‘My Desire to Learn Put Me in a Prime Position for Adapting More Easily to the City and Culture Here’
Jose Antonio Bonnet from Colombia, a Master’s student in Integrated Communications programme, shares his advice on adapting to life in Moscow and studying at HSE.
Since my arrival in Moscow, I´ve had friends from back home asking me about Russia and how I came up with the idea of living in a faraway country with such a different culture. The truth is, it was a sum of factors which led to it. For me, I believe it was a process that got me thinking about what my life was like and how I saw my future.
If you are already an international student living in Russia, perhaps you will relate to my story, or if you are just searching for schools and evaluating the possibility of leaving your hometown, this might also be useful for you. Of course, I´m not an expert but I hope my experience can help others in making their decision about whether to embark on this kind of journey.
Deciding to come to Moscow and preparing
How does a person make such a life-changing decision? How does a person know when it’s time to leave the familiar and experience something completely new? In my case, I would say it all started with a need for change. For me, life-changing decisions are about changing everything in your daily life and being able to explore new things you never even knew existed. It is about confronting your fears and changing everything: from the food you eat, to your routine at work, or even your personal life. This is especially true coming from a person who had little knowledge about Russian culture or lifestyle.
Deciding to study in a foreign country requires full commitment and openness, as well as a willingness to learn about that country and its history.
I say this because one of the things that kept me motivated through these years was precisely the desire to learn more than what I already knew. To do this, I read articles and watched some documentaries before coming here and it helped me get a sense of Russian culture and made me want to learn more about Russia. I wanted to know what Russian actually sounded like and what Russians do for fun. I wondered about Russian holidays, and what it’s like to experience a Russian winter. I wanted to see Russian fashion and learn about Russian humor firsthand. My desire to learn put me in a prime position for adapting more easily to the city and culture here.
Living in the dorms
Another important matter is where you will live. In my case, I confess I didn’t think this part through, because I was awarded a scholarship, which meant I would only have to worry about smaller expenses, such as plane tickets, living expenses, and dormitory fees. The price of living in a dormitory doesn’t compare to any other place in Moscow: it is incredibly cheap but also incredibly challenging (especially in times of Covid-19).
Unless you are going to live on your own in an apartment, I can tell you that living in a dormitory has both pros and cons. If you are like me, then you are probably used to having your own space—a place you can call YOUR home. When you live in a dorm, you share absolutely everything with others, and every day brings new challenges and difficulties.
There are several factors you must keep in mind, like the fact that your culture is broadly different from your neighbors’, and this means you will have to find common ground and sometimes make compromises.
But with time and communication, you can manage to settle agreements and ensure that everything goes smoothly. This experience is not for everyone and I wouldn’t feel 100% honest if I said this is a piece of cake, because it’s probably one of the few things that has made this experience harder than I expected. However, on the bright side, if you manage to live through these challenges, you will grow as a person and learn about yourself in a way that you never ever expected. Plus, you get to make new friends and learn about other people’s traditions and cultures. In the end, no matter what happens, you will definitely have a valuable experience.
Studying in a Russian-taught Master’s programme
The most challenging part of my experience has been studying in Russian. I can’t speak about HSE’s English-taught programmes, since I am a scholarship student who must study in a Russian-taught Master’s programme. So, before diving into a Russian-taught programme, I recommend sitting down and reflecting on the skills you will need before you apply.
First, you will have to spend one year learning Russian in one of HSE’s preparatory programmes. This step is 100% up to you. You will have to study about 8 hours a day from Monday to Friday for about 9 months (without counting vacation season). You will have to pass exams, do lots of homework and go on interesting excursions with your classmates.
Once you’ve successfully managed to learn the basics of Russian, you will begin your Master’s degree in a fully Russian classroom. I was excited to meet my new classmates. Over time, however, I started to understand just how different my culture is from theirs. Let´s not forget that I come from a Latin country and that means I am used to treating and interacting with people in a different way. The culture shock is very tough at first and the fact that you will not be able to communicate fluently (even though you try) is a barrier that will make it even more challenging.
It is up to you to learn the language and it is up to you to push yourself and be confident enough in order to overcome these obstacles.
I think it is important to understand that you are coming to a new country and that part of the adaptation process has to do with the fact that you should be able to communicate with the locals. Therefore, I strongly suggest practicing every day and trying to find people with whom you can practice your skills and find your own motivation to be as fluent as possible. Trust me, if you are able to communicate, you will actually see that most of your classmates are actually very nice people and you will be able to become part of the group even faster.
A rollercoaster with no regrets
For me, my experience has been like a rollercoaster; sometimes I’ve felt like I’m flying and other times I’ve wanted to quit. Russia is a beautiful country with a beautiful culture, but also one that is (probably) very different from yours. It is not a matter of judging people, but rather trying to understand them and be in their shoes. Something I’d recommend is going out to explore the city, travelling as much as you can, and being as open as you can be.
There is no formula that can tell you what you are supposed to do, and the truth is that most of the challenges I’ve had are resolved at the moment. My experience at HSE has lived up to my expectations: I have travelled, eaten new foods, danced, and I have done things that I never would have imagined in my life. I have faced many obstacles and made sacrifices, but then again, I feel it was all worth it. It has been two wild years and I still have one left to reach my goal and all I can say is that, one day I will look back and say, I did it.
HSE University welcomes applicants from all over the world and offers not only different levels of study, but also different formats in English and Russian, online and offline. International applicants can apply for Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes in a separate admissions process for foreign applicants and receive scholarships with full or partial tuition fee coverage.
When applying to a Bachelor’s programme, including five English-taught programmes in Moscow, it is possible to submit international certificates you have received in English and mathematics, such as IELTS, TOEFL, A-Level and other international exams and they will be recognized by HSE University, so taking entrance exams in relevant subjects will not be required.
Undergraduate applicants can test their chances of admission now by taking mock tests. Master’s applicants also have the opportunity to get a preliminary assessment of their portfolio and communicate with their programme of choice online.