LETI: LETI Volunteers Help International Students Adapt in St. Petersburg

When international exchange students come to Russia, they find themselves in a world of Cyrillic alphabet and unfamiliar procedures. They need help adapting, so LETI launched the Buddy Program, where university volunteers support international students.

LETI students have always been willing to help and show their university and city to students from all over the world, and now this has evolved into an official practice that works in the world’s leading universities. The openness of LETI students helped to quickly recruit 13 volunteers. One of them is a master’s student from India, who has already adapted in Russia and knows what kind of support is needed most.

In the fall semester of 2021, three exchange students from partner universities in Germany, Turkey, and France came to the university, two of whom are studying artificial intelligence, and one is studying automation and mechatronics. Volunteers met them at the airport, helped get settled into a dormitory, take a PCR test, apply for a bank card, and introduced them to the campus.

“When I arrived, I was picked up by two kind and lovely volunteers. It was a very welcoming experience; I didn’t expect this. They helped me figure things out which I might not have been able to do myself. When I had some problems, they were really helpful. We also did a weekend trip last weekend, which was amazing. The Buddy Program and its volunteers have been really supportive and kind. I’ve enjoyed it very much so far.”

Mark Kiermayer, an exhange student from Hochschule Ruhr West (Germany)

Buddy Program volunteers

An important aspect of the program is an adaptation to the cultural environment. LETI volunteers took international students on a tour of the city center, recommending parks, exhibitions, and other places of attraction that might be of interest to St. Petersburg guests, and are also planning a trip to Tsarskoye Selo.

“I like the fact that the program provides an opportunity to communicate with people from completely different cultural contexts. Often things that we see every day and no longer notice – signs on the street, architecture – are unusual for foreigners, and when they point out some features of the city, you start to look at the surrounding objects differently; a different side of ordinary things opens up. It’s especially interesting to discuss everyday topics, such as education, music, memes,” shared program volunteer Vladimir Andreev.

Volunteers have come up with ways to let international students feel Russian culture not only with their eyes: they plan an evening of Russian cuisine, and Vera Tumanova, a fourth-year student of the Faculty of Computer Science and Technology, compiled a playlist in Spotify, so they could listen not to the charts leaders, but the authentic local music.

“The Buddy Program has proven to be important not only for the students but also for me as a coordinator. There is a new component in the work that brings great inner satisfaction when you create the most welcoming environment for our guests, constantly interact with students, and see the results of your work. It is a great joy for us as a member of the international office to have a happy international student telling everyone in his country about how great he studied in Russia and at our university in particular.”

Valeria Konyaeva, Buddy Program coordinator, specialist of the International Academic Mobility Office
LETI students note that the program is beneficial for them as well. According to Polina Manakhova, a second-year student of the Faculty of Information Measurement and Biotechnical Systems, it is a unique way to meet future professionals of different fields from international universities, exchange academic experience, learn more about cultures of other countries, practice English, and make new friends.