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American Linguistics Student Finds Fresh Ideas and Innovation at HSE

American Linguistics Student Finds Fresh Ideas and Innovation at HSE

Jon Rawski came to HSE last year to study in the Master's programme Cognitive Sciences and Technologies: From Neuron to Cognition. He finds the programme, which is taught in English, to be quite satisfying because it is new – it was launched in September 2014 – and is filled with fresh ideas. The programme brings together a talented group of researchers who enjoy a considerable level of support from the university.

According to Jon, numerous programmes in the U.S. have existed for a long time and are very static in their structure.  Projects depend largely on the ideas of the professors. At HSE professors guide Jon in his studies, but there is considerable room for innovation, which he greatly enjoys.

Jon recently spoke with the HSE student newspaper about his studies.

— How did you become interested in linguistics?

— Well, I originally wanted to study economics. I had always been good at math and I liked how people interact with each other. But when I started learning economics I totally disliked it. At the same time, I had always been obsessed with language, ever since I was about 5. Someone suggested that I meet with a linguistics professor, so I did, and it really opened my eyes. Linguistics is very much like mathematics, but using words instead of numbers. I thought, whoa, that’s interesting! As I went along and realized how much language is critical to human thought and mind, I was hooked.

— It has been a year since you enrolled at HSE. Do you feel that lecturers in the U.S. have more experience? 

— Experience is a sort of misleading. Experience in the U.S. means that you’re a tenured professor, so professor has the same job every year. In the U.S. we have lots of tenured professors, but that’s sort of going away due to the new dependence on ‘temporary’ professors, which economists call the ‘precariat’: people without job security.

What I like about professors here is that they have quite a fresh attitude. They’re always interested in exploring everything. I had a conversation with a neuroscience professor recently and he immediately started suggesting ‘let’s start developing a project’. And in the U.S. this takes a lot of time. But here it’s something spontaneous. I love it.

— Have you studied Russian in the U.S.?

— Yes, I have. I can speak Russian but listening comprehension is still a bit challenging at times.

At my university there was literature department – they studied literature, but there was no such thing as philology. And linguistics was very mathematical. However, I also studied some languages like Russian, Spanish and Arabic just because I wanted to know them.

It was surprising to me, to come here and see how huge your philology department is. I’ve never seen a solid philology department before. So here I’m continuing my language work, but now I have a whole different set of resources.

— Have international students changed anything at HSE? Do you feel that the culture and how people communicate is changing?

— The number of international students is growing from year to year. Programmes are changing, and lots of programmes have been added and will continue to be added, which will make the school more global. It’s a good thing that foreign students come here to study. For me it’s always interesting to communicate with people from other countries, to know another world, another point of view. I think it changes something in the culture of HSE. It increases tolerance.

I’m still amazed by the fact that there are programmes in English. It’s not usual for universities to teach in their country’s minority language. It’s unusual. At U.S. universities you almost never have this opportunity. Imagine going to Harvard and studying in Spanish. It would be very strange. I really respect people who learn English as a second language.

— Living in a dorm with international students fills your life with amazing memories. What is the funniest story?

— Well, at the beginning of the year we bought some dishes, you know, to eat there. They just disappeared. No one knows where they went. Everyone started accusing each other of stealing each other’s stuff, and of course no one’s doing that. Everyone thought ‘I’m losing things too, I’m not stealing your things. What the hell is happening, where is all the stuff?’ Finally, the old lady who worked there said that our dishes were very dirty, and she put them in a bag and took it to the roof. If we needed them, we could go with her and take our dishes. They were missing for three months! We came to the roof and there were lots of bags with dirty dishes just lying there. It was like jungle of dishes there.

— Talking about food, what is your favourite place for going out in Moscow?

— I really like Muzeon Art Park, right near the river. I go to jazz cafes like Powerhouse, and mainly try to explore. For dancing, of course, places like Mishka can’t be beat. We don’t have these places in the U.S.

I’ve really fallen in love with Georgian food. There’s this great chain of restaurants called “Khachapuri”. I enjoy cooking, and like to experiment. In the dormitory I usually cook myself. I’m still afraid of cooking Georgian food though; it might not end up so well.

— Can you give any advice to new HSE international students?

— Make friends with Russian people, even if you don’t speak Russian. People have all these negative stereotypes about Russians, but in reality there’s such a world they have inside that it’s great to know them.

Also, learn Russian. It will of course help logistically but it really opens up the city since chances are those who know it best speak Russian the best.

You should also travel through Russia. The weirdest place I’ve been to was Murmansk. Two friends and I just rented a car and I was the only person who was eligible to drive.  It was really difficult, driving 1,800 km in 19 hours in the Russian dark winter. We didn’t know about the train or we thought that getting there by car would be cheaper.

— Do you feel that HSE will provide you with a rich knowledge base?

— HSE is really growing, and I’m very surprised to see very famous people coming here. So you come here and you feel refreshed. For example, we wanted to set up an online student newspaper and we did it, we created Read Square. I regularly write there in the Think Tank section on things that touch the whole world and may break the balance. In the meantime, I am preparing to apply for a PhD programme. 

Prepared by online student newspapers Read Square (in English) and The Vyshka (in Russian)

Photo: Stas Mikrukov


See also:

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