Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Hello, I'm Makha Karkout from the beautiful country of Syria, which is known for its rich history and culture. I completed my studies last year at the Higher Institute for Applied Sciences and Technology in Syria and recently made my way to Russia to pursue further education in my field – software engineering. It has been six months since I arrived in St. Petersburg and I'm currently enrolled in the Foundation Program, which provides an excellent opportunity to learn the language and get immersed in the culture of my new home.

St. Petersburg is a long way from Syria! Could you tell us a bit about its people and culture?

Syria, also known as “Sham,” is a Middle Eastern country on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. While the majority of Syrians are Arab, the country is also home to smaller groups such as Kurds, Turks, Armenians, Circassians, Assyrians, Jews, and Bedouins. Syria is a collectivist society where people show strong loyalty to their families, ethnic groups, and social groups. They are known for being welcoming and hospitable. Although Arabic is the official language, some ancient languages are still spoken in certain regions. Syria's beautiful landscapes, ancient history, and rich cultural heritage make it a must-visit destination.

What are some of the best places to visit in your country?

Syria has a lot of beautiful places to visit. Among the top places, there are the Al Azem Palace, the Umayyad Mosque, Souq Al-Hamidiyah, the Citadel of Aleppo, and Palmyra. Besides these, other must-visit sites include Old Damascus, the Baron Hotel in Aleppo, Aleppo Souk, and Bosra with its Roman Theatre, which offers breathtaking views.

Do you have a favorite traditional dish from your country?

Actually, there are many traditional dishes in Syria that are worth trying. It's hard for me to pick a favorite! Some of the most popular and delicious dishes include yabrak, sheikh el-mahshi, mansaf al-melehi, al-maglouba, and shish barak. These dishes will make your taste buds happy and show you the tasty history of Syrian food.

What are you studying at ITMO?

Following my completion of the Foundation Program, I have decided to enroll in the Master's program in software engineering at ITMO University.

Makha is enjoying her new life at ITMO. Photo courtesy of the subject

Makha is enjoying her new life at ITMO. Photo courtesy of the subject

Why did you decide to study in Russia?

As I’m interested in software engineering, I found that Russia is one of the best countries to study this field due to its highly regarded universities and top-ranking professionals. The country is a cutting-edge destination for technology and computer-related subjects. And in addition, studying and living in Russia is affordable, which made it an attractive way for me to get high-quality education without breaking the bank.

What do you like the most about St. Petersburg?

St. Petersburg's architectural design is a sight to behold. From its stunning gardens to its charming streets and squares, the city offers a unique and unforgettable experience, and now with the beginning of white nights, living in St. Petersburg is like a dream that you never want to end. 

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

Initially, adapting to a new country with a different language was challenging. However, as time passed, ITMO became a second family to me. I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of it.

How much Russian have you learned already?

To be honest, learning Russian is quite challenging and I am still facing some difficulties in understanding the native speakers. However, my teacher is doing an amazing job at making the language more interesting, enabling me to express my thoughts and ideas quite well in Russian.

Where do you stay – a dormitory or an apartment? 

I’m staying in a dormitory located on Vyazemsky Lane and I found it to be a comfortable accommodation so far. Staying here provides me with an opportunity to interact with other students, exchange experiences, and most importantly, improve my language skills through practice.

Do you like Russian food? What are your favorite dishes?

I do have some experience with Russian food, given that I am staying with a Russian roommate in the dormitory. I have tried some of the dishes that she makes, such as dumplings (pelmeni), semolina porridge (mannaya kasha), et cetera and I liked them a lot! I’m looking forward to exploring more of the country's culinary delights during my stay here.

Have you been to some of the popular destinations here?

Absolutely! I am making the most of every opportunity to explore the city's famous sites. Recently, I have been to the State Hermitage Museum, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, Palace Square, Kazan Cathedral, the Peter and Paul Fortress, and several beautiful gardens such as Mikhailovsky Garden and Aleksandrovsky Park. I also enjoy strolling along Nevsky Prospekt. 

“I love exploring St. Petersburg and learning about its history,” says Makha. Photo courtesy of the subject

“I love exploring St. Petersburg and learning about its history,” says Makha. Photo courtesy of the subject

Can you share a good and a bad experience that you had in Russia?

In general, I am having a great experience traveling to Russia and starting a new life here. I am glad I made the decision to come. However, early on in my stay here, I had a bad experience when I fell on the ice and broke my arm. Since I wasn't used to icy conditions, these days were difficult for me. 

How did you adjust to the cold weather here?

In the beginning, it was very hard to adapt to it, but with time, I learned to dress appropriately for the weather. I realized that it could rain or snow anytime, and I had to be prepared for it. As the famous Russian proverb goes, "there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes."

Well put! What are your hobbies?

During my free time, I enjoy discovering new places and learning about their history. I also have fun playing sports like ping-pong, billiards, and basketball with my friends. Watching football is another hobby of mine because I love the energetic atmosphere. Lastly, I'm a big fan of movies, not just for entertainment but also because it's an enjoyable way to learn a new language.

What are your plans for the summer?

I'm excited to explore more beautiful places in the city, especially the lakes and the rivers. I would love to take a boat ride around the city and maybe even visit other beautiful Russian cities like Moscow or Sochi.

Any advice that you would like to give to future ITMO students from your country?

Carefully select the program you wish to study and start learning Russian as early as possible. The better you are in the language, the more enjoyable and effortless your stay in the city will be. Don't forget to make friends with students from different countries, as it will give you a chance to learn about various cultures and provide you with a unique experience. Give yourself time to adapt to your new surroundings.