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‘Moscow Is a Living, Breathing Storybook’

‘Moscow Is a Living, Breathing Storybook’

Photo courtesy of Zeeshan Haider

Zeeshan Haider, 25, comes from Quetta, Pakistan. He is a first-year Master’s student of ‘Science of Learning and Assessment’ at the HSE Institute of Education. Sanwal Iftikhar, 23, from Punjab region, Pakistan, is in his first year of the Master’s in Strategic Corporate Finance at the HSE Faculty of Economic Sciences. In this interview, they talk about their experiences of studying in Russia, exploring Moscow, and adapting to life in a new country.

Hearing about HSE University

Zeeshan Haider: My introduction to HSE was through a friend. Researching HSE's esteemed reputation and Moscow's cultural vibrancy was an eye-opener, convincing me that studying here would be a journey of both academic excellence and personal growth.

Sanwal Iftikhar: After getting the Open Doors scholarship, I did some research about Russian institutes and I found HSE to be the most prestigious university in the fields of economics, business, and management.

I talked to several Pakistani students at HSE and they also highly regard it and recommend it in terms of education and learning environment

I chose the Moscow campus based on the general perception that the capital always has more job opportunities, plus it also provides an opportunity to meet with people of other nationalities.

Sanwal Iftikhar
Photo courtesy of Sanwal Iftikhar

The Admission Process

ZH: The admission journey to HSE was smoother than anticipated, with a user-friendly online portal and an interview that felt more like a narrative of my academic and personal achievements. HSE staff were helpful and responded promptly, which made the process less daunting.

SI: The process was quite smooth. I didn’t take the university entrance exam. At the first stage of Open Doors, I had my portfolio assessment and then I gave an exam under the Business Management category in second stage. The exam was not too hard, but still quite challenging.

During the enrolment process, I communicated with HSE staff via email, and even after enrolment, a representative helped me in the visa process. 

Studying at the University

ZH: Studying at HSE is a blend of challenges and enlightenment. Each course is a new horizon, and the professors are not just educators, but mentors who guide and inspire.

The teaching methods and class organisation at HSE are top-notch, making the learning process both enjoyable and profound

Zeeshan Haider
Photo courtesy of Zeeshan Haider

SI: I must say it is hard to adjust to a different environment, especially when people speak a language you do not understand. The first few weeks were really tough due to the migration requirements (such as medical examination and fingerprinting) with course assignments at the same time. But now I am more relaxed, and studies are going well. 

I have had four courses, one mentor seminar, and a FES research project. The courses include Macroeconomics (Advanced Level), Microeconomics for Financial Economists, Econometrics (Advanced Level I) and Advanced Corporate Finance. I found Corporate Finance the most interesting due to its course curriculum.

It is sometimes hard to understand concepts due to the difference in teaching methodology compared to my home country, the level of education standard, and the difference in accent when speaking English. However, the classes are very well equipped for studying (and also for sleeping when you do not understand anything).

The Student Community

ZH: The camaraderie at HSE is a tapestry of diverse cultures and perspectives. Engaging with both international and Russian students in clubs and meetings has been enriching.

The buddy system is a gem, offering support and a sense of belonging in this new environment

SI: I often communicate with other students, both Russian and international. Pakistani students at HSE have a Pakistani Cultural Club. We participated in HSE Unity Fest 2023, HSE World Fest, and also presented Pakistani culture at a meeting of the Culture Café. Pakistani students often arrange dinners for each other at their dormitories. Those of us at Dorm 10 usually sit up at night talking and sometimes going for a nighttime walk. I recently came to know about Tandem meetings between HSE students, and I am thinking of going there as well.

I got a buddy through the International Student Network. He is also from HSE. He was a great help during the first few days. He met me at the railway station and took me to my dormitory, helped me with opening a bank account, getting a transport card etc.

Life in Moscow

ZH: Living in Moscow is like stepping into a living, breathing storybook. The city is a testament to artistic and architectural wonder—especially its ornate metro stations. Every day is a new chapter in this beautiful, historical city, filled with discoveries and awe-inspiring moments.

At New Year, the city transforms into a festive paradise. I love to dive into this celebration, from ice skating under the twinkling lights to exploring the lively streets, embracing the spirit of the season.

SI: At the moment, the -24C temperature is probably an unexpected experience for those from hot countries like Pakistan, where the temperature hits 47C in summer. 

The most interesting event so far was the day of Moscow’s 876th anniversary. Rides were free, and I used this chance to experience Moscow Sun—Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel

I had to stand in line for almost an hour to get the free ticket, but it was totally worth it. I have also managed to visit Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral, Gorky Park, Kuskovo Park, the statue of Peter the Great, and VDNKh.

Plans and Prospects

ZH: In the next two years, I aim to embark on a PhD. There is a saying I hold close to my heart: 'Focus on the path, and the destination will arrive itself.' With this philosophy, I aspire to contribute significantly to my field and society.

My travel aspirations are an open book waiting to be filled with adventures. Top on my list is St Petersburg, a city steeped in history and culture.

SI: In 10 or 15 years maybe, I see myself as a university lecturer after completing my PhD, although I am not sure—my master’s at HSE is quite draining. So as a backup plan, I see myself working as a Chief Financial Analyst in some multinational organisation after my master’s degree.