Please introduce yourself to our readers.

I am Meera, a 22-year-old girl from Syria. I am currently enrolled in the Foundation Program where I am learning the Russian language. After finishing this program, I will study for a Master’s degree in molecular biology and biotechnology.

It is an unfortunate time for Syria because of the earthquake. How is everyone in your family?

It is a devastating time in Syria right now. Fortunately, by God’s grace, my family and relatives are all safe and doing well. But there are many people out there who have lost so much. I am trying to help them as much as possible. There was a donation camp organized here in St. Petersburg where I volunteered. We collected many items of daily use that were sent to the people in Syria. I hope for a speedy recovery and a prompt return to normalcy in Syria.

How long have you been here?

I have been here for almost four months now.

What motivated you to study in Russia?

The government of Syria allows students to study abroad in Russia. When I came across this opportunity, I realized that studying in a country like Russia can help me grow and develop even further. Without any further hesitation, I decided to give it a shot.

What made you interested in ITMO?

I spent several days exploring different universities in Russia. I came across ITMO and its various labs. I was really impressed. The work done at SCAMT in the field of biotechnology was especially remarkable. 

What got you interested in biotech?

Since a very young age, I have been interested in medicine. I read a lot about new cutting-edge technologies like stem-cell therapy. Later, I was introduced to cell biology, biochemistry, and bioinformatics, which all really fascinated me. I want to get into the details of these subjects and learn how we can utilize them to treat diseases such as cancer. 

Which lab are you interested in joining?

I want to work in the field of regenerative medicine and epigenetics. So, I would probably like to join the experimental oncology lab or the gene-therapeutic agents based on nucleic acids lab

How does it feel to be an international student at ITMO?

At first, I was a bit homesick. It was tough to live in a new country, miles away from my family and friends. But, I am gradually getting accustomed to it. My teacher in the Foundation Program is very supportive. I am very grateful to her.

Meera practicing Russian grammar at ITMO’s coworking space. Photo courtesy of the subject

Meera practicing Russian grammar at ITMO’s coworking space. Photo courtesy of the subject

Tell us something about learning Russian.

It is difficult, but I am making good progress. Whenever I get a chance, I speak out loud. In the first semester exam, I scored a 5 (excellent) in Russian. I have completed the A1 level (basic proficiency). Next semester onwards, I will start on my A2 journey.

Are you staying in a dormitory?

Yes, I live in the dormitory on Lensoveta St. 23. I share my room with two Russian girls. The ambiance is great in the dorm. It is comfortable and clean as well. Also, the security is pretty good inside the building. I have made friends with other international students who live in the same dorm. We do various activities together, cook food, and have fun.

Have you tried Russian cuisine?

I don’t really fancy Russian food as of now. I am a picky eater. I like plov but I don’t think it is originally a Russian dish. I cook my own food most of the time. I enjoy cooking in general.

Russian weather is quite challenging, too. How are you adapting to the cold climate?

The weather in Russia is very different from my country. In my early days, it was really difficult. I was struggling with the cold. But once I purchased all the required woolens like jackets, gloves, and boots, life became much easier. Also, the buildings in Russia are very well heated, which makes them pretty comfortable to live in.

What are your hobbies?

In addition to cooking, I really like dancing. I am also into sports and fitness. I visit the gym every two or three days. Also, dancing fills me with a lot of positive energy. I also love nature. I enjoy taking a stroll down the streets and the parks. I love exploring the city this way. The Neva River is frozen as of now, but I am waiting for the spring and summer seasons. When the snow melts, I am sure the city will become more beautiful.

“The Hermitage is one of my favorite places in St. Petersburg,” says Meera. Photo courtesy of the subject

“The Hermitage is one of my favorite places in St. Petersburg,” says Meera. Photo courtesy of the subject

Which places in St. Petersburg did you like the most?

I really liked the Hermitage and the oceanarium. I have also been to the city center, Nevsky Prospect, and Sennaya Square. The city looked stunning during the New Year with its spectacular decorations.

Despite challenges, you are doing pretty well in Russia. What motivates you to keep going?

Life is never the same when you are far from home. But I decided to take every challenge head-on and overcome it. I always keep reminding myself that when I go back home, I should return with achievements and not just dreams. This motivates me every day to get up and work hard.