Tell us something about yourself and your hometown.
I grew up in a very down-to-earth family of farmers. I was born and brought up in the city of Ahmedabad in India. It is a small but harmonious city located on the Western coast of India. Since my childhood, I have seen my father and my grandfather working in the fields day in and day out. Seeing them toil in the heat instilled in my young brain a motivation to work hard and do well for myself and my family. Seeing my family worship plants like gods, made me curious about them. That was the reason why I studied biology in high school. I continued studying it during my Bachelor’s, where my major was biotechnology. At ITMO, I am a student of molecular biology and biotechnology and a member of the Molecular Robotics and Biosensor Materials lab.
Are you enjoying your life as an international student?
Being an international student is exciting and challenging at the same time. Besides enjoying and having fun in the new country, one must also take care of certain important things. For me, maintaining the documents is a very challenging task. In a foreign country, your documents are your most important assets. Be it your passport or your migration card, your stay depends on them. There are other challenges too. For example, the language barrier is a major problem for me. Nevertheless, being an international student in Russia is a thrilling experience. It is one of those times in your life that bring out the best in you.
What was your first impression of Russia when you stepped out of the airplane?
That moment was surreal. I will remember it forever. When I left my home country, it was a very hot summer’s day with temperatures of about 40 degrees celsius. But, as soon as our airplane landed at the Pulkovo airport, I could feel the chilly winds blowing. The sky was blue and the weather was so comfortable. It was something around 15 degrees. The city of St. Petersburg was in front of me, standing with pride. I was thrilled by its architecture. So much history, so many stories! These roads have witnessed so many historic events. I feel proud to be here.
What is your opinion about ITMO’s dormitories?
I live in the dormitory located at Lensoveta St. 23. That is the one where most of the international students live. It is a very clean and tidy place. The administration here is really good and everybody is friendly with us, the international students. The location of this dormitory is also really good as it is very close to the airport. There are many convenience stores nearby like Magnit, Pyatorochka, and Fix Price. The ambiance inside the dormitory is also very good. We have game nights every day where we play several board games like chess and cards. On weekends we watch movies together and hang out. Overall, it is a wonderful experience.
Can you recall any funny incidents that occurred in your dorm?
I have a very eccentric guy in my dorm who always ends up doing something silly. One day he abruptly went into the women’s washroom and when asked about it, he said, “It is okay! We are all human beings!”. His behavior always makes us laugh. Apart from that, there have been many incidents when we have misunderstood the warden and ended up doing something completely different than what we were asked to do. These are silly but funny experiences.
What fun activities have you done since your arrival here in St. Petersburg?
My first experience with the electric scooter was a very memorable one. I had no idea how to use it. I went up to the scooter and tried to ride it but its alarm started beeping! Then I figured out that I needed to download an app and generate a code to unlock it. I also learned that the ITMO.STUDENTS app provides two free rides per day to ITMO students from Monday to Saturday. It is a great way to commute between campuses, especially between Lomonosova St. 9 and Kronversky Pr. 49. If you are new to it, you can go to Palace Square early in the morning to practice. You will find many locals there doing the same thing.
What is your favorite Russian food? Do you have any favorite places to eat?
I am a vegetarian, so I cannot try many of the traditional Russian dishes that have meat in them. However, I have tried blini, kasha, and kvas. I can recommend a few places that offer good and somewhat spicy vegetarian dishes like Armenian restaurants, Tokyo City, and Falafel King. Also, there is the cafe Go Vegan, near the Lomonosova St. 9 campus. They have some great Italian desserts and sweets.
Did you go on any trip recently? How was the experience?
Yes, recently I went to the Leningrad Oblast for a day out. The best part of the trip was riding the suburban train. The journey through the green valleys was simply amazing. The forest was so big. We spent hours collecting berries and mushrooms. It was a very memorable trip. Last year, there was a fire in this forest. We could still see some charred tree trunks and ashes. This sight moved us. All of us decided not to smoke there, to prevent any further mishaps. It is such a pity to see nature suffering due to human activities.
Which places in Russia would you like to visit apart from St. Pete?
My bucket list includes Moscow, Siberia, Sochi, Karelia, Altay, Lake Baikal, and some nearby countries, for instance, Finland and Estonia. I want to experience the northern lights. I have only seen them on TV and the internet. It is heaven on earth!
What is your favorite place in St. Pete and why?
I really like Nevsky Prospect and Sadovaya Street. They are the most lively areas in the city. One can find people from different countries selling their products at the local market. I really enjoy being amidst the crowd. There are a lot of cafes, restaurants, and malls in these locations. One of my favorite activities on a weekend is window-shopping.
How are you getting ready for the winter?
To be honest, I haven’t properly equipped myself for the winter yet. I have bought a few warm clothes but they are absolutely not enough for the snow. In the next few days, I will buy some good winter wear such as a КУРТКА (jacket), a ШАРФ (scarf), maybe a ПУХОВИК (down jacket), a ШАПКА (beanie), and a pair of ПЕРЧАТКИ (gloves).
Interview by Subhrajit Barua