An International Student's Life in Russia

Being an international student in a foreign country is not an easy task, while some survive through till the end of their studies, others stop along the line and return home. Let's hear Esther's story.

An International Student's Life in Russia

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash
Good day, Esther. It is nice to have you here, today. Can you please introduce yourself?

Sure, my name is Esther Chinonyerem Ajuzie. I'm from Nigeria and I'm currently a first year master's student at Foreign Languages and Intercultural Communication Program at the Higher School of Economics Moscow.

So you study Foreign Languages, that's really impressive. How many foreign languages do you speak and which are you currently studying?

I'm currently studying Spanish but I speak French, English and of course a bit of Russian.

That's very impressive. Great job. So tell us, please, how it's been for you as an international student here in Russia.

It's been a pop of emotions, some days are hard, other days are slightly easier and the rest are survivable. Living as an international student here is a difficult task, especially if you do not speak or understand the Russian Language.

I can imagine. Seeing how radiant you look, I must say you're doing a good job adapting to the new environment.

Well, my father always says that if something is worth doing, then it should be done properly. So I have to take charge of my life and adapt to my new environment.

Let's go a bit down memory lane, shall we? So, when did you arrive in Russia?

Let's say, this is the second time I'm coming to Russia. The first time was in September of 2017 but I left a year after and the second time was in December of 2021.

Wow! So what made you come to Russia the first time and why did you return the second time? You must really love it here.

For me, Russia was love at first sight. I fell in love with the language so it was just as easy to like the country. Although the first time I arrived in Russia, it was for the Russian Language Immersion program. My stay was really pleasant and I found Russians really welcoming, contrary to popular opinion and stereotypes about them. So after my bachelor's degree, I wanted to get a Master's degree, Russia was obviously the best and only choice for me. Along the line, due to family pressure, I applied for schools in the United States and I got a couple of them, but none came close to the Higher School of Economics, so I declined them.

That's really impressive, Esther. So you talked about Russians being welcoming the first time you came to Russia, are you still of the same opinion or has it changed overtime?

I still have the same opinion. The Russians are welcoming. Maybe not necessarily at the first encounter but overtime, if they realize you are a good and kind person, they will naturally warm up to you. Also, you can't expect warmth and kindness from them if you don't show it.

Quite interesting! You seem to know a lot about Russians, so who would you rather spend a holiday with? Russian friends or African friends?

It will depend on the holiday, but there's beauty in diversity and like I said, there's beauty in diversity, so I'll most likely spend time with each of them at different times.

Nice response. So, Esther, you said earlier that you fell in love with the Russian Language at first sight, so that means you must be really good at it?

Well, that'll be a big, fat NO. I'm nowhere close to being good at Russian. With the six cases and all the immense vocabulary, I think I have a long way to go. But not to discredit myself, I can at least hold a 1 hour conversation.

Someone is trying to be modest)

Well, it is what it is!

So, how would you rate your adaptation skills as a foreign student, on a scale of 1 to 10? 1- I am being "barely able to adapt" and 10 - being "very easy to adapt".

I'd rate my adaptation skills at a 7, because I'm still in the process, not there yet, but I must commend myself for doing a good job so far. 

Can you share some tips that made adapting easier for you?

That would be 1000 rubles per tip)

You have quite a sense of humor!

I sure do! Well, some adaptation tips will be to never be afraid to try something new, be welcoming to others and they'll reciprocate the same (sometimes they won't, but it's fine), as much as you try to focus on your studies, which is the primary reason for your being here, create some time to unwind as it helps one relax.

Those are some great tips right there, thank you for that! So speaking about trying something new, have you tried any Russian dishes?

I'm a very inquisitive and curious person, I always like to try out new things, so Russian food was not an exception. The first Russian food I tried was the legendary "Salad Olivier". It wasn't just a salad to me, because it had a very sweet savor that I hadn't gotten from other salads in the past, it was very different and unique. Safe to say, it still tops my personal chart of best Russian food. The next will be "Pelmeni", these are a type of dumplings with minced meat. Have them hot and thank me later. 

I should definitely try those out, thanks for the recommendation.

You're most welcome and while you're at it, you might want to try out the Russian pancakes called "Blini". These are actually delicious and they are eaten one week before the start of spring during the occasion of Maslenitsa (Spring Celebration).

Notes taken. Now, I'd like to ask a little sensitive question if I have your permission.


Have you experienced any form of discrimination or racism as an international student here in Russia?

As a person of color and an international student, I find it normal that people stare at me at the train stations, malls, metros, and so on, due to my skin color, so I do not find it offensive at all. It's nice to be the center of attention once in a while! About discrimination and racism, I'd say I've never really experienced it but I've heard stories from other people of color. It's an existential fact in every country, as long as there are people from different countries, races, backgrounds, skin colors, etc, discrimination and racism are bound to exist.

Very well then, would you then say you've gotten some advantages or privileges as a woman of color and as an international student, here in Russia?

Yes, yes and yes!I get lots of help from my Russian friends, I get lots of help in stores, malls and even on the streets, when I'm carrying some heavy bags. At first encounter, most indigenes assume I don't understand Russian and they try to speak English to me just so I can "understand" them and feel comfortable. Also on several occasions, I've met people who were surprised at the fact that I am a student of the Higher School of Economics. Apparently, it's a big flex to be a student of HSE around here, because it's quite hard to get in, so most people are rather impressed and surprised that a person of "color" could be a student of HSE! So I carry my shoulders high with a great sense of pride.

This is indeed interesting and funny! What can you say about HSE?

HSE is not for the feeble, nor for the lazy. HSE is for the tough and strong. I've never been in a University that pushes me almost to my breaking point just to get the best out of me! It's just like how you refine raw gold and make it pass through fire till it's pure. Also the study plan is quite favorable for me as a master's student, because I get to run my little business in the daytime and then study in the evening, so it's a win-win.

What were your happiest and saddest moments here?

My happiest moment would be the day I won the Miss Africa Belgorod 2018 title. It was a dream come true. However, the saddest moment was when a close friend of mine got arrested, it was a nightmare I'd never want to relive again.

I'm really sorry about your friend, but congratulations on your big win!

Thank you!

You must really be determined and resilient. And I'm also impressed to hear that you have a business going on. Tell us more about it, please.

Well, I just have a little catering/pastries business where I make African and Intercontinental dishes for people who wouldn't have time to cook due to intense school and work schedules, etc. I also bake cakes and make pastries for birthdays and events, too.

Congratulations on that! That's very impressive and I'll definitely love to order some food sometime. Speaking of events and considering your tight schedule, how do you manage to combine work and study?

There's a saying that: "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". I would like to be like Jack, so I try to make time to visit friends, go to some events, go to church and also rest at home.

You are a lady of many talents, Esther! I'm sure our readers are already impressed by you. So to end our interview, would you be kind enough to give our readers some tips or insights on how to be a big shot like you?

I'm not a big shot, really. I'm just a young lady who's trying to get the most out of life and taking every day at a time,step by step. The advice I'll give our readers, especially those who are planning to come here will be: Nothing good comes easy, you need to be willing to put in the work, if you want good results and do not be afraid of change!

Wow! Thank you so much, Esther, it was really nice having you today and we wish you best of luck in all your endeavors.

Thanks for having me!

Interview by

Sikirulai Alausa Sulaiman