Thanks for joining me today. Tell us something about yourself.

I am Lilia from Syria, a Western Asian country located near the Mediterranean Sea. I have been living in St. Petersburg for some months now. I am an international student at ITMO, currently enrolled in the Foundation Program.

What will you be studying after you complete the Foundation Program?

I will be pursuing a Master’s degree in molecular biology and biotechnology. I am really excited to start my own research at SCAMT. It is such a wonderful facility for research and the work they are doing is really inspiring. 

What made you interested in biotechnology?

When I was doing my undergraduate studies, I was quite fascinated with biology and its application in medicine. Later, I got an opportunity to do an internship at one of the reputed biotech institutes in Syria. I really liked the idea of developing innovative solutions using biology and biotechnology. Hence, I decided to study this subject for my Master’s.

Which specialization interests you the most in this field?

I am really interested in evolutionary biomedicine. The field has a unique approach to finding cures for diseases. Epigenetics is one such field that has raised many eyebrows in the scientific community. I want to do a project that involves epigenetics and ways of using it for improving health.

How did you come across ITMO?

I came to know about the Russian government scholarship from the National Center for Distinguished in Syria. As I was a student of this organization, I was encouraged to apply for the scholarship. Luckily, I was accepted and offered a full scholarship to study in Russia. I then made the decision to study at ITMO because it has one of the best biotech labs in Russia.

What has been your experience with learning Russian so far?

It has been a little difficult. It is quite different from my native language, so I find it hard to pronounce some words. But I have made some good progress over the last few months. I think learning a foreign language exposes me to a different culture and vibe. My teachers have been very supportive of me and I think I am already able to understand a lot of it. The spoken part and the grammar need some more work.

Winter is Lilia’s favorite season and she likes taking walks on snowy mornings. Photo courtesy of the subject

Winter is Lilia’s favorite season and she likes taking walks on snowy mornings. Photo courtesy of the subject

In your first few months here, what did you like the most about Russia?

Russia has always had a special place in my heart. It is the first country that comes to my mind whenever someone asks me about my favorite place to live. St. Petersburg is such a beautiful and peaceful city. Winter is my favorite season, so I like the city more during winter. St. Petersburg looks so nice when it is completely covered with white snow.

How did you spend your first Russian winter?

I am scared of winter sports! So, I didn’t try any, even though there were many options available here. I went on long walks, enjoying the snowfall. Walking on soft snow is in itself so satisfying. 

Have you made new friends here?

Yes, I have made international friends from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Belarus. 

Do you stay in a dormitory?

Yes, I live in the dormitory on Lensoveta Street 23. My roommates are also from Syria, which is an amazing thing to have. It doesn’t feel like I am away from home when I am with them.

What are some of your favorite places to visit in St. Petersburg?

The entire city is my favorite! I like walking down Nevsky Prospekt and exploring the Hermitage. I spend so much time simply admiring the beautiful architecture of this city. As I said, everything about St. Petersburg is absolutely charming.

Have you been to Yagodnoe?

Yeah, I have been to Yagodnoe and it was an amazing experience. I had so much fun with my teachers and colleagues. It was one of my best days in Russia so far.

What are your hobbies?

I like reading. I'm interested in history, psychology, and body language. I like to notice people and their body language everywhere I go. It reveals so much about them and their personality. Moreover, I like drawing and am interested in fashion design. I enjoy cooking, too. So much so that I actually have my own secret recipe for a chocolate cake.

Do you like the food here?

I have not tried a lot, but I do like some Russian dishes. You get a lot of shawarma here, which is awesome. I have tried a few traditional dishes from other countries. I am so surprised that there are so many varieties available in St. Petersburg.

“Exploring the Hermitage has been one of my favorite activities in St. Petersburg,” says Lilia. Photo courtesy of the subject

“Exploring the Hermitage has been one of my favorite activities in St. Petersburg,” says Lilia. Photo courtesy of the subject

What are your plans for spring and summer?

I want to explore the entire city. There are many places in St. Petersburg that I haven’t been to yet. Also, I want to spend hours walking beside the Neva River. It is on my bucket list. Also, I want to visit some of the islands in and around St. Petersburg.

Where do you see yourself in the next 2 years?

I want to garner as many skills as I can. In two years, I see myself as someone who has the required knowledge and experience to work in the biotech sector and contribute to the development of science. Hopefully, I will be able to reach these goals.

Any advice that you would like to share with future students from Syria?

I would urge everyone to grab this wonderful opportunity provided by the government of Russia. The scholarship is a great way to enroll at some of the top universities in the country. The education here is great and I am sure you will not regret studying here.