An American In Moscow: What's It like To Study In Russia?

Ryan Zhuo, an American student from Binghamton University, about his semester in Moscow at HSE.

An American In Moscow: What's It like To Study In Russia?

Ryan Zhuo, an American student from Binghamton University, studies the Russian language and literature. At the moment, he is studying abroad at HSE on the program “Semester in Moscow.”

We caught up with him before he flies back to his home town of New York.

How did you end up at HSE?

As a Russian major, I always wanted to spend more time than just a summer in the country. I also wanted to spend another semester with my girlfriend, who I met this summer in Moscow. As for why HSE in particular: I heard good things about it from my Russian friends.

What courses are you taking here?

Currently I am taking five courses: Russian in Mass Media, Philosophy of Cognitive Science, Russian Intellectual History of the 19th Century (my only course in Russian), History and Culture of the USA, and Science and English Literature.

Why did you choose History and Culture of the USA?

Back at Binghamton, all students have certain “distribution requirements,” which essentially means that we have to take a certain number of courses in certain fields. I needed to take an American history course. I forgot all about American history after graduating from high school. No, let us put it this way - I do not know all the material. The most interesting part is seeing how Russians study my culture.

Is it difficult to study Russian?

I do not think so. Studying languages is enjoyable when you have a genuine interest and know how to study properly.

Do you have any favorite teachers yet?

Yes! I enjoy Professor McLoone’s thorough and accessible teaching style in Philosophy of Cognitive Science. I do not think I have met a professor more passionate about what he teaches than Professor Mikhail Velizhev, who teaches Russian Intellectual History.

What are some differences between studying in America and studying in Russia? Would you recommend studying in Russia to other American students?

Studying at HSE has pros and cons.

Although HSE is doing a good job at modernizing, it can still improve in terms of organizational infrastructure. For example, at Binghamton, course catalogues for each semester are published in the middle of the previous semester, which is crucial for planning one’s next semester. When I enrolled at HSE, I did not know what courses were available until a week before the semester started.

I also think that HSE can do a better job publishing final exam times and locations much earlier. It is a basic student right to know well before final week when or whether one can go home to see family or go on vacation. I also had to compile my schedule myself  searching through different timetables. Some classes that were listed as module one either did not meet the first week, or were not held at all. Why list them then, I ask?

What I like is that students are split into groups that bond over their university years. Back at home, we do not have anything resembling groups at all, which is a product of our “looser” university experience. By “looser,” I mean that American students have much more freedom in terms of the courses they take during their college years. Of course, the education we receive may end up shallower than that of a Russian student, who only takes courses in one field and largely with the same group of people. The upside is that we get to explore all of our interests. I also enjoy interacting with college-age Russians, who are often eager to meet foreigners.

Overall, I would recommend studying abroad in Russia to students who are already interested in the language, country, or culture in some way.

Text by
Veronika Mark