Challenging and Rewarding Months in Moscow

Vania Valeria Álvarez Gaona, an exchange student from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Mexico), talks about her Spring 2020 semester at HSE University Moscow.

When I received the notification that I was going to study abroad it was a great surprise, especially because I was going to study in Russia. As Mexican, Russia has always been a mysterious country due to our different contexts and the geographical location, that is why studying at HSE proved to be a one in a lifetime experience that I will never forget.

Studying at HSE

For starters, I truly enjoyed my time at HSE due to the fact that the classes provided me with a different perspective of my career: International Relations. The texts that were given to us were extremely enlightening about how Russians see the world and I can assure that all the information that I received will be helpful for me. Furthermore, I faced a new educational system that gave me a challenge of adaptation and I liked very much, due to the fact that made me combine the best of what I knew from my home university with what HSE was giving me. Also, I loved HSE installations and locations, this is because it allowed me to see the beauty of Moscow.

Learning Russian

One of the things that I will never forget about my exchange was learning Russian. Before coming to Moscow I took some Russian classes; however, my knowledge of the language was limited to “survival”. The lessons provided by HSE were extremely helpful to improve my Russian: the professor was excellent and he made everything to make us comfortable speaking Russian during the classes, the material was clear and the dynamics of the class made Russian my favorite subject during the exchange. Unfortunately, the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic cut the classes from the ideal way to take; nonetheless, the lessons online proved to be really good too.

Living in Moscow

As I mentioned before, Russia is an unknown country for Mexicans, which is why living in Moscow gave me one of the most challenging experiences ever. The rhythm of life and the way people interact with each other was very confusing for me at the beginning, as time went by, I learned to recognize the differences without judging them. Additionally, I have to say that Moscow is a beautiful city with a lot of history and a huge opportunity to grow up culturally. I have managed to get know a lot of what Moscow has to offer and I have to say that the Russian capital became my favorite city (after my place of birth): the sight of the iconic Red Square never disappoints, the walks through the multiple parks are always enjoyable, the inside of the Bolshoi Theater and it’s performances are stuck in my mind, the cathedrals are great elements of the landscape, etc. It other words, Moscow captivated me and I really wish to return at some point in my life time.


When the situation with the COVID-19 allowed it, I was able to travel around Russia. I managed to visit cities like Kaluga, Vladimir, Suzdal, Segiev Posad, Alexandrov, Kazan and Saint Petersburg and I have to say that I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even though I didn’t visited more parts of Russia, these little trips changed completely my perspective of Russia and made me realize that Russians are really warm and welcoming people. In my experience, I always received help and good nature laughs when I tried to practice my Russian; furthermore, I got to see incredible places with a lot of history that still shock me with the beauty of Russia: the monasteries, the palaces, the architecture, the cultural mix.

In the end, all I have to say is: thank you HSE for allowing me to come to Russia and spend the most challenging and rewarding months I’ve ever had.