RUDN University student from Senegal shares his impressions of life and study in Russia.
Kalidu came to Russia nine years ago; after pre-university training he was admitted to an undergraduate programme at Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. Guisse is now RUDN University campus mayor, Student Council President, he is writing a PhD thesis, speaks fluent Russian and is well-versed in Russian culture and traditions.
– Why did you decide to study in Russia?
– It was my dream. Many people I know are Russian universities graduates; they suggested that I choose Russia as my study abroad destination saying I could get a good education here. I could go to France or Canada, but I decided to apply to a Russian university. Residents of our country can take part in the Russian government scholarship contest. When I heard about it I thought ‘why not have a go?’ and it worked out, this is how I entered RUDN University.
– How did you manage to learn Russian so well?
– Few foreigners know that Russian is popular in our country. It is taught at Senegalese schools, lyceums and universities; some universities have Russian language departments. Our first President Leopold Sedar Senghor used to say that famous Russian poet Pushkin was our fellow countryman and encouraged all Senegalese to learn Russian.
– So you began to learn Russian at school?
– No, I knew a tiny bit of Russian back then, I began intensive studies when I came to Russia and was admitted to RUDN University Philological Faculty. I chose this field of study because I like the language and the teaching profession.
– Did you find your studies difficult?
– Yes, I did. Learning Russian was not at all easy. But I was eager to start speaking because everybody talked Russian wherever we went and I could hardly understand a thing. I couldn’t wait to answer questions myself and take part in conversations. When we began pre-university training we were given much homework; three hours were not enough to finish it. The teachers urged us to watch Russian television and then describe in our own words what we had seen. We did as we were told and gradually began to communicate in Russian. It was a basic level dialogue at first like “hello, how are you?” using simplest words, but later on we became more proficient. The language course lasted a year, it ended in August, but I passed my examinations in late June.
– How long have you been here?
Nine years, I’m a veteran and a community activist. Imagine, I’ve never been home since I came here. I like living in Russia, communicating with people and connecting with other peoples’ culture. I believe that any person can find it useful.
– Can you recall your first impression of Russia? Did the reality differ from what you had imagined?
– Of course, it was somewhat different. I had been warned that the weather was cold. We flew to Russia in the beginning of winter. When the plane was landing we saw white terrain through a porthole, we had not experienced snow or frost before. We felt cold as we came out into the street. The guys who met us at their airport said “don’t worry, you’ll be OK, we’ll buy warm clothes, footwear and the essentials. We were accommodated at a RUDN dormitory; I woke up to sunny weather the next morning. I assumed it was warm as the sun was shining and went outside wearing a T-shirt. But I quickly realised that this was not Africa and rushed back to get some warm clothes. It was a surprise to me. Senior students showed us the stores selling good footwear and clothes, the outpatient hospital and a food store and took us around the campus. RUDN has various student organisations supporting foreign nationals. RUDN University newcomers are welcomed at the airport by international office representatives, fellow countrymen and diplomatic corps staff. They feel taken care of and know they won’t lose their bearings.
– Could you tell about your living conditions? RUDN University’s policy is that you room with students from different countries.
– Indeed, they have this practice called “international principle.” As a Campus Council representative, I see to it that the principle is observed. We also have a quarantine: new arrivals are provided with temporary accommodation for the period of paperwork and medical checkups. If the doctor certifies the student fit for studies, they immediately move into the dormitory. According to RUDN rules, a room is shared by three students from different countries. It’s useful practice, students learn to come to terms and get to know other peoples’ culture. For example, I lived with students from China, Russia and Nepal.
– Did you have arguments?
– No. I’m just that kind of person, I never quarrel. Students basically get along, they cook, go shopping and take walks together. Of course, much depends on the person’s upbringing. Those who didn’t do their chores as they grew up in their families find it difficult to change themselves. Eventually, everybody adapts. It’s important not to keep to oneself, socialise, get to know new people and visit your friends. I keep telling students: ”enough staying in the dorm, go take a walk.”
– What about food? Many foreigners think they’ll starve in Russia or fear to taste traditional Russian dishes after they come here.
