Interview with – Anastasia
international student turned professional
- Tell us about your background
Hi, my name is Anastasia, and I’m from Russia. I was born in a small town in the Urals region, on the geographical border between Europe and Asia, and moved with my family to the capital when I was 9 years old. I consider Moscow to be my home city now because my family is living there. Our relocation to Moscow was my first immigration experience, as it took some time to get used to the city jungles, make new friends, and even acquire a Moscow accent. I made a full cycle of studies in Moscow (the Russian education system is different from the Anglo-Saxon system): 11 years at school and 5 years at the university to get a diploma in Management, Master 2 equivalent in Europe. At the Lomonosov Moscow State University, I studied at the Public Administration Faculty and had classes in different fields, from history, law, sociology to finance, economics, and management. In parallel to my public management studies, I was preparing a certificate in “French collège” where I was studying sociology and philosophy in French with French professors. After finishing my studies first at the university in 2015 and then in “French collège” in 2016 I won a French government internship for one-year studies in Paris Descartes University to terminate my French cycle and do my Master 2 in sociology. And then… I decided to look for a job here in Paris, and it’s been already 4 years that I’m living here.
- Tell us about your experience during your school and transition into college
As I already mentioned, the Russian education system at the time was quite different. I had 11 years at school and then 5 years at the university, preparing my diploma, an equivalent of Master 2 degree in Europe. At school, I was one of the best students, as from early childhood my parents put quite a pressure on me. I had to get excellent marks for all subjects. On one hand, it taught me to be a hard worker and to be determined. But on the other hand, at the end of the school years, I was really lost and didn’t know what profession I wanted to choose. Moreover, for 5 years in parallel with my ordinary school, I was attending the art school for children and adolescents and arts was something I truly loved to do, but my parents wanted me to study something “serious”. Moreover, I was only 16 years and had already to choose my future profession. Clearly, this is a drawback of the Russian education system to me.
Eventually, for the final exams at school, I had excellent results in social sciences, and I applied to the Faculty of Public Administration at Lomonosov Moscow State University, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Russia. I was among the best applicants and got a 5-year scholarship for my studies. I was receiving some extra money each month and didn’t have to pay.
- Tell us about your journey during your graduation
At the university, I had no clear goal, I didn’t know what profession I wanted to have after graduation. I was making no plans and had no clear goals. I was just trying to be one of the best students, as I always did and as my parents wanted me to be. And the lack of sens drove me to some kind of depression during the second year of my studies. I couldn’t find anything that could bring me joy and sens. Then I had a sociology class and met a brilliant professor, I remember how I read the sociology books all the time, how interesting this subject was to me, I felt fulfilled. Then I got serious about French and then I actually took my destiny in my own hands, I was still trying to be a good student, I was focusing more on the subjects I really liked. I think here the problem was that we had no freedom to choose our classes at the university, and I felt much more motivated and enjoyed the process when I did have this choice in France, for example.
- Can you tell us what motivated you to move from your hometown in Russia and study/work in Paris, France?
I had such a positive experience as an international exchange student, that I start thinking of positions in international organizations or companies. I felt that this was something that I wanted to do, work on one project with people from all over the world, adapt to cultural differences, discover new cultures, their way of functioning, do not limit myself to one language, but try to try to see the world from different perspectives. In Moscow, I didn’t see a lot of opportunities to work on the international level. I still think that Russia is not open enough, we barely have international students at our universities, the subsidiaries of international companies present in Russia implement the directions from the H&Q. I wanted to work in an H&Q on transversal projects.
To tell the truth that’s how I explain it to myself now, but at a time when I decided to go to Paris, I was lost. I had my job, my Ph.D., my family in Moscow. Moreover, my family was not supporting me in the decision to move to Paris. It was hard. But deep inside, I knew that this opportunity was unique and I had to take it, to study in Paris, learn better about the culture, the city, the country. And today I’m more than happy that I tried. I feel myself in the right place right now.
- How did you learn French? How difficult is it for a non-native to learn the French language?
I started learning French from zero at the university when I was 19 years old. We had around 3 hours of classes per week and after my first year, I felt that it was enough for me, as my goal was to learn French to be able to participate in the student exchange program between my faculty and “Sciences Po” in France. The required level of French was B1 and I only had one semester to prepare for the exam. I took some extra-curriculum courses in the “Institut Français” for the A2 level and after several months I managed to pass the exam and was chosen for the exchange program. I didn’t stop working on my French though, because I still had to make some progress to be able to study in French. After one semester in “Institut Français” I took individual classes with a tutor. She helped me to improve my phonetics and vocabulary. And for me, this is still the most difficult part of the French language – phonetics. Then I went to Grenoble, a nice French city in the mountains where I had a great international experience and met a lot of people from all around the world, literally from every continent. I improved my French there but kept on working on when I was back in Moscow. I took some courses at “Institut Français” again for the B2 level this time and then entered the “Collège Français de Moscou”, wherein parallel with my university curriculum I was studying sociology and philosophy in French with French professors from Paris. This was pure joy for me, as it was a mix of social sciences and French, both things I loved a lot. So if I conclude, I would say that concrete objectives help in learning a language. This is also important to practice a foreign language constantly and not only to learn grammar and vocabulary but also to culture. I would say that French is rather difficult to learn but it’s such a pleasure when over years I manage to make jokes in French and make my colleagues laugh. 🙂
- Tell us about your job search experience. What preparation did you do?
