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‘Coming Here Felt Like the Right Choice’

Leticia Ines and Alejandro Perna

Leticia Ines and Alejandro Perna
Photo courtesy of Leticia Ines

Leticia Ines and Alejandro Perna first met in a Russian lesson in Buenos Aires. Now, eight years later, they are studying together in HSE University’s Preparatory Year programme. They spoke to the News Service about how their love for Russian language and culture brought them together and led them to enrol at HSE University, what their classes are like, and where they see their careers going after they complete their studies in Moscow.

After completing HSE University’s Preparatory Year programme, both will be studying at the Faculty of Humanities—Leticia will be pursuing a Master’s in History of Artistic Culture and the Art Market, while Alejandro will do a PhD in History.

Leticia: I had wanted to study in Russia for many years since I’ve long been fascinated by Russian arts and culture. I started learning the language during my undergraduate studies, and found the opportunity to continue my education in Russia appealing. With this in mind, and considering HSE is one of the most prestigious universities in the country, coming here felt like the right choice.

Alejandro: In my case, the situation is quite similar. I actually started Law school but decided to switch to History (a career path I had earlier considered) when I saw Russian History was among the choice of elective subjects at my university.

I had always felt attracted to it, perhaps because for us it’s somewhat exotic (just like Latin American history seems to have become appealing for scholars the world over, I guess), and while my undergraduate experience was not as rewarding as I had wanted, it didn’t deter me from doubling down on this path for my postgraduate studies.

While this may sound a bit unusual, already six years ago I decided I wanted to go to HSE if the possibility arose—and it did

At that point, I just jumped at the opportunity. Choosing to go to Russia seemed natural to me.

Power of the Language

We actually met in our first Russian lesson already over 8 years ago. While that is a very long time, we were very inconsistent with our studies—not studying for years at a time or only taking a couple of hours every week. By our calculations, we will have studied a lot more during our preparatory faculty studies than in all of our previous years of study combined!

Unlike our studies, however, our relationship has been more consistent. We moved in together in 2018 when we were both living and working in Buenos Aires, and while things haven’t always been easy, we believe we’re a good fit.

The fact that we’re here together is, perhaps, a testament to it—we both decided we wanted to study in Russia together, we both agreed on studying at HSE, and, of course, we were both interested in Russia. This all made it easier for us to embark on this project

Right now we’re living at the Dubki dormitories in Odintsovo since that’s the only residence where the university had family rooms where we could live together. The place is cozy and we have a room for ourselves. We share the apartment with a Kyrgyzstani couple who have been super nice and welcoming, as have been the staff.

Mastering the Russian Language

In the first semester, we only had two subjects: general Russian language (grammar, everyday vocabulary and so on) and scholarly Russian language (discipline-specific vocabulary, mostly).

We study 5 days a week, with breaks on Thursdays and Sundays, from 16.20 to 21.00 Moscow time. This perhaps unusual schedule is due to the fact that our group is made up of people from the Americas who were studying online due to the present epidemiological situation, therefore the time slot was suited to the timezones of the students (from GMT -3 to GMT -6, if I recall correctly).

Regarding homework, it’s not really problematic. I wouldn’t say there’s little homework but it’s manageable.

We use a Google Classroom where the teachers upload homework virtually every day, which helps us keep up with the new vocabulary

For our general Russian lessons, the teachers are Polina Veselova and Yaroslav Pototski, and for our scholarly Russian lessons the teacher is Elena Aisakova. All of them have been super nice in every conceivable way, especially when compared to the experiences of some of our acquaintances at other universities.

The material is up-to-date and the classes are quite engaging. The teachers are also approachable and open to questions and suggestions

So far, we have improved our Russian a lot. While we already had a somewhat decent level of Russian, having lessons every day keeps you on your toes and has certainly sharpened our skills. We’ve also picked up quite a few expressions for everyday life with which we were entirely unfamiliar, as well as some nuances of the language we were not aware of.

Classroom discussions have helped us both understand spoken Russian and posit our own arguments – although it’s still very hard to think in Russian!

Distant and Not-So-Distant Plans

Alejandro: Well, it’s probably more than just the near future, but I guess it has to be graduating and dipping my toes in the job market. It may sound simple, but it very much isn’t. PhD studies are no joke, as everyone knows, and job opportunities are limited pretty much everywhere. Furthermore, salaries are not always competitive (or, in some countries, even enough to live on, unless you start massing jobs at different places). Finding a tenure-track job is akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

I very much expect Russian to be a part of my professional life in the future: I don’t think it’s possible to study, teach and/or research Russian History otherwise

Leticia: After completing our preparatory faculty studies, I’m probably going back to Argentina for a month and, hopefully, will visit Israel on my way back to Russia. I had intended to make this trip over a year ago, but the pandemic ruined my plans—as it did everyone else’s! I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping it’ll work out this time.

After that, my goal has to be settling in for my Master’s studies and probably finding a part-time job at a museum or gallery to get some extra work experience before graduating.

Ideally, I would like to work in the field of heritage management and/or go back to teaching at university after I graduate. I was a teaching assistant at the University of La Plata before joining HSE.

One way or the other, I hope to be able to help popularise Russian arts and culture at home and abroad, so I see my knowledge of Russian as an asset in my future professional life

Admissions to HSE’s Bachelor's and Master’s programmes are now open. International students can apply online. Submit your application early to qualify for a full-tuition scholarship

To learn more about HSE University, its admission process, or life in Moscow, please visit International Admissions website, or contact the Education & Training Advisory Centre. The staff are happy to advise applicants and their parents via e-mail at inter@hse.ru, by phone +7 (495) 531 00 59, or WhatsApp +7 (916) 311 85 21, as well as on social media in Russian and in English: VkontakteFacebookTelegram and Instagram.

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