That kind of attitude is boring! They are not here for two or three days after all. It’s another country, so one has to get used to local traditions. As for food, RUDN University has no such problems. It has stores where you can buy foodstuffs from different regions, including Africa. In fact, you may want to eat what the locals eat. For example, I hardly ever eat African food, perhaps once a year. I’m fond of Russian cuisine, especially buckwheat, pelmeni (meat dumplings) and soups.
– Do you take part in celebrating big Russian holidays such as the New Year?
– Yes, we get together to celebrate it, not only the New Year, but also other occasions including birthdays.
– What are your favourite places in Moscow?
– Gorky Park’s my favourite, I often walk there, spend time with my friends and dance bachata and salsa in summer. In winter, I skate. I learnt to skate in Russia, my home country has no snow or ice. Sometimes I go to the All-Russian Exhibition of National Economy Achievements. Moscow is a beautiful city, but I like Sochi and Kazan better. I’ve already visited Sochi twice, I last went to Sochi in the summer when it hosted the World Festival of Youth and Students. It’s very beautiful there; the sea view reminds me of home.
– Do you travel a lot?
– Yes, I sometimes joined university-arranged tours and sometimes travelled on my own. I’ve been to more than 20 Russian cities. My fellow countrymen and friends living in Russia invite me to visit them and I go to see them at weekends. Traditionally, RUDN University arranges tours before the New Year. It’s like an incentive, they select activists and send them to a Russian city for a week; the university covers the expenses. So we’re lucky to be RUDN students. I’d say that Russia is a calm country, I feel safer here than in my homeland. You can go anywhere, you won’t have problems with anyone, also there are cameras all over the place.
– What problems do international students encounter most times?
– Occasionally, there’s misunderstanding. For example, a student says something but his roommate understands it their own way, and a conflict arises. If they have such a problem, we come and look into it and then resolve it. Sometimes students break the rules, and if you have three violations on record and apply for a visa, it might be denied to you. Not everybody knows about it. It’s our duty as Student Council representatives to explain all these things to international students.
– How did you get elected as Student Council president?
– I began to work for the Council when I was a Preparatory Department student. I came to Russia wishing to be a community activist. I was invited to join the Student Council; they told me I had to provide assistance to new arrivals. And I began to work, little by little. In my second year, I was elected secretary general of the Senegalese community, in the third year I became Community president and then I was elected Student Council president. It happened in 2013. So I have been RUDN Student Council president for five years. Everybody calls me campus mayor.
– What are your plans for the future?
– I tell everybody that it’s time for me to step down; I’m in my final year. My preliminary thesis defence is due before May. I devote more time to my paper at present. After thesis defence I will return home, I’ll probably get a university job to use the experience I gained here. I might teach for some time, and then I’d like to return to Russia and work at an embassy. It is my dream.
– What would you recommend to international students planning to study in Russia?
– First, they have to choose the university. That done, they can find people studying there and ask them questions and have the international department explain the admission rules which differ from university to university. Second, I always recommend the freshmen to learn Russian. “They say ‘hello’ to you and you return the greeting in Russian; they say “come on, do you really speak Russian?” that’s an interesting twist. You learn Russian while getting new experience. Third, it’s important to know Russian laws and abide by them. International students must go the university international office on the next day upon arrival for a list of documents needed for temporary student card, registration with Russian migration authorities, etc.
Actually, the education you can get in Russia is appreciated the world over. I’d say they won’t regret their choice, although they’ll have to bear with the climate. They shouldn’t fear it. For example, we take a dip in an ice hole every winter and we like it. “They tell me: “Are you crazy? and I say “No, I’ve come to Russia, I live here and wish to support its traditions.” Newcomers should be ready to start fending for themselves; they’ll have no parents around to help. They’ll share rooms with foreign nationals and learn a lot from them. After graduation, they’ll be able to get a good job. I know many RUDN University graduates who are now in senior positions. So I tell those who plan to come here to look at those alumni and have no fear. The most important thing is your understanding that you’ve come to study, not to idle around or have other priorities.