As part of the dialogue Driving Growth in Russia: From Building on Bones to Building on Blockchains, 16 Northeastern University students, including eight from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, recently visited Russia, immersing themselves in different cultural and business experiences.
During their month-long travels, students were enrolled in two classes, Competing to Win in Emerging Markets and Cultural Engagement Abroad taught by Professors Yakov Bart and Ekaterina Burvikova. Students learned about the business and culture of Russia, and discovered the two go hand in hand when it comes to success.
“The most important lesson that I took from the business side is the need for governmental cooperation in Russia as any business simply will not succeed if the government doesn’t deem it necessary or beneficial,” said Madison Nally, DMSB’21.
Students landed in Saint Petersburg and spent three days sightseeing, visiting historical sites such as Peter the Great’s Palace, numerous cathedrals including Saint Peter’s Cathedral, and the Pobeda Watch Factory.
"St. Pete was founded by Tsar Peter the Great as a port city used to trade with the rest of Europe, and it is commonly referred to as the Window to Europe. I found myself frequently thinking that I was in Amsterdam and not in Russia at all," said Marina Hess, DMSB'20, MSA'21, during her Instagram takeover this past summer.
From Saint Petersburg, students traveled to Yekaterinburg, and two cities in Siberia, Novosibirsk and Tomsk. During their three days in Yekaterinburg, students visited a few technology companies and an advertising agency. On their last day in the city, they traveled to the Europe-Asia border.
A twenty-hour overnight train ride brought the students to Novosibirsk where they had the chance to explore Akademgorodok, a town created to foster scientific advancement in the USSR. The next train ride to Tomsk took an unexpected turn when the students were greeted by a choir comprised of school children returning from a singing competition. Northeastern students were happy to share their experiences with them, practice their newly acquired Russian vocabulary, and learn about Russian folk music. Using this serendipitous opportunity for cultural exchange, the children were excited to meet students and learn about their daily lives in the U.S.
"I have always thought that children are the most honest and direct people, and it was interesting to hear their questions and thoughts about America as they were so forthcoming with us. This choir of about twenty children was a great example of Russian cultural traditions, a balance between the arts and a sense of community," said Nally.
Two days in Tomsk included lectures on environmental sustainability, and a tour of the city's world renowned examples of wooden architecture.
Students also visited Technopark, an after school program for children in the city. In this program, children can attend a rigorous engineering program for free.
“Visiting Technopark was an interesting experience because I was able to see how Russia is trying to empower young minds to create new things for the future by engineering projects with small kids. The classes for the kids are free, showing how the government really supports these projects by funding them,” said Yuan Vu Dinh Van, DMSB21. “There were a lot of interesting innovative projects to see, such as the creation of bricks from the use of wasted food in order to reduce the environmental impact people make on the earth,” he said.
Students finished the trip in Moscow with two weeks at their disposal to explore and learn. Students visited Red Square, museums, outdoor markets, numerous cafes, and explored the city's remarkable underground subway, recognized as one of the most beautiful in the world.
Between travels, students has the opportunity to learn from professors at the Higher School of Economics. Anya Losik, COS'21, enjoyed the lectures in Moscow focused on the culture of Russia and the differences between the host country and America.
“We had an international business and sociology lecture from Natalia Guseva. I thought it was funny when she brought up the differences as to how students from different cultures would answer the question ‘how are you?’ – while Russians would be very honest, Americans would expect a very shallow response in order to prevent being “rude” or sharing too much information,” she said.
“Moscow was my favorite city on the trip because of its intense combination of Russia’s political and cultural spirits. While I’m so grateful for having seen as many cities as we did, I think spending almost two weeks in Moscow allowed us to feel comfortable with the city and see it as a whole rather than simply the small parts we actually saw,” said Nally. "More specifically, my favorite spot in Moscow that we went to was the Cold War Bunker. It was extremely interesting to hear about the Cold War from their perspective, and also to see how Russians thought about U.S. foreign policy at that time. But we weren’t just learning about the history, we were actually seeing and living it by walking down 16 flights of stairs in the depths of Moscow.”
During his time in Moscow, Brennan Kinnel, COS/CCIS'19, had the chance to meet Anatoly Karpov, a Russian chess grandmaster and former world champion, at a local cafe.
"My motivation to travel to Russia was meeting people, experiencing a vastly different culture, and learning the language. Meeting Anatoly Karpov epitomized all three of those motivations. In that way it was a great capstone to the trip, meeting the greatest ever chess player in the world capital of chess. It added another dimension to the study of Russian culture, one that I have always studied from afar, but never imagined I would get to experience in person... Just having the chance to have the briefest of conversations with him (in Russian!) was a dream come true," said Kinnel.
While in Moscow, students also visited Ward Howell, one of the country’s top executive talent agencies. In a discussion with students, two executives examined how employees can find success in their business endeavors and reflected on remarkable leadership decisions made at Aeroflot, Russia’s largest airline company. They also had the chance to visit various universities, including Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO.
Students also explored Nizhny Novgord, the fifth largest city in Russia located near the Volga River, the longest river in Europe.
“By visiting Russia, I was able to see a different way of doing business compared to the model used in the U.S. Business in Russia seems to be conducted similarly to that of Ecuador, as only the people with the contacts and the money succeed in business, while in the U.S. it is easier for anyone to do that,” said Van. “I also learned about different ways to manage people, as Russian employees often prefer to be given orders and don’t have as much freedom as U.S. employees typically have in regards to the decision making. It really opened my mind to how important the role culture plays in doing business in different countries.”
Learn more about studying abroad at Northeastern.