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"Mobility programme teaches independence, patience and the ability to adapt". Anastasia Shishova on how to build a comfortable life in an unfamiliar city and get the most out of a semester in a foreign university.

Anastasia Shishova, a 3rd year student of the Business Management programme at the HSE Graduate School of Business, spent the spring semester of the 2022-2023 academic year on the south coast of France at IPAG Business School in Nice. Read about the studies in one of the oldest French business schools.

"Mobility programme teaches independence, patience and the ability to adapt". Anastasia Shishova on how to build a comfortable life in an unfamiliar city and get the most out of a semester in a foreign university.

Anastasia Shishova


As a freshman I was following the social media of senior students, who were on mobility programmes. Already back then I knew that one day I would spend a semester abroad too. 

I planned to enrol in a mobility programme during my third year of studies, but the uncertainty of March 2022 made me change my mind.  Many universities suspended the cooperation and it was completely unclear how to fly abroad, cover all of my expenses and not go broke with the crazy exchange rates. To be honest at that time I even abandoned the idea to participate in a mobility programme. It seemed that there were too many obstacles that were unlikely to be overcome in the near future. Eventually, everything more or less settled down by September 2022. Although the difficulties did not disappear, the availability of universities and exchange opportunities became more clear at least. Moreover, there were some ways to overcome the issues with flights and payments. 

I submitted my appreciation to HSE Graduate School of Business during the Fall semester call for mobility. I chose IPAG Business School as my first priority university and EmLyon Business School as the second one. I did also consider studying in Canada or Singapore because of the interesting programmes the universities offered. However, mobility has always been much more than just studying to me: I wanted to travel and take on all the opportunities that were available. I found Europe to be the best place for that. 

My first choice application was approved and I was nominated for studying at IPAG. This business school has campuses in Paris and Nice, and nominated students can choose the city they want to study in. I chose Nice, so in January 2023 I found myself on the south coast of France.


Preparing for departure

Being honest: departure preparation was not that easy. Due to some technical problems, the university was unable to send the official acceptance letters to our corporate mailboxes for a long time. As we received the documents later than expected, many issues had to be resolved on a short notice.

Firstly,  it was important to get a visa in time. It required collection of a lot of documents, making notarised translations of all documents issued in Russian, as well as filling out two large online questionnaires and making an appointment at the consulate. The time slots are published once in 2 weeks and the closest time available for appointment might be in another three weeks. Having submitted the documents, it takes up to 10 working days to issue the visa. Therefore, it is crucial to start preparing documents as soon as the official invitation from the university is received!

Secondly, think over the ways money can be brought abroad. As Russian bank cards do not work abroad, it is necessary to find other ways, for instance, taking foreign cards with you (if such are possessed), bringing money in cash or using cryptocurrency wallets (if familiar with them). Exchange students are allowed to open an account in France, but many banks can reject Russian citizens. I had to use cash, because none of the banks opened me an account. Sometimes other exchange students were helping me to pay for some services with their cards (buying a SIM card or booking tickets) and I gave them cash in return. The main thing is to think about all of these in advance, so you don't find yourself in a foreign country without any money at all.

Thirdly, searching for accommodation without being able to pay online was a complicated task. As IPAG does not have its own residence halls, accommodation has to be found independently, and, of course, booked in advance. In such a situation it is important to start looking for accommodation options early, ask the host university coordinator for help and negotiate the opportunity to pay in cash with the property owners. 

Finally, plan your route and consider the budget for the flight tickets. As you will be carrying a lot of luggage and will have at least one layover, it is important to start searching and booking tickets in advance to find the most convenient connections and not to go broke buying tickets on the last day. 


About the university and studying

Although the Nice campus is rather small, it hosts quite a lot of exchange students. This semester there were more than 50 of us. The majority of students came from other European countries, but there were also students from Mexico (lots of students from Mexico!), Brazil and Canada.

The courses offered by university can be taken by any student based on the academic progress needs. Some of the courses were very interesting, such as Luxury Marketing, for example. All classes were mainly onsite, except the rare days when public transportation was stopped due to protests. On such days classes were moved online. 

As the university is small, the classes were not divided into lectures and seminars. There were only 15 to 25 people enrolled in each course, so all classes had a similar structure: first the professor sharing something and then giving practical tasks.

