Why did you decide to get a Master's degree in Computer Systems and Technologies?

I decided to study for this degree because I graduated as an engineer in Electronics and Telecommunications and I wanted to increase my knowledge in this area. However, due to certain circumstances, I had to change my area of study and the closest one I could find to this was this program at ITMO where I major in Computer Systems and Networks, which I think complements my telecommunications knowledge very well.

What is this Master’s program about?

In general, my Master's program is about the operation and design of computer networks and systems. We also study the operation and design of servers, including  protocols in the TCP/IP model layers, and programming in certain languages.

How did you become a student at ITMO University?

Well, I always wanted to get a Master's degree abroad. Initially, I preferred a Spanish or English-speaking country, but the cost of studying in these countries was too high for me. After looking for information about Russia and receiving recommendations from acquaintances, I decided that Russia is a good option both academically and economically.  What attracted me to the country was its culture, architecture, and the way of being of its citizens, in general Russians are very friendly and respectful. It was also important that the city I live in, St. Petersburg, is quite safe.

I have a scholarship that is granted by the Russian government, I applied for it through russia.study. I could not say exactly how I won the scholarship, I initially applied in my country and did not obtain it. After arriving in Russia and studying the Russian language on my own, I applied for the scholarship again, explaining that I already knew the Russian language and that I only needed to study for the Master's degree and after completing the forms and delivering them to the embassy of my country along with various required documents, I got the scholarship. There are different stages where you can see the status of your application, however, I do not know the requirements you have to fulfill to win the scholarship.

At first, I did not choose ITMO as my first option, in fact, I studied Russian for a year at another university. However, already here in Russia, my friends who knew more about Russia and its education system, told me that ITMO was much better for careers in IT. Therefore, I applied for a change of university, placing ITMO as my first option. 

Damara Verdugo. Photo courtesy of the subject

Damara Verdugo. Photo courtesy of the subject

What were your first impressions of Russia? 

My first impression upon arriving at the Moscow airport was good, because it was my first time in this country and although the language is very difficult, some people talked to me very cordially and helped me with the necessary documentation. In general, the first days were the most complicated, because I did not know the city or the language, and a lot of documentation was necessary. The good thing about the first days is that you can meet many people from different countries and cultures, learn from them, make friends, and together go to see the city, which is very beautiful.

I think one of the things that most worried me when I came to Russia was the weather because my country has a tropical climate and moving to the cold is a big change, however my experience was good, inside the dormitories and buildings you don't feel cold due to the heating system, and to go out you just have to wear the right clothes. Also, activities in the snow are very fun.

What do you think of the student dormitories here?

My first dormitory at the university where I studied the language was not comfortable at all, so I had to request a change of dormitory. Then I came to ITMO and I really liked my dormitory, because when I arrived it was undergoing renovations, so they gave me a newly remodeled room. Although you have to share the bathroom, shower, and kitchen, it is not a problem. In addition, the price is very affordable, and although it is a bit far from the city center with the metro you can easily get anywhere.

How is life as an international student?

This life has its advantages and disadvantages. It depends a lot on the university. At the first university I arrived at, the staff who carried out the documentation did not consider the difficulty that foreign students had when they could not understand the language. However, most of the Russian teachers were willing to help us and explain what was needed. You find most of your classmates and friends at the beginning of classes, it is a very good experience to be in contact with people from different countries, with their various cultures and languages.

When I changed university to study at ITMO, the staff was very different from the other university. They always tried to help me and find a way to make me feel comfortable. Most of the staff speak English, which helps us to communicate when it is not possible through the Russian language.

In my Master's classes, most of my classmates were Russian, and although we were not very close friends, I could always turn to them for help. My experience with the ITMO teachers was very good, they are qualified not only academically but also know how to treat students well and are always willing to help. In my case they allowed me to do some reports in English because in Russian it was a little more difficult.

Damara Verdugo. Photo courtesy of the subject

Damara Verdugo. Photo courtesy of the subject

What are your hobbies?

I like to do various activities such as reading, cooking, walking, doing sports and others, but I did not participate in extracurricular activities at the university due to schedules or different jobs and tasks that I have had. I like meeting people from other cultures and learning from them and their countries. I also dedicate part of my time to my spiritual life. I like to visit and know different tourist places or those that are of some historical value.

What are your plans for the future?

My expectations at the academic level are mainly to increase my knowledge and skills in information technology and telecommunications, to be able to carry out projects and learn much more about this field. I would also like to do an internship in companies to have more experience in this field. On a personal level, my expectations are to mature and grow as a person, as well as to meet more people and try to make new friends.

As I am already finishing my Master's degree, I can say that although some of my expectations were accomplished, others were not, due in part to the fact that we had to experience this pandemic all over the world, which greatly changed the way of studying. Another part was due to the fact that initially I wanted to study telecommunications, but even though there was a Master’s program in this field with one of ITMO’s partner companies, I couldn’t access the company as an international student. Although the university tried to help me in many ways, I preferred to change my specialty to avoid the inconveniences.

I could say that I do not have an exact plan for the future, at the moment I am not going to study for a PhD. I prefer to increase my practical knowledge and work experience, as well as maintain my Russian and English. In the future, I would like to expand the business that my father has in this field and thus develop a solid and reliable company. As a person I always plan to uphold my human principles and values.

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

Initially, I would recommend that you inform yourself well about the program you want to study, as well as the cost of living, residence, food, language and all the information you want to know about it. ITMO is very good in that respect, as you can send an email with your concerns and the staff is often very helpful in this regard.

For each person the experience is different, however many students do have certain similar experiences, therefore, if you have already decided to study here, I recommend looking for students from your country or nearby countries who can also help you with their advice.

On an academic level, I would suggest that if it is easier for you to speak English, find out if it there is a program in English, since Russian is a bit more difficult, and at ITMO there are a wide variety of programs in English, but in any case, the teachers are always open to answering any questions that may arise, so do not hesitate to approach them.

Another one of my recommendations would be that you focus very well on your goals when you get here, so try to set your priorities when using your time and doing your activities, study a lot by yourself, be responsible and try to do academic activities first, then you will have time to enjoy life and get to know the city, its culture, and its people.

Interview by Juan Sebastian Velasquez Acevedo

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