About the project «Success Builder»
How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features graduates from the Higher School of Economics who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences, and talk about the big shots they’ve schmoozed and how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.
What is wrong with today’s global political market? How can a spam letter change your life? Why do Russians consider New Zealand nothing but boring pastureland, and how can you conduct business there without once setting foot in a tax office? Valeria Kuznetsova, a graduate of the School of Political Science (now the Faculty of Social Sciences) who organizes tourism to New Zealand, told our correspondent this and more.
Travelling to the ends of the earth: what for most is a romantic adventure in childhood and an elusive dream in adulthood amidst the daily grind of a 9-5 job has become a reality for Valeria Kuznetsova, who held onto her dream and eventually moved to that faraway land to launch a project for true travelers.
Have you dreamed of New Zealand since childhood?
I was about 12 or 13 when I read ‘In Search of the Castaways’ by Jules Verne. I think that was when I first began dreaming about travelling to the ends of the earth and, oddly enough, that desire has not diminished with time.
You entered HSE University when a number of changes were taking place in the country and at universities in particular. What attracted you to HSE University and how did it stand out from the others?
I applied to HSE University by chance, after not getting in to MSU. But I’m thankful it turned out this way. I really liked studying at HSE — the style of instruction, its research scope and facilities available, as well as the meetings and conversations with lots of interesting people. I studied alongside interesting and goal-oriented people who knew how to dream and achieve their goals.
Did the learning process tie in with your dreams of New Zealand? What did you expect from HSE University and what did you receive?
My dream of New Zealand remained only a fantasy for a long time. But dreams are what motivate us to succeed. At that time, I wanted to build a career in PR, and that is what I pursued after graduation.
Everything in this life depends only on you. It was this understanding, along with self-confidence, the courage to have my own opinion, and independence, that led me to HSE University
The university gave me, as it gave others, the equally important values of liberalism, taking responsibility for one’s decisions and actions, and paying attention to the opinions of others. All of this is really helpful in working with clients. That is, the university generally focused on the individual and his or her values — and in modern business, this is essential.
Which changes do you think are needed in political education today?
When we had to choose our major in our third year of studies, I gave up the idea of studying political consulting. The education itself is excellent, but it loses its efficacy in practice. This is the part that needs to be changed. As I grew and developed, I became more determined to use this knowledge outside the political context. In fact, an effective and successful political consultant doesn’t think about the real interests of the people to whom he sells ‘goods.’ He is guided by the interests of the ‘goods’ themselves. This is typical not only for Russia, but for all countries. In this sense, the political market needs to radically revise it practice of working with the electorate. Moreover, political consultants have nothing to offer in Russia — the political monopoly there kills all demand for any type of consulting or approaches. I do hide the fact that my decision to move to New Zealand was prompted in large part by the political situation in Russia. In my opinion, it is like the old Jewish joke: Izya Katsman had been married for 30 years, and when asked to list his marital status, he wrote, ‘hopeless.’
What was your first work experience and did it redefine your goals?
As a student at HSE University, I decided to become a PR shark and sent my resume to all of the major PR agencies. In my third year of studies, I was given an internship at an international agency specializing in corporate public relations. In two years, I rose from an intern to an assistant manager, but I wanted more, mainly independence.
That was when I started my own project. I created a non-profit foundation called A Clean Moscow. I had hoped to get Muscovites into the habit of sorting their solid household waste, but I quickly realized that, with one hand, the municipal authorities were installing bins for sorting solid waste, and with the other hand they were dumping everything together into a single landfill. As long as landfills remain more commercially viable than recycling, all such efforts will be about as effective as teaching pigs to fly. The idea ran up against the irresponsibility and haphazard approach to everything that is so typical of Russian life.
My conclusion was simple: ‘idealism is a myth,’ and ‘I just want to earn a lot of money in order to realize my dreams.’ To be honest, I wanted freedom.
And you left for New Zealand. How did you happen to travel there the first time, and how did you decide to start a business there?
After earning a master’s from HSE University, I worked in the Mirax Group company run by Sergei Polonsky. In three years, I went from working as the editor of the corporate newsletter to director of the PR department. It was interesting, but it left me with no free time for anything else. One day I noticed a letter in my e-mail Spam folder asking for sponsorship support of a round-the-world expedition of the Pallada training sailing ship. It said the Pallada would visit New Zealand, among other countries and included a photo of the beautiful frigate under full sail. Two months later, I flew to Auckland to board the Pallada. Thanks to my longtime dream of New Zealand, the impossible became possible.
I met my future husband, Dmitry, on that expedition, where he worked as the ship’s video operator. Getting married and having a baby girl took me out of the professional environment for a time, but when it came time to get back into the game, I realized that I definitely did not want to return to PR. I couldn’t stop thinking about New Zealand. My husband and I started the Abel Tasman travel agency in 2011, named in honor of the man who discovered New Zealand. It was a niche travel agency specializing in countries of the southern Pacific Ocean — New Zealand, Australia, the Fiji Islands, and French Polynesia. Before starting the business, I again went to New Zealand to become thoroughly acquainted with the country, the tours I was planning to sell, and to sign agreements with business partners.
It was a narrow market that was untapped in Russia. And when our clients returned home, they were on Cloud Nine. It confirmed that we were right — that it really is great there and that people like it. The positive reactions from my tourists are still the greatest reward for my efforts.
Why do so few Russians travel to that region?
Of the four million people who visit New Zealand each year, only about 4,000 are Russians. By comparison, 102,000 arrive from Germany (according to Statistics New Zealand).
