International student’s experience at Nazarbayev University

We started new project on interviewing our students about their experience at Nazarbayev University (NU). Today our guest is Evangelos Mitsokapas, an Erasmus exchange postgraduate student.

– How did you know about NU? Tell about your emotions of NU.

Professor Tassos Bountis, currently a full professor and Graduate Program Chair at the School of Science and Technology of NU, was my supervisor during my Master’s programme at University of Patras, Greece. After my successful graduation there, he suggested that I join him for a semester at NU as an Erasmus exchange postgraduate student, in order to continue our research collaboration.

At first, I must admit that I was hesitant, since this would be my first trip outside Europe, but then I realized what a great experience that would be for me; I would be able to combine travelling (which I love) and meeting new people along with studying concepts relevant to my Mathematics and Physics, at the top University of Kazakhstan.

Moreover, there was plenty of information online that helped me get a better picture of Nazarbayev University before my arrival. That was enough to make up my mind. I arrived at the frozen (for a Greek) Astana on February 2017.

– What is your educational background? Why did you come to NU? What is your area of research?

I am currently a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Mathematical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London in the field of non-Markovian statistical mechanics. Moreover, I am a holder of a M.Sc. in applied mathematics as well as B.Sc. in mathematics, both from University of Patras in Greece. My research areas involve both the field of complex dynamical systems as well as the theory of statistical mechanics from a stochastic point of view.

I chose NU mainly for two reasons:

The first one was that I would be able to spend some time at a foreign university where I would have the opportunity to experience different teaching methods, networking with new researchers and learning to use new tools for my research work. It is always an important part of research to exchange opinions and facts with fellow collaborators.

The second reason was because I would be able to resume my work with Prof. Bountis. We had already started investigating some models relevant to my master’s thesis before him moving to NU and now it was a good opportunity to catch up on that. Also, all the information and good words he told me about the university (since he had been at NU before me) helped into convincing me.

– Compare your student life in Greece/UK and Kazakhstan.

 Student life at NU in the heart of winter is not the most fun thing you can do. Everything is frozen, you cannot really go out too often and everyone is busy with classes and exams. Even harder when you don’t speak any Russian other than “Davai” (that goes with everything).

Instead of being depressed with all this, I actually had a great time. Yes, maybe I could not have the same student life as in Greece or London with the wide options of pubs, events concerts etc. but I made some great friends and I went around Astana and almost all of Kazakhstan with them! These people made me feel like I was home, and I believe that this is worth more than any concert. I would do it all over again with no second thought.

– Would you come to NU and continue working/studying/doing research?

Well, I have already returned once! I left NU on May 2017 and I was back on October 2017, just some days ago, to work with ongoing research with collaborators from NU.

And trust me, I, once again, had a great time! I hope that in the future I will be able to visit NU more than once in order to continue my research activities as well as meet with my pack of friends.

– Did you work with NU students? Tell about your teaching experience.

I was able to teach some classes as a Teaching Assistant in Calculus I, at the School of Science and Technology as part of my Erasmus experience. I worked closely with students by answering questions they might have before or after a test as well as helping them understand fine mathematical concepts. What was impressive about NU students is that almost all of them could follow up the pace of the course and would perform well at test papers.

I love teaching young minds about mathematical notions and this experience was no exception. I enjoyed every moment of it.

– Was it difficult/easy to adapt in Astana?

In the beginning yes. It hard for me, since not only had I never been to Kazakhstan before, but I did not know any Russian. Therefore, even simple everyday tasks could be rather complicated. But everything worked out after some time passed. I got to meet more people who would help me around with anything that could occur. This is another thing that I would like to mention; people working at NU as well as students were always willing to help me and that is a nice feeling I have from the time I spent there.