An Australian Student Named Some of the Rumours He Was Told to Scare Him off from Visiting Russia
When Jacob Moharram was studying at school, he was an Air Force cadet. The dreams of becoming a pilot never came true nonetheless - all because of his height. So an Australian lad decided to study geology and mining instead, and as a study destination, to the surprise of many he chose Russia.
Jacob Moharram, a student at St. Petersburg Mining University, recollects some of his earlier memories "I was gifted a geography encyclopaedia as a child. To each country in this book was allocated one page, but Russia barely fitted in three pages… I was heavily impressed by it back then. The book had many interesting features - information on people’s ethnicity, their cultural peculiarities, data on mineral reserves, description of flora and fauna species. I started wondering if I could go and visit that amazing country and see it all with my own eyes. However, having graduated from school, I entered Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, with my major being geology".
It is not customary for Australians to enter higher education institutions straight after finishing school. About half of graduates decide to take a break to travel, think of their future plans and career interests, or simply get a job and start earning cash. Only few of them pursue degree studies after all - in fact, only a third of high school graduates get a university degree.
As Jacob explains, "People in Australia do not value higher education as much as here. Firstly, one does not need a degree certificate to have a well-paid job. Many of my friends after leaving school went to work in the wine industry or the construction. Secondly, there is no compulsory military service in my country: it was cancelled in 1972. Therefore, we do not have to be afraid of ending up in the army".
Although Jacob was accepted to the Australian university, he continued looking for study opportunities in Russia. Finally, he came across the website of a Russian government agency (The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation; in short: Rossotrudnichestvo) and found out he could apply for a state-funded place and pursue free education. An Australian student contacted a few Russian educational institutions but received only a single response, from the Mining University. Thus, after studying for a year and a half in Australia, Jacob made an important decision to transfer to an external degree programme and move to Saint-Petersburg.
Elizabeth Vercoe, Jacob’s mother, recalls "We were shocked by our son's decision. We had no information about Russia except for sporadical news in the media. So it comes at no surprise that we were worried that being on the other side of the world we would not be able to give him our support if he needed it. But when we got at last acquainted with the host university, we realised Jacob would acquire more practical skills here, compared to what our universities can offer in his chosen area".
Jacob became the first Australian citizen who decided to apply for a state-funded place in any of the Russian universities. The Embassy of Australia in Russia had no clue how to proceed. A formal procedure requires students to compete for admission - those who pass are granted a study place according to the quotas allocated by Rossotrudnichestvo. In Jacob’s case, there was no use to trigger the process since he was the only applicant - and he was admitted without the contest.
As Jacob says, "I must admit I was told different stories about Russia - mostly scary ones. In the end, they were all mostly rumours, totally unreal. For instance, I was told Russians get to stand in the long queues to buy brown bread. People said the choice of products in Russia is poor and very limited. I was prepared for this. And I was surprised to see it was not completely true. I have been to supermarkets, and, despite the sanctions imposed against the country, variety of products in the stores has not been affected at all. As a matter of fact, in Australia we also manufacture a lot on our own, though due to another reason - the distance barriers. Besides, many tried to convince me that there is a high level of poverty in the country, and that social infrastructure is quite far from ideal. Of course, I am living now in a large city, which is a popular tourist destination, and it differs from the other parts of the country a lot, but I am glad that my initial fears were far from real".
As Jacob was a student both in Australia - where he had studied for 1,5 years - and Russia - he is currently in his fourth year in St. Petersburg Mining University -, he is able to compare the education systems of two countries. Russian universities provide a more extensive set of disciplines, studying which results in a tighter schedule. For example, students of the Mining University, regardless of the study programme, need to pass eight different disciplines during one term. The schedule is a lot less busy in Australia - 4 courses on average. As the workload is lower, students often combine work and studies. Another difference is that in Russia an emphasis is placed on subordination and in Australia on democracy. Russian students greet the lecturer by standing up, which would be considered strange in Australia.
Next on Jacob’s agenda is an internship at Orica, an Australian-based corporation Orica, which is the world's largest provider of commercial explosives. Orica is actively collaborating with the Mining University and has established a research-training centre within its walls. Apart from that, Jacob got in touch with Moscow representative office of AMC Consultants, which is a mining consultancy. On his question about internship opportunities and employment prospects, they responded positively.
Talking about the situation in the Australian mineral sector, the Mining University’s student said "Nowadays, when humanity’s problems have become acute and are only expected to follow the same way, we are in need of specialists who can analyse and forecast based on real facts, who can think creatively. Mineral exports is a profitable activity, but I want to make it obvious: we sell more raw materials than use ourselves, at least from the start of the last decade. Whenever it is possible, Australian people are now relying on alternative energy sources, such as solar panels or wind turbines".