HSE International Student Experience

Leaving my family, country and comfort zone has always been an achilles heel for me. Coming to Russia was one huge milestone for me. My name is Sikurulai and this is my story.

HSE International Student Experience

© Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash

I was born and raised in Aba, one of the smallest cities of Nigeria where I spent most of my life. My family was a medium sized one. Our daily life revolved around waking up, going to school or work, then to the farms and back home. Everyone knew each other because we were a very small community of loving and caring people. Even when I got accepted into the university in my town, I would always come back home at the slightest opportunity. I found it hard living away from my family and my community. I am the youngest of 6 children, so I was the favorite amongst all my siblings.

Upon my graduation from the university, I wanted to take up a banking job in one of the great banks of my country, where I could be close to my family and take care of my already aged parents. My life flashed before my eyes when my father called me one night and told me that he would like me to continue my education, thereby applying for a masters course. That caught me off guard because in my family, no one had ever gone beyond the level of a bachelor's degree. Apparently, my family wanted me to be the first. I hesitated and then decided to apply for a master’s degree at the university I graduated from. But my family would not have it, they wanted me to come to Russia.

Russia? Why Russia? How can I survive two or more long years away from my family? These and more were the questions I kept asking myself. It wasn't too long before my parents got all the information I needed regarding the application for a certain scholarship called "Open Doors Scholarship". After submitting everything needed for the first stage grading, I waited anxiously and my family, more nervous than ever. I would say they wanted this for me more than I did. The results of the 1st round were said to be published on the 25th of December, which was a Christmas day celebration. That was the first ever Christmas celebration that got everyone worked up, as we all waited patiently. At 11pm, I got a call from my friend saying the results were published already. Well, in all sincerity, a part of me did not want my name to be there, just so I can be with my family, but another part of me wanted to make my family and the entire community proud. It was a joyful uproar when we found my name in the list. We were all happy, what a best way to end the Christmas celebration.

The second round results came with a higher amount of rejoicing as it was the final confirmation of my coming to Russia. Mixed feelings were definitely the order of my days. I imagined solitude, boredom, fear, nervousness and all the strange feelings one can have, away from their families. I had chosen several schools, but the Higher School of Economics, Moscow topped my list, because I did lots of reading and research about them and found out that they are one of the best universities in Russia. I was extremely glad when HSE sent me my admission letter, that moment was one I wished I could frame, such a golden moment! I had never applied for a visa prior to this time and yes, Russia was going to be the first stamp on my passport, how interesting! I got my visa without any hindrance and before long, the time I dreaded the most came knocking at my door! My heart sank!

On the day of my trip, my entire support system came to see me off at the airport. It was a moment I'd never forget in a hurry, my mother and my grandmother cried as they hugged me so tight I could barely breathe. My siblings kept giggling and were seemingly excited to have their brother travel out of the country. My father stood at one corner, watching the entire scene, eyes drenched in tears. When my flight was called in and I was about to board, my father said to me: "Never forget the son of who you are, son!"

Those words sent cold shivers down my spine as I immediately felt as though my family would be with me through the journey. The sad feelings gave way to hope, joy and anticipation of the future.

It was a long 10 hours flight to Qatar, my first stopover. I must say that the Qatar Airport was a beauty to behold and of course I couldn't resist the urge to take tons of pictures. After the two hour stopover, it was time to head to Moscow. The flight was smooth and in less than 5 hours, I was already at the Moscow airport. Russia was an entirely different world for me. I proceed to the immigration cabinet for some normal procedures and checks. The officer spoke Russian to me but all the Russian I knew was: "Da" and "Net" as I heard most people saying it on board my flight from Qatar to Moscow. Next thing I did was to get myself a sim card so I could easily make calls and use my translator in case I felt lost. There at the airport, I met a certain young man whom I perceived could be African and I walked up to him. With his help, I got a taxi that took me straight up to my dormitory.

The weather was cold but yet refreshing, it made me feel as though I were in a small section of a refrigerator. The weather back in my country was never below 20°C and it was always hot and sunny. In no time, I got a room allocated to me and it was about time to settle in, however the room was too small and had a bunk bed, so I had to request for a different room with two separate beds. The next day I moved into a new room. My roommate was really welcoming and kind to show me around the dormitory, campus and also stores and shopping malls. Once I was properly settled in and all my registration and visa extensions were sorted, I reached out to my family and they were really glad to hear from me as they were worried I had not called them since I arrived. We talked for hours as I showed them my room and my dormitory through a video call. When the call ended, my eyes suddenly let out some tears, as I missed my family and I felt lonely. But not for long! In no time, I made a couple of new friends from Nigeria and also from different countries. The Higher School of Economics made it a lot easier for international students to adapt to the Russian university settings, by putting in place some clubs and student groups that help international students find their way around. So, I joined some of these clubs on campus and got engaged in lots of extracurricular activities. I was enrolled to study the Russian language for a year at the Pokrovka campus. This campus is indeed very big and beautiful, I really lost count of the number of times I got lost trying to find a class but now, I know every building and classroom like the back of my hands. The Russian Language introductory course was really interesting and helpful. I had the best teachers and a few months into the course, I was already having straight ten minute conversations in Russian language without a break. Currently I'm in my second year as a master's student and I'd say that coming to Russia was the best choice ever, I owe that to my family. Here, I found love, friendship, happiness and family in people I never knew before.

These people made my stay in Russia unforgettable. As I'm approaching the end of my stay here, I can only go down memory lane and say "I love Russia and HSE".

Text by

Sulaimon Sikirulai Alausa