To tell the truth I do not really remember the time when I was applying for my first jobs, as I think I didn’t have a real searching strategy at the time. Then when I was looking for my first internship in France, I built my first strategy, prepared a good CV in English and French, and had a spreadsheet to follow up on interviews, responses, etc. I got my first internship in Paris in “Action contre la faim”, an international humanitarian organization and then they proposed a short-term contract to me. This was my first job in France!
Here are some tips for a job search:
- From the very beginning, try to determine the field and positions that interest you. This will help not to be sprayed and clearly understand where to look for, what skills to work on in parallel.
- Prepare a good CV. Adapt your CV to each company/position. Show your CV to your friends, family, colleagues to have their point of view.
- Boost your Linkedin profile. Fill in your profile carefully, ask your former colleagues, professors to leave some recommendations on your page.
- Think of all interviews and meetings as an opportunity not only to find a job but also to expand your networking and learn something new in areas you are not familiar with.
- What were the key challenges you faced during your job search and how you overcame it?
For me the most challenging part in to get the first interview. Here the secret is to adapt your CV to the company and position, right a good motivation letter, do some research on the company, and try to stand out.
- Tell us about your first job after completing your studies
After completing my studies at the university in 2015, I still had one year left at the “French collège”. But as the classes were in the evening, I started a full-time job to earn my own money. At this time I still had no clear idea of what I wanted to do in my life. I started a Ph.D. in parallel with a full-time job and other studies. I wanted to keep all the opportunities and finally, it was overwhelming… Coming back to my first job, I got a position in Customer Support at Saint Gobain, a well-known international French company. My job consisted of following up on client orders, document support, and logistics. This was clearly an administrative role, but it learned me to work fast in a stressful environment, solve problems, deal with clients, and key account managers. I got to know the office life and work for the private sector. Even if I’m not performing the same function today and work in a completely different field of digital learning, I’m still using the skills I gained. And the fact that I was working for a well known French company helped me to find an internship and then my first job in France.
- Can you tell us about the key difference between Russia and France which you noticed?
If we are talking about the education system, in France there is much more project work and self-studying. In Russia, I had no opportunity to choose my classes. Here in France, there’s this freedom to choose what suits you better, to make some research on topics that interest you most, work in groups on projects, develop your social and teamwork skills.
- Then in Russia, there is no legal framework either for short-term internships (up to 6 months) or for long-term professionalizing contracts (up to 3 years). There is no such system. Here in France, every internship that lasts more than 3 months should be paid at a minimum level of 550 euros. I think also that the relations between schools and companies and better developed in France thanks to the internship system. Students here have an opportunity to apply their knowledge to real work situations and keep this link between theory and practice. In Russian for me, there was no link between theory and practice.
- In Russia for the first job after studies you directly get a permanent full-time contract, in France even for French people it’s hard to get a long-term contract right after university.
- In France, there are a lot of H&Q of international companies and I feel like a have more opportunities here for my career, as I want to manage transversal international projects and not to implement H&Q directions on the local level.
- Food cult. Food for the French is sacred, to survive in France and integrate French society it is simply mandatory to learn French rituals. What do they eat, with what and when, what time of the year, which food for which holiday, what are the north specialties, and what is the south? It will be a shock for a Frenchman to learn that you have never eaten Burgundy beef or San Jacques, but it will be even more shocking if you, for example, go to lunch at three in the afternoon. And please try not to cut salade leaves with a knife when you dine with a French 🙂 In Russia, we have complete freedom in terms of food, we can eat whenever we like and however we prefer. The food is not that refined and there no special rules, apart from putting a bunch of mayonnaise in every dish 🙂
- Small-talks. In Russia, we don’t smile at strangers, that’s why we are usually seen as impolite and tough guys. We are not used to small talks eighter. In France, like everywhere in Europe, is a social norm small talks. So a literally had to learn how to small talk about an upcoming weekend/holidays/vacations.
- How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected you? What are your key learnings from this experience?
For the year 2020, I had an exciting personal and professional project to follow my partner to New York. He obtained a one-year research contract there at Columbia University. At the beginning of the year, I arranged everything to go on a 5-month mission to the subsidiary of the company where I was working. At the end of 2019, I had good results on the project I was managing and in March 2020 I got an annual bonus and a promotion. When the COVID-19 pandemic started here in France in mid-March, I was pretty confident about my position in the company and thought the crisis would not drastically hit the company thanks to the government’s help. Our journey to the US was not sure, but I didn’t worry much. Eventually, I was wrong, my company was severely affected by the economic crisis that was provoked by the pandemic and I was on the cost-cut list…
This was a stressful situation, but I managed it well, kept good relations with my former employer and colleagues, negotiated good conditions “of exit” and found a new job in two months while still being employed.
