«All you need to do is to take the initiative»: interview with international student Soumojit Mukherjee

International student from India Soumojit Mukherjee told us about his interests, student life and what it is like being Russian ambassador for nuclear education.

“Usually they just call me Soum. It's comfortable for everyone. I am currently studying in the fourth year in the Institute of Financial Technology and Economic Security. My specialization- Financial Monitoring.

I always wanted to study engineering, but I was always interested in economics. My specialisation is usually closed for foreign students. For the first time ever an olympiad was held to apply for this course. As soon as I saw this, I applied for the olympiad and submitted my documents through Russian Center of Science and Culture. After 2 months, I finally got my acceptance letter.

I have been here in Russia for about 5 years now. Initially, I studied in Obninsk in the preparatory faculty. The entire education process was in Russian language. The teachers were really nice , most of them knew English, French or German. The groups were very small, about 5-6 students. We were almost like a family; worked together and ate together. 

When I first arrived here, I did not know any russian. Obninsk is a very small town, where almost no one knows English. I remember when I first went to buy a SIM card, the shopkeeper knew only a few words in english, and I had to explain to him for over 2 hours that I required a big internet pack because I needed to call home. Another problem I faced- opening a bank account, because for the 1st month I only had about a hundred dollars, which at that time was around 5 thousand rubles. We lived in such a dormitory where there were many international students and they were always very eager to help. I remember when I went to the supermarket for the first time to buy something to eat, I wanted to buy butter but I did not know what it was called in Russian. I accidentally ended up buying not butter but chocolate paste and hence, had dessert for lunch.

When I first arrived in Moscow, I participated in the Orientation day. There I met my curators and classmates. As it happened they were all russians and almost none of them spoke english. Surely, everyone was very happy to help but only when i asked for it. They thought that I understood everything they said. Unfortunately they had a very different speaking speed and something that I was not at all prepared for- slang. That day, I met my friend Egor, he was the only one who spoke in english with me. And since then we have been very good friends. 

My first lecture was of macroeconomics and it was a horror show. The teacher did not follow any books or notes. I needed to write everything but he dictated very fast. Hence, while my friends had already written 2-3 pages, I was still on the 1st line. It was good to see that my groupmates gave me their notes after the class.

In the beginning of the semester, I created a plan. I knew that everyone else was starting from 0. So that meant  that I was starting from -20, and therefore I needed to firstly reach 0 and then work my way forward. The plan for the 1st semester was to just survive. In our first law class, we had a basic knowledge test of Russian law. Many got 28 out 30, some even 30 out 30. I got 1 out 30. This was obviously very funny. Initially, I was scared. You go to lectures and don't understand anything, you go to seminars and still don't understand anything. I started to worry. One time there was a discussion in economics class and I had a eureka moment, I finally understood what the teacher was talking about. When I answered his question, he was really very happy and from there on I knew the game was on. 

Another interesting thing, that I did not know, was how the marks system works in Russian. Here if you get 90-100 it's an A for ‘excellent’ but if you get B, C, D it's all the same for ‘good’. We had an exam of mathematical analysis. Studying this subject was hard even in English. During the exam, I did not do very well with the theory but I solved all the practical questions. The teacher gave me 30 marks and told me that for the exam I had 75 mark,. thanks to the results of the semester. He told me I got a D, and I thought that a D is a very bad result. So I told the teacher very proudly that I would rewrite the exam at a later date. In my group only 5 students passed the exam, so when everybody was asking me why I did not take 75 and took a 4 happily, my pride turned into stupidity because at that time I thought that a D is a 2 or a 3 out of 5.

About the ambassador program, there was a post on the mephi website about recruiting Russian ambassadors for nuclear education. On the interview day, I entered the interview room, and I saw that everybody was way older than I was. So someone told me that the main requirements were that a student should be studying in a master's program and should be from the institute of nuclear physics. Oddly enough, I was neither. This was during the 1st semester of the second year and by that time I had already published 3 scientific articles. The interviewer from Rosatom asked me, what would be my topic for the final thesis, at that time I still had more than 4 years to think about this question, so I had no prepared answer. I just told her about the Ndrangheta, how they work and how to stop them. The interviewer said that the topic was really interesting and they would be happy to take me. Another requirement was a good knowledge of English. At that time, I knew English, Hindi, Urdu, a little bit Arabic, Spanish, French and Bengali. I am from India so I already use Hindi and Urdu when I speak with my family and friends. We study in school in English and Bengali is my mother tongue. In our school we had an exchange program, where you go and live 14 days in another country with a family and next year the student comes to live with you. I went to Spain through this program for free. I loved their language; I studied it not through books but by speaking and writing to my friend. I also had French in school for 4 years, furthermore, my mother studied in France and teaches French in Delhi University. 

As an ambassador, I get the opportunity to go to various events of Rosatom, for example, AtomSkills. Almost all student ambassadors don't speak in russian. They are master degree students, they study in english. In one of our events in Saint Petersburg, we had people not only from the scientific fields but also from human resources, the atomic sector, physics and nuclear reactors. I had a presentation is about how nuclear industry is developing in India. I asked a question on what they knew about India. People answered: "Tea, movies, prime minister, spices and dance". We spoke only about this for 20 minutes. I was there for 2 days and very often people approached us to know and discuss more.

Most of the time in MEPhI is about research. It doesn't matter which faculty or institute, there is always an opportunity to learn something and create new. You can always find professors who are very glad to discuss various topics, help you write research works and publish them.

In the 1st year i did not know how to do all this. We used to go to conferences as an audience. We saw how other people in big auditoriums wore expensive suits and presented their research works. I told Egor that "it doesn't matter how we do this but we need to do this!".

In the 2nd year, we were notified about an international conference organised by our institute. We needed to write a research paper. Usually in the junior years, students go to the teachers to ask for recommendations on topics to write, but we decided to choose our own- Money laundering in offshores through Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. We had to collect information from hundreds of different sources and it took us almost 2 months. We also participated in a conference in Financial University where we won the 3rd prize. In the next conference we won the 1st prize, from there on we started participating in various conferences, winning various prizes and writing on different topics.

Where I am today, I am very thankful to my group mates. They are always ready to help with notes, answers and other materials. I don't think there is ever any time to relax. Something is happening all the time. In the summer, I worked as a freelancer. I researched about products before their launch into the market. It's very comfortable to take such projects. I only started recently because the borders were closed and I thought about how to spend my time this summer.

Currently I run the English club,and am a member of the dormitory council. In the 1st year, I was just a participant and in the 2nd year the students who ran this club finished studying and I took over their place. We organise meetings in the reading room of the dormitory where we improve our english together.


My advice: all you need to do is to take the initiative, and then people will always come forward to help you. In MEPhI, there is no limit to what you can do”.