From University of Campinas in Brazil to ITMO University in Russia

I am an Industrial Engineering student at the University of Campinas in Brazil, and recently I came to Russia to study at ITMO University, in St. Petersburg. Concerning my studies and professional interests, I came to increase my knowledge and skills in technology and computing subjects, to which I don't have easy access where I live. Apart from that, I have had some particular affection to Russian culture and history. Due to that, I am now having a gratifying and intense experience.

Manuela and her buddy

Studying at ITMO

Classes at ITMO University are completely different from what I am used to. To start with, in Brazil, courses are more like what they always were, in a sense it it is very hard to have subjects using new technologies, for instance, and other elements from our current reality. From where I stand, it is really useful to have access to some knowledge of this aspect, especially considering my personal desire to do a research project in modern concerns such as blockchain.

Also, classes are scheduled in a particular way, and that is the biggest difference: in my hometown university, we always have the same classes at the same time, on the same specific days of the week; here, however, classes sometimes happen in modules and sometimes they alternate on odd and even weeks. This has some good implications: I can have some days off and, maybe, a break from the "always the same" routine. Yet, it also can be a little confusing and sometimes some classes may meet at the same time and day. Although the "pros and cons", I would say that these dynamics are very interesting and motivating.

As for the students, I would say they are very much alike, even though they come from various countries. I risk saying that because our reasons to be here seem to be pretty much similar and, of course, many of them have the same area of study, which bring us even closer. Culturally, for sure, there are many differences, but we make it work and learn a lot from each other.

When you are a foreigner and also a student, the most common reaction to a new environment is to try to attach to people and things that remind you of yourself. In other words, you face a cultural shock and this makes your identity become remodeled in a way that you start seeing things differently but also want to attain to the self of you that you know; therefore, the most reliable thing to do is to look out for people in the same situation as you (other exchange students, who face a really similar situation) and things you used to do before (as for me, I go to the gym and intend to play basketball at the university). In this way, it is easier to understand and pass through changes in the usual routine.

When I am with other students, other than during classes, I go to some places to eat and/or drink or we go sightseeing. Although I am not very connected to all of them yet, I tend to take some chances to talk about their studies and interests, and in the same logic I presented before, I put some real effort on discovering similarities. For instance, I like talking about sports with them so that I can have sport peers and have some great experiences in that matter too. I don’t like partying, but there also are some opportunities for us students to be there and interact more to know more about each other and maybe in the near future I will join one of them.

Credit: Manuela Pugliesi
Credit: Manuela Pugliesi

I also — and mostly — am a very reserved person. I like going to stores and different places just to be on my own as well: read a book, relax, have some silence to my own thoughts. St. Petersburg is very suitable for that too because of its parks. I live near Alexandrovsky Park and Mikhailovsky Park and I must affirm they are wonderful places to go and be at. I also enjoy going to patisseries. Many of the Buddies mentioned "булочная" and it is now a habit to go there and try some different pastries.

Credit: Manuela Pugliesi
Credit: Manuela Pugliesi

Concerning the Buddy System, ITMO University has really surprised me. For each international student, there is a Buddy, i.e.: a Russian student ready to help them throughout their exchange program. This is a very convenient measure because of all our needs, especially in the beginning of the program, when we don’t know how to go to some places where, when and how to buy food or other items. This has been really helpful also in socialization because, as I said before, we face some changes culturally speaking, and because of that, maybe one possible reaction is to be too restrained and shy; and the buddies really try to ensure everything is going well and to be there when needed so that we don’t feel alone or excluded in some way.

Demystifying Russia

Although not having been here in St. Petersburg for so long, many of my previous ideas about the place and the people here were actually proved wrong. As a Brazilian, I would say the main belief my family, my friends and I had was about the weather: we were sure I would barely see strong sunlight or I would never again wear a shirt without a coat on top of it. Being used to hot climates, I was expecting a much cooler environment, even during Autumn. It was a great surprise going to Peter's Fortress and seeing lots of people sunbathing and having so much fun outdoors. I also had the opportunity to go to the beach and that was really unexpected; because the weather and the sensation was quite similar to what I have experienced in Brazil.

I understood that the city was old. But I didn't foresee that it could be so, so beautiful. All the buildings in the center have a similar height and style, creating an amazing architectural composition. This is for sure the greatest difference from my country that I have observed until now. It seems like I am in a movie or in another age. Many aspects were maintained from a very old time. I learnt that the metro is too deep because it was once where people took refuge during wars. Also, many buildings are considered to be historical. So, differently than I am used to, the aesthetics are conservative and in huge physical proportions.

Back in Brazil, I was wondering how people would be like, how they would treat me. My greatest fear was concerning safety, since I would be here on my own. I was happy to discover that people are really interesting: pragmatic manners, which can be interpreted as either impolite and efficient. But truly they can be very understanding and patient when we risk speaking in Russian. Most of the time, they can be very helpful and considerate towards strangers.

Exchange student