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‘The Rich Networking Experience That HSE University Offers Is No Less Important Than Grades And Knowledge’

Arslan Shakhnazarov

Arslan Shakhnazarov
Photo courtesy of Arslan Shakhnazarov

Why do international students choose HSE University, and what is it like to move to another country? Arslan Shakhnazarov, second-year undergraduate student at ICEF, shared his story and talked about how he, just an ordinary guy from Bukhara, Uzbekistan, chose a university on his own, passed the entrance test to HSE accidentally, found himself in the top 10 of the student ranking, started working at Tinkoff, and still hasn’t stopped dreaming big.

How to Stop Playing And Start Studying

I studied in the most ordinary school in Bukhara and was hardly an excellent student, with the exception of mathematics. In the ninth grade, I was spending more time in a computer club than at school. My favourite subject was Technology, since there, I could play mobile games without breaking any rules. I was a pupil during those times when Uzbekistan’s school system consisted of 12 years, so I thought I had plenty of time ahead and didn’t have to think about anything. When I was in the tenth grade, we moved to Tashkent, where I entered a physics & math school, but my development plan didn’t change a lot.

There is a phenomenon back in my home country: out of all the CIS countries, Uzbekistan has the highest number of students who leave to study in Europe or the USA. Therefore, in junior and senior year, everyone is preparing for the IELTS, but my English was really bad. Maybe, that could be the end of it, but I bet my classmate that I would learn the language better than he did. For a year, I studied English non-stop independently, and got a top score on the IELTS. That was a defining moment. For the first time, I seriously thought that it was high time to prepare for applying to university – but there were a lot of things I should have done prior. It was too late to apply to a university in Europe or the USA, so I started looking at universities in Russia.

How an International Student Can Choose a University

How can you tell what university is better? The choice of university, area of studies, and country – it all became an independent project for me, where my parents participated only by nodding in response. I started looking at the rankings and realized they can’t provide an objective perspective. I looked at websites, social media groups, and forums, where I could at least read personal experiences from real students and graduates. For example, from Olympiad participants I learned that in fact, HSE University is in many ways better than Moscow State University and will soon become one of the Top 100 world’s best universities. MSU did not appeal to me, because its education is too fundamental and not flexible. In addition, it doesn’t have a very transparent international admissions process.

Arslan Shakhnazarov
Photo courtesy of Arslan Shakhnazarov

Then I heard that HSE University was holding on-site admissions exams right there in Tashkent in a week. And I still had my 12th year of school ahead! Nevertheless, I registered and went to the exams. As a result, I was invited to an interview in order to sign the papers: I got a score of 100 in math. On the one hand, I was very happy, but on the other hand, I had no high school diploma. ‘Come to the HSE Global Scholarship Competition next year’ – this is how the story of my first meeting with HSE ended. After that, I purposefully prepared for the competition. In the 12th grade, I also won a second-class prize in the GSC and MIPT Olympiad, which opened wider enrolment opportunities for me.

Why ICEF Won

Choosing my area of studies was the most painful part for me. I was leaning towards economics and was thinking: economists are more socially active, they take leadership positions more often, they are adaptive and not narrow-minded. When I passed the entrance exams, I received a 75% tuition discount and chose ICEF, since it has obvious advantages over other universities and faculties. First of all, it offers international education in English. It has its special environment: ICEF offers a lot of professional and useful networking; just take a look at graduates’ stories. Strong students study here, including winners of national school contests.

But the final decisive factor for me was that ICEF offers a specialization in Mathematics and Economics, which for me is a compromise between my love of abstract calculations and the applied focus of education in economics. I also simply liked the ICEF website. It made the college intuitively attractive for me. I easily found all the necessary information on tuition, lists of optional courses, student feedback, interviews with graduates, information on the teachers, and many other things that influence an applicant’s choice.

Studying at HSE

My impressions of ICEF intermingled with the big and new feeling that I was leaving to live alone in a different country. In Uzbekistan, everything was easy for me, but here, I was expecting a different level: I, an ordinary guy from Bukhara, was going to study together with winners of economics Olympiads. My self-confidence was very low at the beginning. I had to set a goal for myself, something high and ambitious, and turn on my competitive spirit, which has motivated me in different life circumstances. I chose student ranking as my goal: I thought that if I could enter the top 6, I’d be happy.

I came to HSE University with this idea – to become one of the best no matter what.

I was afraid it would be stressful studying in English only, but it turned out my level was good; ICEF also offers an intensive course of business English for freshmen, which is taught by native speakers.

Everything was new and bright; the first meeting with the class was organized as a social game, and I was impressed by the rich networking experience that HSE University offers – it is no less important than grades and knowledge. I became a group leader and tried to be as useful for my peers as possible. They, in turn, have become a huge support for me in a place where I didn’t have any close friends or family.

I was accommodated in a dorm for international students, and a Frenchman, a German, an Ethiopian and a Chilean have become my close friends – the world became very big for me in blink of an eye.

When I came to my first microeconomics class, I understood nothing. My classmates were saying smart words such as ‘marginal costs’ – how did they do it? This gave me a boost, and I was getting 100s on each homework assignment in Statistics in the first module, but spent most of my time on microeconomics and history. I looked at my ranking – 20th place. Wow, I was doing it!

