International College of Economics and Finance

ICEF Students Did Exchange Semester at Istanbul Bilgi University

ICEF Students Did Exchange Semester at Istanbul Bilgi University

© Bilgi University Istanbul

Three 3rd-year undergraduates are back from Bilgi University after their exchange semester that spanned the months between September 2022 and January 2023. Here’s why the girls chose Bilgi, what it was like to be its exchange students, and what makes cultural exchange no less productive than the academic one.

HSE ICEF and Istanbul Bilgi University started their student exchange programme in 2015. Being a Recognized Teaching Centre of the University of London (UoL), BILGI adheres to international academic standards in the delivery of its economics and finance courses and degrees, employing highly competent teachers and researchers with internationally recognized PhD degrees.

This year, BILGI welcomed three undergraduates from ICEF – Varvara Stefanova, Elizaveta Yegorova and Evfrosinia Sakhno. These students follow a special academic pathway allowing them to sit the end-of-year exams at ICEF and the University of London International Programme. The courses that they took at BILGI included Financial Markets and Asset Valuation, Microeconomics, Econometrics, Management Accounting, and Labour Sociology. The three students have successfully passed all BILGI exams, and their high grades will be credited towards their end-of-year results.

Apart from BILGI, student exchange programmes are maintained with universities in Rome, London and Chengdu ICEF. You can read about recent exchanges here.

Evfrosinia Sakhno:

BILGI’s system for undergraduate training is very similar to that of ICEF: both the universities created their programmes as double-degree tracks with the University of London. I knew I’d have no trouble integrating into BILGI’s environment as an exchange student and getting my BILGI exam grades recognized by my home university. Besides, I had been to Istanbul shortly before the exchange and still had fresh memories of this stunning warm city. I thought it would nice to spend more time there and even more so to study. 

We arrived at Bilgi University a little later than planned, because of visa delays. The first memory I have from it is Econometrics seminar. It felt unusual to me, even difficult, because we were a group of only eight, including the three of us, and we were given lots of questions to answer verbally. Although all people in the group answered just perfectly, I felt we were more knowledgeable about the subject. This was because ICEF gives us more than required by the University of London programme – a strong advantage over other programmes – it also explains why the disciplines at BILGI appeared easier for us. We had enough time to explore the university and the city.

The first thing that impressed us was the beauty and comfort of the campus. BILGI’s atmosphere is probably its most beautiful part. You find yourself in a large park with numerous buildings that house classrooms, teachers’ rooms and offices. There are a lot of cafes and several restaurants on campus, all surrounded by wooden tables for you have a cup of coffee or eat or chat with friends at.

I felt like I was in a movie – a student living a beautiful university life

An environment like this makes students feel calm and relaxed. When you study amidst beautiful nature with picturesque architectural landscapes, this changes your perception of the learning process. There is no pressure from the teachers, you go at your own pace, and there is always time to experience university life. We happened to be at a Student Activity Fair one day and were amazed at how many clubs there were to join to every taste, from dancing to meditation. Another day, they celebrated the exchange students and cultural diversity, particularly, national cuisines. We all danced and talked and shared about our traditions – a great way to bring international students closer to their classmates.

Mine has been a very inspiring experience. I met people from other countries and could learn about their pursuits and possibilities. It was unusual to hear mullahs singing during class time and to stand on the balcony during breaks, admiring the park, discussing cultural differences with classmates, noticing the curious Turkish habits.

We stepped into a completely different lifestyle that made us take a fresh look at our everyday lives

This has been an important and unforgettable experience for me – a refreshing experience that helped me understand my own self and has enriched me academically. Now that I have expanded by knowledge, I have a better understanding of the economic processes, also from the perspective of cultural contexts, and I think I might take up a more creative job in finance.

Varvara Stefanova:

I chose to go to BILGI because its curriculum was in many respects similar to ours and couldn’t accrue any academic arrears for me. Moreover, BILGI was one of the best choices for me as a non-top student – it turns out that people like me can go on exchange too.

On my first day at BILGI my two classmates had kindly taken me under their wing. They showed me places to eat, the way to the classrooms, and who to turn to with organizational matters. Adjusting myself to the learning process wasn’t difficult at all. The students seemed to be very relaxed about lectures and seminars. Many seemed to just rely on their auditory memory and hardly took notes. Although they all performed well at the sessions, Bilgi students’ overall performance is difficult to judge. Our rating as students of ICEF and HSE is composed of multiple criteria, including activity in seminars, homework, quizzes, projects, and attendance. 

