Thanks for joining me today for this interview. How are you?

Thank you for inviting me. I'm good. How about you?

I'm good, too. Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Sure. I am Chirravuri Krishna Chaitanya from India and currently, I am in St. Petersburg as an exchange student at ITMO.

Krishna, you’re on a six-month exchange at ITMO. Where do you study in India? 

I am a 3rd-year Bachelor’s student in computer science with a specialization in machine learning at Lovely Professional University, Punjab.

Is Punjab your hometown, too?

No, I grew up in Hyderabad. I moved to Punjab for my education. 

Why did you decide to study machine learning and data science?

Machine learning is like a buzzword nowadays that seems very fancy and attractive, but for me, it was pure passion and interest in learning this skill. 

How did you get interested in doing an exchange program at ITMO?

My university and ITMO recently signed an MoU (memorandum of understanding – Ed.) that facilitates students from both universities to engage in exchange programs. When I found out about this opportunity, I applied immediately. Russia is a very big country and I always wanted to explore it. I had been fascinated by its culture and people from childhood. Moreover, India and Russia are good allies.

ITMO being in St. Petersburg also had a big role to play in my decision. I mean, just look at the architecture here – it's amazing! Every single thing is carved very artistically, keeping beauty in mind. St. Petersburg has plenty of museums and interesting things to do. I was also encouraged by the low cost of living in St. Petersburg. So, those are some of the reasons that motivated me to come here.

Quite interesting. So, when did you arrive in Russia?

I was late to apply for this exchange program, but thanks to the excellent support of the Migration Services Office, I was able to arrive in St. Petersburg in February and begin my classes without missing a lot of lectures.

How does it feel to be here?

When I started my journey from India, it was somewhere around 25℃ and when I had a layover in Dubai, it was 35℃. But when I landed in St. Petersburg, it was snowing and the temperature was somewhere around -10℃! I had never experienced such cold temperatures before in my life. I had to immediately cover myself up with multiple layers of clothing to prevent myself from getting sick.

Besides the weather, everything has been so great so far. I really enjoy being here and have fallen in love with this country and its culture.

“St. Petersburg has now become a part of me and I am enjoying my life here,” says Krishna. Photo courtesy of the subject

“St. Petersburg has now become a part of me and I am enjoying my life here,” says Krishna. Photo courtesy of the subject

Did you have any bad experiences in Russia?

I would not categorize it as a bad experience because I think everyone has to go through it. I was questioned at the airport for almost two hours, but it went smoothly. I was asked very normal questions, which I was easily able to answer. 

I was so happy to see my ITMO Buddy waiting for me at the airport. She took me to the hotel (I stayed at a hotel for two days before moving to a dormitory) and showed me around St. Petersburg. She also helped me get familiarized with the shopping centers here and taught me a few essential Russian words for daily conversation. 

Which dormitory are you living in?

I'm living in the dorm located on Belorusskaya St. 6. It's a wonderful place, very comfortable. Although it is far from the university, it is a very peaceful place. There's a supermarket nearby called Lenta where you can get all the groceries. You need not go anywhere far from the dorm. And the dormitory is very clean and cheap – just 2,000 rubles a month! I am very happy with the dormitories here. 

So, do you travel to the university by metro every day?

No, I take a bus from the dorm that goes directly to the campus. 

Which campus do you visit most often for your studies?

I often go to the Lomonosova campus for any document work, like extending my visa, and for my studies, I go to the Chaykovskogo or Grivtsova campuses.

I see. Well, have you been able to pick up some Russian yet?

Russian is a very difficult language to learn. But I am trying my best to learn some of the common words and phrases that are used in everyday conversation, like здравствуйте, спасибо and до свидания.

That’s very good. What do you think of Russian culture so far?

It is very different from Indian culture. People here are more social. Unlike Indians, they like to get together and enjoy themselves. I have noticed that they work for an entire week and then have fun on weekends. This culture is very new to me, but I like it a lot. Russians are generally very friendly and kind people.

Krishna in front of the Kazan Cathedral. Photo courtesy of the subject

Krishna in front of the Kazan Cathedral. Photo courtesy of the subject

Have you explored St. Petersburg yet?

Yes, I had been to some of the popular places here and I loved them all. I particularly liked Sevkabel Port. It is a beautiful place filled with interesting activities and events. Every Saturday, I go to Nevsky Prospect for an evening walk. I find it so interesting to see people singing and dancing on the sidewalks. I just join them and have fun! I also visited the Kazan Cathedral, the Hermitage Museum, and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. I am eagerly waiting for the summer to visit Peterhof Palace.

That’s amazing. Going back to academics – what do you think of the Russian education system as compared to the Indian education system?

I realized that over here, the education is mostly hands-on, unlike in India. Indian education is mostly theoretical with very few practical activities. But here, students are allowed to gain more experience and build clearer concepts with the help of hands-on activities.

So, Krishna, what do you like to do in your free time?

I love playing chess, walking around, meeting new people, and socializing.

And have you explored Russian cuisine?

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to try many Russian foods yet. But I really like Russian pancakes, I don't remember what they are called (Blinis – Ed.). And while I was walking down Nevsky Prospekt one evening, I got a wonderful opportunity to try pyshki (Russian donuts) at a 200-year-old store. I love it!

Once you finish your bachelor's, would you like to return to ITMO?

If I have the opportunity, I will surely take it. I have fallen in love with Russian culture and Russian people, especially the walks down Nevsky Prospekt. I love the vibes of this place. So in just two months, Russia has become part of me; St. Petersburg has become part of me.

Therefore, if I win a scholarship to come here for my Master’s, I will be more than happy to return to ITMO.

We will be waiting to welcome you as a full-time student at ITMO.

Thank you so much!

Finally, would you recommend ITMO’s exchange programs to your peers and juniors?

Obviously! I cannot think of a better place for a semester exchange than ITMO for anyone who wants to experience a new country and a new culture while learning from some of the best lecturers in the world. At ITMO, it doesn’t feel like I am away from home and there can’t be anything better than that.