The grading system was generally similar to the one at HSE: each course had a final exam and other assignments, each with its own contribution. However, the exam was always weighted 50%, while the remaining 50% could be distributed among the assignments. These assignments could be presentations, projects, tests, oral examinations or midterm tests. The maximum grade was 20.


About the city

Overall, it was 4 of us with the same major who went to IPAG during Spring semester. And everyone but me chose to study at the Paris campus. Nevertheless, while living on the coastside, I have never regretted choosing Nice.

Firstly, it was a change of the environment after living in Moscow. Nice seemed to be a very small city (although it is the fifth largest one in France) with completely different landscapes and climate. Everything was located within a walking distance: it took me five minutes to get to university, 10 - to the old town, and 15 - to the city centre and the beach. Nice itself is a really green town that is surrounded by the mountains and the sea and has no high-rise buildings. It makes it the perfect place for hiking or sunbathing at the most picturesque beaches of the south of France. Moreover, Nice has about 300 sunny days per year. It rained only a few times during the entire semester I lived there. Even in January the temperatures don’t drop below +10, and May feels like summer with its +25. 

Another significant advantage of living in Nice is the fact that it is a tourist location. There were no problems in everyday communications without speaking French as everyone could understand at least some basic English. There were quite a lot of Russian speakers as well: Russian could be heard while walking in the streets and it was relatively easy to find some Russian shops and cafes (in case you really wanted cottage cheese pancakes). Overall the city is quite multicultural with the availability of different world cuisines, with French and Italian being the most widespread, obviously.  

Nice is very conveniently located: it takes less than an hour to get to Cannes, Antibes, Monaco and the nearest Italian town. It is rich in incredibly beautiful beaches, small villages and mountains with panoramic views of the coastline - all located less than an hour away. Marseille and St Tropez can be reached within three hours, while Italy and Spain are the weekend getaway locations.


What to do in a free time? 

The major advice I’d give is to travel around and explore all the nearest locations. My friends and I aimed to visit a new place every week: we visited more than 10 beautiful beaches, went hiking three times, and even went skiing. We visited Antibes, Cannes, Menton, Eze, Monaco, Ventimiglia and Marseille as well as travelled to Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan and, of course, Paris.

Besides that, Nice itself is definitely worth exploring: it has an old town, a long promenade, several museums, beautiful parks and even the largest Orthodox church outside of Russia.

There’s ESN Group - Erasmus Student Network that is located in Nice. It unites students from different universities of Nice and organises various events: hikes, trips to other cities, parties, karaoke, language exchange evenings and much more.


What mobility has brought me

Having gone through the study abroad experience I have realised that mobility is not only about studying. It is about self-support and independence while living alone in a foreign country, ability to overcome any difficulties, meeting and interacting with a lot of new people with completely different backgrounds. 

First of all, you will have to adapt to living in a new country with its own language, currency and social norms. You'll have to move to a new place for the next six months, find new favourite products while shopping and to deal with everyday 'adult' issues on your own. Even though it does not sound that difficult now, everything changes when you're in a completely new environment and feel overwhelmed with all of the business related to building a comfortable life for yourself from scratch. 

Secondly, you are likely to face some everyday difficulties from living without a bank card, or missing the last bus home to getting stuck in another country at night, losing your house keys or unexpectedly having a wisdom tooth ache. No doubt, you might not face these exact situations, but there are many other unforeseen situations that your independent life can bring. During this semester I’ve learnt to always find a way out and solve any problems. 

The great thing is that during the studies abroad you get to meet a bunch of new people and to find friends from all over the world. Mobility is about networking and expanding your connections. It is also a unique experience that teaches to find common ground while working with completely different people with their own backgrounds, methods of learning, and expectations. Looking back I now realise a semester in a foreign university taught me to listen to other people better, understand their points of view and deliver my position more clearly.


Try it out!

I’m writing this text on the way to Kaliningrad to return home. It's quite a long and difficult journey compared to taking a direct flight from Europe to Moscow as was possible a few years ago. But now it’s the moment to realise that despite the difficulties I faced it was definitely worth it. Studying abroad as an exchange student is an incredible experience. And if you still have some doubts, my advice is to go out and try. Everything eventually will work out. If you have any questions, you can text me on Telegram (nickname: @sheeshova).