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The Life and Studies of an Italian Girl in Russia

Sara Olmi came to the Nizhny Novgorod campus of Higher School of Economics through a student exchange programme with The University of Bergamo. Here, she is not only studying to improve her Russian language skills, but she also volunteers to help other international students. In this interview, she tells us what life is like in Russia.

Sara, please tell us how you ended up in Nizhny Novgorod.

I was born in north-western Italy, in the city of Genoa. I finished my bachelor’s degree there. I decided to earn my master’s degree at the University of Bergamo. I chose to study foreign languages and started to learn Spanish and Russian. I wanted to learn Spanish because I have always loved that language, and Russian is currently essential in Italy for successful employment. Many companies which collaborate with Russia are strengthening our connections. That is why knowing Russian is very beneficial to one’s career.

I am completely certain that, in order to learn how to speak in your target language, you need to go to that country and talk with native speakers. All that was left for me to do was choose a city, but I didn’t even look at Moscow as an option—it’s much too big, there are too many people, too much hustle and bustle… A friend I met through my student mobility programme studied in Nizhny Novgorod. She Fell in love with the city and highly recommended that I come here. While still in Bergamo, I met an exchange student from the Nizhny branch of Higher School of Economics. She told me a lot about her native town, about the people, about the University; and it became clear to me that there couldn’t have been a better choice for me than to come to Nizhny Novgorod.

What about Nizhny Novgorod has been easy for you, and what difficulties have you come up against?

To be honest, I was afraid that people would turn out not to be as friendly and open as I was told they would be. This was probably my biggest fear, but it turned out to be unwarranted. The staff and students at the university have helped me a lot, and even on the streets, I’ve only met friendly people. Of course, I miss the sun and different food, but that’s all just little stuff. Besides, I’m taking vocal classes in music school, I dance, I’m always talking with Russian people, and it seems to me that I have started to understand them and to express my own thoughts better.

Besides studying, you also help the staff in the international department. Is it because you like to work a lot?

I would like to help the students from other countries who don’t know anyone here. I’m doing what I can so that, during their first week here, they meet people who help them get settled in Russia. We have gone to Semyonov and Gorodets, and we’re even trying to speak amongst ourselves in Russian. It seems as though, when I return to Italy, I will miss the beauty of Nizhny, and I’ll always fondly remember all of the good things this city gave to me when I lived here.