Education abroad has always been a dream since childhood. Moscow wasn’t the main city on my scale of preference as I had a dream of living and studying in Hamburg, Amsterdam, London, Ontario or Sydney which are all great cities in this world.
Ghanaian people know general information about Russia – it’s a cold country somewhere between Europe and Asia, previously it was the Soviet Union, currently the president is Vladimir Putin, they are racist and cold, they don’t like black people, what food are you going to eat, the weather will make you smoke 24/7, they drink alcoholic wines more than water etc.
But what about Moscow? Few people know that it is the capital of modern Russia, a dynamic and historic metropolis, a place that is very cosmopolitan with different race and ethnic background and very beautiful. Apart from these obvious parts, there are some specific features that Ghanaians and most western cultures should know about Russia and, in particular, Moscow.
Russia is home to many leading universities like Moscow State University, Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Peoples Friendship University etc. So why did I apply to the Higher School of Economics (or HSE, for short)?
In addition to the compelling facts and figures that I found on HSE website, I wanted to gain international exposure in academics, culture diversity, learn a foreign language, experience living conditions away from my comfort zone and also build my personal capacity in terms of technical and practical experience which were lacking in my home country. HSE offers wide range of English-taught Master’s program for my area of studies, “Development studies” so I applied for a program Population and Development so I could improve my knowledge in the area related to growing population trends in the global south in relation to resource distribution and development. After my master’s programme, I want to use my skills and knowledge to support global development by working with an international organization preferably World Bank, United Nations, or any Aid-Agencies as a research fellow, policy analysts or social development personnel.
My education so far has been “from knowing to better understanding” rather than “from nothing to something”. Over the last four months, I have learned much about development practices in less and middle income countries and population trends in developing countries which is affecting their growth.
Traveling alone to a mysterious country for two years can understandably cause you to feel nervous. Before I arrived in Moscow, HSE had planned for a «buddy» to help me settle in. HSE’s buddy program organizes Russian student volunteers («buddies») to help foreign students adapt to their new environments and navigate through registrations. After passing through the immigration check point, I met my buddy Alisa and her friends. They helped me with my 2 heavy luggages (I was moving here for two years, after all) and we entered the Mini bus and later to the metro station, and everyone wanted to speak to me and ask me how it is in Africa. We were obviously struggling with the bags along our routes so some other people took the initiative to help us. It reminded me how Ghanaian people always think of Russian people as being «indifferent», «serious» and «cold» — I wasn’t expecting to discover on my first day in Moscow how enthusiastic and warm Russians are. In the dormitory, I got to meet my roommate Kosta (Russian from Tomsk) and he didn’t only helped me to settle in, got me familiar with the local area, and register at HSE.
Initially I was worried about four main things; language barrier, food to eat, new education system, weather conditions. I was later surprised to know that it was nothing to be worried about. In the metro and the streets of Moscow, I found out that most Russians can speak a little bit of English because in their first three grades of school, English is a compulsory language of study. Also, there are big supermarkets and shops around the city and every walking distance, you will find a place to buy something you need and affordable too. The condition with the weather was very cool when I first experience the snow and I couldn’t believe how nature looks awesome and beautiful. You just have to dress well and cover most part of your body before stepping out of the building and you will be fine by eating good food (vegetables, fruits, cereal) with hot coffee.
The dorms provide international students with a safe place to live in Moscow and the staff helps you to register in Russia after your arrival. All that you have to do is to pick up your new migration card from HSE’s main campus near the Lubyanka metro station. HSE’s dorms are filled with Russian and international students, making it easy to make new friends from all over the world. The most common gathering place is the kitchen, where everyone cooks traditional dishes while sharing life experiences, telling stories, or having discussions. In addition, sometimes during the weekend students will invite other students to try traditional dishes from their home countries. Through this, students get a taste of new exotic cuisines while also learning about the different cultural traditions of other countries.
At the dorms you realize that (almost) every day is a holiday somewhere. International students organize celebrations in the dorm at the dorm for holidays in their home countries and invite other students to take part and share the happiness together. The hosts often even dress in traditional costumes and introduce their fellow students to special features of their countries’ cultures. Living in the dorms is a great way to be part of a global cultural exchange. Through this personal form of cultural diplomacy you will learn about all different cultures and be able to introduce international students to your own as well.
The first week at HSE was full of administrative procedures, such as applying for visa extensions and receiving student cards and passes. I was impressed by how smoothly these processes went — it was quite different from my former universities. Explanations were clear and detailed and everything felt efficient. Within a week I had taken care of most of the formalities. This made me feel greatly relieved, since I no longer had to worry about administrative issues and could focus entirely on our studies. Moreover, in the first week, HSE held the orientation session for foreign students. I learned all about studying at HSE, living in Moscow, and other useful tips to help me better enjoy my experience in Russia. My experience in the first week gave me a really good first impression of HSE and Moscow. HSE’s administrative staff (international student support, faculty of social science study office) were very helpful, responsive, and efficient, making international students feel safe when they immediately arrive.