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'If I Ever Return to Russia to Study, It's Definitely Going to Be at HSE'

Students Zufar Kholmirzoev, Nasimjon Islomov and Mukhammad Niyozov of Tajik State University of Finance and Economics spent a semester at HSE University in Perm through an exchange programme. Before heading back to Tajikistan, the students sat down with HSE News Service to talk about what they thought about life at HSE Perm and whether it was hard to adapt to the new environment.

How did you guys meet?

Zufar: When I was preparing the necessary documents at the academic office of my home university, I was told that two other students from there would be going, too, and that I would meet them at the airport. And that is exactly what happened. We met each other on our way to Perm.

Mukhammad: We got on well and became friends. The fact that we came as a small group from the same university made the trip less stressful. 

What were your first impressions of life at HSE Perm when you arrived?

Mukhammad: I remember the day of our departure: it was January, and it was very warm. And when we landed in Yekaterinburg, it was -20°C — real winter. We don't have temperatures like that back home.

Nasimjon: Yes, the difference was significant. I would not say that it was difficult, because you can get used to anything, and we had no choice. As for me, it was not hard to get used to it; I was able to acclimate fairly quickly. And actually, it was interesting; it was a new experience for me, despite the fact that I had been to Russia before. I spent a semester in Pskov.

Zufar: It was my first trip abroad, so I was feeling a lot of different things. Therefore, at first, the cold didn't throw me off — I liked it. Only a month later did I began to notice that if I go out and I cannot open my eyes, it means that it's cold.

Mukhammad: I liked the winter, I liked that there was a lot of snow. But at the same time, I can't say that I'll be missing it anytime soon.

Was it difficult for your parents to let you go to Russia?

Zufar: I had to convince my parents to let me go. They needed complete information: who will meet me, where I will live, who will look after me. I managed to convince them that everything would be under control. Over time it became easier for them, but I definitely had to call them every couple days so that they wouldn't think I'd gone missing.

Mukhammad: Of course my parents were worried. After high school I moved to Dushanbe [the capital of Tajikistan] for university. Therefore, my parents and I were already used to living far apart. My parents know that I can be independent, so when I asked them if I could go to Russia, they supported me.

Why did you choose the programme in economics?

Zufar: I was choosing between the programmes in Public Administration and Economics. Unfortunately, I did not pass the admissions to the first one, so the choice was made for me.

Mukhammad: I didn’t apply to university right after high school, so I had time to think about what I would be better at, what I find interesting, and where my knowledge would be useful. I chose to study 'Taxes and Taxation'. I like the humanities, but with this specialty I can get knowledge and put it into practice.

How many students from your university go abroad through student exchange programmes?

Nasimjon: A lot, but we were the first ones to come to HSE. Usually, aside from Russia, students go to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Zufar: On average, we can study abroad 3 times during our undergraduate studies, during our first, second, and third years. In our fourth year we are not allowed to go. I would like to go to Uzbekistan next year. I think it's a very beautiful country with good-quality universities.

Mukhammad: I don't think I'll study abroad next year. I want to devote all my free time to focusing on my major area - taxes. This will help me to master the profession in the future.

What were your expectations coming to HSE, and did your experience here differ at all from those expectations?

Zufar: I have classmates from high school who went to college abroad. I wasn't able to get state funding to go to any of those universities, so I stayed in Tajikistan. But I was really curious about what it's like to live in another country, whether it's difficult, and, if so, how. It is much easier to study at home, because you can communicate in your own language, there’s always a way to explain something. Now we had to put more effort into doing something. But I was prepared, so it was what I expected. Plus, my friends helped me prepare in advance.

Nasimjon: I wanted to find out what it's like here at the Higher School of Economics. And, well, I learned that the School quality is indeed 'higher'.

Zufar: Here there is a different level of education, different approaches to teaching. At HSE, all classes are focused on putting knowledge into practice. At home, we mostly go to lectures. I don't know what will happen in my 3rd and 4th years, but up to this point the emphasis has been on theory. But at HSE we have learned how to run projects, how to analyze.

Mukhammad: This kind of system is much more useful, because here students are actually being prepared for a real job; they get practical experience.

What was most memorable about your studies at HSE?

Nasimjon: The ten-point grading scale. We use a grading scale of one hundred points back home. It was difficult for me to get used to this one. At first, when I was getting marks I did not understand whether it was good or bad.

Mukhammad: I will remember how welcomed we were. Teachers always helped us. They understood that we had difficulties with the Russian language, so when I had questions, I knew who to turn to and received support and help. At first, even with a lot of explaining, it was not easy to figure out the schedule, how to receive homework, how to operate the electronic system. But my student mentor was very patient and attentive, with time everything turned out.

Zufar: I've learned some things about myself; now I know how I deal with conditions that I'm not used to. I've made new friends and experienced another way of life. Before coming here, my goal was to find my personal path, determine what I want, and get experience that would give me an advantage over my peers. My family says that I have changed. I don't think so; for me everything remains the same. But they point out that when we were talking on the phone, I was expressing my thoughts differently and talked about things that I don't usually talk about. I am happy that they think so.

Did you feel support staying here?

Zufar: I've learned that I need to take initiative and ask questions. Otherwise no one will know to help. But after taking that initiative, everything becomes easier.

Nasimjon: The teachers helped us a lot. We had even greater support from other Tajik students who lived with us in the dorm. Local students were less sociable. Maybe it's because of the mentality. But it is impossible to judge a country based on one or two people. In contrast, I learned that Tajik people are very open and hospitable. Whereas here people tend to be more distant at first, at least that's what I've noticed. I think, over time, more and more foreign students will come to Perm and HSE and communication will become more open; a generation of students will change and less people will define themselves and others on account of ethnic descent.

