HSE Becomes Member of Erasmus Student Network
HSE’s volunteer organisation, which is made up of student ‘buddies’ who help foreign students adapt to life in Russia, has become a part of the Erasmus Student Network.
The HSE Buddy Network is now two years old and has nearly 500 volunteers. The main objective of the organisation is to help the university’s foreign students adapt both socially and culturally to the university and to Russia as a whole.
This spring, HSE’s buddy organization became part of the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), a European student association that operates in 38 countries around Europe and helps nearly 200,000 foreign students per year. ESN’s mission is to promote cultural exchange and self-development through international mobility. In addition, ESN is an important educational institution in Europe whose efforts have long been recognised and supported at the national and European level as a whole. ESN already has two sections in Russia – at Ural Federal University in Yekaterinburg and the Saint Petersburg State Forest Technical University – but the Higher School of Economics is the first university in Moscow to become an ESN member.
The President of the HSE section is Evgeny Puchkov, a third-year student in the undergraduate law programme, and the Vice President is Alina Yakovenko, a third-year philology student. They both first learned about ESN last December at the Come2Unity National Forum for Young Leaders in Education, which took place in Tyumen, Russia, and consisted of several workshops held by representatives from ESN’s training school Eduk8. This was the first time that the idea was raised of HSE buddy volunteers becoming part of ESN. It turns out, HSE Buddies are essentially involved in the same types of activities as any other ESN section.
Excursions, trips to the theatre or cinema, foreign language clubs, trips to the Moscow region and beyond – these are all things we started actively organising. We wanted to get them as involved as possible in the extracurricular life of the university, as well as show them Russia and Russian culture
‘In addition to carrying out the buddy network’s main goals of meeting foreign students and helping them get settled in and learn more about their surroundings, two years ago we also teamed up with other active volunteers to hold different types of events for foreign students. Excursions, trips to the theatre or cinema, foreign language clubs, trips to the Moscow region and beyond – these are all things we started actively organising. We wanted to get them as involved as possible in the extracurricular life of the university, as well as show them Russia and Russian culture. On the other hand, this is an opportunity for us as well, as we are able to interact with people from different countries and different cultures,’ comments Evgeny Puchkov.
‘In order to work closely with HSE’s international students, you always have to have a sense of heightened responsibility since people who aren’t used to living in our country count on you for what, to you, might seem like the most basic issues’, Alina Yakovenko notes. ‘Russia has very few institutions that have truly been adapted for non-Russian-speaking foreigners, and going to the clinic or talking to the police can be a real test for a foreign student. In these types of situations, help from a buddy is truly essential.’
In this way, HSE’s buddy volunteers have always shared the same mission and values with ESN. HSE Buddies also met the formal requirements that exist for potential sections: the group is officially registered as a student organisation, there is constant contact taking place between student government and the university’s international wing (student government communicates with the International Student Support Unit of the Office of Internationalisation and Academic Integration), and the group has been active for at least a year.
Once the decision was made to become an ESN member, the buddy organisation first had to carry out a number of different tasks, such as writing a letter to the ESN’s official representative in Russia, receiving the approval of committees in different participating countries, and finally, passing the accreditation procedures. Nadezhda Krasavina, the ESN representative in Russia, came to Moscow to perform the accreditation procedures.
In order to work closely with HSE’s international students, you always have to have a sense of heightened responsibility since people who aren’t used to living in our country count on you for what, to you, might seem like the most basic issues
During her visit, she met with official representatives of the university, including from the International Student Support Unit, the Student Council, and the candidacy division. The ESN representative also attended a game night organised at Jeffrey’s Coffee in HSE building in Myasnitskaya. The event was attended by around 40 of HSE international students. After the ESN rep’s visit, all of the other international ESN sections voted to accept the HSE buddy organisation into the network. The approval process took place unusually quickly, in under four months, whereas typically it takes over half a year.
What does becoming a member of ESN mean for HSE as a whole? ‘We aren’t part of AEGEE or AIESEC, which largely exist autonomously,’ Evgeny notes. ‘The ESN sections truly play an integral role in improving how an educational institution is seen in the eyes of foreign students and university partners around Europe,’ he says. Alina and Evgeny add that having an ESN section at HSE could attract a large number of exchange students from other European countries. In addition, new partnerships could be forged with European universities in the Erasmus+ programme, which is a large supporter of the ESN.
Joining the network allows HSE Buddies to gain access to an entire array of best practices developed over the organisation’s 26 years of existence in Europe. A clear structural hierarchy now exists that governs how the organisation is managed, and this is important for the group’s on-going development. Volunteers now have new sources of motivation, mostly due to the fact that new career opportunities might open up within ESN and that they can now add an impressive line on their resumes, allowing them to stand out when applying to European universities or large corporations. In addition, ESN offers specific tools that make the lives of HSE buddies and staff easier. Previously, staff of the International Student Support Centre, as well as HSE buddies themselves, had to compile and process massive lists of 500 buddy-student combinations each semester by hand. Now the section has software that automates this process. This all allows HSE to work more efficiently with international students here at HSE.
‘ESN functions at a very high professional level,’ Alina notes. ‘Working closely with the organisation’s various international committees over the last four months, as well as consulting with ESN Russia, has shown us that we can and must assume a heightened sense of responsibility concerning our work. The creation of ESN HSE Moscow is undoubtedly a new page in the history of HSE Buddies,’ she concludes.
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