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‘More Competition Gives You Greater Incentive to Prove to Yourself that You Are a Worthy Competitor’

Arina Smirnova

Arina Smirnova
photo courtesy of Arina Smirnova

Arina Smirnova (Kyrgyzstan) knows like no other what it is like to start all over again and achieve her goals in spite of everything. Arina won the HSE Global Scholarship Competition (GSC) for the first time in 2017 and then outperformed herself three years later. Arina spoke with HSE News Service about how to choose a competition subject that’s right for you, how to prepare for moving to another country and, most importantly, how to not lose faith in yourself. Let’s get ready for GSC 2021 with the winners of 2020!

How did you find out about the Global Scholarship Competition?

I learned about the competition at my high school in Bishkek back in 2017. We were always informed about upcoming HSE competitions, and we never turned down an opportunity to participate. As a sophomore, I managed to earn two prizes in the competitions in psychology and advertising and public relations. Perhaps, if at that time diplomas earned in tenth grade had value upon admission and were valid for two years after the fact, then my further path would have been different. But three years later, I won the GSC 2020, and I think that everything happened for a reason.

How did you choose your GSC subjects? Did you know in advance what programme you wanted to apply to, or did you just start with the subjects that interested you?

I already had experience studying at another Russian university, and I learned a lot from it. I approached my second time with more purpose and studied all information available about all the different programmes. Fortunately, thanks to the excellent HSE website, this was not difficult. Of course, when choosing my competition subject, I did it purely based on what programme I wanted to apply to. But, knowing how interesting the GSC tasks are every year, I chose the maximum number of subjects.

Each subject is illuminating and exciting in its own way, and I really enjoyed participating. If it was possible to select all the subjects, I definitely would

Why did you choose to participate offline?

Participating onsite has special perks. The atmosphere is indescribable and has a special competitive spirit, you get to know students from other high schools, and most importantly, you are able to concentrate as much as possible on the tasks.

What was the onsite atmosphere like in Kyrgyzstan? Were there a lot of participants?

I think the number of participants gets bigger every year. This is especially true when it comes to the humanities subjects. However, this only makes it more interesting. More competition gives a greater incentive to prove, most of all, to yourself that you are a worthy competitor and all your efforts and preparation were not for nothing.

Do you think if you participated again this year, you would do even better?

I probably would have started studying earlier, and, perhaps, I could have scored more points. On the other hand, the competition tasks are a real lottery, so it’s impossible to know what would happen.

Alina Smirnova

How much time did you spend studying for the GSC? Is it possible to prepare within a month or a few weeks?

I started preparing for the GSC in the summer, but I did so at a calm and measured pace. This helped me not overload myself a couple of weeks before the start of the competition, and not to give up on studying many months before.

Of course, if you wish, you can try to prepare in a few weeks, but for this you need to have a lot of free time and a good memory. It seems to me that early preparation was one of the most important keys to success for me.

What materials did you use to prepare?

First of all, I watched all the webinars on how to study for the GSC on VKontakte (in Russian). And not just the current ones, but also over the past years (it's good that they can be found without any problems in the site’s archive). I also studied select preparatory materials and books and took notes. Of course, I didn't manage to read all the recommended books, but what I managed to study helped me a lot. While studying for the competitions in political science and the social sciences, I found tutorials on YouTube for the Russian Unified State Exam in social studies, and I found them helpful.

How do you stay focused while studying and keep yourself from procrastinating?

I would also like to know the answer to this question. The only thing that somehow helps me stay focused are special timer apps.

Did you regularly check the GSC website for updates or did you learn that you had received a scholarship by other means?

Since getting into HSE was my number one goal, I refreshed the site page several times a day. I think I was one of the first to see my results.

Arina Smirnova
photo courtesy of Arina Smirnova

How did you feel when you learned that you received a scholarship?

I felt insanely happy and incredibly relieved! Of course, there are still other ways of gaining admission to HSE, and I definitely would have utilized them, but at that moment I realized that it was not in vain. Until recently, I didn't believe that I was on the list of winners, so I refreshed the page several times and checked the registration number before telling anyone about it.


The first person I told was my friend. We grew up in different countries, met at the previous university I studied at and, by the way, we both left it. She was thousands of kilometers away from me, but at that moment I understood that it was she who could understand me like no one else

How did your family and friends react when you told them you were a GSC winner?

Of course, everyone congratulated me and was extremely proud. To be honest, I think that my relatives didn’t believe the positive results until recently, though they didn’t show it. Now they are glad that I finally found what I really like and, probably, deep down, they really hope that I will not quit my university studies again.

What thoughts, expectations, and worries did you have about studying in a different country?

Fortunately, for me this is something I’ve already gone through. So I can confidently assure international students that moving is cool! You have to become more independent, responsible, and self-reliant. The difficulties that are bound to come your way, especially in the first few months, will only make you stronger. And you will begin to appreciate the most important thing – spending time with your loved ones. After all, it is priceless.

What do you expect from life in Russia and from your studies at HSE? Is there anything you are afraid of?

I confess that I am very afraid of taking classes in English. I talked to a few fourth-year students in the programme I’m starting, ‘Political Science and World Politics’, and they convinced me that it’s only intimidating for the first couple of weeks. I’d like that to be true. Now I’m devoting all my energy to improving my English.

If you could give advice to yourself a year ago, what would you say?

In those moments when laziness and apathy attack, think about how much you’ll miss out on if you give into them.

Was the application process to HSE this year straightforward, or were there difficulties?

I didn’t have any difficulties. Everything is described on the site as detailed and clearly as possible.

Registration for the 2021 Global Scholarship Competition continues! This year the GSC will be held in the following areas: foreign language, Asian studies, design, journalism, history, cultural studies, mathematics, media communications, international relations, law, psychology, advertising and public relations, modern politics, social sciences, physics, philology, and philosophy. Participation in the competition is free. Competitions are held onsite and online.

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