Adventures of International students at HSE-Nizhny Novgorod
International Students’ Club leader, Zhanna Shabanova, has interviewed some foreign exchange students about their experiences in Nizhny Novgorod. Here is what they had to say:
Sara Olmi (University of Bergamo, Italy): “Since I specialize in languages (I’ve studied Spanish and Russian), I decided to come to Russia for a semester to study and practice Russian in order to improve my skills. I think that knowing Russian will give me an advantage in finding a job in Italy.
Before coming to Nizhny Novgorod, I thought it would be difficult for me to integrate into this new country, and I also thought that it would take a long time before getting accustomed to life here because Russians are not open as Italians. The first time I was in Russia five years ago, it was difficult for me to get used to this newenvironment. I have to say that, this time, it was completely different. I felt pretty good from the first day I came here, especially thanks to the family I live with, because they immediately helped me to feel like part of the family. I had the same feeling at university and with all the people I met here, so I must say that my first impression of Russia was wrong and I recognize that the people are very hospitable and friendly.
Here I take part in many of the events organized by the International Office of HSE-Nizhny Novgorod. Every week, students present their country to others, and even bring some of the traditional foods of their cultures. It's a fantastic opportunity to gain an inside perspective of different cultures and countries and to develop a deeper understanding of them. The other international students and I participate in many excursions as well. For example, we visited a Christmas tree ornament factory called Ariel, where we had the opportunity to watch how they make their products, see how the artists painted, and then paint our own Christmas tree ornament. We also travelled to a nesting doll factory in Semyonov, where they gave us a tour of the facility and invited us to paint our own matryoshka.
Another amazing experience was the weekend we spent in a horse riding lodge, where we could feel the true Russian soul. There we ate traditional Russian dishes for every meal, rode horses, andenjoyed the Banya!! I think that was the best way to feel what Russia is all about and to better understand this new culture. Finally, I can say that this experienceis revealing, interesting, wonderful, and useful for my life and my future…if this is just the beginning, I can only expect fantastic things from Russia”.
Meng Zheng (Southwest University of Political Science and Law, China): “I decided to come to Russia as an exchange student to finish my master degree, to improve my English, and to study Russian language. Before coming here, I thought that Russians couldn’t speak English and that living in Russia was really dangerous. After a few months in Nizhny Novgorod, I must say that I still think that Russia is a little bit dangerous for girls who come from Asia, but I had the opportunity to change my mind about Russian people. For example, I found out that a lot of Russian students can speak English very well and that people here are really nice and kind. I like the HSE University. The professors are excellent and the classmates are nice too. I also must say that HSE is not only studying! Here we have the opportunity to participate in a lot of activities, which help international students to understand Russian culture better and to meet a lot of students coming from different countries! It is a fantastic experience and I hope to experience other adventures as marvelous as this one in the future”.
Camille, Clara and Morgane(University of Besançon, France): “We came here for the third year of our Bachelor’s degree programme and to improve our Russian level, and we chose Nizhny Novgorod because the school offers similar programs to the ones we are doing in France. We like the fact that the city is near the Volga. We are glad to have the opportunity to travel around Russia easily and discover new cities. We like it here, even though we were surprised that the city is quite industrialized. We thought we would be cold (and we were right!) and that the people here would be cold too, but they are really kind and helpful. People here are very trusting, even with people they don’t know (like passing your money in the marshrutka) compared to France. We are happy that we could come here for a year to study and discover this city. We also met a lot of nice people and already did a lot of amazing things, as excursions are organized for international students. We had the chance to go to a remote village in the forest to ride horses, have a picnic in the forest, experience the traditional banya, and many other things that we couldn’t have done by ourselves. There are also a lot of international gatherings, like the Speaking Club, Solyanka, and Kapustnik, where students present some facts about their country and bring national food so we can experience different cultures”.
Alaa Assaf (Syrian student studying Russian): “I have a Masters Degree in the field of Law. I came to Russia to Study Russian language and maybe to do my PhD in Law. Russia is totally different from Syria; Russian culture is completely different from mine and I thought that they speak a very strange language. Furthermore, here in Russia, there is a very different and harsh climate (but you don’t see bears with Ak47s and Ushankas in the streets). After one year living here, I got used to this “new world” thanks to the fact that I learned Russian and better understand the culture and lifestyle here. In Niznhy Novgorod, I’m studying Russian language and occasionally, I teach something about the Arabic culture. I like it here. Russia is a very beautiful place, one just needs some time to understand that Russian people are very open and free, and very helpful. During this year in Russia, I have been to the most important attractions in the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. Hopefully, I will try to do some sight-seeing in eastern Russia and in general, to do more winter activities”.
George Strohl (University of New Mexico, USA): “I am currently studying both Anthropology and Russian language. I came to Russia, not only to improve my Russian language skills, but also to immerse myself in Russia’s rich culture, learn a bit about her history, and try to get a better understanding of what it truly means to be Russian. Before I came here, I was unsure of what I would find when I stepped off the plane, but after being here for three months, I have learned much more than I could ever have imagined I would.
HSE’s exchange student programme has already opened many new opportunities for me, of which I could never have possibly dreamed if I had stayed in Albuquerque. In the short time I’ve been here, I have met a wonderful group of other exchange students from all over the world, and together, we have made many amazing memories that I will cherish forever. For example, I never dreamed that I would ever have the opportunity to ride horses through the Russian countryside and then drink hot, spiced wine and sing songs by a campfire, or to see a factory where matryoshka dolls are made and then be allowed to paint my own. Only one short year ago, I believed that I would never be able to experience a true Russian bath house (Banya), but through HSE’s exchange programme, all of these seemingly unreachable dreams have each become a reality.
Aside from the fun extracurricular activities, the classes I am taking here are interesting and engaging, and the people in the international department are always willing to help if I have any problems. There’s also no shortage of things to do here! The International Students’ Club organises weekly speaking clubs, where Russian students are given the opportunity to interact with the international students a variety of different languages. Moreover, the International Students’ Club organises “Kapustnik” presentations, where international students are invited to present a few facts about their own countries and prepare a traditional or cultural dish for other students to try. Such events really give one a unique, insider’s perspective on different cultures, straight from people who were raised in those cultures.
I have to say, I already know that I will miss Russia—especially Nizhny—when the time comes for me to leave. I’m glad I chose to study here for a whole year, because one semester would not have been enough. Though I have already gotten so many wonderful opportunities and experienced so many wonderful things, I still find myself waking up every day excited to see what will happen next. I’m often surprised at how easy it was for me to adapt to life here. Like any place, there are good things and bad things, convenient things and inconvenient things; but overall, the people I have met here are good, kind, and intelligent, and I would not trade the experiences I have had here for all the tea in Russia.”