‘I think a Russian university was the right choice’
Norihiko Nakano is a 37-year-old student from Japan who wanted to study the construction of smart city abroad by the time he turns 40. This year he successfully graduated the St Petersburg University’s preparatory course and made his wish come true by entering the master’s programme ‘Smart City Management (MSC)’ at the Graduate School of Management of the University. We asked him a couple of questions about his experience, choice of university, and tips for other students.
Preparatory course student Dragana Labanac, a student from Serbia says "I See the Combination of Distance and Classical Learning as the Best Solution for the Students"
What influenced your decision to study the Russian language?
My decision to learn the Russian language was connected to my deep interest and passion for literature as well as for Russian culture in general. Since my youth up until now, I have been fascinated and overwhelmed by the ingeniousness of Russian classical writers and poets. But my decision to study the Russian language came about when I started to read the modern Russian writer, Victor Pelevin. His novels are in a sense a sublimation of my previous interests. In my opinion, they reflect the main line thoughts and philosophical ideas starting from the middle of the 20th century up until now. I believe that’s a great value of his work.
The second reason, I decided to study the Russian language was connected to the beauty of the language. That beauty is manifesting itself through a particular melody of the language, which in a certain way, sounds archaic and ancient. The sound and melody of the language are bringing to life something of meaningful and old which cannot be translated to another language. When I was finally able to read some of my favourite poets, such as Anna Akhmatova, I was overwhelmingly happy. Moreover, poetry always loses some of its beauty in translations, and I feel blessed to be able to read it in the original.
Preparatory course student Luka Stevanović, a student from Serbia says "Only a month after starting the course, I successfully passed the TORFL-1 exam"
He told us about his expectations, plans for the future and impressions of the Russian education system.
Why did you choose to study in Russia?
As a lawyer I always thought of my profession as a particularly interesting and challenging one. Interesting because of the variety of personalities we meet in our everyday work; challenging because we must constantly seek new knowledge in order to provide our clients with innovative solutions to their problems, while at the same time meeting the high ethical standards of our profession.
That need to expand my knowledge made me apply to study for a master’s after finishing my two years long mandatory internship in Serbia. Russia was my choice because I think that it has highly developed industry and trade relations with other countries, both eastern and western. It is a perfect place to get an insight into legal practice in certain areas of law that do not exist in practice in many other countries, or the practice in such areas is not as developed as it’s the case with Russia.
Jeremy Grunner (International Relations, Russian language)
What do think about the curriculum? How was the educational process organised?
The issues in International Relations that we discussed in class seemed to me rather generalised. In the second semester, I started attending classes taught in Russian and my experience improved significantly. Besides, I noticed how Russians study. I was amazed at how freely Russian students speak in class, it differs from France.
Concerning Russian lessons, I found them wonderful. My goal was to learn Russian, and I was constantly practicing every day: I read newspapers, watched videos, forced myself to speak Russian with people, and even in the metro I studied Russian using a mobile application.
Were you able to take part in the Introduction Week events?
Yes, I’m glad I was able to take part in these events! We were fortunate – we had the opportunity to live in a dormitory with other international students. Before starting our studies, we participated in various cultural, sports and linguistic activities together each day. For instance, we had a Speed Friending event, evenings of international cuisine, and a language tandem programme for mutual learning of Russian and foreign languages. Thanks to these activities, my knowledge of the Russian language improved and I made a good friend, with whom we still keep in touch.
Thi Than Dang (Journalism and Culture of Society)
Fortunately, I did not have to overcome difficulties on my own. Of course, after the first shock, I pulled myself together, but I could not have done it without the help from my teachers. They patiently taught me the journalistic profession, helped and prompted me when I did not understand something. I gained a lot of knowledge from them about journalism and mass communications, and learned how to write media content. It is not for nothing that they say in Vietnam: ‘No one can succeed without the help of a teacher.’
Bedirhan Ziyanak (History and Theory of Nations and the Issues of Nationalism)
I read a lot in books about St Petersburg. When I came here, I began to get to know the city, walked around it a lot. And I saw it for myself how truly historical it is. My friends from Turkey who had moved here also said that they ‘feel a special atmosphere here’. I replied to them that it is created by the history that permeates the city as it is in every building and every street.
If you had to choose three main things that the University and your stay in Russia have given to you, what would you name?
