‘I’m Grateful to HSE University for the Knowledge’
Is it possible to learn the Russian language perfectly in a year? Why management is more interesting than physics? What makes Russia an attractive study destination? HSE News Service has talked to Guillerme Gerotto, a second-year undergraduate student from Brazil studying Business Administration at HSE University, about these and other questions.
From Physics to Management
After finishing high school I was interested in physics and more specifically in computational physics. But then I decided I wanted to do something else with my life. So, I left the preparatory programme in Aeronautics Engineering to join the Management programme, which turned out quite interesting for me. I fell in love with management because it is such a wide and practical field.
When you look at a business, you actually see numbers and how they are communicating with you and what the reasons for changes are. I also started on business analysis because it was interesting and allowed me to combine the theoretical and analytical approaches to business problems.
Finding a Foreign-friendly University
I always had a feeling that I wanted to study abroad. It caught my attention that many universities in Brazil used Russian books for mathematics, physics, and chemistry. So, I started to look for some Russian universities and research the education in Russia and its quality. I looked at the rankings—what the best universities for management were and searched ‘what are the best Russian universities for international students’.
I really wanted to study in Moscow because I had a friend in Moscow and I'm from Sao Paulo, which is also a big city. After checking the prices, I realized that the cost of living in Russia was quite reasonable. It turned out that the dorms, for instance, were really inexpensive, a mere 1,400 roubles a month. That was a big argument in favour of Russia.
After I selected some Russian universities, I started to go through their websites. I noticed that HSE’s website was the most foreign-friendly website because it had English translations for everything I needed to know
There was a manual for incoming students in English, information about the dorms, the programmes, and so on. So I thought ‘if they have all the documents in English, it would be easier to talk to people in English in this case’. When I finally arrived at HSE and started to face some problems, everything was resolved very quickly.
I then asked some of my friends if HSE is a good university and they all said that of course it is. So, I applied for the scholarship offered by the Ministry of Education of Russia through Rossotrudnichestvo. The application process was very swift. I got to choose a Bachelor's programme I wanted to study in (Business Administration, in my case) and I had to list six universities of my choice. HSE was at the top of my list.
First, I got enrolled in a Preparatory Year programme at HSE University where I studied Russian language quite intensively—we had 6 hours of Russian classes a day 5 days a week. After the first six months, I also had Mathematics, Sociology, and History of Russia. All these subjects were taught in Russian.
At the end of the prep year, we had exams in all the subjects. Maths was the most difficult exam because the approach here is quite different from what I’m used to. For instance, I had to learn to draw graphs of different functions, which is something I had never done. But it was nice to learn something new. Then, when I started my Bachelor’s programme, I had Maths and History courses again and this time it was easier for me because I had already studied these subjects in Russian. Sociology was also a difficult subject during the Prep Year because there were a lot of definitions to learn.
Despite all the difficulties, I passed the exams with the maximum score and got enrolled in the Bachelor’s programme of my choice. Since I had applied for the Business Administration programme initially, I got to choose between management and marketing programmes (at the time I didn’t know HSE offered all kinds of management-related programmes). I chose management, which I do not regret as I already have some experience in this field and I know what I want to do in the future.
Secrets to Learning Russian
Before coming to Moscow, I knew very little Russian. When I decided to go to Russia, I found a person on Facebook who helped me learn Russian a little, which was really useful. I was able to say ‘hi’, ‘bye’, ‘how are you’ and some other basic phrases. I also knew the alphabet and I could write and read a little.
I would say it’s a must to start learning the language before travelling to Russia—at least learn the alphabet so that you can read the signs and won’t get lost
I’ve never had any problems with Russian, especially at HSE. My teacher from prep year has told me that I was one of her best students, which made me very proud. There is no secret to learning a language—it’s important to work a lot. That’s true for any subject really. It’s always the same tactic: you have to sit and study and do your homework. For example, the declensions in Russian are difficult, so I practiced and did a lot of writing and it helped.
During the prep year, I spoke English to my German classmate but with all the other people I talked in Russian. I was really trying hard from my very first week in Russia. Of course, I was very anxious and nervous in the beginning about speaking Russian but in three months it got much easier and I started to feel much more comfortable. But again—I practiced a lot.
Overcoming Academic Challenges
I’m proud of myself. I was always an A student in Brazil and I wanted to continue in a similar vein but I was worried that it would be difficult because I have to study in Russian. Well, my GPA now is around 9 [out of 10] at the moment, which is very high, especially considering the fact that I study with Russian students.
I was of course a bit scared before starting classes alongside Russian students. My classmates were surprised that I spoke Russian—they didn’t expect that from an international student, even though the programme is taught in Russian. Now in my second year I have an English-taught minor in International Business, which I think is a good fit for me. But most of my classes are still in Russian.
