What makes your home country special to you?

I come from the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. It is one of the most diverse places in terms of culture as it has a blend of various civilizations. The people here speak many different languages like Spanish, French, and African. Even the mannerisms, beliefs, and cuisine change when you travel from one region to another. But what I like the most is that despite the diversity, everyone here is kind and respectful to one another. 

That is so interesting! Talking about cuisine, do you have a favorite dish that is native to Colombia?

It is hard to choose one! I am a big fan of Caribbean cuisine, I really like their coconut rice and fish recipes. I also enjoy eating patacones (a fried plantain chip-like dish) and tamales (a popular Spanish dish). Every country has its own variation of tamale but my favorite is Colombian. I also miss some other dishes like empanadas de maíz, arepas, and buñuelos. They are a must-try for anyone who travels to my country.

Do you have any special childhood memory that you’d like to share?

I was born in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia but I grew up on the Caribbean Coast. I vividly remember the days when I used to hang out with my school friends and have a unique Colombian ice cream called bolis. It is a cold desert that is packed and served in cone-shaped bags.

That must be so nostalgic! Okay, let’s come back to the present. What are you studying at ITMO?

Right now, I am a student at the Foundation Program where I am studying Russian. After the completion of this program, I will start studying for a Bachelor’s degree in mechatronics and robotics.

What got you interested in this particular discipline?

I have always been a curious learner and the fact that my dad is a mechanical engineer only added to my interest in tools and gadgets. I remember building simple circuits and devices like lanterns with him when I was young. When I was in school, I got the opportunity to build my first automated gadget as part of a national competition. I even got invited to participate in a big event but I was unable to take part due to the pandemic. 

Nevertheless, my love for building and automating stuff has not faded a bit. I also own a 3D printer that I use to design and produce cool things. All these factors aggregated to persuade me to enroll in ITMO.

That’s an amazing story! But why did you choose ITMO as your university?

I always wanted to study abroad and I was tempted to experience a completely different culture in Russia. To be honest, I was never a fan of western culture. Hence, I never explored the idea of studying in the USA or Australia. However, the possibility of studying in Europe did fascinate me.

One day, my dad told me about a scholarship that is offered by the Russian government for foreigners. I really liked this opportunity and decided to take action. I did some research and quickly found out that ITMO is a champion in the field I wanted to study. Also, I fell in love with St. Petersburg, which in my opinion is one of the best cities not only in Russia but in all of Europe. Since then, I started taking baby steps toward fulfilling my dream of studying at ITMO and here I am.

You said that you like Russian culture. What aspect of it do you appreciate the most?

First of all, the people, especially the ladies. They remind me of Colombian moms and grannies. They are so loving and caring. Russia is also a historically rich country that has made great contributions to science. I also appreciate the architecture. I really like the onion-shaped domes on most of the churches here.

“St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” says Geraldine. Photo courtesy of the subject

“St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” says Geraldine. Photo courtesy of the subject

How much progress have you made in terms of learning Russian?

To me, Russian is not hard but it is surely a complex language. It has strict grammatical rules and the pronunciation is also somewhat tough. But I am making good progress. Every day, I am improving and it gives me a lot of motivation. If you compare my current knowledge to where I was when I first arrived in St. Petersburg, you will notice a big improvement.

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

My experience of being an international student can be divided into three categories. First, it is my interaction with other international students. Second, it is my experience with the Russians, and the third is how I spend time with my Colombian friends. All three of them can be summarized in one word – wholesome! International students often are the center of attention, which I guess is quite natural. Also, I have been able to get along well with everyone. Despite the language barrier, I have been able to participate in local events, which is pretty awesome.

Did you face any culture shock in Russia?

I did prepare well before coming. I studied a lot about St. Petersburg, saw many pictures, and watched numerous videos. And yet, on the first day, I forgot to take off my shoes while entering my room in the dorm. My friend who is also from Colombia reminded me that in Russia, we need to take off our shoes whenever we enter a room. 

There are also some similarities between Russia and Colombia. For instance, in Colombia, you will find kefir just like in Russia but the Colombian one has sugar in it. Also, kvass reminds me of another similar Colombian drink that I used to cherish a lot. 

Do you enjoy Russian cuisine?

At first, it was difficult to adapt but now I do like eating Russian food. Particularly, I am a fan of Russian bakeries. My favorite dish is сырники (Russian tvorog pancakes). Borscht is something that I didn’t expect to like but ended up loving a lot.

Geraldine posing in front of one of the palaces in St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of the subject

Geraldine posing in front of one of the palaces in St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of the subject

Have you been to some of the popular places in St. Petersburg?

I have been to the Hermitage, New Holland Island, Peterhof, St. Anne’s Church (Annenkirche), the Kazan Cathedral, the church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and St Isaac’s Cathedral. I love walking down the city center on Nevsky Prospect. I have also visited Yagodnoe and ITMO’s Museum of Optics. I love exploring the parks in St. Petersburg. My favorite ones are Yelagin Island and the 300th Anniversary of St. Petersburg Park. Speaking of the latter, I love to take pictures and when I went there I took a lovely photo of the sunset. I also had the opportunity to watch a professional hockey match, which was awesome.

How are you coping with the cold weather here in Russia?

In Colombia, the average lowest temperature is 10 degrees Celsius and in my hometown, it is never less than 25 degrees Celsius. However, there are some remote areas that do get some snowfall but they are mostly reserve parks. So, the climate in Russia is indeed very new to me but my body has adapted well. I am enjoying the snowfall, it is my first experience with snow. However, I don’t enjoy windy days, it makes walking really difficult. 

Spring is coming! I am sure, you will have even more fun then.

Yes indeed.

What are your hobbies?

As I said earlier, I am a curious learner and I like trying out different things. As a result, I have many hobbies. Most of my time and effort has been directed toward music and sports. When I was a kid, I used to play football, basketball, baseball, and table tennis. I still play table tennis and I hope to join a club at Kronbars next year. I also love martial arts and this year, I have started taking taekwondo classes, which I am sure I will enjoy a lot. I am also quite passionate about motor sports and karting, my favorite being Formula 1 racing. 

I know that’s a lot! If I were to rank them, then the top 3 would be karting, martial arts, and table tennis in order of preference.

Wow! You’re such a sporty person. Tell us something about your love for music.

I am very passionate about music as well. My favorite instrument is the guitar. I also know how to play the piano and the bass. I tried to learn the violin but I haven’t quite tasted success yet. 

That’s amazing. You’re so talented. I recommend you join some of the clubs at ITMO.

I will surely consider that. Thank you for your recommendation.