Russia, Saint-Petersburg and HSE through the Eyes of a Polish Student

Mehmet Kilic conducted an interview with Izabela, a graduate student in Management and Analytics for Business at HSE in Saint Petersburg.

Russia, Saint-Petersburg and HSE through the Eyes of a Polish Student

Hello Iza! Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Izabela Sosnowska, and I am from Poland. I am doing a master's degree in Management and Analytics for Business at HSE Saint-Petersburg and will be graduating this June. Also, I am currently working as a data scientist in a German company in a mixed data analyst role and currently live in Saint Petersburg.

Izabela Sosnowska,

a master student in Management and Analytics for Business

What were the reasons for choosing Russia for your education?

Probably the most important reason to choose education in Russia is about price affordability. In addition, HSE has a very good position in the international rankings. Additionally, I met some Russians before coming here and they told me a lot about the Russian education system. So, I knew what to expect and the description of the management and analytics program for business was interesting to me. Another reason why I chose Russia is about the language. I wanted to learn Russian, and I think it is an interesting language. I also thought it would be a good idea to live in Saint Petersburg, which is a very beautiful and touristic city.

You came to Russia from Poland. Did you have a hard time making this decision? What did it feel like to be so far from home?

The decision to travel from Poland to Russia was not an easy one for me. I've run into a lot of questions about why I'm doing this. But I already did an exchange program in Germany during my undergraduate studies, and I thought it would be an interesting experience to have other insights from other cultures. Overall, it was not that difficult to make the decision for myself, but it was more difficult to convince my family and friends that this decision was a valuable experience for me. I did not feel homesick because I lived alone in different countries before. I feel good and safe as I don't think there is a big difference in people's behavior, and this makes my stay in Russia pleasant.

Why did you choose to study at HSE? What was your main motivation for this choice?

I have chosen HSE because of its high position in the international rankings and partially thanks to well-developed website which describes a lot about the programs and provides many insights from other students. Besides this, I have heard some good opinions about this university from my Russian friends.

Could you please tell us the reasons for choosing HSE Saint-Petersburg instead of Moscow and other campuses?

Initially, I was considering choosing the HSE Moscow campus, but there was no such interesting program combining management and analytics. Second, I wanted to see Saint Petersburg and learn more about the city. As a final reason, I thought I could have a more interesting experience with many international students as Saint Petersburg is a bit closer to Europe because I heard there are many international students here.

Do you remember your first day in Russia? What did you feel arriving in Russia?

On my first day in Russia, I was picked up from the airport by a friend and went directly to the dormitory from there. But on the second day, it was the middle of winter and there was a lot of ice on the streets, making it difficult for me to walk because there was so much ice, and no one was doing anything about it. But everyone was feeling good, and no one was complaining about it. But I was happy to be in Russia because I couldn't come to Russia before because of Covid-19 situation and I was just feeling relief because I was able to come here.

You come from a completely different geography and culture. At this point, did you have difficulties adapting to Russia and its culture?

I had no trouble adapting to Russia and its culture. Since I come from a Slavic country, I think there are many similarities in the language sphere, and this helped me. Everything was well for me at the human level, and I have encountered a lot of hospitality. I guess at first, I didn't feel very comfortable with speaking Russian, but this situation soon disappeared.

What are your impressions of Saint-Petersburg? What do you like most about the city?

I think Saint Petersburg is a nice place to live. It seems that many places are well-maintained and there is no garbage on the streets. Parks are also clean and beautiful places to spend time there. I think it's a pretty safe city and what I love most about the city is that there are so many opportunities to spend time in different ways. For example, there are many restaurants and clubs in the city. The city has a vibrant nightlife. In addition, there are many places where you can spend time, such as museums, galleries, and palaces.

What is your favorite place in Saint-Petersburg? What makes this place special for you?

I usually like natural places and because of that I like Saint-Petersburg parks and the beach which is near Lakhta Center. When I visited beach for the first time, the Baltic Sea was frozen, and it was looking really beautiful with ice till the horizon. In addition, I have heard many things about white nights and I'm curious about it and I can't wait for it.

Have you traveled to other cities in Russia? Where?

So far, I haven't traveled to other cities than Saint Petersburg. But I was in Viborg which is a quite small city nearby Finland border. As far as I have heard it's not very typical Russian city in terms of architecture, but I like castle and museums. It was really nice to walk in this historical small town.

Let us talk about your student life. How is it going?

As for my student life I would say that it can be divided into two parts like university life (education) and social life. Mostly I spend my time at university, and I believe it is a good place to meet new people, especially international students. As for the social life, there's a lot of events which organize by students and thanks to these events I have time to relax.

How has your study life been affected after COVID-19? Have you had any problems with online education?

Yes, my education was affected by COVID-19 because my whole lessons were held in online mode. I was able to come here after I finished all my classes and because of that, unfortunately, I didn't have chance to meet in person with most of the professors and my classmates. From my point of view, there is less personal relation in the communication between teachers and students due to the online system. Of course, I would like to have in-person education but unfortunately, because of the situation, I couldn't have that chance.

I couldn't come to Russia for a while because the borders were closed between Poland and Russia due to COVID-19. Except for this, I had to stay at home for a long time. I didn't have the chance to go to any restaurants or cafes because there were simply closed. Therefore, I would say that the COVID-19 strongly influenced my both education and social life. Besides this, it affected job opportunities as the job market also was frozen a little bit at that time.

What do you think about HSE's non-educational activities? Did you attend any event?

I know that HSE is organizing job events, but I did not attend any of such events as they were mostly held in Russian, or they were held when I was not in Saint Petersburg. But I am taking part in the sport classes at HSE this semester which I think it's a very nice opportunity for the students to do some sport.

What do you generally do in your spare time?

I usually try to meet with my friends and go out or go to some places like parks, museums, or cafes. Also, I'm trying to visit and see as many places as possible in Saint Petersburg and its neighborhood.

What is your favorite Russian food? As a Polish, do you miss your domestic cuisine?

To be honest, I like the most of Russian soups such as Borscht, especially on the cold day they really help. Since I can find many similar products here, I cannot say I miss Polish food. I’m a person who like to try many different cuisines.

I know that you attended classes of the Russian language and know Russian at a certain level. What kind of language problems did you have at first? Do you have any advice for newcomers?

I think my main problem with the Russian language is not understanding numbers. So, it can be a bit of a problem not knowing exactly how much I should pay when buying something because numbers are really hard for me to understand. The second thing, I'm having trouble understanding is the announcements in train or subway stations. Even though I try to focus, I can't understand what they are saying in the announcements. I can recommend those who are trying to learn Russian take notes about the language. For example, when trying to buy something from a store or pharmacy, I believe that trying to understand what employees are saying and taking notes about it will help language development in the future. This way will help those who are trying to learn Russian, as employees generally use the most used words and phrases in daily conversation.

Thank you, Izabela, for this interesting conversation!

Mehmet Kilic