Hello, thanks for joining me today. Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Hi, I am Hamid Idris Musa from Eritrea, a small country in Northeast Africa. It gained its independence from Ethiopia very recently, in 1991. That's why many people don't know about Eritrea at all.

I came to Russia in 2019 to pursue a Master’s degree in information security at ITMO. Previously, I did my Bachelor’s at the Eritrea Institute of Technology and graduated in 2015. After graduation, I worked for four years as a graduate assistant, where I was involved mostly in administrative work. I graduated from my Master’s program in 2022 and then started my PhD at ITMO the same year.

That’s a fascinating story. What motivated you to study in Russia?

After working for four years, I started to look for opportunities to study abroad and pursue higher education. Russia was one of the best options because of the agreement between our governments. I was very interested in information security and, after a little research, I found that ITMO is one of the leading universities in the world in this area. So, making my mind up to study at ITMO was not a very difficult task.

Another reason for choosing Russia as my destination was its rich culture. Since I came here, I met so many people from different parts of the world, and interacting with them broadened my perspectives. I met people from Korea, Pakistan, India, the Caucasus region, Syria, and so on. I am so lucky to have met them.

Amazing! And what do you think of the educational system here?

It is very efficient and as a result, the education is seamless. The courses here are made in such a way that you can enjoy the learning process. That makes studying at ITMO even more interesting to me. Besides academics, I really like the administration here. I want to say thank you to the Student Services Office a, Migration Office, and the International Office for always supporting students. I feel like I am at home – they solve all my problems so efficiently. 

And what do you think about the city?

I already knew about St. Petersburg when I was still in my country because I followed the Russian Premier League and was a big fan of Zenit St. Petersburg. I still am! So, when I decided to study in Russia, I asked my friends who lived here about their experience in the city and all of them said positive things. And then, when I came here myself, I was absolutely stunned by the beauty of this historic location. Everything that I imagined about St. Petersburg became true right in front of my eyes. The people here are also very humble and peaceful. Every person from Eritrea or Ethiopia is a coffee lover and I am so glad that coffee is abundant in this city. All-in-all, I can say St. Petersburg is my first love!

Hamid attends a football match at Gazprom Arena. Photo courtesy of the subject

Hamid attends a football match at Gazprom Arena. Photo courtesy of the subject

Did you get a chance to watch a game at the Gazprom Arena?

Yes, I did watch my favorite team, Zenit, go head-to-head against CSKA Moscow. It was a very exciting game and luckily Zenit won the match 2-1. I remember Malcolm scored a goal for Zenit and the other goal-scorer was a player from Colombia. I also went to watch ice hockey matches at the Ice Palace (Ледовый Дворец) stadium, not very far from my dorm. It was pretty amazing, too.

Where is your dorm, by the way?

I live in the dormitory on Belorusskaya Street 6. A very quiet and cozy place, perfect for someone like me who likes to simply focus on my life, relax, and contemplate.

Have you been to any popular landmarks in and around St. Petersburg?

I have been to Pushkin, Peterhof, and many other places. I like traveling with my international peers, but sometimes, I also tag along with my local friends. For hanging out, I really like the parks here. There is a dense forest near my dorm and I really like to take a stroll there every evening, even if it is snowy and cold. I also like walking along the shore of the Neva river, near the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Just like St. Petersburg, my hometown in Eritrea is also full of classic architecture built by the Italians. The capital city of Eritrea, Asmara, is often referred to as Mezzo Roma (Little Rome). So, I have had an appreciation for classical art since childhood and when I see a similar vibe in St. Petersburg, I cannot help but admire it so much.

Enlighten me about the coffee culture in Eritrea.

Coffee is an integral part of our lives, not only in Eritrea but also in Ethiopia, Yemen, and Sudan. If you visit our home, we will surely offer you coffee along with some snacks like corn or biscuits. We call it a coffee ceremony. We will sit at a round table and talk over coffee. It is our tradition. Even at home, we would make and serve coffee at least twice every day. So, you can understand how important coffee is to us.

So interesting. What do you think about the food in Russia?

I like the soups here, especially borscht. But besides that, I am not a big fan of Russian cuisine. However, I really like the Caucasian and the central-Asian dishes available here, like plov and lagman. These dishes are more familiar to my taste buds because I am used to spicy food. My country is located near the Red Sea and we have been importing spices from India and neighboring countries for years. Therefore, our foods are spicy, too.

Coming back to academics, what is your current project about?

I am developing methods for securing data in corporate networks. Cyberattacks are so common these days. Especially when companies use outdated software, they become prone to viruses and malware. So, my main job is to raise awareness and develop tools for such companies to better protect their data and ensure secure data transactions at every step.

“If you come to ITMO, you shouldn’t worry about anything. You will receive support in every aspect,” says Hamid. Photo courtesy of the subject

“If you come to ITMO, you shouldn’t worry about anything. You will receive support in every aspect,” says Hamid. Photo courtesy of the subject

What do you plan to do after getting a PhD?

I have experience in teaching, so maybe I will consider returning to academia as a professor and teaching university students. But sometimes, I also have a wish to work in a company as an information security specialist. So, we will see. My mind is still split between these two tracks. I will choose one when the time comes. For now, I am slightly leaning more towards working in a company.

And finally, what advice would you give to younger people who want to study in Russia? 

Try to wear proper warm clothes, especially if you are coming to St. Petersburg. Don’t forget to drink a lot of water, even during the winter. It is always better to learn the language a little in advance, as it will help you settle down in the city easily. And if you are coming to ITMO, I would tell you not to worry. You will get excellent support from the people here and I can assure you that you will have the best time here.