Semester Abroad in Russia: Lifetime of Memories

Study abroad is one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a young person. You get to learn about a different culture, open your mind to a new reality, and get to know yourself in an entirely new way. I never took the opportunity to participate in an international exchange program in university, but I took a gap year after high school which I spent travelling and volunteering, and that experience set the tone for the rest of my life. With another semester starting at ITMO, we’re going to share with you some of the experiences of last semester’s exchange students!

Esthevão Vervloet
Bachelor’s student in Electrical Engineering at the Federal University of Espírito Santo in Brazil.

I’m from a city called Vitoria, on the Eastern Coast of Brazil, about 450 km from Rio. My mother’s family is from Italy and my father’s family is a mix of native Indians, Portuguese, African and Belgian. During the war, many Italians moved to Brazil with the hope of a better life, so I live in a city with mostly Italians. In fact as a descendant from Italy I can apply now for Italian citizenship.

I found out about this semester exchange at ITMO through a friend, Lucas, who participated in the program last year and really enjoyed it, so this time five of us came from our university. They put us all up in the same dorm and we have two rooms next each other and we share everything so our living arrangements are good.

Before Lucas I didn't know anyone who lived here - I'd never seen what written Russian looks like so after I learned that even the alphabet is completely different, I didn't know what to expect, if people would understand me or if I'd be on Google translate each day. Before coming I had mixed feelings, both scared about what we would find but amazed about what we had read about this city and country.

Here at ITMO, I’m participating in an IT and Business exchange. In Brazil, in the 8th semester, students can usually take electives from other fields, so the classes that I’m taking can be used as credits for these electives on return to Brazil. Also, this counts as a cultural experience abroad so when you’re applying for work it’s a huge plus to have an international experience.

The city is amazing - I really like it, I lived in the US and I loved the snow and when we got here it was so snowy. In Brazil it never snows, it's always hot. So it was so nice to see snow again. The city is well structured and gorgeous and there are monuments and museums. Also transport here is easy to navigate and even walking around is really nice here. I always feel safe.


Valentina Sauer
Master’s student in Business Informatics at the University of Rostock in Germany.

I was born in Astrachanka in Kazakhstan, my parents’ families came to Russia from Germany during the time of Catherine the Great, and later went to Siberia during the war. When the Soviet Union collapsed, my parents decided to move back to Germany. I was only 1.5 years old at the time.  That’s why my first name is Russian and my last name is German. At home we spoke in Russian and then started to speak only in German, but knowing Russian was very useful for my time in St. Petersburg.

After finishing my Bachelor’s in Business Informatics, I decided to enroll in a double degree Master’s program with Rostock University and ITMO University. So I ended up spending the first semester of my degree here in St. Petersburg. Since I was the first one to sign up, I even got a scholarship.


Source: radissonblu

I found the academic system here completely different to Germany. Here, the assessments were very different to what I expected. In Germany we have much more classes and more assignments, and a harder exam. Here for our examination, we were provided with the questions beforehand and at the exam just picked a question and wrote something about it.

Since there are only 2 of us in our class at ITMO, we get a lot more personal attention here from the teachers, which is great, but then we definitely can’t skip classes because it would be very obvious.

I really enjoy business informatics, because it’s a field that converges business with informatics. I noticed this need while doing an internship, that business people and specialists in informatics can’t communicate with one another, and there needs to be someone who can work like a bridge, understanding both fields well.

Being here has helped me understand a lot about my Russian background, my mum used to make a lot of Russian food at home, and when I hear about Russian superstitions or traditions, I realize that I grew up with all of these myself too. I also feel very German here, I have many German habits such as making lists, or always being on time, sometimes I feel more German than Germans.

St. Petersburg is a beautiful city and when the weather is nice, you can go around everywhere, there are so many places to see. I have a list and I check off which palace I’ve seen. All the palaces are so nice from the outside, well taken care of, you can see the rich history of St. Petersburg when you go through the streets. I also enjoy the abundance of street musicians and the fact that many shops are open 24 hours a day. In Germany everything is closed on a Sunday but here you can shop all the time.

As a German, you’re very welcomed here. Many Russians learn German at school and drop German words when they find out where I’m from. I didn’t really expect that everyone would be so welcoming and willing to help.

I’m looking forward to coming back towards the end of my degree for the final part of the Master’s program.

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