ITMO’s Buddy System

The Buddy System is a dedicated project of ITMO within the ITMO.STUDENTS club system to help international students settle down in a foreign country, interact with local students, and provide support with the dormitory move-in, medical checkups and all the other necessary administrative procedures. A buddy is like your first friend in Russia who helps you with adjusting to campus life, making new friends, and building relationships with people who can help you navigate your academic and social experiences.

Credit: @brookecagle via Unsplash

The buddy system usually involves pairing a local student with an international student who has similar interests or background. The current student serves as a mentor, providing guidance on everything from welcoming the international student at the airport or the railway station to guided city tours. The buddy helps the new student acclimate to the campus culture, navigate the registration process, and connect with resources and services available on campus.

I remember going through ITMO’s official website after successfully receiving the acceptance email from the university and reading about the Buddy System and its benefits. Although the website stated that it was mainly for undergraduate, graduate, and exchange program students, I decided to write an email to Daria Tolochko from the International Educational Programs Department who coordinates ITMOs Buddy System asking if she can assign me a buddy in my Foundation Program course. Luckily, she wrote back to me in a short period of time with a positive response and assigned me a buddy. Following that, my buddy emailed me and shared her contact information over WhatsApp and Telegram. I was in contact with her even before I came to St. Petersburg.

My buddy has been super helpful since day one. Due to immigration clearance delay, I missed my connecting flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg and couldn’t inform anyone. When I reached Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg an hour late, I saw my buddy Maria standing near the exit and waiting for me with mixed emotions, as she feared I got lost somewhere. She was super excited to see me and then helped me with obtaining a new SIM card, moving into the dormitory, and completing the registration process. Over the following few days my buddy helped me with all the official processes — applying for visa extension, opening a bank account, accompanying me to the medical center, and helping me settle in during my initial days here. We really bonded well and have become close friends over a short period of time and she is still a text away in case I need any help.

Celebrating Christmas with my ITMO buddy Maria and my friend Melany. Photo courtesy of the subject
Celebrating Christmas with my ITMO buddy Maria and my friend Melany. Photo courtesy of the subject

I have attended most if not all of the events organized by the ITMO Buddy System and have made many new friends in this process. From organizing City Quests, to Russian International Night and Halloween celebrations, our buddies from the Buddy System made sure we settled in comfortably in this new country and enjoyed the intercultural experiences. I also visited Yagodnoe (outdoor camp in the forest) with my friends and members of the Buddy System last December. The Buddy System's trips to Yagodnoe are known to be adventurous and memorable. I was able to make new friends during this trip while having a great time with my own people. This trip had a lot of fun games organized by the buddies, a movie night and a story time and even a barbecue.

I contacted Maxim Gerasimov, who is the head of Buddy System Club. He shared some details about the inner workings of the Buddy System.

Maxim Gerasimov, the head of the Buddy System Club. Photo courtesy of Maxim Gerasimov
Maxim Gerasimov, the head of the Buddy System Club. Photo courtesy of Maxim Gerasimov

How are buddies selected in ITMO's Buddy System? What are the top three qualities that you look for in an ideal buddy?

To become a buddy, one needs to go through a series of steps. It starts with the application process, followed by an interview round. Then the selected members go through a training and finally they are assigned as buddies to international students.

First of all, a buddy should be able to handle his or her responsibilities. It is also important to be able to communicate fluently in the English language. In my opinion, the third most important characteristic in an ideal buddy should be that he or she should be open to exploring new cultures and meeting new people coming from different backgrounds.

How is ITMO's Buddy System different when compared to those at other universities?

Well, I would say that our buddies grab our international students by the hand and do all the necessary procedures with them. When I was in Germany for my exchange semester, my buddies helped me with the registration in the city but I had to open my bank account, buy a SIM card, and get a gym membership all by myself.

What is your most memorable experience working as a buddy/head of the club?

Going to the Russian sauna (баня) with our students. It was really nice to explain to them that it is a brilliant idea to jump into the cold lake (it was winter at the time) after the hot sauna. Also, using brooms was a surprise for them.

What can the international students coming to ITMO this year expect from ITMO's Buddy System?

They can expect to find people always ready to help them, always ready to have a walk with them, always ready to solve any issue. Also, they can expect funtastic trips to Yagodnoe and many other cool events.

How can you contact the Buddy System?

I am so thankful to my buddy and ITMO’s Buddy System for making me feel at home and letting me adapt to these new surroundings, forming new friendships and social connections. This concludes yet another of my blogs from the International Student Series. Thank you so much for reading! Feedback is always appreciated.

Master's student, Business Transformation Strategies and Technologies