“Some people told me that the weather in Russia is very cold and the food there much different than ours,” Cambodian freshman Ouch Bunnarath says, explaining the concerns he had before travelling to Russia on a scholarship to study civil engineering.
Bunnarath, 21, arrived in Russia on October 5, 2012, with nine other Cambodian students. He is now living with two fellow Cambodians who are studying at the same school he is. Talking to LIFT via Skype, Bunnarath talks about living in Moscow and studying at the famous Moscow State University of Civil Engineering – an experience very few Cambodians have had.
“What people said before I came here turned out to be true – the weather here is colder than in Cambodia,” Bunnarath says, comparing his fears before leaving for Russia with the reality as he sees it after a year in the country. “The first day I arrived, the temperature was a little above 10 degrees Celsius. Sometimes it reaches -20C in Moscow during January. Right now it’s around 5C,” he says. “But it is warm and comfortable in our house thanks to our heater.”
When asked about the other difficulties he faced in his first few weeks in Russia, Bunnarath says: “I was homesick and I felt very lonely because I knew nobody, and I just stayed in the dormitory with those from Cambodia.” To deal with these feelings, Bunnarath spent much of his free time talking with his family in Cambodia.
After the culture shock subsided, Bunnarath had another challenge to deal with: school. “My weak Russian language skills were a big problem. The classes and work for all of my subjects are in Russia, so if our language knowledge is limited, it’s hard for us to understand the lessons.” This spurred Bunnarath to work hard on improving his Russian fluency.
Despite these challenges, Bunnarath now has some Russian friends and on weekends will gather them together with his Cambodian friends for sightseeing trips. “When I have free time, I search the internet for beautiful and interesting places, then I call my friends to go there and take pictures.”
Bunnarath, who hails from Kampot province, recalls his excitement at visiting Moscow Zoo and the city’s parks. “The zoo is very big and some of the animals there were completely new to me – I had never seen them in Cambodia before! The zoo was so big that we couldn’t even see all of it in a day. On most weekends I go to Gorky Park, which is in the heart of Moscow.”
Russian students have several different ways of spending their free time, Bunnarath says. “Some students travel to other parts of Russia or go back to their hometown. Most like partying on holidays and weekends.”
Though Bunnarath is now comfortable with his life in Russia, he intends to return home after graduating. “I am going back to Cambodia because my family, relatives and friends are there,” he says. “Moreover, I want to take what I have learnt in Russia and implement and it in Cambodia to help my country develop.”