Nov 28, 2015
"Listen to Your Inner Voice When Choosing Your Life's Path"
Evgenia Kondrashina graduated with honours from the International College of Economics and Finance bachelor’s programme in 2005 before going on to receive her master’s from the London School of Economics. An excellent student, Evgenia for a long time thought that the next logical step would be a prestigious career at a top English consulting firm, but the idea of following in others’ footsteps doesn’t make everyone happy. Evgenia deviated from this trajectory and found herself in one of the world’s leading orchestras – the London Symphony Orchestra – where she continues to work today.

— Does education abroad differ in any way from the Russian approach towards education?

— It seems to me that students aren’t babied as much in London. Students have to be quite active in order to really get something from a course. You have to go to the professors yourself and read additional literature, and a lot is left up to a student’s initiative. In fact, we didn’t really have real lectures in my master’s programme. But this allowed you to take your time in writing the professor and meeting face-to-face. And in this sense, the Higher School of Economics is a rather Western university.

— You finished your undergraduate at ICEF with honours. Was this difficult to do?

— I can't say that it was extremely difficult. It was fine. I was even able to hang out with my friends quite a bit. I was surrounded by a really fun group of students. But the exams we took in all our classes were graded by the London School of Economics, and this is a lot harder to handle psychologically than it is when your own teachers in Moscow are evaluating your work. And it’s of course a plus that a lot of the lectures are in English, so a strong command of English is important.

— After finishing your master’s at the London School of Economics, did you return to Russia or stay in London?

— I wasn’t set on staying specifically in London to work. I knew that finding a job in London was a rather complicated feat at the time, like it is now. This is because for a lot of people who go there from Russia, and from a lot of other foreign countries for that matter, everything depends on a work visa. A very small number of companies and banks are prepared to handle the visa process for foreigners. It’s complicated and costs a lot. I spent a long time looking for a job in London and was already prepared to return to Russia, but then I met my future husband, who was also an ICEF graduate. This really served as a source of inspiration, and I found a job in literally a month – initially at a smaller consulting company, and then at a leading consulting company in the financial sector, Oliver Wyman, where I worked until 2010. It was exhausting work, but very rewarding. I liked my co-workers. They all had very impressive backgrounds – they graduated from the best universities in the world, knew at least two or three languages, and had lived in different countries. But my work took up pretty much all of my time. I had to be available at any time of day, including weekends, and there were new projects, a new team, a new client, and a new office every 3-6 months. It was really exhausting, and I started thinking it was time for a change.

In 2010, I got a visa that allowed me to choose my employer myself. I still had my childhood love for music, and I went into a calmer area of bank regulation – the Financial Services Authority. This job gave me free time and allowed me to have hobbies.

— Where does your love for music come from?

— I finished the music school as a child, like many Russian children, and played the oboe. I wasn’t a bad musician, but I didn’t try to do it professionally because it didn’t seem very practical to me. This is why when I was 15 I gave up the instrument and didn’t play for ten years. After picking up the instrument after such a long break, I was able to get my skills back rather quickly, and I found a teacher and played in an amateur orchestra.

— At what point did you decide to change your line of work, leave the consulting world, and go into music?

— With a calmer job came more time to really live. I got married and had a baby, for instance. While I was at home with the baby, I thought about what to do next. I wanted to find a job where my business skills were needed, but in a field somehow connected with music. While my son was young, I volunteered at the music organisation Making Music, where I created musical projects for children and also handled strategic planning. When the baby was older, I got into business school at one of England’s best art and music universities – Goldsmiths University – for an MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy. This is like an MBA, but instead of focusing on companies, you focus on theatre and music. After starting the programme, I knew right away that this is exactly what I wanted to do.

— How hard is it for a Russian to adapt psychologically in a foreign country?

— I don’t think it’s hard for graduates of HSE or other leading Moscow universities to adjust to life in London. This is because London isn’t England; London is an international melting pot with mostly foreigners. All possible nationalities can be found in London. I didn’t feel at all unique here because everyone I talked to came from someone else, and this fact really brings everyone together. A lot of my colleagues at Oliver Wyman, for example, were from Europe, the U.S., Asia, Latin America, etc.

— To get back to your career, after business school you started working at one of the best orchestras in the world – the London Symphony Orchestra. What do you do there?

— I handle fundraising. My new role on the London Symphony Orchestra’s fundraising team requires knowledge of both classical music and business, and you also have to be able to communicate with various types of donors, both corporate and private.

— What about the oboe? Do you still play?

— It has become somewhat problematic because I have a small child at home and am only able to play in the evening. Plus it’s a pretty loud instrument, so I’ve actually started playing piano. I can play with headphones, which doesn’t bother anyone.

— What would you tell people who, like you at one point, spend practically all their time at work and might not know how to get out of this?

— I think it’s important to learn how to set the right priorities and manage your time correctly. I can say based on my own experience that working around the clock isn’t effective whatsoever. I don’t believe that people can work all the time and yield good results without end. Our society has developed a sort of ‘long hours’ culture, and people spend a lot of time at work because, well, that’s the way it is. I think that giving yourself very clear time restrictions allows you to work much more effectively. It’s really good to have obligations in your life that aren’t connected to work actually. I, for instance, have to pick my son up from kindergarten by a specific time, which motivates me to finish my work within very strict timeframes.

— What advice do you have for people who have a job they know well, but are finding less and less interesting?

— I believe there are two options here. The first is to try to combine your interests with what you’re doing now. You don’t necessary have to change your field completely though. If you’re an accountant, for example, you can go into a field that you’re personally more interested in. If you love film, be an accountant at a film studio. Your profession doesn’t change, but you’ll be closer to the field you love. Look at me – I didn’t become a musician, but I found a way to be closer to music. The second option is to calmly remain where you are, but get a hobby after work. To be happy, people simply need to change their activities. Having a hobby makes for a much more harmonious life.

— How can one avoid making a mistake when choosing his or her life’s path?

— I think that the main problem is that few people ask teenagers what they really want. They are also not shown the huge spectrum of the professions that are out there. England takes a career-based approach towards teens, but I don’t really think this practice is very developed in Russia. It’s obviously difficult for a teenager to determine what he or she wants, and to help with this, you have to ask them the right questions. Not only do you have to find out what the teen’s interests are, but you also need to identify the strong qualities of his or her personality, as well as their abilities in certain disciplines. A person’s future profession is a combination of interests and strong qualities. It’s also critical that people not be guided solely by money when choosing a profession. The principle of ‘doing what makes money’ doesn’t make you happy.

Anastasia Chumak, specially for HSE ICEF 
Interview on HSE portal >>