Michael Chen is an international student from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon spending his Spring 2017 semester abroad. Follow along on his blog as he snaps a photo a day during his time at NUI Galway!
Ronald Saraswat is an international student from India earning his MSc in Neuropharmacology.
Not a day goes by in my course without thinking of the assignment overdue just around the corner. It’s usually many. Once you’ve gotten that pain out of your stomach, you’re free to make any breakfast you want and get on to prepare for another exciting day at the university.
After the usual oats, blueberries and eggs, I try and make it on time to the first lecture usually at 10 or 11. (Which is supposed to be ‘early’ in student standards) Arrive on time and everything’s nice and peaceful. 5 or 10 minutes late (like a fifth of the class does) and you’ll have to worry about losing continuity of the lecture, let alone losing a place next to your Greek friend, who is almost always on time.
There’s rarely a dull moment in lectures. Especially the 2 hour lectures because 1 hour classes just fly away and you have to be on the edge of your seat if it has to make any sense. One really can’t afford to slack away, take a 20 second notifications break, or a micro nap because the whole problem or derivation would be solved by then. Unfortunately the lecturers are so dexterous that they can write something on the board, while explaining it, faster than a student can take them down on paper. It couldn’t feel that fast till you tune out to daydream and a couple of seconds later, you’re desperately trying to put the pieces together while your hands are trying to copy them down as fast as they could before it’s rubbed off. But they’re all nice people! you could stop them any time and they’ll explain it to you. No question is stupid. Trust me, I’ve done it many times. They don’t assume anything. People have asked all different sorts of questions – from what is an inverse of a matrix in Advanced Probability class – to what is an access modifier in Large scale data analytics(where you’re supposed to know in advance , how to code in Java). Every time, you get a friendly, concise answer that would get you upto speed; and then some version of “Does that make sense?” to make sure you got it. You could also email them and expect a prompt reply. Or just drop into their office. All of them.
One really can’t appreciate the lectures enough when they’re in the middle of it. The slides and their supporting materials(like tutorials and excel sheets and java codes) are works of art that have an elegance in their minimalism. They really come to life during exam time when you don’t have enough time for textbooks, with their wordy explanations and cryptic notations. Nor can you type something on YouTube or Wikipedia and try to brood over which one of them to watch because you only have limited time). That’s when the concise and the beautifully crafted slides would come to life, covering the essence of every single topic and their explanations would start to play in your head. So it was a realization that in the digital era of the internet, you still need lectures and professors. They do add value. At least in top universities they do.
Whenever I’m not at home or at lectures, my time is spent at IT305. It’s an awesome lab with nearly 30 computers that are exclusively for our masters. (with rarely 10 in regular use because everyone works with their own laptops, which is kind of sad). It’s not the lab or the computers themselves that make the place awesome. It’s basically a computer lab and a lecture hall for programming modules.
It’s a home away from home in a sense that it’s the go-to place for most of the DAs(Data Analytics gang) who hang around there all the time. In between lectures; during assignment nights when the eerie deadline grins at us while we bash each other’s brains, trying to decide which stackoverflow code will do the magic for us.
During group study sessions we play tutors, trying to fill in gaps in knowledge and bring something to the table when someone is in doubt or some obscure algorithm doesn’t make sense for any of us. “To the board. Time for the markers”. During one of these sessions, I took the lead when trying to piece together a machine learning algorithm. I tried to start from scratch and oversimplified a partial differential equation trying to explain to my classmates who didn’t have calculus exposure. It so happened that they liked the way I did it and told me A couple of classmates told me they’d pay me to do this. I only realized they weren’t kidding when they actually had me grind them for a session in “Calculus for Probability”, and paid me handsomely for it. A lot of potential to make money and help people at the same time. Then there is the NUIG grinds where you could register to tutor for students who are willing to be tutored, in subjects where you think you can contribute.
Except for an average of three and a half hours a day of labs and lectures combined, you’re free to do whatever you want. Except you’re not. Because reading for, and doing assignments take twice as much time a day.(If you know what you’re doing, otherwise longer). You can’t blame them because that’s the only way professors can evaluate that you can actually put the knowledge into practice and make something out of it. That’s more important than just knowledge, which is why continuous assessments carry as much as 40% of the entire grade, the remaining from written exams.
If one can figure out how to get out of the vicious cycle of going through the entire student life, moving from one assignment to another, which is tough, but doable, there’s always time and place for awesome things inside the university. Every Monday, 6-8 pm and Wednesday (9 -11 pm) are awesome because of badminton at the monstrous 12 court facility of the college. Every Fridays and Saturdays are awesome because of the Kayaking club’s beginner sessions. (where a magical boat like an f1 car, you sit inside and keep rowing). These are the regulars that I visit.
Other than that I’ve tried out ultimate frisbee, Rock climbing, Soccer and Basketball. There’s a sports club for every sport it’s a shame that you can only select so much to play in a week owing to the schedules. When I am not doing assignments, or studying, or playing badminton, or dancing, or kayaking, or doing radio shows in my university, I like to read and watch about subjects that interest me, which are a lot: insightful and thought-provoking books like Thinking, Fast and Slow and Antifragile; scientific(especially cognitive science) documentaries of BBC, NGC, and Discovery Channel; actionable TED talks; biographies of the likes of Nikola Tesla, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson and Elon Musk.There’s also the beautiful library where I wanted to spend the majority of time, I just couldn’t. But I have the whole semester 2 ahead of me and I will.
My day ends with dinner and good rest and I can’t wait to repeat all over again.