Hello Mr. Zoalfkar, and thank you for joining us today.

Thanks for having me. My pleasure!

Tell us something about your hometown.

I am from Latakia in Syria, but I have been living in Damascus, the capital city, now for many years.

Please tell us more about yourself.

I am a student at ITMO now, but I graduated about 11 years ago from the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology in Syria, majoring in the field of IT and programming. Then, I started working and after almost 10 years of being employed, I decided to do my Master’s and I chose Russia as the destination. I am a married man. My wife is still in Syria, however; I have no children.

How does it feel to be back into student life? 

I did miss this kind of life. I have been married for five years now and since then, I have been living with my wife, so it feels different to live alone now. When I was studying in Syria, I lived in a student dormitory, too. So, it feels like I went back to my younger life all those years ago.

Do you notice any changes in the student lifestyle now compared to 10 years ago?

I can say students were the same when I left the dormitory 10 years ago. We had the same mindset, the same social media, the same lifestyle. I think nothing has changed. For me, it's not new at all. If we want to make a distinction, yeah, maybe because Russia is a different country, there are a few differences, but overall, nothing has changed.

When did you come to Russia?

I came to Russia one year ago. I completed my Russian Foundation Program and now I am in the first year of my Master’s degree.

How has your life been for the past year?

When I was learning Russian, it felt like I had so much free time. But now that I’ve  started my Master’s program, time has been very limited. But I am enjoying it. My classes are very interesting.

Zoalfkar’s favorite season in St. Petersburg is summer. Photo courtesy of the subject

Zoalfkar’s favorite season in St. Petersburg is summer. Photo courtesy of the subject

What is your opinion about classes at ITMO?

The teachers here are amazing. They help us so much because they know we are international students and we can have difficulty with the language. Getting support like that always helps. So, I am very happy with the teachers and classes at ITMO.

How did you find out about ITMO?

ITMO is one of the most famous universities in the field of IT. It is very popular in my country. Also, they are famous for being welcoming to international students. Almost everyone here can communicate in English. That's why I think it was a good choice for me to study here. 

What was your study schedule like?

In the first semester, I had about nine subjects. Five of them were together but they were related to each other. The rest were conducted one after another with a period of break in between (at ITMO, some of the courses are held in the modular format – Ed.). I think the schedule of classes was well organized and designed to help the students improve their abilities and learn comfortably.

What is your impression of ITMO’s campuses and labs?

The campuses are absolutely world-class. So modern and equipped with every necessary facility. I personally don’t need to visit labs because all my work is done on my computer. But I am sure, the labs here are amazing, too. I have seen pictures online and they have really impressed me.

Alright, let's talk about your experiences in the city. How do you feel about the weather here?

The weather in Latakia is very different from St. Petersburg. For instance, the minimum temperature there in winter is about 10℃. But the weather here is good. Snow is amazing. It is something that we often dream about in Syria. So, here my dreams finally came true!

How much has St. Petersburg impressed you so far?

If you want to talk about the architecture here in St. Petersburg, sure, it's amazing! In Syria, we also have ancient palaces, but here they are preserved much better. I really appreciate how the people of St. Petersburg love their history and heritage and make active efforts to preserve them.

Have you gotten accustomed to the food here?

The food here in Russia is not like ours. They don’t use many spices here, but in Syria, our food is often very spicy and rich in flavors. But I like Russian soups. I have tried them and they are good. So, I prefer eating Turkish and Arabic dishes here. Oh, and also some Armenian dishes. I like them, too!

So do you often cook for yourself in the dorm?

Yeah, I live with my close friend in my dorm and we cook together. We have known each other since our university days in Syria. We decided to study in Russia together and came here the same day.

Oh wow, that’s amazing. Is he also a student at ITMO?

Yes, but in a different faculty. He is five years younger than me, but we are great friends and also roommates.

“Student life is fun and carefree. Nothing has changed since I was a student 10 years ago,” says Zoalfkar. Photo courtesy of the subject

“Student life is fun and carefree. Nothing has changed since I was a student 10 years ago,” says Zoalfkar. Photo courtesy of the subject

That’s nice. So which dormitory are you living in?

We live in the dormitory located on Lensoveta Street 23. It is a great dorm. I can’t compare it to my previous student dorm in Syria. The dorm has all the important amenities. So, I would give it 7 out of 10 points. I cannot give 9, otherwise it will become a hotel!

Do you have any hobbies?

In the summer, I like to play sports like football, volleyball, and basketball. But it’s not possible to play outdoor sports in the winter. So now, in my free time, I like to spend time playing video games on PlayStation.

How did you celebrate New Year this time?

I was in a Syrian restaurant with my friends and my roommate. We had a traditional party with lots of singing, dancing, and eating. This is the traditional way for Syrians to welcome the new year.

Great, and here’s the final question: what advice would you give to young students who want to study in Russia?

I can only advise students who want to pursue a Master’s degree here because I have experience of it. The important thing to remember is not to waste any time. After graduation, come to Russia for your Master’s right away. If you come to ITMO, there’s nothing to worry about at all. You will get lots of support from people here and you can communicate in English too. It’s one of the best universities for international students and I really feel at home here.