Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am Anas Akenoun, a first-year Master's student in advanced quantum and nanophotonics systems at the Faculty of Physics. I am studying on a fully funded scholarship from the Government of Russia. I completed my Bachelor's in process engineering in Rabat, Morocco's capital. Then I decided to study in Russia and begin my research career at ITMO.
Tell us more about your home country.
Morocco, officially called the Kingdom of Morocco, is in northwestern Africa. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. I come from Agadir city in the Souss Massa region.
What are some of the best places to visit in your country?
Morocco is a popular tourist destination known for its natural diversity and the Sahara Desert. Tourists swarm to Tangier, Chefchaouen, Marrakech, Agadir, and the surrounding towns and villages, as well as many more cities. From Tangier in the north to Lagouira in the south, the country is rich in historical sites.
Do you have a favorite traditional food from your country?
Moroccan cuisine is considered one of the most diversified cuisines in the world. couscous, pastilla (also called bestilla), tajine, tanjia, and harira are some of the most popular Moroccan dishes. My personal favorite is couscous, which we make every Friday. It is considered the main lunch meal.
Do you have any family traditions that have been passed down through generations?
There are several traditions, such as the Yennayer (Amazigh New Year), which is a national celebration in Amazigh or Berber communities, defined by the diverse rites and vibrant customs that they observe. In Sous Massa, southern Morocco, we celebrate by enjoying the day with dishes such as tagula, made of barley with smen and argan oil.
Now let’s talk about academics. Why did you decide to study in Russia?
Following the completion of my Bachelor's degree, I started looking for scholarships that would allow me to pursue a Master’s degree in the interdisciplinary field of photonics and materials science. I had established an interest in this discipline from past internships and wanted to delve into it more. Thankfully, I discovered ITMO's Master's program in quantum systems and nanophotonics and immediately began researching education in Russia, particularly at ITMO University. I found that ITMO's laboratories use advanced and modern equipment for research and that the professors and lecturers here are of excellent quality. Finally, I decided to apply for this course since it is relevant and best matched to my interests.
How much Russian have you learned already?
My program is taught entirely in English. So it wasn't compulsory for me to learn Russian. However, we have a weekly Russian class and I'm still a beginner learning the language.
How does it feel to be an international student at ITMO?
It's actually a pleasure to be an international student here. Coming from a different culture and becoming a part of a community that appreciates diversity is always enjoyable.
What surprised you the most about St. Petersburg?
This city is renowned for being one of the most beautiful in the world, and after arriving here and living here, I was enchanted by the architecture, the design of the buildings, and the many lovely large parks that I enjoyed, especially during the summer.
How did you adjust to the cold weather here?
When I first arrived in the city, it was too cold because winter was almost around the corner. Thereafter, I've gradually learned to adjust to the weather. Actually, all of the jackets that I carried from Morocco were insufficient. Only after purchasing one from here, I was able to go out and move normally. Nevertheless, I only move out when absolutely essential, especially when the temperature gets very low.
What are your hobbies?
In general, I enjoy swimming, playing football and billiards, and reading books, including historical and fiction ones. Economics and politics are additional subjects that I am interested in. I also enjoy listening to different kinds of music, particularly Moroccan traditional music.
Any advice that you would like to give to future ITMO students from your country?
I would like to specifically address graduate engineers who want to pursue a career in research and combine engineering and research skills to not miss out on this opportunity since ITMO offers numerous international programs where knowing the Russian language is not mandatory. In general, there are many different programs available, ranging from Bachelor's to Master's degrees, from which you can select the program that best suits your interests.
Education in Russia is actually highly developed and there are scholarship opportunities. Simply devote some of your time to proper planning. Hard work will always pay off. Finally, I would like to highlight the importance of learning the basics of Russian, as it will be of enormous help to you on a daily basis.
Let's end the interview with a quick rapid-fire:
St. Petersburg or Moscow: I've never been to Moscow, but based on everything I've heard and seen on social media, as well as how much more sophisticated it is on all levels, I feel I'll go with Moscow.
Yandex Go or Citimobil: let me name Yandex Go, which is considerably more well-known.
WhatsApp or Telegram: Telegram, as it is much more professional and frequently used in Russia.
Tea or coffee: tea, especially Moroccan tea. In Morocco, tea is consumed throughout the day as a social activity. So, I am nostalgic about it.