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‘If You Can Show that You Are Willing to Speak Russian, People Are So Friendly’

‘If You Can Show that You Are Willing to Speak Russian, People Are So Friendly’

Photo courtesy of Jiayi Xu

Jiayi Xu is a first-year student of the Master’s in Comparative Social Research at HSE University in Moscow. Having now spent five months living and studying in Moscow, Jiayi shares her thoughts about life in Moscow so far, her love of visiting the library, and the differences between education in China, the US, and Russia.

— How did you end up at HSE Moscow?

I learned about HSE by searching online. The first reason I decided to study at HSE is that I want to do research and comparative social research in the future. We analyse a lot of qualitative and quantitative data in our course.

The second reason—the biggest reason—is that I got a scholarship and I don't need to pay for tuition or accommodation.

I don't have any family ties to Russia, but my generation sees China and Russia as friends. So we do have a strong connection with Russia in our mentality

— What did you know about HSE and Moscow before you came here?

I didn’t have any stereotypes of HSE or Moscow before coming to Russia, but now that I’m here, I can say that I really love HSE because I think it's a very international school. A lot of students and professors can speak English fluently and without a Russian accent. And because it is a research university, everyone is really passionate about research.

At first, I felt excluded from society in Moscow because I couldn’t speak any Russian and a lot of people here can't speak English. But now I can speak a little Russian and things have changed, because if you can just show that you are willing to speak Russian, people are so friendly. They will combine English and Russian for you and translate just to communicate with you.

Basically, I don't have any problems with studies or communicating with colleagues, students, and professors, but it's quite hard be part of the city right now.

— What is your daily routine?

I live in Dormitory 7. It's not far from my campus. Most of the time, I go to our campuses on Lubyanka. Also, I like to go to the library to study and feel inner peace.

In Shanghai, a lot of people don’t realise that life passes by so fast. They hurry to work, hurry to study—and don’t just read a book, just feel the fun and joy in life.

In the library, I see a lot of older people with a lot of books just sitting there in silence and reading. It's not common for me to see that in Shanghai. So I really love the vibe here

If I go to the library, I think I stay at least five hours. And if I go to Lubyanka, most of the time, I just want to finish my homework. So I will have lunch and then go there. And I have class in the evening from 6 pm to 9 pm.

— What do you think about your studies at HSE?

— I have experience of studying in both China (Shanghai Normal University) and the US (Western Oregon University). I think the teaching style at HSE is somewhere in between them. In China, professors are always telling you their knowledge and there's not a lot of time for you to share your own thoughts. But in the US, you do posters, presentations, etc to understand things by yourself, then they will teach you some related information.

At HSE, professors will teach you some basic information, but you also need to do research by yourself. You learn the skills, and you have to use and apply them in your own research field. I really love to do this in class because everyone has different views.

I study education, but some students study political media, for example. We have very fruitful exchanges. I really love to hear their information, their presentations, their point of view

And I really love Professor Natalia Soboleva and my supervisor, Professor Elena Iarskaia-Smirnova. They are so passionate and friendly and I really love to talk with them.

— How is life in the dormitory?

— I have three roommates. All of us are Chinese, and we get along very well. I don't think there are a lot of Chinese students at HSE compared with other universities. I'm the only Chinese person in my class, so I can only speak English and a little bit of Russian with my classmates. But when I go back to my comfort zone in the dorm, I can speak my native language.

We all have different schedules, but once or twice a week we hang out together to explore restaurants or bars in Moscow. I really love blini—pancakes. We also go out for Georgian food, Italian food, Turkish food, and food from Middle Asia. I also really like Red Square—every time I go there, I am still impressed.

I talk to my parents every day. I'm the only child in our family. They're not very worried about me being in Moscow, but they ask to send them a message to be sure that I’m safe here. I told them not to believe any social media news.

I feel safe here. It's a city, not a rural area—just don't go to the middle of nowhere at night

— How are your Russian studies going?

— Every HSE student can study Russian language for free. I have attended a Russian language course and am starting another one on language and culture soon. I'm also thinking about applying for the summer school in St Petersburg. There will be a language course and I can stay in St Petersburg for a while, so after the course, I might explore the city.

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