View from the Pit

An interview with Professor Victoria Ivashina, a member of the Finance department and a FIN1 instructor for two RC sections. She lived in Russia and Peru before coming to HBS. In Peru, she worked for the Superintendency of Banking and Insurance, a government agency similar to the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank.

Harbus: Before you came to the U.S., you moved from Russia to Peru. What was that transition like?

Ivashina: I moved around a lot even before I moved to Peru. I was born in Kazakhstan, and I moved a lot within Russia. I went to six different high schools. When I graduated from high school, I moved to Lima, which is where my parents were working at the time. I didn’t know Spanish before arriving in Peru, and my parents thought that I should just enroll in college and learn Spanish along the way, so I did.

Harbus: That seems like a difficult way to learn another language!

Ivashina: In retrospect, it probably was, but at the time I didn’t think about it too much – I just did it! It didn’t seem so scary.

Harbus: What were some of the cultural differences you encountered when you moved to Peru?

Ivashina: There are very few similarities between Russian and Peruvian culture. From the outside, Russians can seem a bit cold, and they tend to have smaller circles of friends. In reality, they are very welcoming people and loyal to their friends, but they may not come off like that. In Peru, I found that people were open and friendly, and they tended to have larger circles of friends. Also, Russians are very direct, while Peruvians seemed to me to be much more diplomatic. My best friends are Peruvian and they always give me a hard time about being too direct, but my family and my Russian friends say I’m too diplomatic.

Harbus: What brought you to the U.S.?

Ivashina: After working for a few years in Peru, I knew I wanted to do a PhD in either Finance or Economics, and the best schools are in the U.S.. I wanted to learn as much as I could. The Chair of the Finance department at NYU was my professor for a class I took while I was in Peru, so I asked him for a recommendation, and I quickly ended up as a student at Stern, NYU.

Harbus: Was it difficult to transition from Peru to the U.S.?

Ivashina: The U.S. is actually much more similar to Russia than to Peru, so it wasn’t very hard. After moving from Russia to Peru, I felt that nothing else would surprise me. I was ready for anything after that!

Harbus: What are some of the cultural differences you’ve noticed in the U.S.?

Ivashina: Well, for one, the service is amazing here – in restaurants, in stores. People take that for granted here, but it’s not like that in Russia or in Peru. However, I didn’t really experience culture shock when I came here because the U.S. culture is all over the world through books and movies – CNN, for example, although the international edition is so much better than the local edition!

Another difference is that Americans are more prepared to be assertive and outspoken in public. Of course, during people’s first weeks and months at HBS, that comes into play in the classroom. I have often thought that if I were sitting on the other side of the classroom as an international student, I wouldn’t necessarily be jumping into the conversation all the time, especially in the beginning. In the first semester, language fluency can be an added stress for some students because you have to think fast and be eloquent. They might think they’re at a disadvantage, but the truth is they catch up very quickly. Also, this system – the case method – can be intimidating for everyone, not just international students.

Harbus: Do you notice any other culture clashes between students in the classroom?

Ivashina: Both the international students and the U.S. students here are very well-traveled, and most people have lived or worked abroad, so I don’t see that many differences. They don’t come to the classroom with a perspective on only their own country; they have perspectives on many different cultures. Of course, in general, it’s not always like that. This is a very unique group of people. The students are extremely intelligent, and they are good at adapting to the situation they are in.