'I Have Been Happy from the First Moment'
Takashi Takebe is a Research Fellow at the International Laboratory of Representation Theory and Mathematical Physics and Professor at the Faculty of Mathematics. He has been at HSE since 2009. He is a PhD in Mathematics from the University of Tokyo. He spoke to HSE News in English service about the unpredictability of life for international academics in Moscow, about teaching mathematics to Russians, the problems of language and cycling tours.
— You have been living and working in Moscow since 2009. How would you describe your experience as an international expert in Russia?
— When I came to HSE in 2009 as the first foreign colleague of the Faculty of Mathematics, there was no 'international recruiting procedure'. So, if you are calling those colleagues who have been hired by that procedure 'international experts', I am not one of them, but I feel honoured to be called in that way!
When I told my friends in Russia about my decision to move to HSE from a university in Japan in 2009, they worried for me, because the Faculty of Mathematics had just been born and nobody knew its fate. One of my Russian friends even said, 'Are you crazy? You should not throw away your permanent position in Japan and come to such a place, which might not exist a year later!' It was a gamble but I won the bet. After six years, the Faculty of Mathematics is still growing: excellent new colleagues are joining us and strong students are enrolling on our courses.
Actually I have been happy from the first moment, having an opportunity to work with outstanding world-famous mathematicians. Not only the seminars at HSE but also those at other places in Moscow (the Moscow Independent University, the Steklov institute and so on) are quite active and interesting. Moreover, friends and colleagues help me a lot in various ways, which makes my life here easier.
The Faculty of Mathematics is still growing: excellent new colleagues are joining us and strong students are enrolling on our courses
Of course, I know that a utopia cannot exist, because of the meaning of the word itself [in Greek - ou topos - nowhere]. Besides bureaucratic nuisances like visa renewal and registration, what is not very convenient for me here is the lack of the office space for my books and notebooks (I left or donated half of my books in Japan) and the absence of a library at the math faculty.
— What challenged you at the beginning, when you started teaching at the Faculty of Mathematics?
— It is well known all over the world that the level of Russian mathematics is very high. I know many star mathematicians who came from Russia. So, before I started working here, my main concern about teaching was, 'All Russian students must be strong and smart. Can I 'teach' them anything? Maybe they are smarter than I am!' Fortunately or unfortunately, only the stars were visible from afar. When I came close, I found black holes and dark nebulae as well as many stars.
— What are your research plans for 2015-2016?
— Recently I resumed research on elliptic quantum integrable systems, which is a continuation of the work I started twenty years ago for my PhD. I am also continuing research on dispersionless integrable hierarchies with my colleagues, Anton Zabrodin and Valeria Akhmedova. I want to finish writing a book on integrable hierarchies, which Prof. Noumi in Kobe, Japan, and I have been writing for a long time.
I have been happy from the first moment, having an opportunity to work with outstanding world-famous mathematicians. Moreover, friends and colleagues help me a lot in various ways, which makes my life here easier
— What are the 'lessons learned' and useful tips for international students and teachers coming to Moscow?
— Today's Russia is a comparatively young state founded in 1990's after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, so everything changes quickly. One needs to be constantly prepared for unexpected changes. In particular, as foreigners, we need to pay attention to immigration rules and so on. The situation with HSE, which is only twenty three years old, is just the same. Many things (rules, buildings, colleagues, organisation structure, etc.) are always changing. In that sense, I dare not give any concrete tips which would be obsolete in a moment.
— How good is your Russian? What are your favorite places in Moscow and across the country if you have had time to explore Russia?
— My friends say that I write 'perfect Russian', from which it can be deduced that the word 'perfect' does have a rather weak sense here, as I know that my Russian texts contain numerous errors. I started learning Russian when I was a master’s student around 1988 in order to read mathematical articles in Russian. I also stayed in Leningrad/St. Petersburg from 1990 till 1991 for one year as an exchange graduate student between the Soviet Union and Japan. In spite of such long experience I still feel frustrated and miserable when I want to say something complicated in Russian without success. Well, I can read/write/speak/understand mathematical texts better than literature and daily conversation, because the vocabulary necessary for special topics is restricted.
In Moscow I like to walk along boulevards, but when friends come from outside Russia, I recommend them to go to the Kolomenskoye Park. As I told you, I lived in Leningrad/St.Petersburg for one year and I love the city very much. Thanks to my friends in Moscow, especially Anton Zabrodin, I’ve been on cycling tours in Russia many times in these twenty years (mostly before starting work in HSE). I went to Karelia, Vologda, the White Sea and other places, camping around for two weeks each time. The tours were tough and exhausting (with terribly many mosquitoes!) but still gave me unforgettable impressions.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service
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