How To Succeed As An International Student at HSE

How To Succeed As An International Student at HSE

Daniel Onyekachukwu Akabueze

The life of an international student is mixed. The ambivalence is true and non-negotiable. And it is different when you're studying in a country that speaks a language that is different than what you're used to. You worry about communication. The culture shock. The Food. The Weather. The loneliness of being with people close to you geographically, but far from you emotionally. And emotion is the main point of being and living. These variables — communication, culture shock, food, weather, and loneliness — are the reasons why people find it quite difficult to leave home and study in a foreign country. 

What about money? That's also important. Surviving in a foreign land without financial support is a struggle. One can easily underperform academically, and sometimes, end up questioning his or her self-worth and self-esteem, when all these variables cluster around him or her.

I had these worries. I tried to understand my classmates. My roommates. My environment. And more importantly, I tried to ensure I wasn't falling short academically. In this article, I'll be sharing how I found my balance. I am still in the process of adapting and finding balance. So, how will you succeed as an international student at HSE University as a freshman or maybe as a student?

After you've informed the migration and visa department of the University about your arrival, which must be done on the day you arrived through email, and you're ready for class, then take note of the followings:



Made Peace with Yourself

While it can be shiny to start by telling you to set your goals and to passionately pursue them, the truth remains that making peace with yourself is the most profound thing to do. This, making peace with yourself, will teach you that life is messy and that you will not be fortunate to get A grades in all of your papers in your first year. Russians call it the 'First Course'. 

There are times you'll question your intelligence and your capabilities. Sometimes you might ask yourself, "Am I good enough? Am I really as bright as I've always thought?" The truth is that you're brilliant and very bright. Things happen unexpectedly sometimes, even after you've worked extremely hard. Making peace with yourself will help you not to sink into confusion and depression. You're about to be introduced to another pattern of education, entirely different from what you've known from childhood. Allow yourself some disappointments, it may be your most cherished consoler in your dark moments

Seminars and Lectures Are Different

Unlike Nigeria, Africa, or some Asian countries, where you have just lectures, here you have both lectures and seminars, where students talk and talk and talk. The higher you talk, sometimes, repeating what another has said, the higher your grade. While I believe that the grading of talks is unnecessary and should be removed, it's a reality you'd have to face at HSE University. 

You know, as a freshman, I was in some classes, where I had to force myself to speak, otherwise, I'd receive low grades. So, fight your fear and speak during the seminar. Although not all seminars will be graded, the majority will be. Understand the course requirements, and do whatever you can. Read the required texts and get ready to talk. One good thing is; talking can build your self-confidence and open your eyes to see that the world isn't just about your own point of view but various points of view.

The 'Idea' of Homework

One of the things I struggled with was homework. Homework, for students, is often used to describe many things. In Nigeria, homework is just those things you do, which will be graded. In HSE, homework can also mean seminar text. It can confuse you sometimes, but try and adapt to this new terminology. I'll advise you not to read to talk. The temptation will be there, where you'd want to read, so as to talk. But remember that you're preparing yourself for life after HSE University, not for HSE University. 

My point is this, make sure you understand the texts. Think through them. How can you connect the facts in the text to solving real-life problems? Whenever I read a text, and I possibly don't know how to practice it in real life, there's this belief that I've not read enough, or that I didn't understand what I've read. Let the capability of applying your knowledge, not just the talk in seminars, be your aim.

Study Office

The study office is a beautiful place to sort things out. Go there as often as possible to ask questions regarding your curriculum, what you're not understanding about the teaching process, scholarships, and other things. Sometimes you might feel that you're disturbing them, I felt the same as well, but remember, you're in a new country and you don't know how to navigate things properly, the study office will help you. 

Although you'd have a curator and a tutor. My tutor, Karina Baburina, a second-year student of Political Science and World Politics, when I got enrolled in 2022, helped me to navigate my ways. Curators and tutors are students. They may not be free, always. So, make use of the study office. They're kind and lovely. I once had a problem with a course, Digital Literacy. I was confused. None of my classmates knew what I should do, and my tutor, Ms. Karina Baburina, wasn't so sure. I asked the study office, and they assisted me

Be Willing To Engage

One of the not-so-happy moments I had was when a teacher delayed in asking me to make a contribution in class, despite raising my hand. The teacher struggled to understand my Nigerian accent. And I needed to make a contribution so that I won't get a low grade. I remember sitting in a class one day, and feeling so sad, as one of my teachers chuckled after I mentioned Pizza with my Nigerian accent. I brushed that aside and decided to engage. The truth is that teachers will not set out to make you feel lower, but most times, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, "it's the littlest thing that stings the most". 

I struggled to understand the accent of a particular teacher in my history class, but I didn't want to show it. Remember, you're the student. Be eager to learn. I'd suggest that you attend classes early and take the front seats. This will help you to hear the teacher and process his or her accent in your brain. It's not that hard, with time you'll get used to it. Don't stay out of class, or stop participating because you barely hear a teacher, or because a teacher shows that he or she finds your accent difficult to comprehend. Anything can be learnt. Just be consistent. With time, you'll understand your teachers, and they, too, will understand you. Never perform. Just be yourself.

Make Friends

This is something I desperately wanted to do when I first arrived. I want to make friends and talk with my classmates. But it didn't work out well. It didn't work out because of cultural differences — the diversity of our understanding of life and a way of doing, living, and being — which generally is good. In Nigeria, we warm up to people, especially those that are new to the environment. Here, you have to meet up with people as foreigners. Of course, some of my classmates greeted me and showed that they were welcoming. 

A classmate, who is now a friend, told me much later "You're always quick to leave the class. I've been wanting to discuss it with you, but I didn't have the chance. I felt that you don't want a friend." He added, "I know others felt the same as well". Can you imagine? In my mind, I was like "Man, you've to forget about making friends and focus on your studies. These guys aren't so interested in knowing you. Just finish these four years and move on with your life". The matter is this: We're longing to interact with one another, but our diverse cultures make it a bit difficult to make a move. Also, I'm considerably reserved. 

So, make friends. HSE University is very demanding. The school is preparing you for life after school, and the rigors of the outside world are employed to make the preparations match. A company of two or three people can help you to maintain balance and stability, and shield you from experiencing mental breakdown or depression.

Prepare before Coming

I am going to sound a bit African and Nigerian here. 

"Abroad no be joke, kukuma dey readi for wetin you fit wear and eat. make you no go encounter stories wey dey touch de heart". 

The matter of self preparation ahead of time will help you to succeed as an international student. You've to prepare for what to eat and what to wear, which is basically what we need in life. Russia is cold. The winter for someone like me, is horrible. You'd like to come with good jackets, boots and thick socks. A hat and a glove. These will prevent you from the brutal blow of the winter. 

Also, get food while coming. Yes. Get foodstuffs. I don't mean rice and other things, which are readily available in grocery stores, but your cultural food. For Nigerians, come with Garri, Egwusi, Onugbu. Nigerian pepper is also important.

I know that things will workout for you when you arrive. But the truth is that life is not always rosy — you'll have hard times, feel lonely sometimes. But in any situation, remember how you started your life — whether alone or with your parents — and get consolation about where you're going. You'll have some monetary constraints. Your classmates will, sometimes, buy a bar of chocolate for 400 rubles for dinner, whereas your budget for a week is 300 rubles.

Don't be embarrassed by those struggles. Be determined. Trust God and work hard. Things will change with time. Jisie ike.

And the HSE Community is waiting for you to come and be part of this beautiful and global family.

Text by

Daniel Onyekachukwu Akabueze