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

Hello, this is Kunj Rathi, an exchange student at ITMO from Parul University, India. I am a fourth-year Bachelor's degree student in computer science with a focus on information security. This program is offered in association with QuickHeal.

Tell us something about your hometown.

I come from Rajasthan, the largest Indian state by area, situated in the northwestern part of India. I was born and brought up in Jodhpur. Rajasthan is famous for its forts and castles. Also, it has the largest desert in India – the Thar Desert.

What made you interested in going on a semester exchange?

I had an interest in it from the beginning of the first semester. I always wanted to travel abroad and discover what other countries are teaching and what their educational system is like. Russia offered me a quite reasonable exchange opportunity, while affording a semester exchange in Europe or America was too difficult and unworthy for me.

Did you notice any differences in the education system of Russia compared to India?

It is debatable, but I feel the Russian education system is better at preparing a student to face the world. In India, we learn a lot of theoretical stuff with minimal exposure to hands-on training. But in Russia, everything is more practical. We learn by solving real-world challenges. Back at home, I had to attend lectures for 5 to 6 hours every day of the week. But in Russia, I only have classes twice or thrice a week, for not more than 3 hours! The rest of the days I stay at home and work on projects, which is super convenient. 

Tell us more about the process you had to go through to get this opportunity.

The procedure was simple, but it took quite some time. It started in mid-December. Initially, I had to get my documents prepared, which was quite smooth. The slowest part was obtaining the visa, which took like 20 days to come. The spring semester at ITMO commenced on February 5, 2024, but because of the delay in getting the visa, I could only arrive here on February 21. Although I missed a lot of classes in the beginning, I was able to catch up with the curriculum thanks to the efficient and caring teachers here.

Kunj visited the Hermitage with a fellow exchange student from India, Krishna Chaitanya. Photo courtesy of the subject

Kunj visited the Hermitage with a fellow exchange student from India, Krishna Chaitanya. Photo courtesy of the subject

How does it feel to be a student at ITMO?

There’s an interesting story here. After I arrived here, I got to know that there are no classes in English for Bachelor’s students at ITMO. I had to study with first-year Master’s students, as I had no proficiency in Russian. It was quite unexpected, but since I am already here, I had to put up with it. Overall, my experience at ITMO has been good so far. The only drawback is the language barrier. Everyone in class communicates in Russian, even during group activities. That kind of makes me lonely. As an international exchange student, I would have preferred a bit more embracing of globalization, starting with the language. 

Do you feel like a fish out of water here?

Sometimes. But it is getting better with time. I have a friend from India who is also on exchange at ITMO. His name is Krishna Chaitanya. We get along well and hang out together. 

Did you make any new friends in your dormitory?

I am staying at the dormitory located on Belorusskaya St. 6. It is indeed a very nice dorm. My roommates are quite cool and helpful. However, the main disappointment was the fact that the number of English-speaking students in this dorm was quite small, probably 0.1%. So it was very difficult for me to get used to this new place. However, my assigned ITMO Buddy helped me a lot by introducing me to the city and also teaching me a few common phrases in Russian.

Do you like St. Petersburg?

Yes, I do like the city, but I haven’t been able to explore and discover it a lot yet. I feel alone sometimes. In my opinion, if I had more friends to accompany me from Parul University, I would have enjoyed my stay here much more. 

On the brighter side, I'm planning to visit Moscow and Kazan after my semester ends, which excites me a lot.

What was the weather like when you came here?

It was very cold! Rajasthan’s temperature was like 40℃ and here it was -10℃. But the absence of a breeze made it bearable. I was completely prepared for the winter, too, with good quality jackets and other winter garments. I liked the waning phase of Russian winter very much. It was a really amazing experience.

“I was well-prepared for the cold weather in Russia,” says Kunj. Photo courtesy of the subject

“I was well-prepared for the cold weather in Russia,” says Kunj. Photo courtesy of the subject

As a vegetarian, how do you look after your meals in St. Petersburg? 

Finding good vegetarian food here is indeed a big challenge. But there's a big Lenta (a major Russian retail chain – Ed.) near my dorm where I can get fruits, vegetables, bread, flour, and everything I need to cook my meals. Luckily, I know how to cook! I also brought some lentils and masalas from India. 

Have you tried eating outside?

Never! I can't eat anything outside other than coffee because even if there’s no meat or fish, there's egg in everything (if you, like Kunj, have found it difficult to eat plant-based in St. Petersburg, check out our guides to vegan spots in the city – Ed.). I did try a few Indian restaurants that serve vegetarian dishes, but the taste is not at all authentic. So, I prefer cooking myself. 

Alright! So what are your plans for the future?

After my Bachelor's degree, I want to gain some working experience in the industry. My family runs a business, but I am not quite interested in it. After that, I want to pursue my MBA from maybe Australia, New Zealand, or the UK.

So, are you aiming for English-speaking countries?

Yeah, I want to avoid the language barrier going forward. Also, I want to explore the world. St. Petersburg gave me a good taste of how the North feels, now it's time for the Southern Hemisphere.

To wrap up our discussion, would you like to share a few tips for future exchange students?

If someone wants to work abroad, then I would highly recommend them to come here for a semester exchange. It will not only give you a taste of life outside India but also make you more well-versed in the European education style, which is very practice-oriented. Living here for six months will surely open your eyes and mind and make your mindset very versatile. 

You will understand there’s so much more to learn and discover in this world!