The first thing is traditions. The University has its own university traditions and they are felt very conspicuously. The second thing is its academic staff. Thanks to them, in two years, new points of view have opened to me, and my worldview has changed. The third one is people. There are a lot of both Russian and international students at the University, and there are Russians not only from St Petersburg, but from very different cities of Russia. By communicating with them, you can study very different stories, traditions, cultures, and meet with the whole world at the University. For me, this is a great advantage of the University.
Judy Synofzik (Chemical Pharmacology, Institute of Chemistry)
I came to St Petersburg University to do an internship in the Chemical Pharmacology laboratory. During the time here, I was researching β-Lactam synthesis. The first application for this research, and the most famous one, is antibiotics.
The scientific level here is very-very high, I’m impressed by how smart the people are – both professors and fellow colleagues. My supervisor Olga Bakulina is amazing. When I came here a year ago, we were just talking about Chemistry and I felt really challenged to keep up with this level of conversation.
I’m researching a very interesting topic, it’s much more interesting than what the working groups at my home university are dealing with. Also, I love my SPbU working group. The colleagues are so nice, I enjoy spending time with them personally and also on a scientific level. I feel very comfortable in the lab and wish to return to St Petersburg University for my PhD.
Hunter Cawood (Graduate School of Management)
What were your expectations before moving to Russia for your studies?
My expectation was that I would love it. And that expectation wasn’t met, it was exceeded. It was challenging at times, I overcame a lot of adversity, but it was incredibly rewarding.
Can you think of any experiences you had during your master’s program which probably wouldn’t have happened if you had stayed at a US university?
Where do I start: I’ve had opportunities to speak at TedxTalk, consult for Dell EMC, star in commercials for Russian companies marketing to the US, play semi-professional football, and pitch a startup in front of hundreds of experts and investors.
What is the community of international students like in St Petersburg?
Our international student community was diverse and tight-knit. We had students from all over the world: Germany, Zambia, China, Chile, and the list goes on. That said, Russians were also a huge part of that community. We were constantly intertwined. The Russian students in my program went above and beyond to help us adapt and make us feel welcomed.
How would you describe the university and Russia to other international students who are considering applying to study there?
St Petersburg University Graduate School of Management is the Harvard Business School of Russia. It’s where you go to become the best in the business.
The professors are both experienced professionals and scholars with the highest pedigree of professionalism. They’ll invest you and give you opportunities to take theory into practice. It’ll be challenging, but it’ll be worth it.
Fereidouni Mohsen (General Medicine)
What made you decide to come to Russia and apply to St Petersburg University?
I think that St Petersburg University is the number one university in Russia, the best. The first time I applied, I came up two points short of getting in, but I hadn’t applied anywhere else. I had set my sights on this University because this is where I wanted to study, and nowhere else. The second time, I studied the language and put everything I had into getting myself prepared. I checked every last word in my essay and motivation letter, so I wouldn’t make a single mistake. Now I’m on a scholarship. I really like it that everything here is in good order. Of course, it’s not easy, and I have to spend a lot of time on my studies, but I think that what they give you here is a real higher education, one that you can be proud of.
Mohamad Abdelaal (Geophysics)
What brought you to Russia?
I was choosing between three countries with strong space exploration facilities. So, I was thinking to either go to America, where NASA is located, or to Russia because of Roscosmos, or to the European Space Agency in Switzerland. Besides that, I wanted to study my own field – Geoscience. I love all of the mysteries related to what’s going on under the ground.
And how did you end up in SPbU?
It was a bit of a risk because at the same time I got a contract at Saudi Arabia to work as a Head of the Space Centre. It was a really high position for a boy of just 25. But at that time, I thought I still needed more knowledge and experience, so I chose SPbU and decided that the position would come to me anyway in the future.
How do you find St Petersburg?
St Petersburg is one of my favorite cities! As soon as I came here, I saw how beautiful the city was. People here are quite different, they are more cultural and quite open.
Sasha Kirkham (Russian language, Political Science department)
Why are you studying Russian?
My mum and half of my family is Russian. I’ve always had a pretty good grasp of understanding Russian, but I wasn’t good at speaking it. So, I wanted to get more in touch with half of me. Also, as much as I dislike grammar, Russian grammar makes a lot of sense, it is very scientific. I think Russian books are great, I’m reading “Master and Margarita” for the third time.
