Balancing Studying and Travelling around Russia

Balancing Studying and Travelling around Russia

Today, we will talk to Thu Trang, who is a dynamic Vietnamese girl from the "World Economy" major. She will share her priceless experiences of studying and living in Russia with all of us. 

– Hello Thu Trang, we can't wait to hear about your story. First of all, could you introduce yourself to the readers? 

My name is Trang and now I’m a student at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs. I’m 22 years old and I have 2 more years till I complete my bachelor’s program. 

– Why did you choose HSE university and World Economy major? 

I chose HSE mostly because of its ranking. Unlike other universities in Russia, HSE is striving for international standards. HSE demands its students to be attentive to education, no matter if you’re an international student or a native. In addition, the programs are not only difficult but are also useful for my future career. At the same time, I think HSE is making considerable efforts to take care of its students and design a “perfect” educational program by implementing extra changes and demands every year. 

I chose World Economy because it allows me to study a foreign language, the economy and politics of other countries, and hence “explore the world”. I think it’s really interesting to have such opportunities. But mostly I chose this faculty because the economic profession in HSE has quite a high rank in the world’s ranking chart. I like to work with numbers and analyze them, and here I got the chance to study a foreign language besides English and Russian (I chose Italian) and hence study Italy’s economy and politics. I like the fact that we’re studying foreign languages (English and Italian) for the sake of our future career as well (economics and international affairs), and so it’s very relevant. 

– What is the most difficult part of your study? And how did you undergo it? 

I think the most difficult part for all international students (who only start to practice Russian when they arrive here) is the Russian language. Even though we usually have a year to prepare for the major program, it was still overwhelming when I started my first year. Lectures are difficult to understand, seminars pass by so fast that before I have time to understand what topic my teacher is talking about, other students (natives) have already answered. Through time I learned to cope with it, of course with the help of extremely nice Russian students. And I understand that if language is my weakness, something has to be my strength, and luckily I found it. 

– Could you share some study tips for our readers?

As I mentioned above, since we can’t understand Russian as well as native students, we have to find our strengths. I would advise any foreign student to have a specific plan for every subject. You can choose to focus on subjects that do not require as much understanding of Russian as theoretical subjects such as history, philosophy, etc., and try to allocate a different amount of time to each subject in order to study effectively. 

It is also important to reach out to your teachers if you need extra help with your subjects. For example, I would always write an email to my teachers to explain how I struggle with Russian and ask them to allow me to do extra tasks such as essays or reports to compensate for the grades for class participation. Of course, this only applies to subjects that are heavy in theories but this helps me save a lot of time trying to catch up with the class, and I can use that amount of time on the main economic subjects.  

– Great! As I know, learning at HSE university is really hectic, especially for foreign students. Therefore, besides studying, do you take time to experience life in Russia?

This is a good question because indeed the answer is yes, but not everyone realizes it. During my first year of uni, I didn’t get to go anywhere because the amount of work for freshmen was huge and it was such a great shock that kept me locked in my studying “cage” for the whole year. When I got to break free in the summer after the first year I realized how many things I have missed, because I still remember every event I gave up to meet some deadlines I had already forgotten. 

Therefore, since the second year, as I got used to the workload of our uni, I have been trying to arrange more time for activities that I really like apart from studying. I would buy tickets or set myself a date at least a week or two beforehand so that I would have no excuse not to go. 

I honestly think that one of the best parts of studying abroad is that it’s like you get to live a whole new life, and the more you move the more you learn, the more you experience, and most importantly, the more you understand yourself. Moscow is a large city but Russia is huge, so I think that it would be such a waste to dwell on homework and deadlines and miss all the opportunities to experience a new life here. 

– Maybe right now many readers want to hear from you about your exploration in Russia. Which places did you visit and which memorable things did you have in Russia?

I have been to almost all of the historical cities in the Golden Ring of Russia: Ivanovo (Иваново), Kostroma (Кострома), Yaroslavl (Ярославль), Rostov (Ростов Великий), Vladimir (Владимир), Suzdal (Суздаль), Sergiev Posad (Сергиев Посад), and Kolomna (Коломна). I chose these cities mainly because they are close to Moscow and can be traveled to by train (and FYI, traveling in Russia by land transport is so easy, comfortable, and fast because there are many options you can choose from). Overall, I began to realize that the main historical sites in these cities have a typical style of architecture of a historical Russian style, and the more you see these cities the more you feel the vibe of old Russian times. In these cities, you just feel so peaceful because the tranquility there is so much different from the busy vibe of Moscow, and I usually recall my experience as seeing another Russia. 

