‘I Am Really Thankful for This Opportunity to Expand My Knowledge’

Friederike Augustin

Friederike Augustin
© Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

Friederike Augustin is a second year Master’s student in Comparative Social Research double degree programme with Free University of Berlin. After reading European Studies for her Bachelor’s she enrolled in an Eastern European Studies programme to have the opportunity to spend some time in Russia.

Why Russia?

I was not so interested in Russia before because I thought that it is so big—a super power—and I was more interested in smaller countries, so I spent several months in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. I got interested in post-soviet societies and mentality and at some point I thought that after seeing some countries around Russia it was probably time to finally go TO Russia.

New Focus

What I did in my Bachelor was much more Political Science-focused. The programme here is more Sociology-oriented and even more specific. This was all new to me. I had to take some crash courses in Statistics, which was a bit challenging. But I see that it’s extremely useful and I am very thankful for this opportunity because I know that my institute back in Berlin does not have the capacity to teach quantitative methods and statistics in the way HSE does. I didn’t know that but it’s been a useful surprise.

I was a bit surprised by the actual content of the study programme because I didn’t know that it would be so specific. I thought it would be a broad sociology programme. In my programme in Berlin we can choose a specific track—I chose Sociology. But unlike here, where sociology is the core and it’s about learning methods and theory, in Berlin it’s much more applied. We are studying social movements and civil society. So, before coming here I lacked some basic theoretical knowledge of sociology. I am really thankful for this opportunity to expand my knowledge. The courses here complement our courses in Berlin, although the focus is slightly different here.

I didn’t have many methods seminars in my Bachelor’s so I feel that everything that I do here is very useful. I’m focusing most on different research methods, qualitative and quantitative. I can choose courses that are most useful for me. In the first module I took, for instance, Contemporary Sociological Theory course.

I’ll end my Master’s with at least the basics of every aspect of sociological research and what I need to know. For instance, one thing I’m glad about is that when I write my CV in the future, I’ll be able to write that I have experience working with ‘R’ statistical package, which is amazing. In the first module, we started working with R and in the second module we learnt more specific techniques. It was not something very sophisticated but for somebody from a non-statistical background it was still kind of mind-blowing.

Research Project

I’m most interested in sociology – in terms of understanding society. For my master’s thesis, which I will be writing under the supervision of HSE Assistant Professor Lili di Puppo, I’m going to research feminism and anti-feminism in Russia. I am still in the early stages of planning my research but I know that I’m going to use a qualitative method – do interviews. I was really lucky because I got a one year visa which means that I will probably come back in spring to do the interviews during the period of 2-3 weeks. I think I will do about 10 interviews. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to focus on feminist activists or on the opposite side, which is a more conservative group. I am not sure I will be able to do the interviews in Russian so I will probably have to rely on sources who speak English.

I’ll be defending my Master’s dissertation in October, via a Skype conference—it’s good that Berlin students have the option of deferring their defense till autumn.

Career Prospects

What I would like to do most in the future is to work in a think tank—a small research institute that works on a project basis. I had a student job in this kind of institute before I came here and I’m also going to return there so this is really nice because they are doing a lot of research on EU – Russia relations, which is political science focused. There are also other projects. For instance, they are helping social sector in Ukraine to implement EU association agreement. It’s a mixture of giving workshops or working practically but also working with content that’s very interesting for me. In the long term I might do a PhD but first I need to write my Master’s thesis and see how that goes.

Living in Moscow

My expectations regarding the city were quite precise—I was not overly surprised. That is probably because I have lived in post-soviet context before so I was familiar with different aspects of daily life, so there was no culture shock. I could get around speaking Russian and I didn’t seem very lost in the city, although Moscow is very big. In Berlin I also move around a lot, so I was prepared for long distances but there I often go by bike everywhere while in Moscow I have to rely on public transport. I was really happy to see that the infrastructure works really well. I expected something more chaotic and was pleasantly surprised. All the apps work well and you can get informed online about everything—metro, bus system, taxis.

Big plus is the amount of support international students have at HSE University—I can always email the programme manager and she will take care of all the issues. She is always approachable, which is great. All the procedures are very well organized at HSE Unviersity – everyone who works with international students speaks English well and you are not lost. It’s very helpful for international students.

Russian or English?

I spend a lot of time with international students, but I communicate with Russian students as well. In Comparative Social Research we have about 1/5 international students and the rest are  Russians—it’s a good mix. We have a Telegram group, which is really great because even though we might not have so much time for talking and going out for a coffee, chatting on Telegram still gives a feeling of belonging to one group, a nice group vibe.

Our programme is taught in English so we communicate in English as well, but I also get to use my Russian, which I have been studying Russian for quite a while now—I started in my Bachelor’s programme. I read a lot of posts on social media in Russian, for example, several Russian Telegram channels on feminism.  I also have Russian language classes here at HSE—about 5 classes every week. My teacher of Russian is the best teacher I have ever had.  Her approach to teaching is very good. We have about 10-15 people in our group and we are at B1/B2 level at the moment. In my daily life I always speak Russian—I communicate with the landlord in Russia, do the shopping in Russian, etc. I only switch to English if I am really interested in the topic and want to have an in-depth conversation, for which my Russian might not be enough.

Admissions to HSE’s Master’s programmes are now open. International students can apply online. To learn more about HSE University, its admission process, or life in Moscow, please visit International Admissions website, or contact the Education & Training Advisory Centre at: inter@hse.ru,  or via WhatsApp at: +7 (916) 311 8521.