Be Hopeful, Calm Down and Try Again

As the summer of 2023 was winding up with its beauty - the sunshine that sometimes burn your skin, the white nights, scanty dormitory, green grasses, freshly warm breeze, trees with leaves, and resumption was beginning to stare at me reminding them that I am growing older, a bit older than I expected, and that I need to finish my degree and head on to the next chapter of my life. I had few concerns about certain things.

Be Hopeful, Calm Down and Try Again

The summer break allowed me the privilege of intentional and deliberate reflections. Consciously, or should I say, unconsciously, I had built my bed with roses of gratitude and thankfulness as the summer break was coming to an end. One of the things I was concerned about revolved around the aspect of creativity. Which aspect of creative writing will I be sharpening, using HSE Illuminated Magazine.

Should I go into “how-to” style of writing—that informative pattern of writing that educates readers how to do certain things? Or should I go into travel or city tour writing exploring Saint Petersburg, visiting places, and churches, and museums, and theaters? Or should I continue what I did the previous time, which was telling about HSE University using my personal experience as an International student? I knew that as much as I love different styles of writing, but storytelling appeals to me. So, we will continue with the autobiographical style of writing once again. Maybe, I'll provide some advice. Now, don't roll your eyes yeе, because I am not saying that I have to tell you how to live your life, but I will, certainly, through my own experience, make certain recommendations, so you don't have to learn some of the difficult lessons that I learnt.

To HSE Freshmen, congratulations! You’re in the right place and at the right time. To all returning students, and mostly my classmates, let’s take the ride again. It is worth it.

When I submitted my enrollment documents as an applicant in February of 2022, after winning the Global Scholarship Competition, it bounced back, because the admission office or the staff that accessed my documents said that I had not properly done something well, that I needed to do it again and resubmit. I tried again. And again but the network wasn’t going through and couldn’t allow the documents to be submitted, so I began to be a little worried about the application.

I complained to my friend Obumneme, who has been with me throughout the scholarship application process alongside my other friends, as I did not know what was wrong with my network or the application. I was afraid I was not going through. All my friends - Edwin, Ebuka, Jesuseun, Peter, and Favour, are all calmer than I and they did their best to support me.

I tried again at night, as Obumneme told me and my application was successfully submitted. The next day, it was accepted by the enrollment officer.

This is HSE University. And many of us came here with dreams and expectations. Hope to change our lives. Hope to change our community or our country. Hope to change the world, positively. As we’re taking this ride as students, building up courage and beating against our self doubts, it is vital to remember that at some point we need to “Calm down, first. And then, try it again.” Life is an interesting journey. And HSE University is also an interesting place. HSE is interesting in the way it challenges you. How it fiercely and very intrusively breaks your walls of comfort. That is right. Life doesn’t always leave us comfortable. But we build tenacity and resilience through the moments of discomfort.

I had the most wonderful opportunity of attending the 2023/2024 academic session orientation organized by HSE University, Saint Petersburg, which was hosted at the building in Kantemirovskaya. It wasn’t for my class. It was for freshmen, but because I am serving with the Association of International Students as a tutor, I attended. The opening speech of the ceremony, which although brief, resonated with this article. The speaker reminded the students that they are embarking on a life changing journey and that the journey isn’t devoid of some discomforts at some point. This article isn’t about discomforts. No one wants a depressing story. Certainly not me. But from my story I am going to recommend the areas or moments that you need to calm down, first, and then, try again.

Calm down, learn the grading system

This may not be a thing to my Russian classmates. Or Russian students. Or perhaps, European students. I am at the risk of generalizing. My apologies, if I am wrong. In Nigeria, or many African countries, and some Asian universities, as my former Vietnamese roommate told me, two two blocks of grade. Test counting for 40 marks. And examination counting for 60 marks. I studied at the University of Ibadan, a lovely university in Nigeria, and we used to have two tests in some courses. 20 marks each. But the examination will unchangeably be 60 marks. So I started my freshmen year with that assumption. I didn’t know I was in for a disappointing surprise. Now, at every first class or seminar in a course, the professor or the teacher will say how the course will be graded. Please pay attention to it. Your participation in class, might in a course, be graded higher than your examination. Don’t be presumptuous. Ask questions, if you don’t understand. Ask your professor. Ask your classmates. Now, your Russian classmates may not smile at you or talk to you, unless you talk to them. I was concerned about that stern look. I had lived in Nigeria all my life and people there laugh very easily with strangers. Remember, your straight-faced classmates aren't angry. And let me also say, they laugh. They laugh when they’re among themselves. I’ve a classmate, who will make a joke and won’t laugh. I asked him once why he was not laughing and he said that he could not just start laughing the way I was laughing. So, if you’re an international student, forget the facial expression and ask. You’ll be responded to. And most times, the response comes with a smile. Even if you didn't get a response initially, keep asking, someone will respond. But what is important is that you understand the grading system.

