Why did you choose the Mechatronics and Robotics program?
I chose this degree because the future industry will be highly automated and populated by robots and other intelligent machines. Mechatronics encompasses mechanical and electrical engineering with systems design, all critical to robotics.
What I like about mechatronics engineering is that it involves creating intelligent machines that are aware of their environment and can make decisions. While this seems like the perfect definition of a robot, intelligent machines also involve equipment that does not look robotic but behaves like a robot in the sense that they can be programmed to perform specific movements that achieve goals.
You’ve been at ITMO for a while now – how has your impression changed over time?
My impressions have changed for the better. I'm very happy studying at ITMO. In recent years, the university has transformed and has included new things, not only in infrastructure, but also in different ways in which students can access information, which is really impressive.
What has life in Russia been like for you? Anything you wish you knew when you first came that you know now?
I really can't complain about my life in Russia; the only thing I still cannot handle is the cold in the winter season, but besides that, it has been a great experience to live in this country.
I would have liked to know how kind and gentle the Russian people are towards Latin Americans. Almost everyone in Latin America has this misconception of the Russian people as cold and serious. Clearly, there is a cultural barrier, but I think we have a lot in common.
Where are you now? How has the blended learning process been for you?
Now I am renting an apartment in the north of the city. I feel very happy and comfortable with this new place I’m living in, it has been really an improvement over the student dormitory. Even though I'm still in Russia, I’m studying online.
I definitely miss face-to-face education, hanging out with my classmates, university infrastructure, laboratories, etc. In this crazy time, COVID-19 has forced us all to switch to distance learning. However, this educational model also has some advantages, but I hope that everything will return to normal very soon.
Do you think it is difficult for a foreign student to rent an apartment? Any tips for finding a good place?
I would not say that it is difficult, just that you have to perform some cumbersome procedures, especially in the registration part. Here in Russia, one of the most important documents that you use a lot is the registration card, which states where you live.
Here, the owners of the apartments are responsible for issuing it, but they are usually afraid to do it for foreigners. So they will offer the apartment but not guarantee you the registration card. In addition to that, like any other country, it depends on your budget, and that's all – you can rent a good place.
I recommend finding an apartment by yourself, without using agents, because they take 100 percent or 50 percent commission. You can look for them in the countless Facebook or VK groups and do the paperwork directly with the owner, and thus save yourself some money.
Any tips for improving your Russian language skills?
Do not skip Russian classes, and find Russian people to speak to. Although in the preparatory course they taught grammar, the speaking and listening part you will improve by talking to Russians on the street. Explore the city, find people who share your hobbies and talk to them. Find some Russian friends or a Russian girlfriend/boyfriend – this helps a lot to improve your understanding of the Russian language.
Practice is very important, so practice all the time. Every time you learn something new in Russian classes, even a little, practice it over and over again. This way, you will gradually improve your skills in Russian.
What do you like about St. Petersburg and Russia in general?
I love this city. It is incredibly beautiful, and it’s clear why they call it the cultural capital of Russia, with so many parks, palaces, churches, and Russian history told through its architecture. You can go out anywhere, take a walk and find memorable places. For student life, this city is an amazing choice.
Despite the fact that I have already been to different parts of Russia, St. Petersburg is still one of my favorite places. I have always had the desire to visit more places. Next year, I will probably make the Trans-Siberian trip.
What are your hobbies?
I have several hobbies, but the most important are two: football and Latin dance.
I love to play football. I am surprised how many people in Russia have such passion for this sport like me. I participated in different tournaments with the ITMO football team, and twice I was champion of the St. Petersburg Student Football League. I already have several medals and I hope to win many more.
Latin dance, like football, is in my blood. It's fantastic to see that there are so many Latin dance schools here, so many parties, so many people interested in it. It's great to see this part of Latin culture here, so far away, and to see Russians enjoy it so much.
What’s one challenge you’re particularly proud of solving?
I'm not sure if it counts as a challenge, but I think it's something that is very important to live it and face it successfully, and that is studying in another country, which totally changes the way you see the world. Start from scratch in another part of the world where you practically do not know anyone and learn their language, customs, way of life. Adapting not only strengthens your personal character, it is a great challenge to improve as a person, take total control of your life, and be independent. I think it's something I'm proud of, and I definitely recommend everyone to try it.
Have your expectations that you had about the University been fulfilled so far?
So far, yes, I think I have chosen this university correctly, and seeing all the changes, evolution and improvement that happen every year, I am sure that soon ITMO will become the most important university in Russia.
What are your plans for the future?
My main goal is to finish my Bachelor's degree and immediately do a Master's degree in artificial intelligence, maybe in Germany, Switzerland or Russia. I am looking for options.
I would also like to start working in an IT company here in Russia to gain experience. I’m also working on some personal projects that I will try to implement here. I am not planning to return to my country soon. Though it is not a bad choice either, I would prefer to stay here in Europe for a few more years.
Any advice for other international students who want to come to Russia and learn the language, get a Bachelor’s Degree, change their life as you did? Would you recommend it?
I would say that the language is the only obstacle we face as international students, and if you overcome it, you’ll find that studying here is as easy as at any university in Latin America.
Remember not to lose sight of your goals. I definitely recommend this experience. It is life-changing, which helps you develop as a person. It's a big decision, but you won't regret it.
Interview by Juan Sebastian Velasquez Acevedo