Why would you recommend participating in the international student mobility program to others?

Nataliia: Because it is an amazing experience that anyone would be sad to miss. Before you leave, you are one person, during – another, and when you return – a third. Neither paper work nor problems with the transferring credit system can overshadow the experiences and memories that you get in the end.

Anna Kraeva, Bachelor’s programme ‘Economics’, 3rd year

Studied at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Spain)

HI: Why did you decide to participate in the student exchange program? How did you choose Universidad Carlos III de Madrid?

Anna: Honestly, I knew I wanted to study abroad even before I started my education at HSE. Since high school I was sure that I should participate in an exchange program. Consequently, when I discovered all international opportunities that our University offers, I did not hesitate to apply for the mobility program. I have always had a desire to explore the world, different countries, cultures and people.

As for choosing the university I did, it was clear for me that I would go to Spain because I studied in Spanish school. So I wanted to practice the language and learn subjects on Spanish. But I can recommend other ways, too, such as the ways my friends chose their destinations and universities. The first option is to check the THE University rankings and QS University rankings and explore the best options in your field among HSE-partners universities. The second option is to find people on Facebook who are studying at a university that you are thinking about and talk with them about all positive and negative aspects.

HI: What would you suggest that applicants write about in their motivation letter? What should they highlight?

Anna: I think the most important thing is to make the motivation letter personal and original; do not write the usual basic stuff. You should highlight why you need this opportunity, what it will bring you, and why you chose exactly this or that university. Do not be afraid to go in details, show the real you and your true desires.

HI: What are the three main differences between study at HSE and in Spain?

Anna: Basically, I knew that there wouldn't be very many differences between the educational systems because my academic supervisor recommended Carlos III University to me and said that our universities are quite similar in terms of study process and assessment. However, the main differences were:

  1. In Spanish there are also two forms of treatment (prefixes), one formal and other less formal, however at the University students and professors do not use formal prefixes as we do with our teachers. In general, relations between professors and students are very friendly and open.
  2. All final works and quizzes are given in the format of a multiple choice test where for each mistake you get not a 0 but a minus score.
  3. The style of the learning process. For example, Spanish students take notes on A4 paper at seminars, type all lectures on their laptops, and then before exams they print out all the materials of the course in the format of a book.

HI: What experience and skills did you gain due to the student international mobility program?

Anna: First of all, I have become a responsible and independent person. I got to learn how to live on my own. For the first time, I had the experience of living in a dormitory and sharing apartments with foreign students. Also, meeting people from all other the world opened my mind and broadened my horizons. Of course, I considerably improved my language skills both in English and Spanish.

HI: What was the most remarkable, memorable thing during your stay in Spain?

Anna: Actually, everything! I successfully combined usefulness and fun—I studied and traveled a lot. I went and explored so many cities all around Spain with new friends. Also, I celebrated my 20th birthday there. We had a big party with many guests; it was nothing short of amazing. Besides, it was very cool to talk about Russia with foreigners, cook Russian dishes, discuss our traditions and tell international students real facts and stories.

HI: Why would you recommend the international student mobility program to others?

Anna: Because the mobility program will significantly contribute to your personal development, create many opportunities and open new doors. You will definitely make new friends! Now I can go to many countries in the world and be sure that I will know someone there who will be happy to show me his/her city or country. To have friends in various parts of the world is so cool!

Valeria Caras, Bachelor’s programme ‘Political Science’, 4th year

Studied at Masaryk University (Czech Republic)

HI: Why did you decide to participate in the student exchange program? How did you choose Masaryk University?

Valeria: I wanted to make my time at the University more diverse and interesting, get new experiences from studying, travel, and meet new people. First and foremost, a desire for change motivated me to apply.

Choosing a university was one of the most difficult parts—you could easily get lost in all the options HSE offers. First, I was looking for universities that offer programs in my major and have the most suitable courses for my individual study plan. I also advise you to seriously address this issue (individual study plan) so that after your arrival you do not have to take a lot of classes and pass too many exams. Moreover, you can take online courses to make up for any additional credits you might need. I also paid attention to the country, because I wanted to go to a place that is a convenient location for traveling. The Czech Republic and Masaryk University were ideal for me in terms of both of these criteria, as there are many different courses at Masaryk, reasonable prices, and it is conveniently located in the center of Europe.

HI: What would you suggest that applicants write about in their motivation letter? What should they highlight?

Valeria: I recommend that you show how your interest connects with your chosen country, its culture, and language, and show why you need to go there and to that specific university. You can start a letter with some unusual fact that connects you with the country. For example, I wrote about reading a book by a Czech author, who inspired me a lot. Show how your chosen courses at the partner University will improve your academic performance, while the cross-cultural environment will improve your English proficiency and communication skills, and also connect that with your interest in learning the language of the country.

HI: What were the main difficulties you encountered during your first days?

Valeria: It was the language barrier—the locals' ignorance of English and my own lack of knowledge of Czech, which was spoken by all employees of social services, shops, post offices, banks and my hostel. I was really shocked that so few people understood English. I think this situation might be well known in many small cities in Europe.

HI: What are the three main differences between studying at HSE and in Europe?

Valeria: In many foreign universities, there is no division between lectures and seminars; this is why classes in one subject are held less often per week. In many universities the academic year is done by semesters and not modules. There is also much more free time!

HI: What was the most remarkable, memorable thing about your time in the Czech Republic?

Valeria: The most memorable has become the number of trips that I was fortunate to take. I bought tickets for buses to neighboring cities, visited friends in other countries and lived from trip to trip.

HI: Did you have any problems with exams or credits when you came back home?

Valeria: I was lucky to not have any problems. I was able to complete several courses that we had in the third module while I was in the Czech Republic. Difficulties can be avoided if you choose a University based on the appropriate courses, discuss all details of an individual study plan with your study office and, if necessary, take online courses.

HI: Why would you recommend the international student mobility program to others?

Valeria: I strongly recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity, as the mobility program combines several advantages. First, it gives you a change of scenery, a new environment, and the ability to do what you like by interacting with new people and traveling. Secondly, it will be a good line on your resume and an opportunity to live and learn in a foreign country.

Text by
Ekaterina Srebrodolskaya