Alumni Interviews

Christian Wollny
Germany / USA
Class of 2018

Why did you choose to get higher education in Russia and at MGIMO?

Before I went to MGIMO, I had worked in the energy sector in Europe. During that time, I had initial interactions with Russia, Russian language and people. In 2012, I spent a week in Riga, Latvia to take an intensive course of Russian. I did not pursue it in the following years, but I gained a basic understanding of the language and found it very intriguing. After I completed my program (wholesale and export merchant), I looked all around Europe for an ideal place to study. A colleague recommended to me SGIA and its Bachelor program designed for international students who had never been to Russia before but would like to study international relations at “Russia’s Harvard,” while also becoming proficient in Russian. When I heard about this, I immediately applied. When I received the letter of acceptance, I was overwhelmed with excitement. The biggest adventure of my life was about to begin.

When you think about the years at SGIA, what are your memorable experiences?

I have had the privilege and pleasure of going through many memorable events thanks to MGIMO. I will only mention a few here, as I fear there isn’t enough space to describe all the four years of adventure and exploration. As a member of SGIA’s own Future World Diplomats student association, I organized an international conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. I had the extraordinary opportunity and honor of representing MGIMO at a conference on education in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I chaired Model UN events in Vladivostok, Russia and at the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. I even had the opportunity to partake in a Model UN in Havana, Cuba. As the Future World Diplomats club president, I received a commendation by the MGIMO Rector Anatoly Torkunov for our club’s achievements. And over the four years, I had the pleasure of meeting numerous ambassadors, diplomats, and other dignitaries.

What goals have you set for yourself when applying to SGIA? Were you able to achieve them?

The only goal I was thinking of when applying to SGIA was “surviving Russia” for four years. After all, I had never been to that country before and I did not speak the language or have any local contacts that could help me out if need be. It turned out, of course, that Russia is less threatening or dangerous than most people will have you believe (I would argue it is even safer than some places in Europe and North America). I had a great time there and consider it a unique experience unreplicable anywhere else in the world. And given that I successfully graduated in June 2018, I can proudly say that I achieved my goal.

How did SGIA experience prepare you for your career and did it help you to find your first position after graduation?

I would argue that what I learned outside of the lecture hall was more important than what I learned inside. MGIMO and SGIA have a lot to offer to the interested and engaged students who look beyond just passing time in the classroom. SGIA gives you the opportunity to meet some interesting and/or famous people and travel around the world, experiencing firsthand what it means to be a diplomat. Come my third year, I had no real idea what I wanted to do after graduation. I knew I wanted to receive a Master’s degree afterwards, but the what and where eluded me still. That was until one day SGIA organized a guest lecture by a professor from the IE Business School in Madrid, Spain. The quality of that presentation convinced me that my next destination would be the Master in Management Program at IE which is one of the world’s top business schools.

Could you share your thoughts on how best to prepare for a career in International Affairs?

You would need a solid background in social sciences, etiquette, and languages. I cannot stress this enough, but being knowledgeable in general history, philosophy and culture is essential to being successful in International Affairs. Pick up a history book and read it from start to finish. Make a Wikipedia list of the things you don’t know, so that you can look them up later. Read Kant, Hegel, and Plato. Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, von Clausewitz and the book “The 48 Laws of Power” should also be on your reading list. Be fluent in at least two languages, but make sure you perfect at least one that isn’t your native. Impressing a diplomat by speaking his tongue will go a long way. Learn how to network with people outside of your cultural / social sphere, you never know who you might meet. Lastly, always remember two things: Never let them see you bleed, and always have an escape route.

What kind of improvements would you like to see in the SGIA program in the future?

To be fair, when I started, my cohort was only the second at the School, the program was new, many things had never been been done at MGIMO before. What I would recommend though, would be implementing a “buddy” system between third- and first-year students, especially for non-Russian freshmen who may need help getting settled in the new environment. Extracurricular credit could be offered as motivation to third-year students, and I’m sure first-year students at SGIA who are new to Russia would appreciate that. Secondly, it would be nice to see more professors utilize the MGIMO intranet to upload and share their documents with students. Finally, I would like to see some coordination between SGIA and the Russian-language Program in International Relations at MGIMO, as their curricula are similar, but interaction among students is low, and that is a shame. After all, if the program isn’t going to ameliorate Russia-West relations especially at the personal level, what was the point of setting it up?

Christian Wollny was interviewed by Nana Kvaratskhelia (Class of 2019) in March 2019

Jin Sun Park
South Korea
Class of 2018

Why did you choose to study Government and International Affairs at MGIMO?

I was interested in international politics in general and Russian foreign policy in particular. Although I was fluent in Russian at the time of joining MGIMO, I was attracted to the SGIA program because it was taught entirely in English. It was also important to me to learn a new foreign language (in my case, French) and to continue studying Russian.