So here are some key learnings I want to share with you:
- Nothing is eternal and everything is changing. Even if one has a well-paid job and a long-term contract, unfortunately, the reality is that one can lose it one day.
- The second learning comes from the first one. You can rely on only on yourself and on your networking, and also on our family :). That is why I would recommend investing in self-development and networking. By investing I mean not only and specifically money, but first of all your time, your attention, your energy. Think out of your work function, work on your personal professional brand, build the network in your field, follow on the tendencies on the market, keep good relations with your former and actual colleagues and bosses.
- Stand out for yourself, defend your rights, do not hesitate to ask for help, if needed.
- How did you overcome stress and frustrations?
I won’t hide that the situation was very stressful and I needed some support. I was supported by my family and my partner, by my friends who believed in me and were giving me some pieces of advice. Some colleagues were there for me too. For example, I asked some of them to leave recommendations on my Linkedin page, and all of them did. Their kind words and positive feedback gave me a lot of confidence. At some point, I still had fears and worries about my future and I had a consultation with a psychologist. This is something that we are not talking about enough, but if you need emotional help, it’s ok to ask for it.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, try not to press yourself. Everyone has different mental characteristics, but dismissal is stress in itself, and job search is additional stress. Try to be very attentive to yourself, treat yourself with care. Don’t beat yourself up for the fact that there are 2 interviews in a week, not 10, or that there is no interview at all. Develop your search strategy and follow your plan. I would advise you to look for work at a designated time, rather than constantly monitoring social networks and email, this adds unnecessary tension and stress.
- You have recently joined a new job, tell us about it.
So yes, I’m really happy to start a new position at INSEEC U. business school, as a digital learning project manager. I managed to turn a pretty sad situation into an opportunity, as I spend much less time today in the transport, I work in a neighborhood with a view of the Eiffel tower, the salary is better and I work in a team with professionals from digital learning field. In my previous position, I was the only one to manage the digital learning platform and to push forward my project of digital education. Here I’m excited to learn from my colleagues, some of them are better than me in hybrid training, some of them are more skilled on the technical side. I am in charge of an interesting project of soft-skills hybrid training with a much bigger budget than I used to manage. I used to work with internal clients and experts only, here I’m working on B2B projects with external clients. I already see how I can grow and improve and it motivates me.
- Do you think internships and live projects are important for a student, if yes, why?
I think that this is more than important because it allows students to apply theoretical knowledge from different fields to real on-work or on-project situations. It also allows improving social skills and teamwork skills, which is a key asset to building a career. Moreover, in my opinion, student part-time jobs can also be an enriching experience that will help in the future.
- What inspires you in life and keeps you going?
I’m inspired by beauty, by the work that is well done, by arts, by passionate and bright people, and by human stories.
- What is your idea of success or your mantra in life?
I don’t think that just money can make one happy. What is important for me today is to have meaningful relationships in my life, have a balance between work and life, be able to learn new things, be creative and build up new things/processes/systems, do something that you love.
- Other than work, what are your other areas of interest?
Apart from my day job, I’m really interested in professional communities’ growth and dynamics. I’m an active member of the Russian-speaking women professional community in Paris “Women at work” which counts 1200 online members today. We also organize regular online and offline meet-ups. I also stay in touch with a Moscow professional community “Ladies with Scrumble” and I’m honored today to share my experience and insights with “Launch2Rise”, as I would be happy to make a positive contribution to the young generation career choices and growth. Other than community activity, I’m really fond of calligraphy. I discovered the world of calligraphy last year while helping my friend organizing calligraphy workshops in Paris. And this year during lockdown I got really serious about it, as I had a lot of free time at home, I spent between 3 and 8 hours a day learning and practicing calligraphy. And I may say that this is something that I’m passionate about. There are so many styles of writing, styling techniques that I can never get bored of it. Moreover, I consider calligraphy an excellent way of meditation, as it requires a high level of concentration and consciousness. I truly adore calligraphy practice and my dream is to build up an online calligraphy course with a star calligrapher and also to see my own work at an exhibition. I would also like to keep on learning new languages and discovering new cultures. Travelling is my passion too.
- What new skills are you learning or plan to learn? What are your future plans?
In terms of my career and work, I would like to improve my negotiation skills, project management skills, and deeper my knowledge about the technical side of online education, I would also like to gain more knowledge of hybrid training formats and solutions. I’m an ambitious person and I want to keep on growing, developing my skills, learn something new while working on interesting projects. I’m thinking of doing an MBA in several years, as I believe it would boost my career.
- What are the two most important tips you would advise our readers (students and professionals/entrepreneurs) from your experience to become successful?
There are two best ways of learning. Either from the best professionals in your field or out of your mistakes. To connect with the people you want to learn from, do not hesitate to ask them for a piece of advice, and do not afraid of making mistakes, but learn from them.
- Your favorite quote and book?
If you are moving in the direction in which increases your fear, then you’re on the right track – Milorad Pavić. My favorite book is “My Childhood” by Maxim Gorky.
- Any final thoughts or messages for the youth of the world?
Please treat yourself well and take care. I wish you to find your own way, build your successful and happy life!