Please tell us something about your country.

I am from the Republic of Benin, a country in West Africa, next to Nigeria. It is one of the most welcoming destinations in Africa. The climate here is rather bearable, not too hot. The people of the country are always willing to share their history, their art of living, and their beliefs. Benin has a lot to offer in terms of African history and culture. 

Additionally, the different landscapes of the country have many surprises in store, such as the atypical hills that cover the department of Collines, the beautiful arid mountains of the Atakora department, the Pendjari National Park with its magical safaris, the houses on stilts of Ganvié, and the lagoons.

What languages are spoken in Benin?

Beninese people speak French but the most commonly used local language is Fon, which is understood by almost everyone. Also, there are several other local languages specific to each ethnic group.

What is the staple food in Benin?

In Benin, the most commonly eaten cereal is maize. We prepare a dish that is similar to pasta. It is accompanied by different sauces.

What motivated you to study in Russia?

My goal has always been to travel and study abroad, especially in the field of computer security. My attachment to Russia came from the conversations I had with my professors of algorithms and mathematics during my second year of university (back in 2016). They had also studied in Russia for ten and twelve years, respectively. This motivated me further to study in this country.

How did you come across ITMO?

I started my research on the possibility of getting a scholarship to study in Russia. I came across the eponymous website, Study in Russia, which allowed me to explore all the universities and the courses they offer. I quite liked the specialist degree program offered by MEPhI University in Moscow. But I decided to first complete my Bachelor's degree, get some work experience, and then apply for a Master's program. It was during this waiting period that I discovered ITMO thanks to different international competitions in programming and information security. I then applied and, by the grace of God, I am now at ITMO!

What are you studying at ITMO?

I am currently studying Russian language and grammar in the Foundation Program. After its completion, I will be starting my Master’s in information security.

“I am making good progress in terms of learning Russian. The teachers are doing a great job,” says Emmanuel. Photo courtesy of the subject

“I am making good progress in terms of learning Russian. The teachers are doing a great job,” says Emmanuel. Photo courtesy of the subject

Do you find learning Russian difficult?

In the beginning, it was very difficult. I had almost given up hope. But the teachers made things easier for me. Now I can understand quite a lot. I practice speaking in Russian with my friends and I read Russian books to increase my vocabulary. I am confident that I will be fluent in it in the days to come.

Did you get the opportunity to make new friends?

Yeah, I have made many new friends here. Some of them are Russian while others are from different countries like Tajikistan, Syria, and India. My roommates are also Russian and they help me a lot with my daily chores. 

Which dormitory are you staying in?

I live in the dormitory on Vyazemsky Lane. My roommates are so kind and helpful. Once, I was stuck with a difficult task that I had to complete in Russian. I had no other choice but to wake my roommates and ask them for help. Instead of getting angry or frustrated, they happily helped me with the task. I was surprised by their gesture and kindness.

How are you coping with the cold weather in Russia?

That is one of the main problems that I face here. I was not at all used to such a temperature! However, I like to drink coffee twice a day, to keep myself warm.

What about Russian food? Do you have any favorite dishes?

The food here is a bit strange for me. When I first arrived in Russia, I tried some dishes but they were very different from what I have eaten my entire life. Therefore, I cook my own food nowadays. 

Are you able to find every ingredient for your meals here?

It is obviously difficult to find everything. Luckily, I brought some stuff from my country. Also, the language barrier makes it difficult to communicate with the shopkeepers. Thus, often I fail to explain to them the exact item that I am looking for. However, in such scenarios, the translator app does help.

Emmanuel enjoying the New Year at New Holland Island with his friends. Photo courtesy of the subject

Emmanuel enjoying the New Year at New Holland Island with his friends. Photo courtesy of the subject

How are you feeling in St. Petersburg? Did you visit any interesting places here?

When I was in Benin, I knew that St. Petersburg is a very fascinating place. It is one of the world’s most beautiful cities in my opinion. Whenever I get the opportunity, I like to take a stroll down Nevsky Prospect. There is still a lot to explore. I also want to visit other cities in Russia during my vacation.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like to sing and play the piano. I was a singer in my country.

Did you get the chance to watch a concert or a ballet here in St. Petersburg?

Yes, I did go to a theater with my friends, back in December, where we witnessed a great show. But unfortunately, it was in Russian, so I didn’t understand much. But surely, I would love to go there again. 

That’s great. I recommend you stay in touch with ITMO’s cultural club, Intelligentsia. They share lots of cool information about such events.

Oh, that will be awesome. I will check them out. Thank you.

Any piece of advice that you’d like to share with future ITMO students?

Russia is a good place for higher education. However, you need to prepare yourself in advance. The winter is going to be tough for any international student. Therefore, it is wise to be mentally ready for it. Apart from that, I’d say you can really enjoy your time and grow while you are here.