One Day In The Life Of A Foreign Student At HSE

Munkhtsetseg Odontsetseg, an international student at HSE, talks about studying and living in Russian and emotional strength.

Once we enter the university, everything changes. There are many students at Higher School of Economics with their own story. Some of us were born in Moscow; others spent most of their lives in smaller cities and then made a decision to move to a bigger one to continue studying. There are ones, who have left their home countries for that – and these students are the main heroes of this article.

While studying at HSE we are used to being in the intercultural environment, but still, we live in the same country as we did when we were younger. Do we have any idea, how those, who spent their whole life in another country, feel here? Of course, many of us have been to other countries, some even had an opportunity to study abroad for one or two semesters, but it is totally different from moving to another country at the age of 18 in order to get bachelor’s degree.

This article is to answer this question. We have an opportunity to know a little bit about those HSE students, who took the risk and moved to Russia to study. One of such students – Munkhtsetseg Odontsetseg, who is eager to answer some questions on her casual day as HSE international student about living in the dormitory, studying in Russian and emotional strength, needed to overcome all the difficulties.

Can you, please, tell me a little about yourself? Where do you come from? Why did you choose Russia and HSE in particular to study at?

First of all, thank you for inviting me to your interview. My name is Odontsetseg, I am from Mongolia, and at the moment I a full-time student working towards Bachelor Degree at Higher School of Economics. My major is international management, which relates to the faculty of Business and Management. I am a senior student; it means that it is my last year in Russia. For now, I have not planned to study in Russia anymore. I think, all that I have now, is just my destiny, because, when I was 18, I had made the decision to study abroad, I just wanted to leave and to study abroad. I thought that it was a good opportunity for me, especially for my future career. It did not matter which country to choose. And I couldn’t get any serious survey on the countries – which one is better or worse. Russia just was the first opportunity for me, where I could study. My grandmother offered me to participate in the contest for the governmental scholarship; the winners could get scholarships in top Russian universities. I participated, received a scholarship and I could be accepted to Higher School of Economics.

What faculty do you study at? What is your specialization?

My major is international management. The advantage of this major is that most of our courses are taught in English. It is good advantage for those, who study business, because for business the core language is not Russian, but English, so it is a good choice. Of course, there were few more factors that might have influenced my choice, but I think, it was the main one.

Tell me, please, about your housing: do you live in dormitory or in a rental apartment?

I live in the dormitory, which locates near the Studencheskaya metro station – in the district of Kievskaya. I think, this district is quite luxurious and safe – there is no problem in living here. Both, in the district and in the dormitory, because the dormitory is designed for international students, most of them are exchange students, who study here for just one or two semesters. And most of them are from Europe, like from Germany, Italy, Sweden. Some of them are also from America, and few are Russian. I really like the ethic of these people – they are highly cultured and ethical people, so there is no problem – our dormitory is really quiet and calm, and it is nice to live there with these people.

Do you have roommates? Are you getting along? Was it difficult to establish mutual understanding when you first met?

Yes, I have roommates, I have had various, actually, who were from Spain, Germany and Russia, because I live in the dormitory for the exchange students and most of my previous roommates were here for the exchange programs and just lived here for one year or for half of a year – not for long. My current roommate is Russian and we have just two-months experience living together at the moment I do not see any difficulties and we had not have them since we first met – she is quite polite and I am trying to be polite towards her, too. We are very cool and, I think, everything is going to be okay.

How do you usually spend your mornings?

My mornings are not the same – it depends on the day, the plan of the day. If I have classes, mornings are just dedicated to preparing myself. Of course, I need to prepare breakfast carefully and have it, and, after that, I need to do some women stuff, on that I spend a lot of time, like having shower, doing make up, dressing up. All that things require at least 1.5 hours, sometimes two hours. I am a woman, I need two hours to get ready. I think for Russian girls it can be shortened a little bit, because  they are beautiful, most of them are so beautiful, they don’t need to wear make up every day, they don’t need to spend a lot of time on it – I am really jealous of it. If I don’t have classes, I usually do morning exercises. But I struggle to do morning exercises in my room – they have a very little room in the dormitory for this. Since we have a little gym in the dormitory, where I can find some fitness equipment, I usually use it to do my morning exercises. Our dormitory is located near the Moscow City and I sometimes run towards the Moscow City and have a good breath at the river. I really like the view of the Moscow City and the river – surrounding is very good - and I prefer spending my morning running there or doing exercises and relaxing.

How and where do you like to have your morning drink (tea or coffee maybe)? Do you have some favorite spots in Moscow? How did you know about them?

