Changing the World for the Better
Recently one of our former students paid a visit to the HSE Nizhny Novgorod branch. This fact would not surprise anyone if we did not take into account that Kaloyan Iliev (and he is the one we are talking about) is a citizen of Austria. Five years ago he spent a year at the Higher School of Economics as part of an international student exchange programme .
It was hard to believe that we were talking to an Austrian, since Kali spoke Russian fluently, with just a slight hint of an accent.
- Kaloyan, tell us more about yourself. Is Austria your native country?
- I have Bulgarian ancestry:I was born in Bulgaria, but later moved to Austria with my mother. I graduated from high school and entered the Kepler University in Linz, and after some time participated in the programme of ‘three universities'(Kepler University, HSE in Nizhny Novgorod and Nizhny Novgorod Linguistic University). I studied Russian, management and economics for a whole year in Nizhny Novgorod.
- You and Boris Filkhaber were the first Austrian students who came here, to the HSE Nizhny Novgorod branch. What was it like to be pioneers?
- We liked it here. But to be honest, at first it seemed to me that we would not only be the first Austrian students in Russia, but also the last. But having spent a year in Nizhny Novgorod, and visited other cities, I have changed my opinion on the difficulties of life in Russia. Upon returning to our home university, we made a presentation about our study, spoke about our positive impressions of life and learning, and tried to break the skepticism of our audience to whom Russia seemed a distant and dangerous country.
I am happy that my concerns didn't come true, and this student exchange programme is continuing!
The cooperation programme between the HSE NN branch and the Kepler University is continuing, and every year 2 or 3 Austrian students come to Nizhny Novgorod. This year two Austrian girls are studying in the HSE NN branch:Stephanie Kern and Melanie Huber. Moreover, the HSE NN branch is planning to widen its cooperation with European universities. The focus will be on Master's programmes. In a couple of years, HSE NN branch will open a Master's programme with education in English.In addition to this, the Higher School of Economics in Nizhny Novgorod is planning to organize International Summer Schools.
- What moments of the education have stuck in your memory?
- For the first three months we were studying Russian at the University of Linguistics, and then started also attending classes at the Higher School of Economics. We studied a course of economic disciplines as well as a set of subjects at the Faculty of Management. I remember one of the HSE teachers, Mikhail Plotnikov, he was very young then. At his lessons he used new Western educational technologies, and we attended his classes with great pleasure.
- Has the knowledge you acquired in Nizhny Novgorod been useful in your life?
- Now I am working as a sales manager in a medium-sized Austrian firm, specializing in producing plastic pipeline accessories. I am responsible for product delivery to the countries of Eastern Europe and CIS. My job is the development of the Russian market. Of course, Russian language plays an important role in my work. Russian businessmen totally change their attitude when they find out that I can communicate without an interpreter and know about life in Russia. But to be successful in international trade, knowledge of a foreign language is not enough. You need the skills we got at the HSE:quality management, crisis management, project administration and so on.
- Are Russian language and economics also helpful for Boris in his work?
- Boris is a senior consultant in a consulting company. His Russian scholarship has helped him to get this position. He implements projects in many different countries, among them there are Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Turkey. By the way, Boris also has a good salary (more than mine), but his business schedule is tighter and at the moment he cannot come to Nizhny Novgorod for a couple of days.
- You really speak perfect Russian. Is it thanks to the classes?
- Firstly, of course, due to my classes. Secondly, I spent a year in Russia, immersed in the environment! And thirdly (and it is the most important!) - during our year of study in Nizhny Novgorod both Boris and I found our better halves. Our wives were studying in the Linguistic University and shared a room. At home I talk to Masha in Russian and I think the same is true for Boris and Yulia.
To speak a foreign language fluently, you have to invest a lot of energy and time, but it is essential for your career. Sometimes people come to our company and think that they can negotiate in Russian, however they have studied Russian only in Austria without ever coming to Russia. And actually they only understand some Russian speech, but it is not enough for conducting negotiations.
- This time have you come to Nizhny Novgorod for your company business purposes?
- I came to Moscow for business reasons, but I have a break between meetings, and I decided to visit Nizhny. I have friends here - classmates and basketball teammates (basketball is my second love after Masha).
The first thing I did was come to the HSE, and I'm happy I had the opportunity to meet everyone I wanted to see.
- Is it difficult to manage a business in the current economic environment?
- Turnover has decreased, but we are holding up. Results of the crisis in Austria have already started to fade away, but it is stil hard to say what the situation will be in Eastern Europe.
- Is it difficult to work with Russian businessmen?
- I have been warned that business in Russia has its own unique characteristics. But I try to be open with everyone. I do my best to take into account my partner's interests, and make compromises. Psychology is what helps me to avoid mistakes:I feel if I can trust a person, and based on that I decide whether I am ready to make concessions for him.
Maybe some day my principles will let me down, but now I think that long-term business can be built only on such terms. We need to start changing the world for the better.
Interview by Olga Maskayeva
Photos by Irina Skvortsova