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"Good Strategy is to do Bachelor's Program in Russia"

"Good Strategy is to do Bachelor's Program in Russia"

Andres Puello from Colombia, a first-year student of the Applied Economics master program finds out from Irina Iakimenko, Strategic Corporate Finance'2020 and Erzhena Khobrakova, Applied Economics'2020 (both from Russia) how their dual degree programs with Humboldt University and Lancaster University worked out. The text is shortened and edited for clarity.

Irina:  I started my bachelor studies in Fundamental linguistics and computational linguistics at HSE University, and after two years I transferred to Economics undergraduate program, also at HSE University. Then  I started my master program Strategic Corporate Finance in 2018 and I participated in the double degree program between HSE University and Humboldt University, Berlin starting from 2019. I already knew a little German for my linguistic studies and Germany is not so expensive. This year I graduated from both universities and have two diplomas.  A  little tip if you are planning a  double degree program you should probably care about it in advance and have certificates and then apply. In my case their decision was spontaneous, I decided to participate in September and then I had only six or seven months to pass IELTS and GRE. The deadline for application is in March, but if you consider applying to the DAAD scholarship their deadline is in October, since I did not have time to apply to DAAD I just applied to Humboldt. The Humboldt admission decision process is a black box but you can see the statistics from previous years. They look at GRE quantitative scores. The expected GRE quantitative score is about  164 and I had a little less - 161 but this was enough. 
Humboldt has a formal orientation for admitted students. They require a blocked account for a year and monthly expenses should be 850 euros per month, so before applying you should show that you have finances for a year and put it on a blocked account, for example, Raiffeisen bank. I think I’ve spent a little more since rent has become quite high during recent years. Food allowance is about  150 EURO per month and of course insurance is also 100 Euro per month.  

At  HSE University a lot of attention is paid to group projects. You can do some homework during the semester and ensure a minimum grade accumulated scores. At Humboldt University you study only for yourself, there is no group work, no graded homework during the semester,  so you start on your own. This is your responsibility and then you just register for the exam at the end of the semester and it’s whether you pass it or not. So, what you get at the exam - this is your final grade for the subject, and I like it.  This system for me is probably even easier because the only thing you have to do is to pass the exam, so you listen to lectures, learn it, probably by heart, and you can pass. Bachelor’s study at HSE provides technical skills that make your life easier at a master’s outside of Russia. I’ve had finance at  HSE and continued finance at Humboldt and there was a lot of overlapping.  Often I deepened my knowledge in some topic. My major was in finance at bachelor study so this was the fourth year of finance. My program - Strategic Corporate Finance, so I had econometrics, micro, and macro that was helpful. Students from Russia tend to have more developed technical skills and math compared with students from other countries.  

I was lucky to study in person during the first semester and to do the second semester online. So I have experience in both. I had to organize my day by myself to devote time to lecture, seminars, self-studying,  sports, to have enough sleep, since, when you study in class your day is scheduled in some way. You know when you go to university, when your fitness opens or closes. When you are at home you have to do it yourself,  have a lot of self-discipline. 

In Humboldt, there is no thesis defense. You just register for your thesis, then you have three months to write it. and then you send it through regular mail, and that's it! At HSE defense was arranged online in the zoom. I think it's easier than in person because they can only see your face. and not your trembling legs or something like that. My plan now is to finish my half-year internship here. If you graduate in Germany, you can apply for an 18 months visa to find a job.  You should work in the field you majored in. For example, my major was finance, so I should find work related to finance or economics. I can't go now to IT or to biology. 

I improved my German language dramatically, from A2 to C1. In Humboldt a German language class during the semester which lasts approximately four months you pay 40 euros and it takes place once a week for three hours. In the pandemic, it's so difficult to practice your language because you stay at home and there is nobody with whom you can speak neither English nor German so now it has become more difficult. At work, we speak English.  Berlin is a city of startups and in startups, there are many young people who come here also and they speak predominantly English in big cities so usually there is no problem. 

