What are you studying at ITMO?

I am enrolled in ITMO’s Russian-language Foundation Program. It is a one-year preparatory course where international students get to learn about Russia, its culture, and the language. After its completion, I will pursue a Master’s degree in the Business Information Systems program.

Where did you do your Bachelor’s?

I got my Bachelor’s in economics from Damascus University in Syria. It is one of the most renowned universities in my country. Afterward, I started working in banking, where I got first-hand experience in finance management. Subsequently, for a year and a half, I worked in various industries. It was then that I decided to study further in a foreign country. 

What inspired you to study again?

I am a very ambitious person and I always want to grow. I like challenging myself and going back to student life was undoubtedly a challenge. My goal is to learn many useful IT skills and apply them to economics. 

How did you come across ITMO?

Studying abroad is a lucrative prospect for Syrians as they are suffering from numerous economic sanctions. Services like Coursera are banned in my country. Therefore, many students like myself choose to study abroad in countries such as Russia. While doing my research, I found ITMO, one of the best universities in Russia. I was thrilled to learn that ITMO was the champion of the International Collegiate Programming Contest for a record seven times! 

Wael’s favorite place in St. Petersburg is the Peterhof Palace. Photo courtesy of the subject

Wael’s favorite place in St. Petersburg is the Peterhof Palace. Photo courtesy of the subject

What was the application process like for you?

I applied through ITMO’s online admissions portal. It’s easy and you can get help from the staff if you are stuck. I had to pass an interview. To my surprise and joy, I won a full scholarship! 

What are your interests?

My primary interests lie in economics and finance. But I am also a big IT enthusiast. I have learned a few programming languages on my own. I learned SQL as a part of the One Million Arab Coders initiative. It is a part of a charitable foundation managed by the Dubai Future Foundation that is dedicated to spreading education and awareness across Arabic countries. Its mission is to empower young Arabs with training in IT and computer science.

How important is it for young people to learn financial management?

In my opinion, it is a very important skill to have for everyone. In today’s world, everything is dictated by the economy. Therefore one should have a basic understanding of financial management. Young people nowadays spend a lot on cool accessories and gadgets. While it is not wrong to do so, one should also plan their expenses wisely. It is always advisable to avoid taking loans. Also, one should consider investing in stocks and cryptocurrencies as early as possible to reap the most benefits.

What surprised you the most when you started working?

I have learned a lot of things since I started working in banking, but what surprised me the most was the way banks dealt with their customers. Everything is done so professionally. The difference between personal life and professional life became clearer to me once I started working.

Did your understanding of some things change once you encountered them in practice?

My idea of entrepreneurship changed once I studied young entrepreneurs closely. What we learn in schools and colleges is a part of the full picture. It takes a lot of struggle and hard work to become a successful entrepreneur. In my mind, I had always imagined a successful businessman to be someone wearing a black suit with a sleek black tie riding a BMW. But in reality, successful businessmen work really hard to convert their dreams into reality. They face numerous obstacles but they always find ways to overcome them. And that is what makes them great.

“Walking on frozen lakes was my favorite winter activity,” says Wael. Photo courtesy of the subject

“Walking on frozen lakes was my favorite winter activity,” says Wael. Photo courtesy of the subject

How difficult was it for you to learn Russian?

It is a beautiful language to listen to, but learning it is hard. Especially when you want to learn it seriously, taking care of the proper use of grammar. For me, the most difficult topic was conjugation. It is not easy for a foreigner to learn it in a few days. It takes months, sometimes years to be able to use it well.

Are you enjoying your classes?

Yes, I really like attending the lectures at ITMO. The resources provided are really helpful and the teachers are very skilled at teaching. The only challenge was shifting from distant learning mode to in-person mode and then going back to remote classes. The pandemic has been a problem but the whole world is facing it together and I hope we will overcome it soon.

What is your dormitory like?

I live in the dormitory located on Lensoveta Street 23. It is a very beautiful and cozy dorm. The temperature is maintained very well inside the building. My roommate is a guy from Ukraine. He is a very friendly and helpful person. We have become great friends.

Do you like the weather here in St. Petersburg?

I arrived here in the autumn and I was mesmerized by the weather. The city seemed to be wrapped in yellow, orange, and red leaves. Then it changed to white and the temperatures dropped below 0. It was amazing to witness the lakes freeze. Overall, the weather here is very enjoyable – provided you take good care of yourself.

What are your future plans?

For now, my goal is to graduate with excellent grades. After that, I hope to find a place for myself in the market. I would like to work for some time and gain some more experience. I also have a startup idea. So, maybe in the future, I will work on developing my idea into a successful business.