I chose MGIMO because it is inarguably the best school of international relations in Russia. While at MGIMO, you learn a lot about Russia — its history, politics, economy — and come to better understand Russia’s perspective on international affairs. During my stay in Moscow, I had a great time exploring the country that was new to me, and after four years, I could know more about Russia in general. Indeed, my Russian language skill enriched my Russia experience.

What do you think of your academic experience at MGIMO?

MGIMO provided me with a strong background in international affairs. It also allowed me to meet with inspiring Russian and international experts, interact with students from various countries, and understand Russia and its position on key international issues and trends.

What kind of challenges did you face at MGIMO?

There are plenty of diverse subjects to study in each semester, so the workload could be heavy. Sometimes I was under a lot of stress.

What is your life after MGIMO like?

Currently, I continue studying International Affairs at Sciences Po in Paris, France. Building on what I learned at MGIMO, I am developing specialized knowledge in the field of Human Rights and Humanitarian Action.

Jin Sun Park was interviewed by Deborah Samuel (Class of 2019) in March 2019

Felix Porret
Class of 2018

Did the SGIA course meet the expectations you had upon enrollment?

The SGIA course completely met my expectations, I found it quite deep and comprehensive. The main advantage of this type of course is its multi-disciplinary nature that allows you to choose a follow-on Master’s program from a wide variety of options based on your knowledge of International Relations. The fact that you are studying with students from different countries and with varied backgrounds is also a plus: it helps you to understand and see things from a different angle and to build and maintain a very interesting international network.

What did you like and dislike most about your time at MGIMO?

What I liked most was the quality of tuition: we had access to very experienced faculty with a real background in the industry. The seminars provided a good opportunity to discuss and exchange views with them. Sometimes our schedule was too tight, so it was hard to come fully prepared to each seminar, given the amount of required reading.

Did SGIA help you to achieve your goals after graduation?

It definitely helped me to achieve my graduate education goals because, while at MGIMO, I developed the taste for the finance industry and decided to apply to the Master of Science Program in Banking and Risk at the University of Edinburgh (ranked 18th in the world by the 2019 QS World University Rankings). I knew that the fact that I was not moving along a typical business school trajectory could undermine my application, but I also believed that education at MGIMO had a high reputation globally. Eventually, it helped me to get into my Master’s program.

Did the knowledge you acquired at MGIMO prove useful?

It was indeed useful because after four years at MGIMO you have the grasp of a wide range of issues, so you are never speechless. You understand what shapes the contemporary world, what its main and new players are, what the background is of all the current issues. You are also able to speak several languages, which gives you a significant edge on the labor market.

How does the Russian system of higher education compare to the one in France?

It is a bit complex to compare the French and Russian education systems. I believe they both have their strengths and weaknesses. I do not like the fact that in Russia you have to study for four years to get a Bachelor degree as compared to three years in France. However, an additional year in Russia allows students to deepen their knowledge. So the two systems are slightly different, although their objectives are the same: to equip you in the best possible way for your future career.

Which improvements would you recommend to SGIA for the future?

I would like to see more interaction between SGIA and the Russian-speaking Bachelor programs at MGIMO. That may trigger some interesting discussions between Russian and international students. I also wish we could have more options when choosing our second foreign language, but I heard that some progress was made on that matter lately.

Felix Porret was interviewed by Daria Mokharava (Class of 2019) in March 2019

Boian Venev
Class of 2018

Did MGIMO meet your initial expectations?

MGIMO did meet my expectations. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of international students. The course of study was very diverse and engaging. In addition, I got the chance to live in Moscow and travel a lot around Russia.

What did you like and dislike about your education and MGIMO in general?

I liked the classes because they were very informative, covering an extremely broad area of knowledge. Every single class always brought something new, which made the curriculum exciting. I learned a lot of things which I didn’t know before. What I did not like about some classes was the lack of opportunities for a free discussion when I felt the need for such discussion.

Were the knowledge and skills you acquired at MGIMO useful?

Knowledge I received at MGIMO was very useful. It opened my eyes to many things that I did not care about before. Also, we went through an intense training in foreign languages. The standard of that training is very high at MGIMO, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Is there any difference between education at MGIMO and in your home country?

In my home country, education could be more lenient, students would engage more in discussion, not so much focusing on absorbing information. At MGIMO, you consume plenty of knowledge, but that happens to the detriment of discussion, game exercises, or round tables.

Boian Venev was interviewed by Nikita Vozianov (Class of 2019) in March 2019

Mariana Corea
Class of 2017

Did the SGIA course meet the expectations you had upon enrollment?

They advertised what was truly available. Student support was certainly great, they arranged various seminars, workshops and so on. The university is really up for supporting the students, ultimately it is down to each individual to reach their goals but all the tools were there. Meaning that if a student truly wants to achieve something, they have such an opportunity to do so, thanks to the resources that are available in the university. The dean’s office was very supportive and also impartial in advising us if we had any academic issue. I felt that the students were always the priority.