I hope this information will be helpful to future master’s students. 

Erzhena: I did my bachelor’s at HSE University, Economics program and then I did my master’s also at HSE University and I participated in the double degree program with Lancaster university. At the moment I have two master’s degrees, one is in Applied economics and another is a master of science in Money, banking, and finance from Lancaster University. We had a History minor with Irina together at some point during my bachelor studies. For me study abroad was a dream from the second year of my bachelor's so this was one of the main reasons that I applied for masters and then  I applied to Sorbonne university in Paris and got the offer, later I had an opportunity to apply to Lancaster and I’ve always loved English wanted to study either in the UK or in the US! It was a big dream of mine and I knew that I would do some kind of study abroad in my master's - double degree or just study abroad for one semester. I got some funding from Lancaster, there was a huge discount for HSE University students and I also got department scholarships and  Erasmus+ scholarship. Because my program at HSE was Applied Economics, while at Lancaster it was a combination of economics and finance, I had more group projects, because finance assignments are always done in groups when you have to evaluate a company or something like this.  Also, I had fewer classes and had to work more on my own in the library. The timing of one class was a bit different. For example, if at HSE University we have like 80  minutes class, in Lancaster we had a two-hour slot for one class with 10 minutes break after the first 50 minutes, and then when it was one hour and 50 minutes, we would just go to the next class. In terms of difficulty, I think it was a bit easier for me only because I was studying hard and working on my GPA to apply. I had a good foundation for everything and I think it wasn't that difficult but sometimes I still had to challenge myself, mostly in finance projects, because I had done a lot of economics in bachelor's and master’s, while the finance part was a bit harder.  It seems quite a good strategy to do a bachelor’s in  Russia because it gives you a good technical foundation, and you understand basics well and then you do your masters in the UK or in  Europe, where they give you more soft skills and group work projects. Most of the time it feels like I’m working more on my soft skills, like presentations, than working with numbers or formulas. At the same time, we had econometrics in Lancaster and my base in econometrics at HSE University helped. Also at HSE University, we had macro and micro, so you know the general overview of the subject, while in Lancaster we had macroeconomics and microeconomics of money, banking, and finance. More finance side of it, so definitely all basic subjects --macro, micro, econometrics, and statistics helped.  Things that helped: technical skills, coding, use of R, Stata, Python. A lot of my classmates from other countries never worked on Stata or R and had to learn the basics, while we already had it at HSE University. I personally learned a lot about how things work in general- how the financial system works, how banking works, etc. 

The program started in October 2019 and it was amazing. I  spent most of my time in the library and had lots of trips. I remember one day we were in class and there was an email to everyone in the university,  that the lockdown was starting from the next week.  I consider myself super lucky because we had three terms, and two terms of normal classes, and the third term I was preparing my dissertation. When the lockdown started I was done with my classes, so I took exams online,  which was super easy. You're in your room, you can open all of your notes and solve whatever is on the exam, and just submit it on time. So I didn't have a lot of online classes, just one week. But then when the dissertation started it was hard to concentrate on work because I didn't see my advisors in person. So, spending lockdown in Lancaster lake was one of the highlights of my year because all my flatmates have stayed and we were six people in the flat and I  wasn't lonely and we had countryside forests, so we walked every day outside. The shop on campus was also open and the weather was amazing. IN England it was sunny every day during the lockdown. We had to choose our supervisors and topic online, then we had meetings every two weeks in MSteams.  

On September 8th I submitted my dissertation into Lancaster online system. There was no thesis defense. The only drawback was to wait so long to know the grade.  At HSE I had defense in zoom and because of my name I was the last on the list, but after I  defended,  15 minutes later I knew my grade and it was amazing. 

The UK just started giving you the opportunity to work after you study there. If a student finishes university in the UK, they have two years to just work or look for work with a student visa, which is very cool.