Why did you decide to take the Master's degree in Digital Control Systems?

I chose this Master's degree because nowadays automation and control of digital systems are booming. If you know how to control everything with computers, as a mechanical and electrical system, you will have the future in your hands. 

How did you become a student at ITMO University? 

This question is asked to me very often, and I can say that I did not choose Russia, Russia chose me. It is a bit vague, but it is the truth. I always had a special attraction to this wonderful country. Also, since I was a child, I knew that my future was not in Ecuador. So I decided to apply for a scholarship through the Russian embassy in Ecuador and the Russia.Study portal. I just sent all my paperwork as well as my personal achievements and a couple of months later they informed me that I had the opportunity to study here. The process to apply for the scholarship is from March to April, and in September they announce the scholarship winners.

Why did you choose ITMO?

ITMO is one of the best universities in the field of automation and programming. Besides, it is not traditional education. They are always innovating; it is not a typical university that is everywhere, it's something else, and I love that.

What was your educational path before joining ITMO?

In Ecuador, I studied Mechanical Engineering at the National Polytechnic School, which is located in the capital Quito. 

How were your first days in St. Petersburg like?

On my first day, I remember that I met the people who work in the university’s International Office and they helped me with all the documents that I needed: visa, registration, residence, etc. I practically didn’t have to do anything. They were very cordial and friendly.

The first days in Russia were challenging because I did not understand anything at all, meeting people, making friends, and getting used to the city, especially food. Food was a bit challenging because I only went to fast food places or ate the famous Doshirak (noodles) because I did not speak Russian or go to the supermarket. Also, I remember that the weather was not so cold, but you had to wear a jacket, a sweater, a hat and gloves because otherwise, you would freeze.

The following months were better because I met many people thanks to dancing. I love to dance salsa, bachata and Latin music. That opened the doors for me to meet many people and get to know Russians. The people here are friendly, and they always help you with whatever you need. St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. When I arrived here it was love at first sight.

Alexander Ramos. Photo courtesy of the subject
Alexander Ramos. Photo courtesy of the subject

What do you like most about St. Petersburg?

This city has a contrast between the old and the new. St. Petersburg is a city full of beautiful places, and you don't need as much time to get around as is the case with big cities like Moscow. I love that within a normal walking day you can discover beautiful places.

What can you tell us about university life as an international student?

Being an international student in St. Petersburg is wonderful, you can always meet people, and you have an advantage if you speak other languages, because people here are very interested in cultural exchange. It's a bit complicated because every day is a challenge and you have to prepare a lot. 

Did you ever think of Russia as a place to get your Master’s degree? 

I never thought of coming to Russia but exactly one and a half years ago I found out that I could apply for this opportunity. I just said to myself, why not? Opportunities only appear once in a lifetime, and here we are.

After one year of being here, what do you think of Russia?

The most difficult is the weather, because in Latin America there are just two seasons: winter or summer. It is practically the same either it rains or it is sunny. Here are four seasons, and that influences your day to day, your character and your energy. With regards to the people, they are amazing, and it is impressive when you start to understand them speaking Russian. The most impressive thing is that your mind completely opens, you get to know different cultures and traditions, and your way of thinking changes. I can tell you that I’m no longer the same person that I was one year ago and that is what I like the most. Besides, the day-to-day life here is different and I don’t live in that routine that kills you.

Russia is another world and it’s very different from Latin America, where people have other ways of living. Something that seemed crazy to me is that everyone loves to walk, just go for a walk, and now I do it constantly too. Also, before I came I had a lot of stereotypes about Russia, like that you could see bears in the streets and that everyone drinks vodka. Now I know that in Russia people like tea and bears are only in the woods far from the city.

Alexander Ramos. Photo courtesy of the subject
Alexander Ramos. Photo courtesy of the subject

What are your hobbies?

My hobbies are learning new languages, practicing these languages with other people, dancing salsa and bachata, and discovering new places. Next semester I will try to enroll in an extracurricular club and get some new hobbies. At the moment I do not know what I would like, but I am sure that I will find something.

What are your plans for the future?

I expect to do a lot of research related to my studies, I’d like to work with drones, and I want to specialize in this field. Besides, I hope to meet new people and take advantage of all the opportunities that ITMO offers in terms of work, internships, startups and learning.

My main goal is to enroll in a PhD program and become a researcher and professor. At the moment I don't know if I would like to continue at ITMO or somewhere else.

Any advice for other international students who want to come to Russia and do a Master's degree here?

The best advice is not to be afraid of language or culture, this is usually a barrier, but everything is great once you get past it. You have to practice Russian every day and meet new people so that you won't fall into the monotony. 

Interview by Juan Sebastian Velasquez Acevedo