Let’s break the ice with a brief introduction of yours.
I am an international student from Lahore, Pakistan. For the past 9 months, I have been learning Russian in ITMO’s Foundation Program. On its completion, I will be studying in a Bachelor’s program in Information Security

How much Russian have you been able to grasp?
Not much, to be honest. I am an introvert and as a result, I don’t communicate much with people. That has hindered my learning experience. I feel communication is an important component when it comes to learning a new language

Why information security?
I have been interested in computers since I was a child. My interest only grew as I moved from middle school to high school. While choosing my program, I was spoilt for choices because computer science is so multidisciplinary. Finally, I settled on information security, as it is a comparatively new yet demanding field of science.

What motivated you to study in Russia?
I have visited Russia a couple of times earlier, including once before the pandemic, and was planning a visit in 2020, but then COVID happened and I had to cancel the plan. By then I was already quite impressed with the country. It has been a dream of mine since, to spend a few years in Russia and study.

And how did you discover ITMO?
My friends who were already students in Russia suggested to me a few universities such as HSE, St. Petersburg State University, and ITMO. I researched a lot about each one of them. ITMO stood out to me the most.

Usman wants to be a computer scientist with a focus on information security. Photo courtesy of the subject.

Usman wants to be a computer scientist with a focus on information security. Photo courtesy of the subject.

How does it feel to be a part of ITMO.Family now?
It feels incredible! Just like a dream come true. The campuses are mind-blowing. I felt quite welcomed by the students and the staff. As a result, I settled in really fast. It does feel like my second family here.

Where are you living?
I am living in one of ITMO’s dormitories, also called общежитие (obshchezhitiye) in Russian, on Vyazemsky Lane, near the Petrogradskaya metro station.

How content are you with dorm life?
Honestly, I am still a fish out of water here. I never lived in a dorm before. At home, I had a separate room to myself. That’s not at all the case here. I have to share my room with other students and that is not something that I like. I value privacy a lot and in a dorm, you hardly get that. I will need some more time to adjust and adapt.

“Winters in St. Petersburg are extremely cold. You need proper warm clothes to survive,” says Usman. Photo courtesy of the subject

“Winters in St. Petersburg are extremely cold. You need proper warm clothes to survive,” says Usman. Photo courtesy of the subject

Let’s talk about the home of ITMO – St. Petersburg. Are you liking it here?
St. Petersburg is mesmerizing! A truly historical place with so much glory. It is quite fascinating that the city embraces both European and Soviet cultures. The canals in sync with the architecture make this city a gem of a place!

Where are your favorite places to hang out here?
I definitely like The Hermitage. I did not have the chance to visit too many places. Every time I plan something with my friends, it falls through. Unlucky, isn’t it? Maybe I will be able to visit the amazing Peterhof soon. It seems magnificent in pictures.

Were you able to adapt to the winter?
It was challenging. Pakistan never has such cold winters. Last year, the temperatures plummeted down to -25 degrees. The good news is that you get appropriate clothing here in St. Petersburg. I purchased some warm clothes and they helped me a lot in my quest to feel comfortable.

And what about food? Do you like Russian cuisine?
Oh, that was yet another challenge! My taste buds did not cooperate with me at all. I’m used to spicy food in Pakistan. In Russia, you don’t get much spicy food at all. For many days, I had to rely on a restaurant located opposite the Lomonosova campus that serves Indian food. Nowadays, I cook my own food.

Is it comfortable to cook in a dorm’s kitchen?
It surely cannot be compared to my home’s kitchen. But it is not too bad as well. The kitchens are spacious and well-equipped with appliances such as a microwave oven, a blender, and a refrigerator. 

Are the ingredients needed to prepare a Pakistani meal available in St. Petersburg?
Most of them are. Surprising, right? Spices like cumin, cardamom, and ginger-garlic are easily available in every grocery store. Even vermicelli can be found in a few stores. That is incredible.

What are you looking forward to most?
I don’t like outdoor activities a lot. Instead, I keep myself busy with online courses. Right now, I am attending a few lectures on blockchain and web development. ITMO is launching a new online course on cryptocurrency. I have already enrolled. I am looking forward to getting started with it.

What are your goals in life?
My primary goal is to excel in academia. I would surely pursue higher education – a Master’s followed by a PhD is the most likely trajectory of my life. Once I complete my education, I would like to launch my own startup. I haven’t given much thought to it but entrepreneurship is something that I enjoy doing a lot.

That’s awesome! I hope you meet all your goals and come out with flying colors.

Thank you so much. It was lovely talking to you. I would like to thank ITMO’s Internationalization team for creating such informative content. International students benefit from it a lot.