Korea VS Saint Petersburg

An inspiring interview with an exchange student from St. Petersburg School of Economics and Management by Maryana Selezneva.

Korea VS Saint Petersburg

Talking with Lera Filimonova about an exchange fall semester at a Korean University, Korean culture, and much more.

Hello Lera! Please tell about yourself and your hobbies.

Hi! I am Lera Filimonova. I was born and raised in Belarus, the city of Grodno. I take pictures when visiting different events for the university and also for the soul. Now photography, filmmaking, and dancing are my main hobbies. Sometimes I write songs, but I haven’t uploaded them anywhere yet.

What about studying at HSE at your faculty: almost half of your Bachelor’s degree is behind. Is it hard for you to study? Do expectations match reality?

I study at Asian and African Studies Programme in St. Petersburg’s branch of HSE. Studying here is quite difficult, but it is not impossible to succeed. The main thing is to always remain conscious think twice before choosing the direction of your future studying and to understand why you need it. In this way, if you have motivation it is easier to solve problems and experience difficulties.

The most important benefit of my educational program is the expansion of the outlook. When you, a person of Western culture, encounter an Eastern mentality and learn the reasons for our differences, you truly develop as an individual. As for expectations I can 't say that they have entirely matched reality. I expected that there will be more ethnopsychology or subjects connected with ethics and mentality. In addition, it is very hard to handle learning the second Eastern language because it distracts from my main language which is Korean.

Why did you choose on South Korea and Sungkyunkwan University? Was it easy to pass the academic mobility contest?

Choosing Korea as a region to explore and a place to study in was obvious for me because of the scientific interests. Initially, I planned to go to Seoul State University for mobility, but I did not pass the competition (most likely because our SCEM students were recruited there). Sungkyunkwan University was my second priority due to interesting courses. Thanks to my relatively high GPA at that time and also due to the participation in extracurricular activities of the university, I was able to pass the competition without any difficulties.

What major did you choose at SKKU and why? What subjects did you study in the fall semester at SKKU? Are they quite different from what is being studied in HSE on your program and do you consider them difficult?

Officially my major remained the same. However, in order to «close» the individual study plan, it was necessary to take subjects not only from Confucian studies but also from the Faculty of Economics, Political Science and even from the Faculty of Modern Art. Fortunately, however, I closed the curriculum well.

I tried to choose the most suitable courses which are close to my curriculum at HSE. In this case, I will say only one thing: in order to truly understand the economy, politics, and culture of the region under study, it is necessary to study directly in this region. During the lessons, we discussed and analyzed the news and events of the Republic of Korea. It helped me to understand the main issues for the country and the mentality of Koreans.

Speaking about difficulties, South Korea is a country where students literally live in libraries and study rooms. Sometimes the competitive part of the learning process was an additional burden but due to our professors who were passionate about their field of study and the well-chosen methodical material studying was interesting and simple. You should not postpone everything for later and need to listen carefully to the advice of teachers, as they do not require more.

Another amazing part of the Korean «studying mentality» that I have not thought about was the fact that because of the high educational pressure on students, SKKU and other universities are less likely to announce grades. Freedom from constant competitive pressure has contributed to my awareness of what is really important and necessary for me. It is also interesting that after only one case related to corruption at the university, a very strict attendance test was introduced in literally all the classes! Therefore, I have not missed any class during the whole exchange studying period.

Tell us in general about your impressions of the Fall semester. As far as I understand, you realized that «Oriental studies» are not exactly your cup of tea. Any ideas about what you would like to do in the nearest future?

The main advantage of the academic mobility program was personal growth. I realized a lot of things for myself and began to listen more to my inner voice. We often act one way or another under pressure from peers, parents, or simply modern culture. «You have to be the most successful, the most independent and the smartest!» Such words have motivated me for almost all 20 years. I understood that all this time I have never listened to myself. In Korea, I met many people whose inner worlds are astounding. Their backgrounds and, most importantly, the influence of the background on their actions gave me some food for thought. I realized that it was time to concentrate on my life experience, which gives me the opportunity to feel at least a little myself. How to understand what it feels like to be yourself? We have to understand all this through an even greater amount of experience. You need to try again and again to monitor your feelings: «Right now I am happy because according to the rules of society I must be happy or because of a deep sense of satisfaction?»

Thus, after the experience of the exchange program in South Korea, I have two development paths: creative and practical. I am still deciding which one is closer to me. However, as my very wise friend said: «Do not forget that there should always be work and a hobby so creativity can be your work and political science can be your hobby». These words are really inspiring!

You have to be the most successful, the most independent and the smartest!

Which environment do you like more? The one at HSE or at SKKU and why?

The environments at HSE and SKKU are really different. Each of them has advantages. For example, the HSE has more practice and independence. SKKU has a bit more rules and theories. Maybe it is because I have pink glasses but now I remember SKKU with warm nostalgia and would like to return someday.

You have experience living in three countries! Can you choose one: Belarus / Russia / Korea? Did you manage to understand which country suits you better both in terms of study work and life? Perhaps there are some other countries you would like to study/ work or live in?

This is a very interesting question! For self-development, creativity, and relaxation, I prefer Belarus. The nature in my native country fills me with inspiration and new energy. For example, the starry sky in Grodno is the most beautiful in the world! I know what I'm talking about because I traveled a lot. However, I can’t live here for a long time as the rhythm of life is much slower. I am currently in a state of childish interest in everything new. It seems that I have not yet been «full of Korea», so I would really like to try to live there for another 1-2 years to feel the country and culture in a deeper way. However, in the future, I think I will definitely try to live or study in Europe or the USA. From the European countries, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Great Britain have always attracted me the most. Life is a very long thing, and now I don’t know where it will take me, but so far my dream is to study as much eastern culture as possible.

Did the situation with the COVID 19 scare you? Was it difficult to decide to return home? What was the most difficult thing in this situation?

I can’t say that the situation scared me that much. Since I am healthy and young, I knew that the virus would not affect me radically. Most of all I was worried about my family. The decision was not easy for me, but now I do not regret it. Actually I am in isolation at home as well as I was in Korea. In this situation, the hardest thing was to recognize how much stress my parents have experienced. It was also very sad to leave Korea, but I know that I didn’t leave it forever.

Now you are on quarantine, what are you planning to do in the free time?

Now I am mainly engaged in self-development. I am writing music trying to deal with a synopsis for a short film and learning Korean. Free time in quarantine is a great opportunity to better understand yourself read books that you have wanted to read for a long time to dance and meditate. In «pure mind» new thoughts about the future come to me. Oh! And I also watched all 6 seasons of «Horse BoJack» which I could not afford last year. Of course, I still need to close HSE subjects remotely. It’s good that during quarantine if you don’t get distracted by the social networks, you really feel 24 hours a day.

Interview by
Maryana Selezneva