‘I Heard Russian People Don't Like to Smile. That's a Misunderstanding’
Sophia Cao is an international student taking a semester at HSE Moscow. She attends courses at the World Economy and International Affairs Faculty and at the Public Policy Department. Back home she is a fourth year bachelor’s student at the Central South University in China and her family lives in Harbin. Sophia chose to take a semester in Moscow after she joined the AIESEC global citizen programme, which aims to empower young people to make a positive impact on society. She told HSE News how one thing led to another.
‘I participated in the AIESEC Explore Russia cultural project in Moscow last summer during the vacation with 30 foreign volunteers from 14 countries. HSE is our partner university so we had a lot of events in their premises. During our final meeting, some teachers came to introduce us to HSE, I could see that it is a really nice university, and I could imagine myself coming to study on the exchange programme here.’ And so Sophia opted for the semester to discover Russia for herself. ‘It changed a lot of my mindsets,’ she said. ‘I love Russia so much now I live here with so many lovely people. I’ve made so many Russian friends here, they really take care of me.’
The city of Harbin is not far from the border and has a long history of connections with Russia. Sophia says, ‘So many people ask me, why I chose Russia, not US or UK. Maybe it’s because of my grandparents,’ she explains. ‘They can speak a little Russian because in Soviet times, they studied Russian as a second foreign language, and when I told them I would study in Russia, they said, ‘That's great, you can go to study at the city of our old Soviet Union Big Brother.’ They have a great affection for the Soviet Union, and we, the new generation in China, want to develop this great affection with Russia more deeply. I believe in the near future, in the world’s emerging market economy, we can get together to make a bright future!’
Sophia’s first impressions of Russians have been extremely positive, contrary to what she had been told to expect. ‘I heard Russian people don't like to smile. That's a misunderstanding,’ says Sophia. ‘Even when I help someone in the metro, or I just wear my Panda hat, I see people smile at me in a very friendly way.’
Sophia reads and speaks Russian and has many Russian friends who are studying Chinese who always help her with any problems. She is especially pleased with HSE staff, ‘I really, really, really appreciate the managers in the international support office and international admissions, and the visa office,’ she says, ‘they are really patient for us, although we always have so many questions, they help us a lot.’ Sophia lives in an HSE dormitory where she mixes with other students from around the world. ‘We always cook together and share foods and we talk about culture and even languages. Sometimes I feel I am in a mini United Nations.’ Sophia has studied Russian language and literature, business and journalism. She chose the courses in International Relations and World Economy as a new challenge. ‘It's a little hard for me because I don't have the background knowledge, but thanks to all my professors - they send me lots of reading suggestions, and always answer my questions patiently, I am reading and trying to catch up with them.’
The semester at HSE has given Sophia a real taste for studying in Moscow - she wants to apply for a Master’s programme in Russia, ‘For sure I will only apply to my lovely HSE,’ she says. ‘Before I was thinking I would apply to Lomonosov MSU, but after this semester, I really want to keep studying here. HSE is a really competitive university, not just in Russia where it is one of the best, but also in the world. I am preparing to apply for the international business master’s programme here, in English. I can study more easily in English, but I can also learn Russian in life. And I will also find some internships between Russia and China. I’ve just been accepted by Caixin media company. I will be a reporter intern to participate in world news and report financial and business news and information. And I want to show Chinese people and the world the real, beautiful Russia, to show Russian culture, so more people know how kind Russian people are, to clear up misunderstandings.’
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