My favorite cities on this list are Yaroslavl, Suzdal, and Kolomna. The trip to Suzdal was the most special for me because it was my very first solo trip in my life and in Russia. I also went to Kazan (Казань) in the summer, and Teriberka (Териберка), Murmansk (Мурманск) in winter to see the famous aurora. I was really proud that I went there because it was at the edge of the Arctic Ocean.

While the trip to Suzdal is my favorite, the one to Yekaterinburg (Екатеринбург) was the scariest. I had the first mountain climbing experience of my life. It was a mountain of 726 meters high with one of my closest foreign friends named Ade. We went alone without any guidance or experience, and on the way down, I got lost. It was very terrifying when I found out I was not on the right track, and it got worse when I also lost my phone and couldn’t find it because the mountain was steep and the grass made it impossible to see where it was. 

I got lost for almost 4 hours and when I finally found the main road, I was holding two heavy branches in my hands (so as not to fall), my feet were covered with dirt as I lost my shoes, and I had bruises and scratches all over my arms and legs that left scars on my body.

A Russian family driving a car stopped by after I waved them over, and they gave me a pair of slippers to wear, food, and drink, and drove me back to the village. 

I met my friend Ade at the bus stop but it was too late to catch the last bus to the nearby town to return to Yekaterinburg, and it was impossible to call a taxi from that small village although the villagers were trying to help us. Finally, we were so lucky to meet a Russian couple driving by, and they agreed to drive us back to Yekaterinburg at no charge and talked to us all the way. 

One of the most memorable things about exploring Russia is that Russian people (well, most of them) are super kind and always willing to guide you. I honestly considered myself lucky to know enough Russian to ask for their help whenever I needed it, and indeed based on what happened to me during these trips, I’m so glad I learned enough Russian. 

But in general, I would always remember going into woods and walking on ice for the first time with my foreign friends, eating a king crab at an extremely low price in Teriberka, missing the last bus to the city from Suzdal, going on a ship on the Volga river in Yaroslavl, and of course, getting lost in a mountain in a village near Yekaterinburg.

– What are you going to do next in Russia?

I only have less than two years left in Russia so I want to devote this time to exploring Russia and enjoying every good moment I’m lucky to have, whether it will be something at school or outdoors. There are so many places that I want to travel to and so many events I want to go to. Russia is not only magnificent in its landscape of nature but also rich in culture and I only regret that I didn’t know where to find interesting and beautiful places to visit. I think I have seen enough of the Russian countryside so I plan to explore its nature more, its mountains and seas.

– Would you like to say something from you?

So, no one is asking about this but if it is possible I just want to express my gratitude towards my faculty, and mostly my teachers and classmates. 

In general, I do feel like my faculty staff are very helpful and kind and are ready to assist us whenever we reach out, from the security guard to the Head of Study Office. The department that is taking care of international students (sorry, I don’t know the name) is very active as well, and although I never specifically asked for their help, I just feel rather “secure” to know that there are people who are ready to help me solve my problems.

The teachers are very nice as well, they are always ready to help a foreign student. I am grateful to so many teachers that I can’t even name them all, and some taught me only one semester or one module, but they were very understanding of my weakness in understanding Russian and found time to give me extra tasks to compensate for my participation grades. 

(Idk if I’m allowed to give names, but) Ms. Maria Gennadyevna Yashina who has been teaching my Italian class since the first year is one of those I love the most, as her classes are always enjoyable and fun to attend. Honestly, if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have that much encouragement to study Italian well and I’m ever grateful for her because of that. I have also been keeping in contact with my Math professor, Dr. Vladimir Gordin, from the preparatory year, who is like my “pen pal” and tell me stories and send me photos about his peaceful life in a Russian village. 

Lastly, I would like to say that I’m ever thankful for all of my Russian classmates who have helped me, especially during the first heavy year of HSE. I really must emphasize that without them, I would have been miserable and not able to have decently good results. I have to say that they are usually very cold if you don’t talk to them, but when you do they are extremely nice. I felt sorry that because of the pandemic, my class didn’t get the chance to see each other often so it made us more distant, but my Russian classmates are ever so nice, very understanding of my problems with the Russian language, and are even “passionately” lending me help. For that, I’m forever grateful as well.

Interview by

Cao Thi Thuong