Please introduce yourself to our readers.

I am a 30-year-old woman from a Central American country called Panama. I came here to get a Master’s degree at ITMO. But currently, I am enrolled in the Foundation Program where I am studying the Russian language and culture. 

In what discipline would you like to get a Master’s degree?

I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics in Panama. I want to pursue my interest in mathematics further at ITMO but with a touch of computer science. I am really interested in the program titled Big Data and Machine Learning.

Tell us something about your country, Panama.

Panama is a really beautiful country but extremely small compared to Russia. My countrymen are really joyful and kind. The climate in Panama is very tropical. As a result, we have a rich and diverse collection of flora and fauna. And we have a large diversity of people as well. This November, we are celebrating 119 years of the nation’s independence from Colombia.

So, why did you decide to study in Russia?

To me, Russia has always been a very interesting country. I had the opportunity to meet Russian people in Panama and they left a lasting impression on my mind. My boyfriend is also Russian. I learned a lot about Russian culture from him and his family. I admit, I instantly fell in love with everything. Since then, it has been my dream to live in Russia.

That is a very interesting story. Did you meet your partner in Panama?

Yes, he and his family used to live in Panama for some years. We were classmates. We used to study mathematics together. And eventually, we fell in love with each other. 

How did you come across ITMO?

When I looked for universities in Russia that offered a program in mathematics and computer science, one of the top results was ITMO. I started investigating more about it and was mesmerized by the vibe of this university. ITMO is very technology-oriented but, at the same time, quite non-classical. I was simply unable to stop learning more about it. I remember spending hours scrolling through the internet to learn more about ITMO and its history. 

What was your reaction when you discovered that you had been accepted to ITMO?

It was like a dream come true. I couldn’t believe it. The feeling was very special!

“I researched a lot about ITMO and St. Petersburg before applying. Now everything is very familiar to me,” says Melany. Photo courtesy of the subject

“I researched a lot about ITMO and St. Petersburg before applying. Now everything is very familiar to me,” says Melany. Photo courtesy of the subject

What’s your favorite thing about Russian culture?

I really like Russian history. The stories about Tsars are among my favorites. Since childhood, I have been a big admirer of movies about Russia, like Anastasia

After arriving here, it feels like I have been transported to my dreamland. The buildings, the architecture, they leave me enchanted.

Do you like Russian food?

I do enjoy Russian food. While I was in Panama, I was able to learn a few dishes like borscht and blini

Which is your favorite one?

It is tough to pick one. But I really like borscht, pirozhki, pelmeni, and blini. The first dish that I learned to make was blini because I love them the most.

Which is your favorite blini filling?

That is a very interesting question. I would say, I love cheese and meat.

Can you speak Russian?

Чуть-чуть (“A little bit”)! I am learning as fast as I can. Our teacher is really nice and skillful. My boyfriend helps a lot. I also practice speaking Russian with my friends.

I am sure you’ll learn Russian very fast! How has your life been in Russia so far?

As of today, I have been here for around a month. The first few days were very busy and complicated. I had a lot of official work to attend to. As a foreigner, you have to go through a number of formalities. My little knowledge of both Russian and English didn’t help me at all. However, I managed to appreciate the beauty of this country in the first few days.

Melany has been exploring the city with her friends. Photo courtesy of the subject

Melany has been exploring the city with her friends. Photo courtesy of the subject

How have you been coping with the winter?

Panama has a really hot and tropical climate. And Russia is on the opposite side of that spectrum. The weather here is extremely cold for me. But on the flip side, I have been able to experience snowfall for the first time in my life. It was magical!

Did you visit any places of interest in St. Petersburg?

Yes, I was able to visit a few spots with my boyfriend, my in-laws, and my friends. I have also been to different restaurants to try new cuisines. 

Did you find any restaurants that serve Panamanian food?

Unfortunately, no! I have never seen any restaurants here with Panamanian dishes on their menu. However, while I am in Russia, I would like to try the flavors of this country. So, it is not a problem for me at all.

What are your plans for the holiday season?

Christmas and New Year are my favorite events of the year. While I was in Panama, I used to wait eagerly for December. This year, it's a bit different but I am equally eager and excited. I have already started planning for Christmas. Building a snowman is at the top of my to-do list! I am excited to see how Russians decorate the streets. I think it will be one of my best Christmases.