Can you tell a bit about your study program?
I actually really enjoy the fact that the education is completely in Russian, it is more challenging that way. We dedicate a lot of time to studying but it’s interesting. I also receive a lot of homework, the amount is bigger than in England, but we get Fridays off for activities. And also, I feel like we both have already learned a lot, especially the confidence in speaking to people has grown greatly.
Why did you decide to come to St Petersburg?
I’ve been here a couple of times before and I loved it so-so much! Also, I think for a lot of people who have never been to Russia, coming to St Petersburg could be a good idea because it’s like dipping your toe into the country. It’s not a massive shock like Moscow could be, but rather an easier way into Russian standards.
Mao Rundong came to Russia from China to study at SPbU School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Six years later, he is speaking fluent Russian, running business-projects and following a Master’s programme at the department of International Relations. Mao Rundong loves listening to Tchaikovsky operas in Mariinsky theatre and calls himself “almost-guide” around the Hermitage, having visited it 20 times with friends and relatives who travelled to St Petersburg.
- How did you choose to come to Russia in the first place?
- As I was studying at school, I decided to enter a university abroad. Japan was my first choice, but at that time the relations between Japan and China got colder, and a class where I could learn Japanese didn’t commence. So it was fate that I went with my second choice and began learning Russian.
Also, I was interested in Russian culture which is very popular in China. For example, Gogol, Chekhov and Tolstoy are quite famous; and we even read Pushkin poems in our Literature class.
Russia is a country with profound culture, and St Petersburg University (SPbU), as one of the most well-known universities in Russia, has been cultivating a lot of talents who have been dedicated to the country, even the world. This must be my honor to study here since I would enjoy abundant accomplishments that have been accumulated over a long period of time, in other words, I would stand on the shoulders of giants. Beyond that, SPbU provides a plenty of opportunities and resources for students, such as exchange programs, guest lecturers from various areas, and so on. That means this university is inclusive and international as well. Old but not rigid, indigenous but international, this contradiction attracted me and made me look forward to living and studying in SPbU.
St Petersburg is the city that I expect to live, since it is full of historical architecture that make the city mysterious and charming. It is quite beautiful, especially in spring and summer.
SPbU has been cultivating lots of giants, such as Dimitri Mendeleev whom I know from chemistry class, and President Putin. It is so exciting and I am proud of being alumni with them! What’s more, the majority of professors and students are open-minded, and respectable. I can be involved into such an open and inclusive environment, in order to develop and improve myself. That is the most unforgettable impression when I studied here in the first month.
The master programme emphasizes on training students’ abilities of observation, cooperation, and communication, with providing various courses. Through learning from professors and classmates, I have developed an ability of analyzing a case or issue from business perspective, and figuring out causal relationships behind problems. Besides, either individual or group presentation, as a common but necessary part, was required in every course. From the first presentation to the defense, I can see my improvements. It helped me to speak in public confidently and bravely.
I like traveling, so I went to different parts in St Petersburg, and other cities in Russia, such as Moscow, and Sochi. I own many memorable experiences here, especially friends I have made. Some are locals, and others are from other countries. All of them make my life in Russia wonderful and memorable, meanwhile, I have touched different culture that enrich my experience.
Yes, I would. Living and studying in SPbU is an exciting and wonderful experience, and people would be involved in an open and inclusive environment.
Basically, learn the university, such as history, culture and faculties. As far as everything were figured out, you would have been involved as soon as possible. Believe me, after you finish, you will be proud of being a student here, and looking forward to studying here.
Psychologically, be humble and confident. This university accepts the most talented and excellent students in Russia, that means the competition is fierce. On the other hand, this is a good opportunity for you to join them and learn from them. In this case, you should be humble like a sponge to absorb much more “water”. Meanwhile, do not lose confidence, because each has shining points, you should know how to shine them as well.
Field of studies at SPbU: International Relations
Languages you speak: English and French
Why did you choose SPbU?
I chose SPbU because it was one of the best university in the Russian Federation. I wanted to visit Russia because it is a country that is not scared to defend its ideas on the international level. In many aspects, the Motherland is interesting for me. There is many different ethnic groups that live and mix together. The history and the culture of Russia are fascinating. Moreover, the persona of Vladimir Putin alone is very captivating by its power and sense of patriotism.
