Why did you decide to go to ITMO University?

At the beginning of my 12th grade in school I found out that the Russian Embassy in Latvia is holding a competition in which winners could study free of charge at Russian universities. From the list of available programs, I chose bioengineering. I was pretty good at maths, physics, chemistry, and biology, so I decided this program would be perfect for me. After that, I began to choose universities. Among the websites I looked at, ITMO’s page stood out to me – it radiated innovation and promised a vibrant student life. This way, already in the middle of 12th grade, I knew I had passed the competition. And in late June, ITMO University replied that it was ready to accept me.

What are your studies like right now?

It seems the last time I took face-to-face classes at the university was in February 2020. I left St. Petersburg in May 2020, and since then I have not been able to return. Last year, all of us studied remotely. And this semester, I am the only one in my group who cannot start face-to-face education.

I was in an information vacuum. Not all teachers contacted me, so I sometimes had to study the material independently. I was terribly annoyed that I had to write essays in all subjects instead of learning them. After all, I am supposed to be a bioengineer, not a copywriter.

This annoyed me so much that last semester I thought of taking a sabbatical. The only thing that stopped me was that in this case, I’d have to leave the dormitory. But I have a bunch of things there that I couldn’t get because of the closed borders. It is a vicious circle.

Ksenija likes traveling, and that is another reason she wants the borders to open. Photo courtesy of the subject
Ksenija likes traveling, and that is another reason she wants the borders to open. Photo courtesy of the subject

How does your forced distance education affect your communication with classmates and teachers?

I clearly feel that I am no longer part of the group. Of course, I can text my friends from the university, but I really miss our coffee breaks between lectures and weekend parties.

Also, sometimes it’s still difficult to reach the teachers. My emails are ignored and I have to wait for feedback much longer than my classmates. In the previous semester, I submitted tasks and got no feedback from the teacher for the whole semester. Then, during the final test, the teacher said she was not satisfied with the way I solved my homework tasks. To put it mildly, it was too late.

On the other hand, it’s easier for me to talk to our lecturers remotely. I am quite a shy person, and therefore it is more convenient for me to write emails than to ask questions in class.

What do you do if a teacher refuses to hold classes remotely?

Teachers usually contact me and we discuss how I will study: they often send me links to online lectures, textbooks, or lecture notes. This semester, I was unable to contact two teachers and asked the Student Services Office for help. They promised to manage the situation, but a few weeks have passed, and I’m still waiting.

Sadly, I don’t have the opportunity to attend the electives that I'm interested in. Also, only running and cycling are available for distance-learning students. I don’t like these types of activities and would rather do yoga. Alas, it is only for those who study in person.

At the beginning of this semester you did an internship. Where did you do it?

I did my internship in Latvia at the iVF Riga Stem Cell Center. There, I worked as a biotechnologist, directly with stem cells. I think I got a great experience working in a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice – Ed.) laboratory, and also gained a lot of useful knowledge both about stem cells and their legal status in Europe.

Have you faced any difficulties during your internship outside of Russia?

Firstly, it caused a slight panic because I learned the requirements for it just a couple of days before it started. Unlike my classmates, I had to independently contact the company and negotiate the internship.

Secondly, it was not difficult for me, but I forgot Latvian during my studies in Russia, thus funny accidents sometimes happened. Meanwhile, I had to go to Riga since there were no places that would be suitable for my internship in my hometown. Nevertheless, I don’t regret this decision because this field trip to Riga turned out to be interesting.

What about presenting the results of your internship?

It was held online and generally without any problems. The only thing was that everything was organized quite chaotically. I wasn’t told how the presentation would be organized and didn’t receive any links in advance. Thanks to my classmates I was able to find out what I should do.

Do you want to return to St. Petersburg? How soon do you think it will happen?

Yes, I want that so much! Studying from home has its advantages: I can listen to lectures from my bed, my room is much more comfortable than a dorm room, and I don't have to wear a mask for several hours. But I miss my friends, studying in classrooms, and St. Petersburg itself a lot. But it seems I can return to St. Petersburg not earlier than the beginning of the next semester.

Interview by Eugeny Shiling

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