Exchange Program: an Interview with a Student from South Africa
I am currently a second-year Postgraduate student in the course Knowledge and Information Systems Management offered at Stellenbosch University. As part of this course, we have had the opportunity to interact, and have lectures presented by Professors from various institutions internationally.
I have always had two main goals that I work towards. I have always wanted to remain in academics, as I want to be able to research, learn new things and pass this knowledge on. The second goal is that I want to do something meaningful with my life.
We had the opportunity to have a lecture from Professor Kuznetsov, the school head from the Computer Sciences faculty at HSE. The exchange program with HSE is fairly new and when we learned of the exchange I saw this as an opportunity to learn about a country and a language that I did not know much about, to gain valuable knowledge and to further my goals of doing something meaningful with my life.
Thus far I have been able to be a part of various activities at HSE to help promote HSE and SU, and I hope that everything I’ve learned here will also help the next international students from SU when they apply for the exchange.
My favorite subject at HSE thus far has been the Scrum Methodology and Project Management course taught by Professor Boris Klimov. This course has been most applicable to my career and the discussions were focused on real-life problems faced in development companies. When academics can resonate with actual industry application, it is most valuable.
I would have to say that the main difference between my Home University and HSE is the amount of time spent on classes and travel. The faculty buildings are quite spread out over Moscow and it can easily take an hour to get to class with the metro, versus a couple of minutes you would have to walk to get to your next class on the Stellenbosch University campus. The classes at HSE are also much longer than the classes at SU. Even in the bachelor's program some of the classes at HSE were easily 3 or 4 hours long in blocked periods. Having an evening class meant that you would only get back to the dormitory at around 10 pm in the evening which in winter is quite something to get used to as a foreigner.
I would say that my future plans would be to spend the time after my graduation to write up my research proposal so that I may hopefully continue my postgraduate studies at the Socio-Informatics department in 2020. As I work and study at the same time it has taken longer to finish my postgraduate program but I wish to keep going. I try to balance what I learn at the University with my career so that the application of my knowledge in the workplace gives me time to think of new innovative ideas for research.
Upon arrival in Russia, I would have to say my main difficulties were getting from the airport to the dormitory. In all my time here I have not felt as lost as that first couple of hours at the airport. Everything else has been fairly easy to figure out with the support of fellow students. When I landed at Domodedovo I expected there to be more people who are able to speak English. I was also unable to exchange money at the airport and my roaming for my South African SIM card did not work. The WiFi at the airport also only works very intermittently. I would say the support for students to get to the dormitory and get settled in is scarce and not well planned which makes the first couple of hours very terrifying if you have never traveled anywhere this far from home before.
I actually never made a conscious decision to study IT but my life worked out this way and I don’t regret it. My first course at University was in agriculture and I always thought I would work somewhere on a farm. After a year I decided to change direction and switched to a degree course in Psychology in the Humanities. As part of this program, I needed a few credits and took a very new module they were offering called Socio-Informatics. This module taught the basics of development and management.
After I finished my first degree, I did not have the financial aid to further my studies and applied for work and my most marketable skill was this experience I had gained in development and management. After having worked in IT for a couple of years I went back to Stellenbosch University and applied for the Postgraduate program in the Socio-Informatics department. I am very grateful for this direction my academic career has taken and this department and course has become the most valuable to me.
I love Russia and Moscow. I know people say that this is only the first time I have traveled internationally but I firmly believe that something about the people and culture really resonates with me. I would very much like to come back to Moscow sometime in the future and I don’t think I will ever forget my time and experiences here. There is something very beautiful and unique about life in Russia. I have found the city to be very safe and clean with a good quality of living. It is a great experience to be able to take public transport to explore any part of the city and to have that mobility.
I am unsure if these count as traditions but my favorite cultural aspects thus far have been of Ded Moroz or “Grandfather Frost” and the “Snow Maiden” or Snegurochka as figures during the holiday season. I would have to say this is my favorite cultural tale I have learned of thus far. I also found the Russian tradition of dipping or swimming in the icy cold water during winter very interesting. I hope to have the chance someday to see this in person. I have been told that the experience is not as cold as one would expect because our bodies perceive temperatures that are that low as being boiling and not freezing making the water feel hot. I do not think I will ever try it myself to see if this is the case.
My most existing memory of my time here has been of an old man sitting in the metro. I have noticed the occasional older people asking for money in the metro. They usually stand off to one side very quietly holding out a cup or their hand. I see these people and I always wonder about their history, and of the time period and changes in Russia that they have lived through. I turned around to go to him and his joy at receiving a donation that day and his thank you will always be a very deep-rooted memory for me of my time here. These older people you see quietly trying to get by with their many memories of a time I do not know of. I sincerely hope for the best for them.
I would say that there is definitely a marked difference between the two cultures. Everyday life in Russia has this quiet sense of purpose where every person is on their way somewhere to go about their business. The people in Moscow mostly keep to themselves but open up to you when you see them regularly and they get to know you, and then you realize that the people are for the most part kind and very interesting. The public spaces are still very quiet though.
In South Africa, I would say that the culture is much more interactive and daily life is loud and busy. Wherever you go, people interact quite a bit more with each other. There is more natural social interaction between strangers where I live versus my experience of living in Moscow.
I have only started to miss things now at the end of my trip as the time spent here has become longer. I would have to say as much as I have tried to apply myself to learn some Russian I still very much miss having long conversations in English. It is sometimes very difficult to express oneself properly with locals and even with international students who speak broken English. Other more mundane things I definitely miss now is a classic Spur burger, our famous Mrs. Ball’s chutney sauce, the very cheesy Bubbles chips snack you can buy at the local store in SA as most of the stores here only have versions of chips with Smetana. I also very much miss the longer days and the sunlight we have back home. I have spoken to other Africans here and we can all agree the African sun is something different. I struggle to get used to it already being dark between 3 pm and 4 pm in the afternoon.
Another difference between Moscow and the Western Cape is that there aren’t as many animals here, and even though you would see the occasional small dog, cat or pigeon you do not have much interaction with pets or wildlife. It does, however, mean I have lived here for four months mosquito free, which any Capetonian would tell you is ‘хорошо’.
I feel that I should mention that although I have been busy here with my studies I have also been continuing my postgraduate work at SU and I am immensely grateful for the support of my classmates in this time that I have been abroad. Our study group always made an effort to ensure that I do not fall behind, that they skype me for groups, and I am very proud of everyone from my class who graduated in December. My own graduation has been deferred to March for when I am back in the country. It would have been much harder for me to continue if not for the support of the KISM group back home.