Story of an Ecuadorian Girl Who Ended up a Student of Saint-Petersburg Mining University

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There are large oil reserves in Ecuador but not enough specialists who know how to work with modern technologies. Valeria Esthefanía Quiroz Cabascango moved from Ecuador to Russia and is now a PhD student at Saint-Petersburg Mining University. She admits that her country lacks high-qualified mining specialists. Most often, people employed in mining do not have the appropriate education but only experience.

Unsurprisingly, locals prefer to study abroad if an opportunity arises. Valeria is one of those lucky Ecuadorians who managed to do so. She is currently living in St. Petersburg and studying petrochemistry at the Mining University. In this interview, the Ecuadorian student compares Russian and South American education systems and also explains the reasons behind her study choice.

Valeria became interested in chemistry when she was yet a small child. Her parents worked in pharmaceuticals and also encouraged their daughter’s interest in science. As the girl had graduated from high school, she entered the National Polytechnic School in Quito, the most highly reputed engineering university in the country. Soon she, however, found about the contest held by Rossotrudnichestvo, a Russian agency responsible for promoting Russian education services abroad. Valeria had found out that competition winners were entitled to free studies at one of the Russian universities and decided she would participate.

“Why did I decide to do so? It was the choice of various specialities that impressed me the most. Petrochemistry, pharmaceutical biochemistry, agrochemistry – I would not be able to choose any of them in Ecuador. Each graduate here becomes a chemical engineer. So I made a decision. My boyfriend and I submitted applications, and both were approved,” recalls Valeria.

That year applicants could not yet specify a city or university of preference. Thus it turned out that Valeria’s boyfriend was admitted to one of the universities in St. Petersburg. Valeria herself ended up in Belgorod. She was accepted to the Chemical Engineering Faculty of Belgorod State Technological University (BSTU).

“I did not want to study chemistry. I wanted to study petrochemistry because I knew that was a field I could see myself working in upon return home. Petroleum engineering and energetics are two industries that are currently being under active development in my country. Once I completed preparatory studies, I came to St. Petersburg for a holiday. Surprisingly it felt very different here, and I immediately fell in love with the city!”

It was a chance that helped Valeria to transfer to St. Petersburg. She was on her way back to Belgorod and all of a sudden heard someone addressing her in Spanish. Milton, a young man who talked to her, was a PhD student at the Mining University. He assured then the BSTU’s student that petrochemistry was taught in his university and even helped her arrange the meeting with the university’s representatives.

Talking about her transfer to the Mining University, Valeria says: “When I arrived here I realized I was in one of the world’s top universities. I saw students working here in the labs on their own, conducting experiments with no fear of making a mistake. To my regret, a teacher and student in Ecuador are separated by an unbreakable wall. This wall is not built on respect but horror instead. For instance, if we broke down something, we would be required to pay, or they could even expel us from the university. Being afraid of doing something wrong does not allow students to think freely. I never had such problems in Russia.”

When asked about the advantages of studying at the Mining University, Valeria mentioned field studies and internships. Annual internships are a mandatory part of the curricula. Each student has to undertake them. Ecuadorian students do not have such an opportunity, and they thereby have no practical training completed when they become first employed.

Once her Bachelor studies had been over, the Mining University’s student decided to continue education and applied for a Master’s program. Now she is studying for a PhD degree.

But what about the future?

“As I complete my education here, I think I will come back to my home country. At first, I will devote a couple of years to working in the industry because I need to gain some practical experience. After that, I plan to become a teacher at one of the local engineering universities. But no matter what I will be missing Saint-Petersburg.”