Twenty-six-year-old Igboanugo Somadila, who graduated with a perfect cumulative grade point average of 5.0 in Medicine and Surgery at Rostov State Medical University in Russia tells MOTUNRAYO AKINRUN how she surmounted cultural and language barriers to achieve the feat

What exactly took you to Russia and can you explain how it happened?

My sole reason for going to Russia was to study. I was awarded the Bilateral Education Agreement Scholarship in 2016, and that was what led to my travelling to Russia.

What did you study there and which institution did you attend?

I studied General Medicine and Surgery at Rostov State Medical University in Russia.

How long did it take you to study the course?

It took six years.

Were you taught in Russian?

Yes, I was.

Did you have to learn Russian to study there?

Yes, I studied the Russian language for one year before resuming my medical degree programme. I am an indigene of Imo State. My father is late now but while he was alive, he was a businessman who owned supermarkets and electronic shops. My mother does business as well.

How did you learn Russian and how long did it take you to have a full understanding of the language?

There was a preparatory faculty for the Russian language course at the university in Russia. So, the teachers there taught us the language and of course, I had to practise by making friends with Russians, watching Russian movies, and listening to Russian music. It took me one year to study the basics of the Russian language but learning the language was a continuous process because every day in medical school, I was exposed to new words and I learnt them.

Did you encounter any difficulty while studying in Russia in terms of the culture?

The difficulty I encountered while studying in Russian was that I had to translate words into English to understand what I was studying. I was forced to speak the language in classes and during exams; it was not easy. Adapting to the other Russian cultures was not a hard pill to swallow.

What are the dos and don’ts Nigerians who want to study in Russian should know?

For the dos, because the Russian language is not your first language, you must never get tired of translating as many words as possible and this entails studying every day. You will only come across new words if you are faithful at studying your school books which are written in Russian. The things to avoid include never disobeying the school rules because you can be sent home even if you have a valid visa. Never forget the reason for coming to Russia in the first place; some people come and get carried away because there is no one to monitor them. However, just bear in mind that in Russia, you are given two chances to re-write an exam, and if you fail the second time, you will be expelled from the school.

How is Russia’s educational system different from the system in Nigeria?

Some of the differences are that 90 per cent of the exams in Russia are oral and you get to see your results the same day; there is nothing like waiting for two months just to see your results. In Russia, we answer questions (take tests) every day in practical classes, and this forces students to always come to class prepared. If you are not able to answer in class that day, you will have to re-sit the class by meeting the teacher on re-sit days. In Russia, we have practical classes and lecture classes. In lecture classes, the teachers teach and make presentations while, in practical classes, the teachers test your knowledge of what you have read. Some teachers teach in practical classes and some don’t. In my opinion, it is better to have teachers who teach in practical classes because you will understand better, having read the topic for that day. In Russian universities, lecture halls are not jam-packed with students. Students are divided into groups, thus making learning easier.

What is the grading system like in Russia?

The grading system is from two to five points. Two means a student failed; three means satisfactory; four means good; and five, being the highest means excellent. Also, some subjects are not graded, so a student will be credited to show that they passed the course, though it carries no mark or grade.

Having graduated with a perfect score, were you allowed to become a Russian citizen?

I am not a Russian citizen.

What does it take to become a Russian citizen?

It is best to ask a Russian lawyer about the pathways to becoming a Russian citizen. From what I know, if you graduate with a Red diploma (first class honours) in Russia, you can apply for permanent residency and afterward, apply for citizenship. Also marrying a Russian citizen can give you the right to apply for Russian citizenship.

Having been taught in Russian, did you take your exams in Russian?

Yes, all my exams were in Russian.

Were many of your classmates and lecturers surprised when they saw your final results?

I would say that they weren’t because I have always been a diligent student and they knew that from the outset.

What were the striking things people said when they saw your final results?

Honestly, I didn’t pay attention to people’s comments or remarks. The majority were happy for me and they sent congratulatory messages.

Did you receive prizes from the university?

Not a prize per se, I was given the honour of being the valedictorian for my university graduation, something that was mostly given to Russians only.

Were you offered a scholarship for your outstanding result?

Yes.

Who offered the scholarship and what does it cover?

I was offered a scholarship by the Russian government to do my medical residency in cardiology and it covers my tuition fees.

What does it take for a Nigerian to study in Russia?

It takes a lot of tenacity to study in Russia, especially for those studying in Russian language because it is not easy. You have to be willing to study every day, because the language is new, and you have to learn as fast as you can. If you fail, no one will consider the fact that the Russian language is not your language; the rules that apply to Russian students are what will apply to you so, you have no reasons to fail.

