A Pakistani Student at HSE in Saint Petersburg

Discussing with Mohammad Ehtisham Ul Haq, a student from Pakistan, everything from career choices to Russian culture shocks.


Hi Ehtisham, can you start by introducing yourself to our readers?

My name is Mohammad Ehtisham Ul Haq, I come from Pakistan, and I have a Bachelor's degree in Applied Bio Sciences from National University of Sciences and Technology in Pakistan, which is one of the highest ranked universities in Asia. Currently, I am receiving a master’s degree in International Business at HSE.

Mohammad Ehtisham Ul Haq

So, you have a bachelor’s degree in applied bio sciences, but you are currently studying a master’s degree in a completely different field. How did that happen?

This is an interesting question. I would like to elaborate on it a bit more. When I was studying my B.A I had an experience of researching plant sciences and plant evolutionary biology. Eventually in my final year, I switched to conducting research on cancer biology particularly in blood cancers. I really loved this new world and field, but I am not one of those individuals who can be boxed in a particular field, I always wanted to experience new things and learn new ideas. And I realized that there are not many biologists with business backgrounds in addition to their specialty as compared to engineers for example. I therefore wanted to integrate life sciences with business management. I enrolled myself in International Business in order to decrease the dearth of business professionals with a background in biology. And I hope one day to launch my own startup in life sciences.

How did you come across HSE university and why did you choose to come to this university especially given the specific degree requisites?

After my bachelor’s degree I did not have prerequisite knowledge about Business Management and International Business, so I prepared myself with different courses limited to business management and quantitative courses from online platforms like Coursera and it helped me a lot. Other than that I did some self-study so I felt at that point that I was prepared and I can get enrolled in a course related to Business Management but there was this difficulty that different universities had certain requirements that you were supposed to study some specific courses in your bachelor’s degree or even in some cases you are supposed to have a degree in in a particular field to get enrolled in master’s program related to international business but when it comes to HSE, it provided me with an equal opportunity and was kind enough to consider me even without a background related to business sciences. So, from some online platform I heard about this competition, which is called open door Olympiad, so I participated in it and won, and because of that competition I had a choice to choose from around 22 universities in Russia but I chose HSE because even before participating in this Olympiad, I had researched my options and I really loved this course of international business in HSE. I explored the curriculum of the course and I thought that it really aligns with my goal, so I chose HSE at that point and I got enrolled in HSE and it wasn't much more difficult at that point.

As a Pakistani student in Russia, can you tell me more about your first impression of living in St. Petersburg and if it changed with time?

Before coming to Russia, I had this thing in my mind that I'm going to face a language barrier and to be very honest, I heard that people in Russia are not that kind or friendly and that it might be because of the cold weather or something like that. I also heard that you are going to face some trouble if you want to integrate into the Russian society and it's going to be difficult for you so when I came here one of the things to be true was this huge language barrier. It was even larger than what I expected but the thing about the people being rude or not that friendly was not true. Even when I face some problems and I approach some people, with a huge language barrier in mind, most try to help me and are very kind. So, it's been kind of a mixed experience, like when you don't know the language of the country you live in, it gets a bit problematic, and you're supposed to face some difficulties but I guess it's just been few months for me here and I expect that with the passage of the time things will get way better.

It will get better with the passing of time. How do you spend your time? Do you study online or offline and how does that affect the way you spend your days?

So yeah, I guess it’s a heartbreaking thing that I got into HSE amid this terrible pandemic so there are not a lot of things for me to do in Russia and I don't know a lot of people. I am not taking my classes offline, so I just have online classes and I guess that affects the way I am living here. It is hard to get the real experience of the campus. When you can physically go to university you interact with people, you exchange ideas. I'm not getting that thing but yeah you can get half of that experience from the online classes. I spend most of my time in the dormitory because it's winter and you can't go out a lot. It is a great thing that there are a lot of international students in the dormitory, so you get to meet them and spend some time learning about their cultures. I do hope that with the passage of time, classes will go offline, and I will get to experience the real HSE and will join the clubs and go to different gatherings that I guess would add some spice to my social life.

Yes, I totally understand you. The pandemic really does limit our university experiences. The only thing we can do is wait until better days come along. Speaking of dormitories, are you satisfied with the facilities provided in your dormitory?

Coming towards the dormitory I guess it's been better than I expected. It has a clean environment and well-equipped kitchens. Everything is available. I have a really good room to live in but I guess there is always room for improvement. Certain things about the dormitory could be improved like as now we are living in the winter and if you need to get something or you want to eat something you just have to get out of the dormitory and to some kind of cafe and get that thing but if we can have a little cafe in the dormitory, it will improve things by a lot.

Yes, I agree with you. So, I am interested to know more about what you miss the most about life in Pakistan and if you could bring one attribute or culture feature from Pakistan to Russia permanently, what would it be?

OK I don't know how to articulate this exactly, but I guess there are a lot of things about Pakistan which I missed. Starting with the most thing I missed, of course my family. I also missed Pakistani food and I guess at some level I missed my native language too. When you are in a different country, English is an international language and by using that language you can communicate to the people but there is some part of you which wants to communicate with the people in a language which you have been speaking since your childhood. I guess I am feeling this void in my life after coming here in Russia. One more comment, particularly about the food, when I came from Pakistan to Russia, I faced a huge difference between the Pakistani and Russian cuisine. People in Pakistan and Russia have a different kind of taste. They use different kind of spices so when it comes to the Pakistani food, it's spicier I guess and it's dominated by different dishes related to meat and although someone would say that those dishes are not healthy at all but we are used to them and they are really tasty, so I guess that is something I don't find in Russia, which makes me miss my country’s food.  Another thing I miss, and I don't know how to articulate that, but I love cricket, so when there were cricket matches in Pakistan I would sit with my friends and watch, and we really enjoyed it but when you are in a country where barely anyone even knows about cricket you can't watch those matches someone and get the same experience which you used to have in your own country. So, when there is tournament or World Cup and I see those matches on the Internet, it kind of brings nostalgia. However, I guess wherever you go in the world, there will be certain things you will miss about the place where you used to live previously but I guess that's how life is, you can't stay in a single place your whole life, so you are supposed to get out of your comfort zone and have different kinds of experiences and grow yourself.

Intreview by

Yasmina Kouweik