How Does It Feel to Study in Russia for an African Student from Côte d’Ivoire?
Life has become a success story for a young man from Côte d'Ivoire. As a child, he used to help his family on corn plantations. Some 15 years later, he is a PhD student at St. Petersburg Mining University who got a chance to shake hands with a Nobel laureate in physics.
Kofi Kablan Iv Bertrand was born in Dimbokro, a small town in south-central Ivor Coast. Most of the town's inhabitants work in agriculture - they cultivate such crops as bananas, corn, pineapples, peanuts. Then his father got a job in Bouaké, and the family moved to the second-largest city in Ivory Coast. Three years later they moved again, that time to Abidjan, the largest city in Côte d'Ivoire and the economic capital of the country. Same as in other metropolises, there are shopping malls, universities, fast-food chains, and apartment buildings. Moving to Abidjan had changed the boy's life forever. He began studying in a school where they had computers in each classroom, while at the yard of his house was built a well-equipped sports ground.
In 2011, the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire evolved into a civil war, known as the Second Ivorian Civil War. As a result, all educational institutions in the country stayed closed for a year. Iv had just finished school at the time, and he decided to talk to his older brother who was then a student at the Mining University. Iv also spoke to the parents and made up his mind - he would take chances on a Russian university.
As Iv says, "What did I know about Russia? Not much, really. There are lots of stereotypes about Russia in our country, but I listened to what my brother said and made my own conclusions. He was sending me numerous pictures of his countless friends of all races and nationalities. He kept telling me about good living conditions and his school experiences, assuring me that most stereotypes are just legends. All but for one: Russians are very responsible. This is, however, rather plus than minus - whether at work or in studies. And the fact that Russian graduates take senior positions in both state and business organisations of Côte d'Ivoire proves that".
Iv did not manage to enter a Russian university on the first try - too many applicants... As he says, studying in Russia has become a lot more popular in Africa in the past five years. Many graduates return to their homeland, get employed and set an example for the youth. Competition among locals willing to study in one of the universities of Ivory Coast is high - more than 20 persons per study place. For comparison, over 1,380 Ivorian school graduates applied last year under a quota system administered by Rossotrudnichestvo. Of them, 56 were admitted to Russian universities.
The Republic of Côte d'Ivoire's Government believes its main task to be the economic diversification, with the primary target being the development of the oil & gas sector. Mining and energy industries are undergoing various reforms to attract more foreign investors. Last year, the first Russia-Africa Summit was held in Sochi. One of the attendees of the event was Alassane Ouattara, President of Côte d'Ivoire. In his words, the Republic provides 'the incredible potential to those investors who would want to support the country's progress in extracting and processing of raw materials'.
Why does not the country explore and develop deposits on its own though?
As Iv Bertrand explains, "The subsoil of the Ivory Coast is rich in oil, gas, diamonds, gold. We have also been developing deposits of nickel, manganese and iron ores. But if we want to extract and process all these mineral resources, we will need highly-qualified specialists. And the country needs those people who can manage these kinds of enterprises. I had studied for a year in the Charles-Louis Montesquieu University in my home country when I realised I was not ready to give up on my dream. I wanted to study in Russia, and luckily I got accepted to the Mining University at the Faculty of Oil & Gas Engineering, but on a contract basis. Four years later, I finally managed to enter under a quota. As a Master's student, I was already studying for free. Now, as a PhD student, I am also studying for free. But since I wanted to expand my area of expertise, I made a change - I am studying organisational management at the Faculty of Economics. After graduation, I am planning to work for a few years in Russia and then come back home. If everything goes according to my plan, one day, I will open an oil refining company".
As Roger Nyango, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire to the Russian Federation, notes "The quality of education the Mining University offers to its students is outstanding. Specialities they are studying here are crucial to the development of our country's economy. Some students, when they graduate, will start working at the enterprises. Still, others will choose to remain within the education system - they will teach and train new specialists".
Last summer, seven years after moving to Russia, Iv took a trip home for a holiday.
As the PhD student recalls, "I remember myself arriving home, and in an instant, I got surrounded by relatives and friends, whom I told about my studies and career prospects".
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Iv, like other students of Russian universities, can not be physically present at university and has to write his thesis remotely. The paper's focus is on the economic development of Ivorian oil & gas industry and cooperation between Côte d'Ivoire and Russia in respect of the natural resources extraction.