We have to study a lot. The workload is quite intense at HSE. There are a lot of classes to attend and term papers and tests to do. Also, the mid-terms and final exams are all in one week, which is rather difficult for those of us who combine studies and work. And the schedule is not always even. Some days are busier than others and also the schedule changes often.
As for the courses themselves, some theoretical subjects are a bit difficult for me. When I studied Sociology, Philosophy, Law, or History in Russian, it was not easy for me because I had to read complicated texts in Russian with lots of new vocabulary. What I did, I used the English text to understand the Russian text better.
Putting the Theory to Practice
Getting work experience is very important for me but for international students in Russia it’s not a simple task. You have to focus on multinational companies, which are more willing to hire foreigners. The difficulty is not down to the language—I’ve never had any problems with that—but because of the paperwork required for foreign workers.
Now, with the new law that will take effect in August, it will be easier for international students to find work because obtaining a work permit will no longer be necessary
Still, I have been able to find work in my professional field, data analysis. For example, I have worked remotely for BRASA, an international student organization.
Last year, I participated in an international case championship in Hong Kong as part of the HSE team. We made it to the finals there—it was great. The case was about the dietary needs: how to feed the world. There were four of us on the team. It was our first experience of a case championship but we did good.
This summer, I went back to Brazil after two years in Russia and I had a chance to apply my newly acquired knowledge—I worked in Rivera company helping them analyse their data. It was very interesting to see how the company strategy changed after they realized that they had made good and bad decisions and what they were. The president of the company said that he could see the results clearly—how some decisions affect cash flow and profitability. During the internship, I got to apply various business analysis tools I had studied at HSE during the first year of my Bachelor’s (SWOT, PESTLE, Porter, etc). I am grateful to HSE for this knowledge.
Focus on Data Analysis
I’m looking forward to developing myself as a data analyst. I know that I am on the right path because such good companies as Microsoft have called me for an interview, as well as BTG in Brazil.
Whenever I say that I study in Russia at HSE, the companies always say that they know HSE University well and how hard it is to study here
I believe that having a background in management when working with data is better than the other way around. When you are from IT, it might be difficult for you to understand the data because you might lack the necessary knowledge of HR or other areas. I have the mathematical approach and I can program in Python and work with data. But what’s important is that I know what I am talking about when it comes to management. I can interpret the data and the results of data analysis because I understand KPIs for HR analytics, financial data, company performance indicators, etc.
Right now, I’m writing my term paper on business intelligence and its role in the strategic development of businesses. I’m really interested in how data analysis can change the strategy inside a company. There is not much literature on how to deal with data—it’s a completely new subject. I’d like to bridge the gap between technology and management.
I want to finish my studies in Russia and then to get to know the world. I love Russia and it is definitely on my list of countries where I can live in the future. But when you are young, you can explore different countries. I’ll probably look at some Master’s programmes in Switzerland, Germany, or any country that focuses on technology.
‘I Feel at Home Here’
What I love most about Russia is the safety. When I lived in Brazil, I couldn’t take my phone out to talk to my family or take a picture, which irritated me a lot. When I got to Russia, my first question was if I could take my phone out and my friend was really puzzled why I would ask that. In Moscow I feel absolutely safe and it’s very important for me.
I love Moscow and that it never sleeps. I love that I can go out at 3 or 4 am and there will be places open and that there are so many things I can do with my friends in the city, like ice-skating, going for a coffee, or visiting cat or dog cafes. It’s so exciting. The pace is hectic but I love it (although I do try to avoid taking the metro in the rush hour).
As for the weather, when I arrived, I was so scared of freezing to death that I bought the warmest jacket possible, which turned out extremely hot and uncomfortable. This year, I bought a lighter one and I feel good. The climate was actually not a problem. The difference is that it’s cold outside but it’s always warm inside because there is central heating, which we don’t have in Brazil.
I fell in love with the culture itself. People are really hospitable; they welcome you to their houses, and they are always with their arms open for you. Usually, international students say that Russian people are very serious-looking and reserved but I guess, this is only the first impression. Before coming to Russia, I already knew some Russian people, and I knew that they were communicative and open.
One thing that’s surprised me is that I made my best friends here, at HSE University
My friends really like that they can count on me and can talk to me about their problems and feelings knowing that I would not judge them. And I know that they will help and support me when I need it. It’s just like a big family for me.
Overall, I’m very glad that I’m here in Russia and that I’m at HSE. When we finished the prep year there were some people who wanted to change the university. That didn’t come to my mind once. I really like the university, the dorm, and the people. In my programme, there are students from all over Russia and this is great because we all have different perspectives on things. That’s very fulfilling. This is what you get out of this experience.
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