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‘It Is a Great Opportunity to Enhance Your CV and Meet Other Researchers’

One of the perks of studying at HSE University is its wide range of academic mobility programmes. Ksenia Semykina, a master’s student of Comparative Social Research, recently spent a semester at the Free University of Berlin with the support of an Erasmus+ scholarship. She shared some practical advice on how to live and study abroad with HSE News Service.

Erasmus+ is a European Union programme aimed at promoting international mobility in education and sports. It provides support for students from different countries, including Russia, to spend a semester studying at a different university within Europe.

The master’s programme in Comparative Social Research is taught at HSE University in English and offers an opportunity to get a second degree at EHESS, Paris, or the Free University of Berlin.

How to Prepare for the Trip

After I was nominated for an Erasmus+ scholarship, I had to complete several forms sent to me by the coordinator and prepare for a semester in Berlin.

Getting a visa was an important step. For that, I needed the following documents:

 Visa application,


 Invitation from the German university,

 Proof of means of subsistence,

 Confirmation that you are an HSE University student,


 Motivational letter and bio (a kind of CV),

 Copies of your ID.

If a document is in English, you don’t need to translate it into German. For Erasmus+ students, the procedure is simple, since the coordinator helps obtain the insurance, and the scholarship notification serves as a proof of means of subsistence. After I submitted my documents, it only took one day for my visa to be ready.

Before you go, you need to find accommodation. I had the option of getting a room in the university dorm, and was happy to take advantage of this. The conditions at the dorms were good, prices were low, and I didn’t want to spend the time searching for other housing options. When the application for rooms was open, I received a letter with a link to registration. Within a week after registration, I received the information that I got a room and would have to pay an advance. Since I was nominated for Erasmus+, I didn’t have to pay it via bank transfer – the amount was deducted from the grant.

How to Structure Your Curriculum

Registering for courses at the Free University is a more eclectic process than at HSE University. There is a Campus Management system, where you register. But some courses are unavailable in this system, particularly if they are taught at a department where the student is not registered. There is no one-stop study office, where you can go in case of problems. In this system, I registered only for one course out of the four I wanted. With the remaining three teachers, I had to negotiate in person, in order to be allowed to attend their courses. In this case, the teacher fills out a special form at the end of the semester, indicating your grade for the course.

There were several unexpected things about the way things are done there. The weekly course meeting lasts two class periods, unlike four class periods at HSE University. The credit system is also different

At the Free University, credits are given for a module consisting of two courses. Often, teachers cannot say how many credits their course will give independently of a module. You can negotiate the number of credits with the teacher: some of them will let you write a longer term paper in exchange for a couple of additional credits.

In addition, the course grading scale is different: there is no formula of grading. Usually, the grade takes into account your activity during the seminars, you presentation, and the final paper, but you don’t know what will impact your instructor’s decision more. One the one hand, it is unclear how exactly the final grade is given. On the other hand, such an approach is more flexible. In one of the courses, I was allowed to not write a final paper, but get a grade for a  presentation I made during the course instead.

What to Do Off Campus

If you look for things to do in Berlin on tourist websites, most of the options you get are related to recent German history. And it was those sites that I was most interested in.

At the German Historical Museum, I got a general view of German history and saw the exhibits I’d only read about before: maps used by sailors during the Age of Discovery, and a Bible in German written by Martin Luther. The Topography of Terror Museum is dedicated to the Nazi period in the German history. It talks about the background of Nazism, the Hitler regime crimes, and the post-war denazification. Museum admission and the audio guide are free of charge. Speaking of non-historical museums, I visited the Natural History Museum. Its best known exhibits are restored dinosaur skeletons. One of them has even been registered in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s tallest.

You can move around the city by various means of transportation: buses, trams, metro, city trains, and even ferries. The transportation works on a strict schedule, while in the evenings or at weekends, the breaks on some of the routes are about 20 minutes.

Knowledge of German is helpful, but one could go even without it. Once, I had to speak German when an ATM ate my card, and a woman who passed by, as well as the bank operator, didn’t speak English. I had no problems with administrative staff at the university. Sometimes, Germans would switch to English when they heard my accent.

What Opportunities Shouldn’t Be Missed

I’m always hungry for new knowledge, so academic tourism is my favourite type of traveling. During the semester in Berlin, I took advantage of the open visa and close proximity of other cities and countries to visit academic events. I took part in conferences and academic schools at three German cities: Augsburg, Giessen, and Cologne, and spent a warm week in Spain during a School in Discourse Analysis.

If you go on an academic mobility programme in Berlin or any other European city, keep your eyes open for academic events in nearby cities and countries. It is a great opportunity to visit new places, enhance your CV, and meet other researchers.

Admissions to HSE’s Master’s Programme in Comparative Social Research are now open. International students can apply online. To learn more about HSE University, its admission process, or life in Moscow, please visit International Admissions website, or contact the Education & Training Advisory Centre at: inter@hse.ru,  or via WhatsApp at: +7 (916) 311 8521.

Icons: flaticon.com/ Smashicons, Gregor Cresnar

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