3 tips for future exchange students:
Jonas Wishollek: In Germany you just study the law as it is written in the books
Jonas Wishollek studied three years at the University of Freiburg and come to St Petersburg to study Russian law and literature. In his interview to Fontanka, he told us through the differences as to how the law works in Russia and Germany, meetings, and female self-renunciation.
- You have been studying at the Faculty of Law for seven months so far. Do we teach as the Germans do?
– When I came here, I was astonished by the quality of education in Russia. Education in the Faculty of Law is research-driven, and they have very high requirements to students. In Germany, it is enough to study law as it is written in the books since Germany acts within the law. In Russia, a lecturer fist explains what the law implies and then how it works in practice. What is written in books and how it works in practice makes a big difference.
- What branch of law do you mean?
– I studied the constitutional law. The constitution often describes a principle that can contradict the law and the way how it works in practice. For example, the Constitution grants a freedom to have meetings in Russia. The same is granted by the Constitution in Germany. Yet in fact, to be able to have a meeting in Russia you have to get a permission from your employer, although the Constitution says nothing about it.
- In Germany you don’t have to get a permission?
– You do. Many people think that it is wrong, as the Constitution says nothing about it. In Freiburg, people systematically have meetings without getting permission from their employers.
- How to become a judge in Germany?
– First, five years of study. You have to pass the first state exams and get a degree. The exams are not related to practice. You just study the law, Constitution, and solve the cases in the books. Then you have to work for two years: half a year in the court, half a year as an advocate, half a year in the administration, while you can choose where to work during the last half a year. Then you have to pass the second state exams and you become a lawyer. Now you can apply to work in the court. The best graduates get job offers in the court when they are about 26-27 years old.
- Aren’t they too young?
– May be, but they make decision in collaboration with the experienced colleagues.
- Apart from the law, do you study the Russian literature?
– Yes, I do. For one seminar, I read Ostrovsky’s The Storm, It's a Family Affair-We'll Settle It Ourselves, and A Profitable Position. In Russia, those characters are positive who are capable of self-renunciation. It is regarded as a heroic act. Often it is useless. It destroys a person. You don’t have to constantly tell that they are good and serve to public interests.
By Elena Vaganova, Fontanka.ru
Field of studies at SPbU: International Relations
Languages you speak: Russian, German, English
Why did you choose SPbU?
I really wanted to spend my first trip to Russia in St. Petersburg as I have heard only very positive reviews from people who have visited this town. My exchange semester provided me with this opportunity and as my home university maintains a partnership with the SPBU and the SPBU´s faculty of international relations has a high reputation, the choice was clear for me.
3 tips for future exchange students
Field of studies at SPbU: Faculty of International Relations, focusing on foreign affairs
Languages you speak: English
Why did you choose SPbU?
Russia is a key player in international affairs, and learning such a unique and challenging language was definitely something that I was interested in. I had learnt about the history of the Soviet Union during school and was always intrigued by it and by the culture of the country. It was only a matter of deciding where in Russia to study. SPbU’s website was extremely attractive in comparison to the other universities I came across. The study program suited me perfectly and there were a wide range of courses for me to select from. Looking at the alumni that the university had produced, the biggest name to strike my attention was President Vladimir Putin. From the early stages of getting in contact with the university, they helped me out with my questions and this made the selection process much easier. It was not a hard decision once I had settled on Russia, and while the language barrier was and still is a challenge, it is a challenge I will always be grateful for.
3 tips for future exchange students
1) Make sure you learn the basics of the language. I spent a few months completing two basic courses which allowed me to read, and that proved to be a huge difference. Not being able to speak and understand is hard, however if you can read the language it helps significantly
2) Be open to absolutely everything. Never say no regardless of whether you don’t like something or are not sure if you’ll enjoy it. Even if you do not end up enjoying a particular activity or event, you get to meet people and during the first month it’s important to meet as many people as possible.
3) This tip never applied to me, but avoid hanging out with people from the same country as you and only speaking in that language. Being the only Australian was a bonus as I met tons of people from all over Europe, and I did meet a few native English speakers after a month or so and that definitely felt good. If you don’t leave you’re comfort zone then you won’t be able to enjoy the whole exchange experience.
Period of studies at SPbU: spring semester 2017-2018
Field of studies at SPbU: Economics
Languages you speak: Russian, English
Why did you choose SPbU?