Of course, this is a long and expensive trip for Russians. And most importantly, it is a journey, and not a beach holiday. It involves a lot of movement and initiative, as well as communication with various people whose culture differs greatly from ours. It is a real adventure! Many Russian tourists are unaccustomed to such vacations. But those who do go become real fans. It really is a different world. Everyone finds something for themselves there. As one of my clients said: “New Zealand is like all other countries, and yet different from them all.”
How did you make the decision to move there, and what jobs are open to immigrants to New Zealand?
I made a lot of contacts in New Zealand through our Abel Tasman travel agency, among both the Kiwis (as the local white population calls itself) and Russian expats (who number approximately 20,000 in the country). I learned the procedure for relocating, visited New Zealand two more times as a tourist and then understood that I really wanted to and could live there.
The simplest way to move to New Zealand is to study there. That gives you the main resource — time to get settled and a work visa when you finish your course of studies. I received a student visa and completed a one-year programme called Postgraduate Diploma in International Tourism Management at Auckland University of Technology. My husband was given a work visa and our kids were given the status of domestic students. Two and a half years after arriving in New Zealand, all our family members received residency — but it was not easy.
I tell two things to all the university-age students who come to me wanting to obtain permanent residency status in New Zealand. First, approach this project as you would a marathon: you need to measure your breathing and maintain a steady pace over several years’ time. Second, you have to trust your husband or wife completely and work in tandem: be equals in everything you do and always carry your part of the load. The extent to which you work well as a team determines 80% of whether you will succeed. Unfortunately, I have seen loads of couples that broke up after the move because they couldn’t deal with the strain.
Two months after I entered Auckland University, I began working part-time at Kiwi Zone. I had known the owner from back in our Abel Tasman days. I should mention that it is very difficult for immigrants to New Zealand to land their first job in their chosen field. You need recommendations. The only Russian work experience that carries any weight here is in IT. Every other field is tough to break into, but as the saying goes, “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Life in New Zealand is expensive. For example, we pay 425 NZD ($282) per week for our three-room apartment. That’s about 73,000 rubles per month. But the salaries are much higher than in Russia.
Each immigrant is responsible for finding a job, getting settled in the country, and resolving visa issues. Keep in mind that New Zealand’s entire visa policy is focused on attracting goal-oriented, ambitious, hard-working professionals to the country. If you make it through the first two years, you’ll definitely succeed.
Why did you choose Auckland University of Technology? How, in general, does higher education there differ from that in Russia or the West?
I chose AUT because it was the only university in Auckland offering a Level 8 course in Tourism. I needed that level so my husband would receive a work visa and my children would be given domestic student status. My first job was also in Auckland.
New Zealand has 10 levels of education. Levels 4-6 are analogous to a Russian trade school. Level 7 is the same as a bachelor’s degree, and Level 8 is like the first year of a master’s programme. If you already have a Level 6 diploma and want to receive a bachelor’s, you only need to complete a one-year Graduate Diploma Level 7 programme, whereas if you’ve finished two or three years at a Russian trade school, you would still need to attend university in order to earn a bachelor’s degree.
It was unexpectedly easy for me to study at AUT and I was even the top student in my course — my HSE background definitely helped
After completing the programme, I received a certificate of excellence and even a gift from one of the university’s sponsors — a travel agency that gave me 500 NZD towards a trip of my choice. We used it towards a vacation to the Rotorua regions of geothermal pools.
How did the idea originate for Just Go There, and what does the agency offer people visiting New Zealand?
I did not open a business immediately because I had to wait until I obtained residency. And, because I prefer running my own operation to working for ‘the man’ — however wonderful that employer might be — I decided to start my own project. It’s very easy to open a business in New Zealand: everything is done online, which frees you from all the bureaucracy. For example, I have never set foot in a tax office. And here it is very simple to obtain a VAT refund and file for tax deductions.
Just Go There is a way to build your own independent trips around New Zealand. It has been working successfully for two years now. It is targeted to independent travelers who want to choose their own routes and book all of the necessary services, whether excursions, hotels, cars, guides, etc. As part of the project, I also provide consulting services on immigrating through education and work as a guide showing tourists our beautiful country: I could go on exploring New Zealand forever.
What is it like to live in New Zealand?
Many Russians, and especially Muscovites, find it difficult to deal with the slow and uneventful way of life here. Some people consider New Zealand a boring pastureland. But for me, this country is wonderful and it has become a genuine home for our family. The main difference with Russia is that here you are person of worth, regardless of your social status or how much money you have. The state here is utilitarian and of secondary importance to the individual — which is how it should be, in fact. It does not exploit feelings of patriotism, but works modestly for the good of its citizens. In New Zealand, life is very simple, with no frills. I find this appealing. Everything is casual — the clothing, the food, and even communication between people.
If you see a fancy car or house, the owner is most likely Chinese or Russian. The local millionaires wear T-shirts and go barefoot
It was here I understood that freedom is not found in the amount of money you have, but in your lack of attachment to money. If to choose between earning extra money or having more free time, a Kiwi would probably choose the latter.
The people who live on these islands are friendly and warm-hearted. They tend to smile and are talkative, and they are ready to come to the aid of a stranger on the street. I remember when I was at a low point in all my anxiety over obtaining residency, there came a moment when I burst into tears in public. Several people came up to comfort me.
New Zealand has a wonderful climate and amazing nature that I have not grown tired of admiring every day for the whole four years I’ve lived here. I think it is this boundless beauty that makes New Zealand so heartwarming and harmonious.