Rising stars: from Russia, with love

Finbarr Bermingham chats to Nadia Arkhipova, a native of St Petersburg and a University of Manchester student who's gone into business to help fellow Russians adapt to British life.

Nadia Arkhipova is talkative and excited as The Gateway catches up with her between lectures. The University of Manchester student is in her final year and is due to take a position at Bloomberg upon graduation. Her English is excellent and she feels "completely comfortable" living in Britain. So much so, we're surprised when she talks of being underwhelmed and lonely when she arrived in England from St Petersburg four years ago. "I was expecting it to be full of bright colours and vibrant," she explains, "but the reality was a bit tougher than I'd thought. I'd tried to save some money on accommodation and ended up living in the worst flat ever. I had no furniture, no Wi-Fi... nothing. I didn't get on with my neighbours, who were really loud. I struggled to get to grips with the British mentality and, of course, there was the language barrier. For half a year, I hardly spoke to anyone. For the next six months I only spoke to Russians, and after that met my first English friend."

Nadia settled eventually and showed great entrepreneurship to turn her difficult early experience into a positive one. Upon arriving in Manchester, she did a foundation course, a compulsory step for Russians hoping to study at British universities, in business and economics at Abbey College, Manchester. She had been referred to Abbey (one of the DLD Group of independent colleges across England) by a friend, and after Nadia finished, she recommended it to another friend. The early stages of a network started to appear, and the wheels in Nadia's head started to turn: "What if I could help students avoid the same experience I had, while making some commission for it?" A business concept was born and for the past few years, alongside her studies, Nadia has worked as an independent educational agent, brokering relationships between Abbey DLB and students in her homeland.

Keeping it personal

She set up a homepage on the Russian equivalent of Facebook, detailing all the programmes the college has and outlining her own history, which she counts as her USP when trying to attract clients. "I know what it's like on the inside, what it's like to come to Britain from Russia, so I'm in a different position than most of the recruitment agencies. I only work for a small group of colleges, where I know all the teachers and principals. For clients, my knowledge of what I'm selling is valuable. I have thought about expanding, but I think the personal connection is important."

The effort Nadia puts into sourcing clients is remarkable. Since she's based in Manchester, the bulk of her work comes outside of term time, but the preparation continues all year long. "When I go to Russia, I have to make sure I can get into some schools to give presentations. I might call 200 schools, but maybe one of them will let me present to the students. I spend a lot of time, answering questions from those that have expressed an interest - usually about three per week. Once the interest has progressed to the right level, I arrange a meeting with the students and their families."

Onwards and upwards

The UK hasn't always been the destination of choice for Russian students studying abroad, with many of them preferring continental countries. But for Nadia, the combination of culture and opportunity makes it infinitely sellable. "When I first came to the UK," she explains, "I'd never even heard of an internship. They're a new thing in Russia in the big investment banks, but they're a big part of student life here. In Russia, we don't have campuses. Universities are comprised of buildings scattered across the cities." As a result, they don't have the sense of community that's present in British universities. "In the UK," says Nadia, "it's all about the student societies!"

As part of her service, Nadia keeps in touch with all of her "recruits" and tries to ensure their bedding-in period is smoother than her own. As former head of the Russian Society at Manchester University, she helps them integrate with the expat community, and before they arrive, she helps them find a place to live. "I wish I'd had some help when I was finding my first place," she says, recalling her first year "cubicle apartment". The cumbersome groundwork is always worth it and Nadia finds the work rewarding, as she enjoys overseeing someone's journey into further education in another country from start to finish. It has also caught the eye of employers. Bloomberg, who pride themselves on their entrepreneurial workforce, "seemed really impressed" with Nadia's business nous at her job interview there. As she prepares to enter their sales team, they can be confident they'll inherit an ambitious and resourceful employee, who is "excited and hopeful" about the future.