Russian Students about Studying Abroad during Covid-19 Pandemic

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According to a survey conducted by the International Association of Universities, coronavirus and related health and epidemiological restrictions have reduced global academic mobility by 89 per cent. Nothing surprising here. Many young people around the world do not even have the opportunity to enter the premises of their alma mater, not to mention overseas internships.

However, there are pleasant exceptions. And we are talking about real training in Europe, not online courses that can never replace real immersion in an unfamiliar scientific and educational environment. For example, today more than 20 students from St. Petersburg Mining University and other higher education institutions that are part of the Nedra Consortium of universities study in Austria, Germany, and Finland.

Among them are Dmitry Bratskikh and Anastasia Khodyreva, who won the competitive selection to participate in the international programs of triple degree in “Modern methods of development of mineral resources” and “Geoecology”. Their essence is that one semester the guys study at the Leoben Mining University, another semester - at the Freiberg Mining Academy, then they come back to the city on the Neva and after graduation, they defend a single graduate qualification work. The commission, which evaluates its level, includes representatives from all three universities. If they are successful, they receive Russian, German, and Austrian degrees.

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Forpost decided to find out from Russian students what restrictions are in place in the foothills of the Alps in connection with COVID-19, how our and Austrian educational systems differ, and how tolerant the Republic is towards newcomers from the East.

What are the coronavirus restrictions in Austria? Are there any difficulties in everyday life or education in this regard?

Dmitry Bratskikh: Austria has quite strict rules. for example, on all premises, people do wear masks, and not like the ones in Russia but FFP2 respirators. They must necessarily cover the mouth and nose, and if you ignore this requirement, you will certainly be approached and urged to wear a respirator properly.

When we arrived we were quarantined for five days, the police came to us once to check whether we were there or not. Then we took a PCR test and were taken off quarantine. Those students who had been vaccinated with Sputnik took an antibody test and were allowed to move freely around the city for three months without any restrictions. The others faced a dilemma: either do PCR tests every 72 hours or get vaccinated.

Given that the waiting time in the first case is a day, the test would have to be done every other day, so everyone opted for the Pfizer vaccine. Especially since the cost of it, as well as transportation, visas, food, accommodation, and other expenses, are included in the grant we received from St. Petersburg Mining University. No one had any health problems afterwards.

Unfortunately, a stricter set of regulations came into force quite recently. And now everyone has to be vaccinated or get over-vaccinated. Moreover, since November 22, a lockdown began again in our part of Austria. Cafés, restaurants, entertainment facilities are closed. But you can go to university, that is not forbidden.

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Anastasia Khodyreva: There are, of course, differences from Russian realities. Once, for example, all the residents of Leoben, including us, received a letter from the city hall saying that a coronavirus-infected person had been found. There was a detailed description of his route throughout the day. This was done so that people could understand whether or not they might have come into contact with him. Those who appeared to be at risk were advised to have a PCR test.

What are the specifics of the training at Leoben? What is the proportion of online and face-to-face classes?

Anastasia Khodyreva: Due to the epidemiological situation in the world, those classes that are possible online are conducted online. The university has a very convenient system for providing material. All the lectures are posted on the learning platform, after each of them there are additional materials and homework. Everything is designed in a modern and progressive way.

In the case of face-to-face classes, at the entrance to the university, you must, first of all, confirm with the appropriate documentation that you are healthy. Then you have to put a chip card on the electronic tablet, and it will show you the place in the classroom where you should sit. The system seats everyone independently, in staggered order. Our group has face-to-face classes only on Friday, but they last quite a long time: from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with short breaks.

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Dmitry Bratskikh: There is a system of midterm exams at the Leoben University of Mining during the semester. They take place throughout our studies, not just during the session. In almost all subjects, some projects need to be completed either independently or as part of a team. Shortly, we plan to go on field trips to companies for practical training.

Anastasia Khodyreva: If we compare the two educational systems, in St. Petersburg we received more detailed knowledge of the processes, mechanisms, and regulatory aspects relevant to mining. Here there is more emphasis on sustainable development and economics. But we also got enough knowledge on this subject at home, so there is no discomfort. The curriculum is clear and interesting.

Where do you live? How comfortable are the conditions?

Anastasia Khodyreva: The conditions are very good! Most students live in blocks of 3 to 5 people, but all have their own room and share only the kitchen. Everybody has a refrigerator, a toilet with a shower, a big table, a lamp, three Wifi networks, two closets, a big bed. The size of the room is approximately 12 m2. The blinds can be adjusted by remote control. In the common room, we have a large table, closet, kitchen that has everything you need and do not need, a coffee machine, toaster, electric stove, kettle, and so on.

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Dmitry Bratskikh: The dormitory has a gym, a music studio, open study, and reading rooms. There is a post office, BBQ area, table tennis. You can also play soccer or spend time on the roof, or more precisely, on the veranda, where there are sun loungers and there is a great view of the mountains. The unusual thing is the plastic keys, which have to be charged daily in the lobby.

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What is the general attitude to Russians in Austrian society?

Dmitry Bratskikh: On the whole, Austrian society is quite friendly. I have never had to encounter any rudeness even in the domestic environment. Everyone, from a sales clerk to professors, is friendly, understanding, and appreciative of our many questions.

Anastasia Khodyreva: There is no prejudice against international students in the university environment. On the contrary, many professors during their lectures on mining and other related subjects are interested in the opinions of Russian students because the resource sector has a great influence on people’s lives in our country. Our understanding of some of the processes involved in the extraction and use of natural resources is different from the Austrian one. Leoben teachers are interested in forming an objective opinion, which is why they often ask us questions themselves.

Is it possible to obtain additional competencies within the framework of their scientific interests?

Anastasia Khodyreva: Yes, the university provides such opportunities. We often receive messages on our corporate email about conferences and online courses, not only on topics directly related to our research interests but also on related ones, such as economics and the environment. For example, some students who participate in the program have signed up for an additional course, EURECA PRO, on culture, technology, and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals in Europe. It will be presented by the most advanced scientists from across the European Union. In the end, each participant will have to write a 10-page article and pass an exam. The reward is 6 ECTS (in Western countries each student has to earn a certain number of ECTS (credits) per semester. In Leoben, it is 30 ECTS. If this does not happen the curriculum is considered not fulfilled, and the young person is not allowed to the session - ed.)

What is the level of facilities at the Austrian university compared to the St. Petersburg Mining University?

Dmitry Bratskikh: The material base of both universities is of very high quality. So we feel quite comfortable in the educational environment of the Leoben Mining University.

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