During the first months, I saw the results of my efforts and realized that the future was a sum of things that you are overcoming now. I was looking at my studies as a kind of ideal balance, when everything is right in your life, and your future is quite clear.

While many students dream about working from the beginning of their studies, I was sure I had to study and get as much out of it as possible, including ICEF’s optional programme. Even before I came, I had heard about ICEF Academia and about the opportunity for top students to participate in an LSE Summer School, and this became my dream. To get into ICEF Academia, I mastered programming and took a Calculus++ course. In 2020, I got an opportunity to go to LSE; unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we have to either postpone the trip or to study online. Today, I’m in the top 10 of the student ranking.  

Career Opportunities

Recently, I received the first job offer of my life, and although starting a career was not among my top priorities, now I’m working as an analyst at Tinkoff. Compared to my classmates, I had almost zero career outlook. I didn’t think about employment and about the companies where I could have different kinds of careers: my ideas about working in economics were very abstract.

I have to say that ICEF students are very well informed about the world of business and the specifics of different industries — more than students of other faculties. This is another advantage, which I understood when I was already a student. During the second semester of my first year, I came to the ICEF Career Centre, got advice, and completed training sessions. After that, I had a clearer understanding of where and what jobs I could pursue.

Marina Kozak, Deputy Vice Rector at HSE University

Every year, we try to launch new projects: they help international students learn about the University and immerse them in the variety of undergraduate and master’s programmes at HSE. They meet the university through their own personal experience and involvement in activities, rather than from the words of students, friends, or posts on the internet. All our projects offer individual support, consultations, and advice in choosing the right area of studies.

The border closures in 2020 helped us expand the geographical range of project participants thanks to the opportunity to visit another country via Zoom or MS Teams. The international students can now attend lectures at any HSE campus, as well as at any of our buildings, thanks to our new online projects:

  • Study Tour Experience (short-term programme for master’s applicants)
  • Class Experience (trial online attendance of a lecture and networking with students)
  • Mock tests for prospective undergraduate students
  • Online consultations in Zoom
  • Preliminary portfolio assessment
  • Scholarship and grant calculator
  • Quiz for future master’s students ‘What master’s programme should I choose?’
  • Inspired by Your Bright Future: HSE Business Talk

See more information on the new opportunities to get to know HSE University.

Something else that contributed to my ‘revelation’ was participating in the Changellenge case championship: when we prepared for it, we studied statistics and different cases, together with financial news. It was very interesting: various cases from real business operations unfolded right before my eyes. After the championship, I started reading business magazines and thinking about my career more consciously. Now, I keep asking the senior students about the experience they got in the industry, and compare it to the one I’m getting at work today. Saturday meetings with ICEF graduates are also very helpful in understanding my career opportunities.

Usually, the students who get internships or work during their studies earn about 20,000 roubles a month more than the others at the start of their careers. I thought I should start practicing, since I had already overcome my main academic challenges at that point, and started to look for an internship. I had issues due to my citizenship, but in August 2020, a new law took effect that lessens the amount of paperwork international students need to be employed. I was offered a full-time job at Tinkoff, and started working in November 2020.

What I Understood All This Time

Despite the fact that my responsibilities are not directly related to finance, I use a lot of mathematics and economics in my work, but thanks to ICEF, I’m well-trained in it.

The statistics course has been very helpful, thanks to which I can navigate the world of everyday numbers and tasks. Getting an education in economics helps shift your frame of mind towards ‘minimizing costs’ in everything; your outlook becomes more business-oriented.

I haven’t been working for a long time yet, but my view on corporate employment has changed. Describing problems in Jira doesn’t seem romantic anymore to me, and the meetings on ‘optimizing everything’ do not inspire me. Meanwhile, I love inventing and implementing the logic of my personal development and tracking my task progress: from a model to a ticked box, ‘done’.

I believe I have been very lucky with my team at Tinkoff, where the only obvious slowpoke is me.

I enjoy studying and communicating with professionals, trying to get into their way of thinking and become infected with their ambition.

With every new challenge, I understand that the much-discussed time-management is a skill that can be mastered. It includes the ability to delegate, to understand your limits, to relax, to get the maximum profit right here right now, and particularly, to sleep eight hours a day (otherwise you are not productive), as well as a willingness to concentrate and take on challenges head-on. My job has become a serious incentive for me to have a productive routine and see the best in myself and the people around me. However, when I am a junior or a senior, I would prefer part-time internships, in order to look at various fields in the industry.

What I Dream about

I plan to find more time to immerse myself in student life, not only in terms of entertainment and socializing, but academia as well. I’ll probably try to apply for an exchange semester, in order to immerse myself in another culture and reinvent my world view once again. Or, I’ll dedicate more time to preparing for the Yandex School of Data Analysis; I’ll probably participate in guitar nights or enter a singing class. I will probably apply to the First Generation Foundation or start a social initiative in Uzbekistan. ICEF provides us an opportunity to try our hand in an academic role, and think more seriously about applying for a master’s programme. I’m thinking about taking advantage of this and following in the steps of alumna Tatiana Taranenko, and trying to launch a start-up. HSE University has opened a wide landscape for me; here, I started believing in myself. What I only have to do now is to set my priorities.

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