3 tips for future exchange students:
Nantarat Fumfan, a student from Thailand says "Here is my home from home and my second family"
Nantarat Fumfan, a citizen of the Kingdom of Thailand, is already studying on a second degree programme at St Petersburg University. In 2015, she received a bachelor's degree in Advertising and Public Relations. Two years later, after returning to Bangkok, she entered the programme “Company Economics”.
We asked Nantarat what professional career she has chosen, why she has come to St Petersburg again, and what challenges she faces here.
Tell us about how you entered the bachelor’s programme of the University.
After finishing school, I entered a Thailand University in the Faculty of Philology and began to study Russian. My teacher suggested applying for a scholarship to study in Russia. I submitted the necessary documents to the embassy and in August I learned that I had won a grant. I was enrolled at St Petersburg University on the programme "Advertising and Public Relations." This programme was recommended to me, and I myself realised that it was right for me.
What did you find difficult during the first stage of higher education?
Of course, the first year was very difficult. I hardly understood what they were talking about at lectures. Also, relations with Russian friends did not develop, because we felt embarrassed with each other and could not communicate in the same language. Moreover, in the beginning I lived far away from the university, and it took me four hours a day to get here. But it was all of this that taught me to be strong, to overcome difficulties and to live on my own.
During my second year, I made friends and we spent our free time together. They taught me Russian and introduced me to Russian culture. Thanks to this, it became easier for me to study. I succeeded in listening to lectures and making notes, performing tasks, and preparing reports. I passed all the exams and defended well my qualification research “Adaptation of a foreign brand's communication policy to a local market”. During my studies, I became convinced that St Petersburg University provides high-level education. It is very difficult to pass an exam or a pass/fail test at the University.
Having finished the bachelor’s programme, I received a St Petersburg University degree. Now I feel at home: here is my home from home and my second family.
What was your career like after receiving a bachelor's degree?
After graduating from the University, I returned to Bangkok and began to build my career ladder. For a year, I worked as a visa officer at the consular section of the New Zealand Embassy in Bangkok. I cannot say that the work was very well paid, but still I gained the required practical experience. Moreover, to my own surprise, I discovered that not only English, but also Russian is in demand in this position. Suddenly it became clear that it is Russian that is native for many applicants.
While working at the visa application centre, I continued to go to job interviews. Finally, I got a job as head of the customer service department at SHOWDC, a large retail company. My area of responsibility had become much wider. From the first day of work in the new office, I was engaged in planning corporate activities, coordinating work with foreign directors, managers and employees, and working closely with the marketing, sales, and financial departments.
Why did you decide to go into further academic study, why did you come back to St Petersburg University?
The fact that I had been lucky to get a job at SHOWDC gave me a sounder vision of the future. The position of the department head is very responsible and requires a lot. So, I wanted to get a degree in economics. It would help me to find my place as a manager. I am convinced that in order to understand the functioning of corporate structures, it is necessary to have an in-depth professional economic education. Only in this way I will be able to successfully interact with various social and economic groups related to the development of the corporation, and carry out effective management activities according to the current economic and social situation.
What are you doing now?
Now I am a final-year student of the master’s programme of St Petersburg University in Economics. I’m specialised in Company Economics and Economics of Innovative Activities. To be honest, learning is not easy. I have faced a lot of difficulties. Among the most complex disciplines I can name are macro and microeconomics, econometrics, risk management, and analysis of financing. But I think that everything is going well for me, partly thanks to the help of my fellow students and university lectures. My family from Thailand always encourages and supports me.
What are your plans for the future?
After getting a master’s degree, I’m planning to return to Thailand and continue to develop my career there. I want to be with my parents and family and to take care of them.
Tell us about your favourite places in the city. What do you like about St Petersburg?
I’m in love with St Petersburg with all my heart. When I went back to Thailand, I often recalled the Northern Capital and the happy time I had spent with my friends here. I like a lot of places in this city: Nevsky Prospect, the palaces, the Hermitage, Peterhof and a lot of other places. Also, I like Vyborg very much. Moreover, I would like to visit other Russian cities and regions such as Murmansk, Altai, and the Crimea.
Russia is a big country. There are so many different and interesting places, cultures and nations here! Perhaps this is the reason why not only residents of Russia dream of travelling around the country, but also many foreigners.