BILGI’s learning process has its own features: classes have a duration of 50 minutes and are followed by a 10-minute break, during which everyone gathers on the balcony for a chat and to enjoy the view of the park. This cycle repeats three times during the subject session, so the students don’t get tired.           

And yet, my study at BILGI wasn’t without challenges. There were a lot of things to be studied on our own. At ICEF, we practice self-learning too, but we have the materials – presentations, extra sources and related guidance – carefully explained to us beforehand. As a result, the Microeconomics exam I sat upon my return to ICEF didn’t go very well.

I made it clear for myself that for me to be able to digest the material and reproduce it in exam, I need to attend seminars to hear problems explained in detail

At BILGI Macroeconomics is a year-long course, whereas at ICEF it is semester-long and is taught in greater depth. I’ll have to catch up with this course in the second semester. 

But overall, this has definitely been a valuable experience. We experienced a student life completely different from the one we have in Moscow. After classes, we would get into a taxi, where the driver talked to us in Turkish and used Google to translate his jokes, to get off at the Bosphorus to take a walk along its shore, drop in at local diners for delicious kebab and walk back home accompanied by neighborhood dogs that barked at passing cars to protect us. And in the evening, I and the girls had dinner in the company of cats that never missed their chance to snatch a bite from us. This, and the university life, has given us the unforgettable experience of a different culture, its beautiful city and interesting people. By learning new cultures and traditions, we take on a new perspective and fresh look at ordinary things. I now know more about this world. I could practice my English and even learned some Turkish. I advise everyone to do an exchange semester abroad. No need to be afraid. You are in for quite a ride!

Elizaveta Yegorova:

I and the girls first thought about joining the academic mobility programme in the autumn of 2021. We had a complete list of countries and universities we would most like to go to. A lot has changed since then and made us take a closer look at Turkey and Istanbul Bilgi University. I personally opted for Turkey because of its amazing history, diverse culture, and Serkan Balat.

It was a very small group of students that we joined at BILGI, which was the reason why sessions felt a bit strange – there was no traditional division into lectures and seminars, and all our classes took place in small rooms with huge balconies. We found ourselves in a relaxing atmosphere. Relaxing was the ubiquitous presence of cats and dogs resting in the shade of the buildings next to the students, and the teaching style itself. We, who are always on the go and busy, found our new environment insufficiently demanding. To give one example, at Bilgi teachers aren’t expected to encourage students to give answers if they don’t feel like answering. Working hard and studying hard is not about Turkey. They don’t work long hours on laptops in the student cafes, they just chat instead. The administrative staff start at 10:00 and close at 16:00 and have a 90-minute lunch break. When you look at students in the library, you have the impression they’re doing leisure reading.

We did expect our study mode to be like this at BIGLI. And since we knew we might start lagging behind our peers at ICEF, particularly in Microeconomics, we prepared ourselves for serious self-learning in order to catch up.

The three of us shared one room and could therefore encourage one another to study the materials we got from our peers at ICEF and sourced from ICEF-Online in order to catch up with Economics and other courses

Frankly speaking, I spent much more time and effort self-learning than doing any of the courses at BILGI. If not for my self-study, I wouldn’t be able to get a satisfactory grade from the demanding Alla Friedman.  

But overall, our every day at Bilgi University was something absolutely out of the ordinary. Every morning, we would wake up to the prayer of a mullah mixed with sounds of seagulls and street vendors. The taxi ride to campus, the crazy Istanbul traffic, the ferry from Asia to Europe, an ordinary public transport – who can forget such memorable impressions? I absolutely liked communicating with the local students: we shared one curriculum, but belonged to completely different cultures. In Istanbul, I learned a lot about the Muslim traditions and the Turkish mindset. Well, some things came as a big surprise.

My time at BILGI made me look at my study and professional domain from a different angle. Being locked in overachiever mode, many of us find it hard to slow down and think about more important things. At the same time, after we faced the bureaucratic obstacles for student exchange, we began to appreciate ICEF and its administration even more. It’s good to have the people who will answer all your queries even if it’s late at night.