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Terry Cronin on His Time in Russia

With my semester in Russia having come to an end, I can say that despite some frustrations, I have wholeheartedly enjoyed the opportunity to live and study in this part of the world. With few Americans experiencing either Moscow or Russia itself, I think that it is essential for us to come to understand this country and region. There is perhaps no better way to come to terms with Russia’s importance and its mechanisms for conducting business than to study at an institution such as HSE, which I found to be a fascinating university at which to study, with world class students and professionals from multiple fields, political ideologies and nationalities all coming to the campuses in Moscow.

  

All things considered, it did take me time to settle into Russia. I began my semester living in the HSE dorms close to Moscow City. While it was a decent option for that first week and I got to live with a variety of nationalities, I did not feel that I was living and interacting with as many Russians as I would have liked. Since I spent most of my time in my undergraduate years living in a dormitory, I was determined to secure a different living situation. I then searched for an apartment on the Facebook page called “Flats with Friends,” where I eventually found a suitable room in an apartment that I shared with an HSE alumna. Living in an apartment is a much better alternative, with much more freedom and independence compared to the stricter and more confined living conditions of the dormitories. As a bonus, my flat-mate was also a dog sitter, which meant that an occasional dog would live in our apartment for a week or so.

I was also thankful to participate in events with the Erasmus Student Network at HSE. They did an excellent job of organizing social and cultural outings both within Moscow as well as in other parts of Russia. I got to go to social events with many of the other semester exchange students and engage with an international crowd who shared interests in Russian international relations and politics. I also had the opportunity to participate in language tandems, which were social outings where people could practice their target languages with a native speaker; in my case this involved spending half of my time practicing Russian and the other half helping Russian students refine their English. Cultural outings included a visit to Taganskaya’s Bunker 42, which was a nuclear bunker meant for protecting the Soviet leadership in the event of a nuclear attack. To top it all off, I also got to join ESN on a long weekend excursion to St. Petersburg, where we got to see amazing sights including the Russian miniatures museum, the Hermitage, Gostiny Dvor and St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

In my own travels, I have enjoyed the opportunity to venture out into new parts of the city and see previously unexplored parts of Moscow. With an official population of 12 million people, there really is something for everyone here. For example, I have gone ice skating at VDNH (one of the biggest ice-skating rinks in Europe), seen a variety of Russian music concerts, participated in a Russian tech entrepreneurship event at the Skolkovo Institute, and attended a Comic-Con convention for all forms of pop culture in Moscow.

In terms of everyday interactions with Russians, I have found most of them to be quite nice, especially at HSE. Many have been very accommodating and happy to meet foreigners, and I have also made good friends from with my group partners at HSE. Local people were often in disbelief when meeting me and finding out that I am American, as it seems that Americans are quite a rarity on the streets of Moscow, especially during the winter months. Outside of the big cities, the occasional negative perception of Americans would appear, but when it was directed to me personally, it was often somebody attributing their own attitudes or opinions about the US government or lifestyle to me. Nonetheless, my experiences were very positive overall.

  

Weather-wise, Moscow obviously offers a difference from the sunny and warm winters of my hometown in Florida. Although the weather has been quite cold and rainy, there has not really been much snow here so far in Moscow, which is quite strange for this time of year. The nights have felt long, especially given that it gets dark around 4 p.m. and Russia does not implement daylight savings. Despite the weather, I enjoyed finding time to run, especially while the holiday lights brightened up the city.

All in all, it has been a great semester being here in Moscow. I have spent the last seven months abroad, mostly in Armenia and Russia (with quick visits to Georgia, Turkey, Ukraine and Poland), so I am certainly eager to get back to the U.S. and the Fletcher School to see my family and friends. Nonetheless, I am leaving Russia on a high note by going with a Fletcher friend, Austin Shiner, on the Trans-Siberian railway from Vladivostok to Irkutsk and Novosibirsk. While on the excursion, Austin and I hope to enjoy all the local fish and other foods that Siberia has to offer.

For future students hoping to pursue the semester exchange, I would offer a few pointers for next year. I would suggest first that the student seek out an apartment, as the dorm life is not the most ideal and the prices for apartments are much lower than the Somerville area standard. Choose elective classes that will allow you to interact with first year students. Also, trying out classes in other departments at HSE is essential for the exchange. Personally, I would advise against heavy quantitative-focused courses, as the methods of explaining some of the theories and concepts are quite difficult for a native English speaker to understand. Taking the time to learn about Russian culture and the language is also quite a necessity, with the time invested certainly paying dividends later while in country.

To conclude, I would offer three things that an exchange student from Fletcher going to HSE should not miss.

  • The International Entrepreneurship class, which I found to be an engaging class, especially in a country which only about 30 years ago was behind the Iron Curtain
  • The opportunity to enjoy the winter weather by going ice skating on many of the rinks in Moscow, with VDNH’s 20,000 square meters being the most enjoyable of all
  • Activities and outings to get to know your classmates: they come from all regions of the globe and all have an interesting story about why they are in Russia studying International Business

До следующего раза Вышка!

(Until Next time HSE!)

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