What is the difference between studying in Ghent and studying at HSE?
Second-year student Elena Beylina shares her impressions about the University of Ghent, where she is studying during the spring semester as a part of Student Exchange Program HSE
Cultural shock, new impressions, and a lot of studying
A few words about Ghent and the new way of life
Ghent is a small town in eastern Flanders (so-called one of the Belgian lands), where the primary language is Flemish (Dutch). Fortunately, absolutely everyone here speaks beautiful English, so it does not cause any problems. What shocked me was the number of bicycles I hadn't seen anywhere else - neither in the Netherlands nor in Germany before. And a week later I also had to ride a bike, because, without it, life in Ghent is impossible to imagine: it's a very long walk, public transport is too long and expensive. So now, every day, I scroll through maps with bike lanes, and I move everywhere, knowing where traffic is usually and which areas are better not to ride during rush hour.
Ghent is an amazing historical city and a very student city. It is a huge plus because there are about 70 thousand students; you can always find new acquaintances and a minus because no one canceled the student parties that Belgians have every day. Ghent is a fabulous city because it has many castles, old cathedrals, especially in the evening the city center looks like a toy. And it is challenging to get used to the fact that it is your hometown for six months; you still feel a little like a tourist.
What do I study, and what is the difference between studying in Ghent and studying in Vyshka?
The University of Ghent is among the top 100 or 150 best universities globally in many rankings, particularly in the study areas I am studying. The university is among the top 100: statistics and operational research and business and economics. Therefore, I chose the following courses: Predictive and Perspective Analytics, Social Media and Web Analytics, Digital Marketing, Financial Modelling, Business Process Management, and Innovation Management.
A Master's degree from the University of Ghent is applied. This statement is key to understanding the main difference from the Russian Master's degree. Here, teachers do not want to teach theory at all and do not do it. The requirements to students in the first class in almost all courses sounded like this: "Here's a book for you (my note - about 500-600 pages each), your task for a semester is to read it, study, reflexive and be ready to demonstrate your knowledge on the exam. And in pairs (there is no division into lectures and seminars), we will deal with practical cases and applications of this knowledge in practice. And this is the first difficulty that I faced here because all the courses I have are different and interdisciplinary. Every day I have to study a massive amount of unfamiliar material myself.
The fact that you are an exchange student, nobody cares here. Indeed, the requirements are the same for all students. And if you need to find a Belgian company for a project in some course, conduct 3-5 interviews with the managers of this company and then write a report, you have to do it regardless of what country you are from, whether you have contacts or not.
The organization of all courses is very different, so you need to be always toned and ready for other formats. For example, for Digital Marketing, we had various speakers twice a week: the Minister for Digitalization of Belgium, data analysis, and big data in marketing, PR, CEO of companies. Each topic was held first in theory and then on a specific case together with a guest lecturer. On the Social Media and Web Analytics course, I had about 15 hours of pairs a week, and on each lesson, we had a mini-group task to complete in 30-40 minutes, and then several teams presented their solution at once. These tasks allowed us to quickly solve cases, write code, and make a presentation within a strictly limited time period. For Predictive and Perspective Analytics, we have no lectures at all and no theoretical base. We got either one or several large projects to solve every week: write code with comments and top management conclusions. And when they come to a pair, the teacher chooses several groups that make their decision, which they discuss. And so, I can talk about each course's details, but as it is clear from the above, everything gets taught very differently.
During these two months, I have already managed to pass three exams, and they were all very different. One required us to have a precise knowledge of all mathematical formulas and concepts, while the other required us to apply theory to specific cases. I also had a 4-hour exam, where we wrote the theory by hand for the first hour and then wrote the code for 3 hours. This exam was my first of this kind in my life when I had to do more than 40 tasks in such a small amount of time, and on which I wrote about 800 lines of code in R. It was probably the most challenging exam in 6 years of my life.
In general, studying here is very difficult, even more, correct to say - laborious and time-consuming (if you want to pass all subjects and pass well). And it's incredibly difficult for exchange students because all of us need to bring credits (ECTS) for courses home, and the Belgians, as they say, absolutely calmly get 40-60% of no-show on each time, then retake these subjects, pass again. And that's why many people study for more years than it should be officially.
A considerable number of opportunities for students
During this time, I managed, of course, not only to study but also to explore the city and its surroundings. For example, you can go to the Flemish Opera and buy a student ticket for 10 euros. Here the system does not work the way we do in the Bolshoi Theatre. Students get sold the best access, which was not redeemed, so I was in the parterre's front row at the opera La Juive. Also, there are favorable rates for students to travel around the country, so I have traveled to Brussels several times, visited the North Sea coast in Ostend, and went to the city of Ypres, a significant historical city for the First World War.
University, student organizations, bars, museums - all want to organize some events for students. You can't even keep track of everything that happens, and even a small part of them is impossible to visit. But it was interesting to go on several excursions around the city from the guys from ESN (Erasmus Student Network) and from the Faculty of Slavic Studies of the University, which invited students for whom languages from the Slavic group are native. All these events allow at least a little rest from studying and find exciting acquaintances. And ahead of me, I will have Easter vacations, another month of study, and then exams and projects, for which I have to start studying now.