Where are you from and what are you currently studying?

I’m from Nancy, France and I’m an exchange student at ITMO’s Food Technology program. I am passionate about understanding the relationship between food and health. I really enjoyed the molecular neuroscience course at ITMO where I got to learn about the gut-brain axis and how the food we eat affects our brains’ activity.

What is your university like back in France and what do you study there?

I study agronomic engineering at Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Agronomie et des Industries Alimentaires (ENSAIA), which is a part of the University of Lorraine. To get enrolled in this school, we have to pass an entrance examination after graduating from high school. I spent two years preparing for this exam and it will take me three more years to complete the course which I am enrolled in. So, if we take the preparation time into consideration, the total duration of it is five years. The diploma I will get at the end of the program is equivalent to a Master’s degree.

How did you apply for the exchange program at ITMO?

Every student in France wants to study abroad during their third semester. I applied for the Erasmus study abroad program. I selected ITMO over other universities because I wanted to explore St. Petersburg. The application process was quite simple. We had to submit all our documents along with a letter of motivation. I also applied for a scholarship, for which I had to take an interview, and ended up getting it. It covers almost every expense of mine including travel. I also got a regional scholarship in France which helped me finance my stay even further. 

Caroline appreciates the Soviet architecture of St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of the subject

Caroline appreciates the Soviet architecture of St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of the subject

What was it like to travel to St. Petersburg?

I did not have any problems even with my limited knowledge of Russian. Before coming here, I asked the staff of ITMO’s International Office a lot of questions and they always responded to me timely. They also provided me with an ITMO Buddy who was super helpful. She came to meet me at the airport and helped me with every administrative issue. We have become great friends now. The buddy system is a great initiative.

Are you learning the Russian language?

Yes, I am attending a basic Russian course (A1) where I am learning to read and write in the language. I am still unable to talk to someone in Russian, though. I guess it will take some more time and practice.

What was the language of instruction at ENSAIA?

At ENSAIA, everything was taught in French. I have always studied in French. This is the first time I am learning something in English. My English is entirely self-taught and I am quite comfortable using it. 

Did you notice any differences between the educational systems of France and Russia?

In Russia, much emphasis is laid on research and lab work. I really appreciate that because it gives a lot of experience in dealing with scientific equipment. In France, it is not the case. We don’t get such great training. We usually work on theoretical projects. But in Russia, students get to work on their own practical projects independently. They are allowed to use the resources of the lab. Also, it is interesting to notice that ITMO University together with all its labs functions 24/7. In France, the university gates close in the evening and no one is allowed to work beyond that time. 

Gatchina, a town in the Leningrad Oblast, has been one of Caroline’s fondest destinations. Photo courtesy of the subject

Gatchina, a town in the Leningrad Oblast, has been one of Caroline’s fondest destinations. Photo courtesy of the subject

What is your opinion on the module-based system of studies implemented at ITMO?

I find it really intelligent and smart. Learning one subject at a time is also a better option than studying many subjects together. It definitely increases the efficiency of learning and that lets you do better on the exams. It should definitely be introduced in France.

Is this your first experience of living in a dorm?

Dormitories as a concept aren't really common in France. University students usually live in special apartments called Crous. We do not usually have to share our rooms or bathrooms. However, during high school, I used to live in a shared room with my classmates at boarding school. So, technically, this is not my first experience of living in a dormitory. But it is definitely something new for me to share my room with foreigners. My roommates are Russians and I get along really well with them.

Do you like your dorm here?

My dorm at Lensoveta St. 23 is a very nice and cozy place. The students there are very friendly. When I first arrived, they organized a welcome party for newcomers like me. We hang out very often with everyone. It is a very good and strong community. 

Did you go sightseeing in St. Petersburg?

Yes, I did and it was really amazing. I visited every major tourist attraction in the city. I loved them all. But what I liked more were the places around the city. They were mesmerizing. As if I was sitting in the lap of nature. In particular, I really liked Gatchina in the Leningrad Oblast. It was very beautiful. I am also a big fan of art, so I enjoyed visiting the State Russian Museum. The paintings from the medieval period were absolutely priceless! 

Caroline enjoyed her visit to the Russian Museum. Photo courtesy of the subject

Caroline enjoyed her visit to the Russian Museum. Photo courtesy of the subject

What do you find to be the most striking difference between the lifestyles of the Russians compared to the French?

I am a foodie, so my attention always goes to food and I did notice a lot of differences in this regard. In France, cafes at a university are only open for a couple of hours (like 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm) but in Russia, the cafeteria works for a much longer period of time. Also, one can never find such a variety of dishes in France. We usually have fruit and some regular dishes. But here, I can find so many tasty things like cheesecakes and sausages. My favorite Russian food is blini. I really like the taste. I was surprised to see that Russians eat them with many different stuffings like meat, sour cream, and cheese. I have heard that ice cream is a very popular treat in St. Petersburg. I haven’t tried it yet but it is definitely on my wishlist.

What are your plans for the future?

After I complete my exchange semester in January, I will go back to France to do an internship. I just got accepted into a renowned lab. My research project will be on food technology. I would love to continue spreading awareness about food, nutrition, and health as a science communicator or consultant in the future. There is a big gap between the scientific community and the public. My dream is to bridge this gap.

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