Around twenty years ago international students started coming to Tambov to get higher education. At first, they were just a few and they drew a lot of attention. In the course of 20 years the number of students has significantly increased and now around 2,000 people from Africa and Maghreb countries enroll into local universities annually. They manage to intertwine with colored thread into a monochrome pattern of the local population, but integrating into the population of a small provincial town isn’t easy. So, what makes them different from the local population of the small Russian provincial town and are they at all different? What do they like and how do they live?
I photographed students in their rooms where they live in a dormitory. Sometimes I met them on the street, sometimes an already familiar student helped me get into the dormitory then I just knocked on all the doors in a row and talked to students. There were cases when already familiar students introduced me to their friends, this was the easiest way. Then they began to invite me to their parties, birthdays. But after publication in the Russian media, everything changed. I received a lot of negative feedback, clearly talking about the attitude of afro-american and arab people. Students received bad feedback from their professors, tutors, trainers, and this whole situation has turned into hell. Here are some portraits and their little stories.
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#1 Israel Premier From Brazzaville, Cameroon. Medicine Major
I was shocked when I saw our dorms: dirt, cockroaches, there wasn’t a lock on the doors. I fixed the room myself: put up wallpaper, bought a refrigerator, curtains and other little things. No one else has a room like that
#2 Kash Lee From Nelspruit, South Africa. Medicine Major
My country is very different from Russia, we have 12 official languages and it is very hot. When I went to Russia, I only knew that the best medical universities are located here and it is very cold. It was really cold here, but it was fun. Every day I learn something new at the university and behind its walls. Actually, I don’t like to hang out very much, most of the time I spend in a dorm and go to the gym. After studying, I plan to go back to my homeland and work as a therapist for the first time, and then get a specialty of a gynecologist. As a child I went to boarding school, that is, I spent little time at home: about seven weeks a year, so I guess I don’t really miss home. But I really miss our food.
#3 Alima Kambi From Bakota, Gambia. Civil Engineering Major
I spend all my time studying, and that means a lot to me. Sadly, I’ll have to take a leave of absence next year due to financial issues, but I will do anything possible to complete my education.
#4 Abina Zoua Bertrand From Yaounde, Cameroon. Management Major
I pay for my education myself and can only count on myself – my parents passed away a few years ago, that’s why I work as a loader part time. It’s extremely difficult but I don’t have a lot of choice, since there’s not many job opportunities for people of color. I need to get a degree so I hustle.
#5 Landry William Yao From Yaounde, Cameroon. Medicine Major
I am very proud of my cup. We got it for winning a university football competition. I can’t live without sport. Also I’m an amazing cook, my friends call me “Le Cordon Bleu”. (That’s what the French call a virtuoso culinary, after a prestigious culinary school).
#6 Rocky Mataruusse, From Libreville, Gabon. International Relations Major
Sports is as important for me as education is. Rugby, boxing are my true passions. I do rugby professionally. I used to play for the national team in my home country. I’m a strong player and I need to train hard to improve my skills. It’s difficult in Russia to get into the team that suits my skill level because of the color of my skin.
#7 Christiane Fleure From Abidjan, Ivory Coast. International Relations Major
Overall, I like studying here. If I ignore some of the little things, like some of the habits of the locals, it’s a cozy little town where everything is affordable. I’m missing African food though
#8 Catalea L’or Ngiia From Libreville, Gabon. Business Informatics Major
I find blending in the local society difficult. I feel like a stranger. Girls in the university laugh when they see me. We’re in a strange situation here; we were promised great education and clean dorms. What we got is cockroaches in the rooms and lectures in Russian. We don’t fully understand the language and that’s a big issue that we ended up paying a lot of money for.
#9 Banzie Joel From Nelspruit, South Africa. Medicine Major
I didn’t expect having to share a room with three guys and having to sleep on bunk beds, but I’ve gotten used to that. There’s almost no personal space, but that can be fun sometimes.
#10 Lotfi Zuari From Tunisia. Medicine Major
I’ve only been here for a year, but I can say with confidence that the local population is very closed and hostile to arabs. We’ve had different situations. For the most part, we’re on our own here. Playing ball on the local stadium is my favorite activity.
#11 Medfrank Cartel Mba From Libreville, Gabon. Chemical Technology Major
Everyone knows that Russia has a good education, so I chose it. I like to study, I came here for this. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to make friends with some of the locals, they look down on us. Cultural exchange does not work, and it's sad. But we have our own company, we are all like brothers to each other. After studying, I plan to return to my homeland and find a use for myself there.
#13 Sandrine Dshang From Cameroon. Management Major
#14 Owolowo Akorede From Nigeria. Management Major
This painting is one of the few things I bought here in Tambov. I liked how realistic the depiction of the woman is. She is very beautiful. Many of our guys want to be friend and hang out with the local girls, but they aren’t very friendly. That upsets me.