Hello, please introduce yourself to our readers.

I am Tara Torbati from Iran and I have recently graduated from ITMO with a Bachelor’s degree in mechatronics and robotics. Since I took an academic leave for a year, I’ve now been a student at ITMO for six years, including a year in the Foundation Program

What made you choose mechatronics as your course?

My choice of this course was a lucky chance! I loved subjects like computer programming, physics, and mechanics in high school. One day in my third year of high school, a friend of my father’s visited our house and told me about this new, emerging field of mechatronics, which is basically engineering but includes multiple interdisciplinary fields. It caught my attention and I was immediately interested in digging deeper.

What motivated you to choose Russia as your higher education destination?

This decision was also a pure coincidence! One of my friends used to code on a certain coding platform that hosted competitions for programmers. Once, a coder from Russia bagged the first prize in one of those competitions and my friend told me about his achievement. I checked where the coder was from and it turned out that he was from ITMO! I headed straight to ITMO’s website where I discovered that ITMO was organizing a math and programming competition, which I signed up for, just for fun. 

To my surprise, I won a scholarship to attend ITMO based on my performance in the competition. That’s how I got into the university. I didn’t even think much about this country earlier but after just three months, I became a full-time student!

Could you tell us more about the competition organized by ITMO that you participated in?

Although I don’t remember the name of the competition, I believe it is held every year (Tara was a winner of the International Open Competitions – Ed.). They might have added many more fields, but at that time, it was organized just for math and computer science. When I opened ITMO’s website, the announcement popped up for a moment – and luckily, it caught my attention! 

I passed the portfolio round and proceeded to the second one. It was a proctored test and I took it in English. According to the final results, I ranked 11th. I think the competition can be described as an olympiad or a common entrance exam for international students. ITMO was part of a cohort of many universities. I was allowed to choose the university I preferred, and I selected ITMO as my top choice.

How has your experience been in St. Petersburg as an international student?

I was in Russia for the first two years of my Bachelor's, but then I had to return to my country because of COVID-19. My experience here, I would say, has been bittersweet – sometimes life was extremely hard and on other occasions, I really liked it. It has been a love-hate relationship, so to speak.

Tara’s favorite thing to do in Russia is reading books in a library. Photo courtesy of the subject

Tara’s favorite thing to do in Russia is reading books in a library. Photo courtesy of the subject

How would you describe your learning experience at ITMO?

The most social I’ve been at ITMO was during my preparatory course. Many international students would interact with each other, we would have classes together, and go on several excursions. I made many international friends. During my Bachelor’s, I had no time to socialize at all! I don’t remember much about my first year except the fact that I was studying all the time – up to 10 or 13 hours a day! I felt that my second year was much easier, but then COVID struck and I had to return to Iran. Everything became harder in my final year because I had my thesis defense and there were some problems back in my country – it was quite stressful!

In my first year, we did some lab work with robots and I remember being helped a lot by some Russian guys, who later became good friends of mine. They helped me through my problems in academics.

How did your thesis defense go?

I passed it promptly! I had a great supervisor, who helped me a lot through the process and provided me with explanations, instructions, and resources. I was allowed to defend my thesis in English, which made it easier for me. I was always well-supported in my endeavors and it made me confident in myself.

What are your plans for the future?

Next, I plan to pursue my Master’s degree at ITMO, perhaps in a similar field.

What aspects of St. Petersburg did you like the most?

I absolutely adore the libraries of St. Petersburg – they’re available everywhere, which is not the case in Iran. We do have libraries in Iran, but they aren’t as numerous or as beautiful. My favorite is the National Library near the Park Pobedy metro station. I also love the rivers, especially because I’m an aquaphile and my city doesn’t have many water bodies. One of the rivers in Iran has remained dry for 30 years! 

In my first year of the preparatory course, I used to walk to the university just to pass by the Neva River and admire its beauty. Another reason why I like St. Petersburg is the availability of parks, where I can go for a nice walk. 

Did you get the opportunity to visit any tourist attractions here?

Yes, I visited a lot of them with my international friends during the preparatory course, but unfortunately, I don’t remember the places very well now.

“I like strolling down the streets of St. Petersburg,” says Tara. Photo courtesy of the subject

“I like strolling down the streets of St. Petersburg,” says Tara. Photo courtesy of the subject

How did you cope with the weather in St. Pete? 

The weather here is not very different from my country in terms of the extreme temperatures. In my home city – Mashhad, which is located in the northeast of Iran – it's very dry, but the temperatures hit up to 40 degrees Celsius even before it is proper summer and around -20 degrees Celsius in winter. 

St. Petersburg has very long winters that can last up to 6 or 7 months and short summers, for some two months. In Iran, the exact opposite happens. We don’t see as much snowfall in Mashhad as in St. Petersburg. Having to go outdoors during snowfalls in Russia made me hate winter, which used to be my favorite season!

Did you enjoy Russian cuisine?

It’s not difficult to get accustomed to Russian food. The only problem foreigners face is the lack of seasoning, which isn’t a hardship for me, as I’m not really a fan of spices.

Did you stay in a dormitory provided by ITMO?

Yes. I stayed at the Vyazemsky dorm before taking the academic leave. I didn’t like it at all – it was very dirty, the administration was scary and strict, and nobody took responsibility for anything. The only reason I didn’t change this dorm was because of its proximity to the university.

After I returned from the academic leave, all my friends had left and I felt alone, so I decided to change my dorm. I was then assigned to the Belorusskaya dorm. Although it was far away from the university, it was cleaner, and the administration was friendlier, hence I liked it better.

What are your hobbies?

I like watching films, YouTube videos, and web series. Sometimes I also like reading books and listening to music. I definitely love taking hours-long walks and strolls in parks. I also like working out. One of the reasons I took an academic leave was because I had to undergo knee surgery and working out boosted my recovery.

What advice would you give to aspiring students from Iran?

My advice to junior students would be to learn the Russian language. During my initial days in Russia, I struggled at the supermarkets because I didn’t understand any Russian. When the receptionist would ask whether I wanted a plastic bag or not, I wouldn’t even be able to respond with a yes or no. It used to be such a headache! Hence, every international student must learn some basic Russian before coming here.