What did you like or dislike the most about the classes and MGIMO in general?

I enjoyed my studies and found my courses mostly interesting and engaging. The lecturers were always helpful and willing to do what they could to ensure we understood what we were studying.

During my time at MGIMO, our classes were very small, and that made me feel in better contact with the lecturers and my fellow students — the smaller groups seemed to have people in them who really wanted to be there. This allowed for more flexibility based on what the class needed, whether it was to pause during lectures and ask questions or choose particular topics to focus on for small seminars. All very beneficial to learning if approached seriously.

I also made friends and continued to keep in touch with them after graduation, and met the people whom I will carry in my memory and heart for the rest of my life. Most students at MGIMO are friendly. However, like everywhere, there are exceptions; you are free to choose who to be close with.

I feel that in some areas some of the lecturers were maybe stuck in their ways and not very dynamic but thankfully those were in the minority.

Did SGIA help you to achieve your career goals?

It did help me to achieve my goals, we were highly encouraged to take part in internships or summer placement and were given the resources to find and apply for them. This is how I got my current job. There were also several CV workshops in order for us to be able to give companies or institutions the best impression possible.

Where do you work at the moment and do you enjoy it?

I currently work at the Nicaraguan Embassy as counselor for cultural relations, education and tourism. I like my job, for us at the embassy these are very busy areas. Always a lot of work, everyday there is something new, something different, and always learning and moving. I enjoy this and have actually chosen such career because of this in the first place. I am the kind of person who always needs to stay active and learn something new, always move forward to greater achievement.

Was the knowledge and skills you acquired at MGIMO helpful?

I think that when you are in a foreign country, you don’t always know what the next challenge is going to be, all you know is that it is going to be a big challenge!

I would say that the SGIA program helped me develop new skills, enhanced my existing ones and broadened my knowledge base, as we had subjects covering diverse areas. I feel enriched by what I learned during my time at MGIMO. Since then I have been able to open myself up more to new opportunities and also to realize who I am and what I am capable of. Moreover, my confidence in my learning skills and abilities have increased immensely. Studying abroad gave me plenty of useful experience, strength, and confidence. It taught me how to adapt to and work in a different environment.

In your opinion, which educational system (Russian vs. your home country) do you prefer and why?

When I arrived to MGIMO (in 2013) and met with some of the professors, I realized the teachers I had back home and professors I had at another Russian university, in which I was enrolled before moving to MGIMO, were not as open to hear us as the MGIMO faculty. People in the SGIA administration were very perceptive, and I would like to thank the Founding Dean Professor Yan Vaslavskiy, Elizaveta Babadjanova, and Anastasia Solomentseva who were my first contacts at MGIMO. They provided me with all the information I needed about the program and the university, opening the doors for me to the MGIMO life and academic experience, and explained to me the study and internship opportunities. They were usually available to talk and share their experience. They always prioritized SGIA students and were happy to help me in any way possible. This allowed me to adapt to my new life more easily and feel safe in the new environment that I had to live in onwards.

Mariana Corea was interviewed by Yana Chikvashvili (Class of 2019) in March 2019

Vitalija Kuprenaite
Class of 2018

Did the SGIA course meet the expectations that you had when enrolling?

I absolutely loved it. It was a good four years. It was rich in new knowledge and left me with unforgettable memories of student life and dorm life. The SGIA curriculum covered a lot of diverse subject matter. As for me, it sparked my attraction towards criminal law.

What did you like and dislike about the classes and the university in general?

Generally—I think I can even speak for most students—I really liked the amount of knowledge we gained in MGIMO and especially the language classes. However more discussions and more round table classes would be nice. I would really like to see more student participation in class discussions.

Did SGIA help you to achieve your goals after graduating?

It gave me the necessary knowledge to apply and be accepted to the LLM Program in International Law and Securirty at the University of Glasgow. I am now finishing my last year in that program.

Was the knowledge you acquired at MGIMO practical, and in what way?

What we learned was extremely helpful. Our classes were led by the teachers who had significant exposure to practical work—at embassies or other Russian or international governance structures—so their classes were often based on important real-life cases.

What kind of improvements would you recommend to MGIMO for the future?

MGIMO could provide its students with more opportunities to study abroad on exchange programs. The students in my English-taught program at SGIA could benefit from a better integration with Russian students from other schools. The Russian education system is very good at having students learn new things, and the flow of information is usually immense. However, in Sweden, where I had studied before coming to Russia, there is more collaboration between students and professors for the purpose of discussion.

Any recommendations for your MGIMO school—SGIA?

SGIA has already a very good faculty, so its goal should now be to attract more international students.

Vitalija Kuprenaite was interviewed by Nikita Vozianov (Class of 2019) in March 2019