From Morocco to Russia: My Study Abroad Experience

From Morocco to Russia: My Study Abroad Experience

Craig OCallaghan

Updated January 17, 2020 Updated January 17

One of the key reasons why you might consider studying abroad is the simple reason that the universities within your own country can’t guarantee you the high-quality education you can get elsewhere.

1,000 universities may be included in the QS World University Rankings, but there’s a big gap between the institutions at the very top and the very bottom, and some countries aren’t even represented.

Growing up in Morocco, Hanna Itri knew she’d have to look abroad if she was going to fulfil her career ambitions. However, rather than the usual study abroad destinations in western Europe or North America, Hanaa set her sights on studying in Russia, applying to Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger culture shock than leaving the warm climate of north Africa for the chilly winters in St Petersburg, but Hanaa thrived in her new environment. The university’s PolyUnion club – a student-run society for international students – helped her settle in and she’s since repaid the favor by supervising the club and becoming an active contributor.

We spoke to Hanaa to learn more about her experiences and how her time studying in Russia has set her up perfectly to achieve her career goals.

What appealed to you about studying in Russia?

Russia is the largest country in the world and is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. I always wanted to learn about its traditions.

From my first arrival in St. Petersburg, I fell in love with this city. Its museums, temples and churches are infinitely interesting. The architecture is breathtaking with its decoration and grandeur. Living in Russia every day helps me conceive new ideas and inspire my mind.

In what ways has the university supported you and helped you adjust to living in a new country?

It didn’t just help me; it saved my life! It wasn’t easy to move to a new country where you don’t know the culture or language and PolyUnion helped to break those barriers down. They were not just close friends to me but a family.

So, I decided to help other news students and worked for PolyUnion. As a result I was rewarded with a place on the academic council of Peter the Great St.Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU).

I will never forget the day when I was honored to open the PolyUnion with Rector Andrei Ivanovich Rudskoi. It was an unforgettable day.

What advice would you have for other students trying to adapt to living in Russia?

I’ve actually got my own vlog encouraging foreign students in Russia. It’s important to join the community. In PolyUnion you will find what you need to adapt to life in Russia.

What are some of the biggest challenges when studying abroad in Russia?

Language, language and language! Using gestures if I needed something was my only way to communicate initially, and I also asked my Russian friends to help me learn Russian.

What expectations did you have of the Russian people before coming to study here? What have you been surprised by?

I expected that Russians would be rude. When I arrived, I was so surprised by their behavior as I felt so welcomed in the society. It didn’t just stop there – they even welcomed me into their homes, serving me Russia’s famous soup borsht and pelmeni.

How has your experience of studying in Russia benefited your career?

I got my master’s degree on Tuesday and found my dream job on Friday! I’ll be working as the head of an international department at GC Tehnodar. I’m also continuing at the university as a PhD student.

This article was originally published in November 2019 . It was last updated in January 2020

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As editor of, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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