I really don’t have such experience, because I really don’t like to drink coffee in the morning and plus I do prepare my  breakfast myself every morning, and I used to drink something with it at home, so I do not have to buy something in other spots. So, that’s it, I usually have my morning drink at home with my breakfast.

Is your dormitory far from the university campus? How do you usually get to the university?

Our dormitory and school are located not so far from each other. I usually spend 30 to 40 minutes by metro. It is the best option for me, because it is cheap, fast, there is no traffic jam, no stress and everything is so urbanized. And now, when we have Wi-Fi, it is very comfortable for me. Sometimes I walk home if my classes finish early. I have to walk 6 km spending 1.5 hours, three times more than using metro. But mostly I use metro.

Was it difficult to get used to another country, another city, the weather and people?

Of course, it was difficult to get used to another country, another culture and people. There was always the feeling that I was different. I was the one who was different from the others, who lived here. My appearance is Asian. And, plus, their behavior is different from mine. I do not know, why, but people looked arrogant to me. It was difficult to communicate at first. I isolated myself from them and did not try to communicate. Though soon I realized that it was my mistake, because we are all the same, no matter what. I realized that it would be impossible to understand people if I do not communicate. I needed to overcome this problem. When I was a freshman, I defined Russians by their appearance, and I didn’t try to communicate with them in order to know, who is inside. So, it was my mistake and I just needed to try to talk with them.

Do you study in Russian or English language? Is it difficult to overcome language barrier in studying and communication?

I study in Russian, but sometimes I have courses that are taught in English. During these courses I feel comfortable, because most of my classmates are from Russia and it means that we would be on the same level, because English is not their native language. Sometimes, when the courses are in Russian, I cannot understand the discussion and I lose the track, because for them it is their mother language and for me it is still foreign. But, however, I don’t have the right to complain about this, because it’s my choice and I knew the risks and my student life is just a little bit challenged. I hope that all that challenges will become memories for my whole life. I am trying to overcome this and, year by year, I feel improvements. It is already my last year and that is not so bad.

How do you usually spend your free time? Can you recommend any places worth visiting in Moscow or any clubs at HSE?

So, at the moment I am taking some responsibility for organization of some events. I am the member of Mongolian Students Union, for students, who study in Moscow, and we are trying to organize one competition between those students. I really like this stuff; I like to handle it, because it can be real practice for me, as I am studying business administration, so organization of events would be cool practice for me. But I do not do it during all my free time, just right now I am focusing on this and spending all my time there. I also really like swimming. I have learnt to swim here, in Moscow, in HSE swimming pool. So, we have really big swimming pool and I really like it.

Do you prefer having dinner at home or somewhere? Cooking by yourself or takeout?

I cook by myself all the time, because eating and cooking at home is good for my health. You know, it is really hard to get sick, when you are far from your home. There is no one to take care about you, the only one, who does, is me. So, I am just trying to care about myself, to love myself and try to prepare delicious and healthy dinner for me every day. And also, there are many people, who worry about me, like my parents, they also keep telling me to eat healthy, to do exercise, to live healthy, that I am the one to be responsible.

Where do you usually study after university classes? Do you have any places in mind for co-working/studying?

After classes I usually do my homework at my dormitory, because on every floor we have libraries, where students can work and study. There I can be focused, and it is comfortable for me.

What would you like to tell those people in other countries who consider studying at HSE or are already here?

Maybe it depends on what kind of international student you are. If you are an exchange student, then I would like to say “take more strolls around the city, because Moscow is amazing, it’s a big city, and your time is not enough to see it all, to know it well. If you have free time, do not prefer staying at home, just take some amazing strolls around the city”. If you are a full-time student, those four years are enough to see Moscow, to stroll, to get trips around the city. The most important thing is focusing on your classes and your communication skill. Do not block yourself from the crowd with a bunch of barriers – like communication barriers, language barriers. Just push yourself in order to overcome these barriers. If you have language barrier – then try to talk much with native speakers, if you have communication barrier – just push yourself to talk to the people in order to know, who is inside them, just try to make a friendship. Everything is on you – if you can be a real fighter, then everything is going to be yours, if you cannot – it is better to go back, because it would be just a waste of time. Once you have chosen to study here – be prepared to be strong emotionally, because there is not anything easy.

While talking to Odontsetseg, it seems impossible to understand, how strong the person has to be in order to overcome such difficulties and to keep pushing till the end. But the most important message is that we have to pay more attention to those, who are around us, for sure. Take care of people; try to see if someone need a friend to talk to or to ask for help. Of course, such a small interview is not a way to fully explore the inner world of those, who have different culture, but it is enough to understand, that we are the same people. 

Text by
Ulyana Myagkikh