Both Juan and Bernard speak fluent Spanish, some French, and now excellent Russian. Together with two other friends from Equatorial Guinea, they found out about a special Russian program which provides free tuition to international students. In order to apply for the program, they took a few exams in mathematics, geography and literature back home in Equatorial Guinea. “At first I didn’t really want to go study abroad,” shares Juan, “because I had already got an education in ecology and the environment. I had some plans, but my brother suggested I go to Russia and study there, and then decide what to do next.” For Bernard, the situation was slightly different; he says he wanted to get a better education than what he had already, “I had previously studied in the field of engineering. I had a choice of where to go, and I chose Russia because the quality of education here is at a much higher level. Also, I wanted to study the Russian language.” Preparatory courses for learning Russian were included in the government program, so they decided to use the opportunity and come to St. Petersburg.

First you studied in the Russian prep courses? What aspect of it did you find the most challenging?

Bernard: The prep courses went for eight months. At first it was quite challenging. The students there came from all over the world, so I wasn’t sure if anyone could really understand me. I didn’t know Russian or English at all, and the teacher would explain everything in Russian, and, if no one understood, she would start to explain everything in English since most students knew some English, but that didn’t really help us. We had classes every day and it gradually became easier; after four months I could more or less communicate with others. Now that I’m in my third year of my bachelor’s degree, I can already speak Russian and express my thoughts properly.

Was it difficult to get into the Bachelor’s degree?

Juan: We had to pass a few exams in Russian, just like the other applicants. The hardest part was taking the exam on Russian law, we had to know a lot about the structure of the state and the country, about different social norms, procedures and institutions. But when you put effort in, everything works out.

Juan Zacarías Okue Ondo
Juan Zacarías Okue Ondo

What majors did you choose and why?

Juan: We could choose any field we wanted when submitting the documents for the state program. But what happened to me is a bit of a funny story. I chose one program, but then my brother changed my application form for me and wrote economics.When I came to Russia and they showed me my documents, I couldn’t understand what happened. At that point it was already too late to make changes, because I’d have to do submit all the documents all over again, and I was already here. So I ended up studying what my brother chose, “Macroeconomic Planning and Forecasting”, which I didn’t really like at all, but I’ve gotten used to it now.

Bernard: I chose “Economics of Enterprises and Organizations”. When we were asked if we want to choose the same major or different ones, we decided to each choose different ones. That way, when we return to Equatorial Guinea, we can work in different fields with our different skills and can help each other, and work together. When I go back home, I will most likely work as an economist.

What do you like and what do you find challenging about your studies?

Bernard: I found the studies quite challenging, but with the help of my classmates I’m able to pass the exams.

Bernardino Ondo Abaga Ada
Bernardino Ondo Abaga Ada

Juan: We study together with Russian students. I still struggle with the language. If a teacher gives us three tasks for homework, for me it’s like six. Because first I need to translate them, understand their meaning, then solve it and put together an answer. Online translators like Google or Yandex don’t really help much as they usually don’t have the best translations. Of course, If I ask my classmates for help they always help. But I’ve learned that you have to ask them if you need it, because not everyone realises that you don’t understand something.

You are currently getting some work experience at ITMO University’s International Office. Why did you decide to do your work placement there?

Juan: I wanted to learn more about how the International Office is set up, so I decided to apply there. Over the summer I worked in a large company that manufactures cars: I was looking for a summer job, so I went to the director of the company and he offered me a job as a translator. I translated a few texts from Spanish to Russian and vice versa while I was there.

Bernard: When we needed to fill in the paperwork for our work placement, I said I wanted to work at ITMO University but I didn’t specify where exactly in the university, so they assigned me to the International Office with Juan.

Besides your studies, have you participated in any other events at ITMO University?

Juan: Yes, we participated in the Congress of Young Scientists. I presented there twice, both topics I suggested to my supervisor myself. For my first presentation, I examined words that are similar between Russian, Spanish and English. For the second presentation, I analysed different advertising campaigns in Russia. In Equatorial Guinea, we don’t have competition: it's all monopolies. Here, you have monopolies, you have the middle and the small businesses, and they all have to fight for the customers' attention. I've also participated in other events, like "People of the World", comedy clubs, and national cuisine festivals.

Juan Zacarías Okue Ondo at the Comedy Club
Juan Zacarías Okue Ondo at the Comedy Club

Bernard: I participated once in the same congress with my research on Russian and Spanish idioms. I also prepared a report on the topic “Features and Properties of Modern Information Technologies”, which my supervisor presented at the Student Science Forum in Moscow.

Do you get any free time here or do you spent all your time studying?

Bernard: Yes, we do! At ITMO University, we have quite a few other students from different African countries. I often spend time with them and we discuss our studies and help each other out. I also really like the nightlife in St. Petersburg and like to go clubbing with friends.

Juan: Yes, there’s definitely free time! I prefer to read the news and books in Spanish (sometimes also in Russian), listen to music and meet up with friends.