How did you become a student at ITMO University?

When I was in high school, I always dreamed of studying in Russia and learning the Russian language but I didn't know how to apply for studies in Russia. It came out of nowhere basically. It was a normal day in high school when a representative of the Russian embassy in Albania knocked on the door and asked if anyone wanted to apply for studies in Russia. It was my opportunity calling me and I signed up for it without a second thought, even my parents didn't know about it. Later on, I did some research on the universities in St. Petersburg that teach the courses that I wanted and I ended up choosing ITMO.

Are you studying in Russian or English and why? 

I am currently studying in Russian. The reasons are first that I need the language in order to use it in everyday life and second, that I have wanted to learn Russian ever since I was 10 years old.

Did you know Russian before coming here?

I managed to learn only the alphabet before coming to Russia. I learned Russian by going to every class during the foundation course. At the same time, I had some practice at the dormitory with my Russian friends. In the first three months, I could not speak at all, I spoke like a child who was just learning some basic phrases, but with a little time and practice, my level started to improve.

Did you get a scholarship and how?

I uploaded all the documents on an official website called to apply for the scholarship.

I was very lucky because not too many people in Albania shared my dream of studying in Russia, so the chances to gain the scholarship were pretty high, and I always had the opportunity to ask for help from the Russian embassy whenever I needed it.

Elvis Harka. Photo courtesy of subject.
Elvis Harka. Photo courtesy of subject.

How was your first contact with the University? 

My first time at the university was a bit hard because I didn’t know the language. The people at the Migration Services Office helped me with the documents so I can’t complain. Everything was easy and fast.

What were your first impressions of Russia? 

At first, it was very difficult for me to adapt. Food was particularly challenging as I am from a Mediterranean country where the diet is quite different. On the other hand, I quite like the cold. As my hometown, Vlorë, is close to the sea, we have no snow, so when I first saw so much snow I was pleasantly surprised.

Elvis Harka in Moscow. Photo courtesy of subject.
Elvis Harka in Moscow. Photo courtesy of subject.

What do you like about St. Petersburg and Russia? 

I like Russia in general. The language, the diversity in its nature and its culture. St. Petersburg for me is the second most beautiful city in the world after Rome.

What are your hobbies?

I play basketball and airsoft, and I like to participate in various clubs on different topics at ITMO and around the city and I also love to travel a lot.

Any advice for other international students who want to come to Russia? Would you recommend it?

I would recommend any student to come and study here. Studying abroad is a dream that many of us have, and without a doubt, it is a great experience. The advice I would give before coming to Russia is to prepare yourself mentally, get to know the culture, and also become familiar with the language, at least the alphabet, and with some social rules to help with the transition during the first few months.

Interview by Juan Sebastian Velasquez Acevedo