Zufar: I think this is already happening. For example, third-year students are more open and friendly, compared to the first years. So the older the students are, the more open-minded they become.

Have you noticed that your Russian language skills have improved?

Mukhammad: Conversational practice has greatly helped me identify mistakes that I was making before and to get rid of them. But I think that I should still improve my level of proficiency.

Zufar: In my opinion, it is obvious that my Russian has become much better compared to when I first came to Perm. Nasim and I often participated in extracurricular activities, and this allowed us to practice Russian a lot.

Nasimjon: Unfortunately, when we get home, we'll probably forget some of what we learned.

What course subjects did you find most interesting?

Zufar: I took an 'Institutional Economics' with third-year students. The professor, Marina Sheina, made me think about the subject matter in a new way, and it was very interesting. The class has really influenced my thinking on a lot of things. Coursework was difficult at time, but you get used to it. The biggest hurdle was learning how the educational system here works.

Mukhammad: I would like to highlight 'Organizational Behavior' and 'Human Resource Management'. At first, it was incomprehensible and even boring for me, but with time I got more and more motivated, and it became very exciting to me. Now I’m thinking of pursuing a master's degree in this area.

Nasimjon: Before coming to HSE I was very fond of English and I thought that I was doing well. Here we came to classes, and it seemed to me that the students speak the language at a professional level. I was distressed. The students’ proficiency was much higher than mine. We have also managed to make friends here with the exchange students from England. We hung out with them probably the most. They helped us practice our English. Unfortunately, even when we were making mistakes, they did not correct them. They had managed to understand what we were trying to say. But now it seems to me that if I come to England, anyone can understand me. At home I will definitely continue to learn English.

What are you planning to do this summer?

Zufar: First, we have to do an internship, then complete missed assignments of the second year curriculum.

Mukhammad: During the summer I would like to improve my skills in Russian language and mathematics, because I had some difficulties in those areas.

In 2 years you will graduate. What are you planning to do after university?

Zufar: I'm going to apply for a master’s programme abroad. This is my main goal. If I finish my undergraduate degree with honours, I can apply for master’s programmes right away, otherwise I will have to wait three years according to our Tajik law. I'm going to look at programmes in Turkey and Russia. If I ever return to Russia to study, it's definitely going to be at HSE. Moreover, I already know how everything works here. You can expect to hear from my again.

Nasimjon: First we need to earn our degrees, because before that there is still a lot of time. In an ideal scenario, I would like to get into a graduate programme in the United States. But after this I would return to my homeland. I am the only son in my family and should help my parents.

Who kind of job do you hope to get after graduation?

Zufar: At first, I would work as an employee to gain work experience. But in fact I would not like to work for anyone. I will work out a business plan; I just haven't decided yet what area it will be in. But I intend to start my own business.

Nasimjon: If I find a job in my field, I will be gaining experience. I would like to work in the international sphere with large companies. Perhaps I could become a diplomat and travel a lot.

Mukhammad: At first, I intend to finish my studies. Then, most likely, for some time I will join the business of my brother and relatives. They sell textiles. They can't wait me to graduate. But I don't plan on doing that for many years. 

Do you like living abroad?

Mukhammad: Despite the fact that I have been living on my own for quite a while, my mother used to do everything for me, and I took that for granted. But thanks to the fact that I had to learn to do everything myself here and see how much time it takes, I learned to appreciate the parental support and care I receive from her even more.

Nasimjon: I like living in Russia. When you know that your time here is limited, you try to explore, see, do, and experience as much as possible. You try to see and do things that you can't see or do at home. Perm is a very modern city. It's got large buildings and facilities, hypermarkets... I experienced a lot of things that were new to me here. In addition, living independently improves a variety of life skills a lot. In the future this experience will very useful, because there are a lot of things in adult life that you have to solve on your own. You already know how to react to certain things, how to do various everyday things, like cook yourself a meal or iron your clothes. Also I would like to note that Russian students have unlimited access to the Internet. If we had unlimited Internet at home, we would have much more opportunities than we do now. It allows you to study languages ​​and business areas for free or for money. You can join different groups, use social networks, you can find anything online. In Tajikistan many web-sites are blocked.

Would you advise other students to go to the HSE?

Nasimjon: My friends are already interested in coming here. My friend is already preparing the documents to apply. After my stories, my friends want to come to HSE; they ask me a lot of questions, and I gladly answer. Thanks to our university, we have this wonderful opportunity to go to other universities, learn about the educational systems of other countries, and expand our horizons. Plus, if someone is planning on applying to an HSE master’s programme later on, then coming for a semester is a good decision.

Zufar: Definitely, if you want to increase knowledge and improve your skills, and challenge yourself in your studies, then you need to go to the Higher School of Economics. But if you just want to have fun and see another city, then it will not work. I think that students should consciously think about participating in exchange programmes.

What would you advise to those who might come to Perm to study?

Nasimjon: Get some warm clothes. And talk to those who have already experienced the student exchange beforehand. Apart from that, I highly recommend that everyone visit a real Russian banya, especially in the winter. I was very surprised that people could sit in the heat for half an hour, and then immediately run out into the cold. They have explained to me why this is healthy, but I have already forgotten. But I really enjoyed this experience, perhaps, this is one of the most vivid memories of the entire semester.

Zufar: I would advise you to behave and act with dignity.

Mukhammad: I agree. We would like to represent our home country positively, and it would be unpleasant for me if someone from my university had left not the best impression. But as they say, if you want to become better - stick with those who are better than you. We found ourselves in such an environment, and I am happy.