If you are not on a full scholarship or if your parents can’t comfortably see you through your studies in Russia, don’t bother coming here (Russia) to study.

Why?

This is because studying in the Russian language is time-consuming on its own, not to mention combining it with a job. It is either you fail in school or you lose your job.

How did your parents receive the news of your academic achievement?

They were overjoyed and grateful to God who made it possible.

What part of Medicine did you find most interesting as an undergraduate?

Every part of Medicine is fascinating to me. Well, I fell in love with cardiology because I enjoy reading that part of Medicine.

Why do Russian universities use the grade point average for a course like Medicine?

Every country has a grading system. Grading two to five points is the official grading system in Russia irrespective of the course of study.

Do you plan to return to Nigeria to practice medicine or remain in Russia?

I plan to practice Medicine in Nigeria in the future but I don’t know when exactly. For now, I’m still in Russia.

How old are you?

I’m 26 years old.

Are you aware that many young doctors are leaving Nigeria because they feel the remuneration and work conditions are poor?

Yes, I’m aware.

Some Nigerians may wonder what exactly is the motivation behind wanting to return to Nigeria to practise when many in Nigeria are leaving to practise elsewhere. Will you like to talk about it?

The truth is, not everyone will leave, some will remain. Choosing to come back is a personal decision.

The Nigerian educational system is unique. Do you believe you would have repeated the same feat if you studied in Nigeria?

I believe that if I studied in Nigeria, I would have graduated with first-class honours by the grace of God, but I’m not sure if it would be 5.0 because of the uncertainties with Nigerian education.

Did you apply for admission to Nigerian universities before you left for Russia?

Yes, I applied for admission. I graduated from secondary school in 2014 and after that, I got into the university immediately to study Medical Laboratory Science, though I wanted Medicine. I was in the first-class grade. I left after my second year at Imo State University when I was awarded the Bilateral Education Agreement  Scholarship to come to Russia to study General Medicine and Surgery. I gladly accepted the offer because I was offered my dream course and the scholarship was fully funded

Do you interact with the Nigerian community in Russia?

Yes, I did. In Russia, we have a community called the Association of Nigerian Scholarship Students in Russia. This community is very helpful because we get to interact with the Nigerian Embassy in Russia and also the Federal Scholarship Board in Nigeria through the leaders appointed by the community. Students also get help when in tight situations from the community. The association was created long before I arrived in Russia. When I arrived in Russia in 2016, many Nigerian students welcomed us at the airport; they made sure that we got to our different cities safely. They helped us get SIM cards, called our parents to tell them that we had arrived and they fed us as well. Looking at it differently, if I arrived with no one to put me through things, I would have been lost because I didn’t know the language then. Probably, I would have been struggling to get to my final destination. So, the community provided tremendous help to me and others.

Are there as many Nigerians studying in Russia as there are in the UK and US?

I can’t give the exact number of Nigerian students studying in Russia but I know that many Nigerian students come to Russia to study through the Bilateral Education Agreement Scholarship. Every year, about a hundred Nigerian students come to Russia on full scholarships. Many students are sponsored by their parents. Studying in Russia is cheaper than studying in the UK and the USA. Some programmes are offered in the English language and that attracts a lot of people from different countries, including Nigeria. In Russia, the fees range from $4,000 to $10,000 a year, depending on the school and course, unlike in the USA and UK where the tuition fees are high.

What do you miss the most about Nigeria?

I miss our food. I miss the fact that I don’t get to go to the farm to cut vegetables for any soup I want to prepare. I miss my family and the friendships that I created in Nigeria. Although I talk to them almost every day, it is not the same as seeing them anytime I feel like.

How have you and other Nigerians been coping with the war between Russia and Ukraine?

I must say that the war has put a lot of fear on us. Hearing what happened in Ukraine made us really afraid. We had to go on lockdown for a while before stepping outside again. The Nigerian embassy took our details to get us ready for evacuation in case things go badly. We packed our belongings to always be ready. What happened in Ukraine was heartbreaking, people left their items behind and many were left with just their phones, no money, and no belongings. That is very depressing. Imagine waking up and finding out that all your items have been burnt. Imagine having to trek a long distance just to find safety. Most cities in Russia were not affected, only a few.

Do you live in a safe area?

My city is pretty safe but we were always thinking of the unknown. What if a bomb was thrown at us? That kind of unrest and uncertainty. I really thank God that the war has died out for now. During wars, no place is safe because today, you may think that your city is safe and tomorrow, something bad may happen to it. You just need to pray that no matter where you are, you are safe.

What is your favourite Russian dish?

My favourite Russian dish is plov. It is made with rice, vegetables, and, of course, meat or fish.

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