Calm down, learn to navigate your ways

A friend, a Nigerian student that graduated from HSE Moscow, told me that she had not been able to use the subway by herself. Now, Saint Petersburg’s metro map is a tip in an iceberg, compared to Moscow’s. But whether you’re in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, you might miss your way once or twice. One of my neighbors in the dormitory, a lovely student from Bangladesh, had a remarkable experience of missing his way twice. When he was sharing the experience with time, as I was making my dinner, I could not help but laugh. According to him, he was supposed to be in the dorm by 3pm, only to be arriving 5 hours later. At 8 pm. Because he forgot the right route. Now there are maps. Google Maps or Yandex maps or 2GIS, you should download them. But don’t feel bad, if you had this experience of missing your way.

When I first arrived on the 14th of September in 2022, it was indeed a huge thing for me. A day after my arrival, my roommate, Quang, the loveliest man I have ever seen, took me to the university. Quang is kind-hearted, patient, and friendly. He gave me the softest landing as an international student.

Quang told me, as we were inside the train, heading to HSE University building in Griboedova to make sure I look at this blinking light inside the train, to know where to stop. There was an indicator above the door of the train, showing the station the train is approaching or where the train is.

Some trains don’t have that indicator. So, one should listen to the announcement made at each station. It’s in Russian, but the name is the same, as it is in English. Quang told me. Well, I still missed my way inside the subway. The day I was to go to the polyclinic for a medical examination for physical exercise, I became confused at the “technological institute” station.

Another time, I was to attend my first Russian Language class, which was to be taught in a different HSE building, rather than why I study. I missed my way as well. I was walking up and down. Yandex map direction confused me. Or I was the one that confused the map. Whether it was the map that confused me or I was the one that confused the map, there was a confusion. I video-called Quang, who began to direct me, until I got to the building. I missed the class though.

The third time, I was heading to Griboedova building for a seminar in “Categories of Political Science,” so I took a bus. I thought the bus was heading to the university axis. I was just dreaming. The bus took me to another place, because I entered the wrong bus. I decided to alight somewhere. And wanted to bail myself out with my legs, what we call “leggeding benz” in Nigeria. Instead of me going back to where the bus took me, I decided to look for a shortcut because I was running out of time. But the more I walked, the farther the destination appeared. I didn’t know when I started praying. I found my way to the university later. Well, I still don’t know how the bus works. Poor me. So, you will rarely catch me taking the bus.

Saint Petersburg is huge. Very huge. And you’ll have so much fun, including missing your way. All are part of the experience. Learn how to use the map. And walk again and again, until you can navigate safely.

Calm down and find what you like

Most International students find it difficult to join extracurricular activities, myself included. At some point, I started feeling like there were no extracurricular activities for us. As most things are in the Russian language. An international student told me that to some extent, he felt as though international students were excluded. When you check the VK group of existing associations, it appears as though it is for native students alone. But this notion isn’t completely true. Yes, Erasmus Students Network and Association of International Students make most of their announcements on their VK handles in Russian - I hope these two organizations can start duplicating all their announcement to both in English and Russian, so that non-Russian speaking students can know what is being announced. But these groups actually incorporate international student. How to discover what to like is to try many things, including projects. I have had projects that I wanted to participate in, but they are executed in the Russian language. So, I kept checking the website ( till I found the English project that I love. This approach will be helpful as well in finding an organization to join.

Calm down and learn the language

The language can be complicated. My first class was scary. I didn’t attend again. I am regretting it. Learn Russian. Aside from communication, language is important. HSE University in Saint Petersburg offers students who study in English, an opportunity to learn Russian for a semester. Please, use it. It is important.

I know there are other things that you might face along the way. Your classmates or your teacher may not understand your accent at first, like in my case, or it'll be hard to find group to join for a group task, don't be dismayed, and always make sure you calm down first and then try again.

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Daniel Onyekachukwu Akabueze