Our graduates| Martin Sova| Studying abroad: why is it so great?
14. November 2016 Martin Sova

Studying abroad: why is it so great?

Jodi Picoult, an American author, believes that there is a mathematical equation for happiness: reality divided by expectations. Although I don’t necessarily agree with this theory, as it suggests that lowering our expectations must facilitate happiness, or that happiness can even be devised into a formula in the first place, I do believe that it provokes an interesting debate.

When being accepted by your top choice university, the high expectations of an imminent university undergraduate are often channelled into a form of excitement; from personal experience, the summer before the start of first academic year is largely spent fantasising about the university. As a student who has embarked on a journey through the second year of university, I’m highly fascinated by this dichotomy of expectation and reality in the academic setting, and how our expectations of the university life compare with the actual, palpable experience. Although my initial expectations of university might have been very different from my actual university experience so far, it is only because I had been exposed to experiences that are greater than I would have ever expected or imagined. I have come to realise that the magic of university is that it exposes you to new experiences, might that be a chess club, or astrophysics and rock-climbing societies, which are activities that I would had never expected to join; experiencing the reality of university that is very different from our expectation is not bad, but rather compelling, allowing you to grow as a person outside of academia. Of course, my first months at university involved what you could expect as the typical experiences, which, perhaps, almost any other student studying abroad will come across as well – for example, joining almost every society available at the activities fair, living off of pesto pasta for until you have decided to learn how to cook other delicacies, having blast with newly found friends, and familiarising yourself with an entirely different culture. Personally, I was in awe to see such a dynamic and welcoming (yet challenging) community during my first year at university, and found it hard to believe that it has more to offer in the following years. Boy, was I wrong.

The first month of second year has proven to be exceptionally important, and particularly different. This is when I began to realise that university might not actually be what you expected all three years, but, in fact, will amount to something much more wonderful. It wasn't until now, when the pace and difficulty of the workload increased significantly, that I began to notice that one of the most unexpected experiences stems from the educational system. The further you indulge into your degree, you notice that there is an entire community dedicated to the field of study that you are pursuing for 3 or more years of your life, which works hard to provide you with high level of intellectual simulation on daily bases. Some may argue that university is too vast and active to encourage a single student, but I could not disagree more. You might be wondering: so what is it that makes university such a great learning environment? There are two major reason why teaching specific capacities of higher learning at a university is an experience that has encouraged me to be the best student possible.

Firstly, because you study in a community of like-minded and clever students that are interested in similar disciplines, you get a constant flow of creative ideas and solutions. Most importantly, you are able to challenge others, and have other students challenge your ideas, which is an invaluable experience and an integral part of academia; being able to have constructive conversations with other students about highly complex concepts in the discipline that fascinates you is simply amazing. You learn that it is important to be able to listen to others, who might have more intuitive solution, and also learn how to appropriately communicate your own ideas; this is a form of bi-directional learning, which is one of the most fun experiences I had while learning new subjects. In this sense, attending a selective university is especially encouraging, because you are able to engage in thoughtful and objective conversations about global issues, perhaps even with students who come from foreign cultures to your’s, but have the same interests as you. When I had first travelled to study in the UK, I was elated to see such flourishing community of scholars with similar interests, who not are not only focused on their own studies, but encourage each other to become better students.

Secondly, university provides a vast number of distinguished ways that I can engage in what I love to do because of the extensive network of professional activities at my disposal. Mostly, I have been enjoying the frequent talks during lectures provided by the university, which feature very respected figures from influential companies. My favourite talk was by a CIO from the Met Office, which is UK’s top national weather service, which focuses (unlike other weather service companies) on both the weather forecast and climate change. These lectures are immensely important, because although I had never before considered the intricacies of weather forecast and how it may connect with my degree, I was instantly mesmerised by the relation between computer science and weather forecast as described by the lecturer, and my interest in this area of research was kindled just like that. As a consequence, I have added companies such as the Met Office and other companies that have lectured at our university which I have never considered before, such as CLES, which I have never considered before to the list of potential organisations of interest for future internships and work placements.

An important aspect of university that is worth mentioning, and which I had thought of as I was writing this blog entry, is that, although UK universities do not provide many opportunities to study a minor (like American universities) to be able to explore a combination of subjects which are of interests to a student, I have learned that you should always be encouraged to incorporate your other passions into the work for your current degree, and that professors actually perceive this as an academic strength. Personally, other than computer science, astrophysics is one of my main academic passions. Because English universities often don’t offer a combination of computer science and astrophysics, I was at first disappointed that I could not incorporate this field in my current work. However, as I had come to realise throughout the first year and beginning of second year, there is actually a lot of freedom for a student to integrate other subjects of interests in their projects. For example, we were instructed to describe an area of applied computing and the technical use of computer science in a chosen area. I have chosen to write one of my essays on Global Optimisation of Spacecraft Trajectory Design by Monotonic Basin-Hopping, which shows how computer science is applied to plan spacecraft trajectories in space missions. In this manner, I was able to demonstrate my passion for astrophysics, and apply it in a way that complimented my current degree of computer science, which is a form of dynamic learning that is incredibly rewarding.

As a result of this dynamic learning environment, my day consists of a fascinating array of learning outcomes; while my morning may consist of developing an object-oriented oriented Java program that executes a card game, I will spend the afternoon designing a database design for a bank system, and at night I may indulge in writing about how computer science is applied in the field of astrophysics. Further, being a part of a vibrant and supportive (yet competitive) community that shares common interests is greatly beneficial to my current and future career goals. Such a highly intellectual stimulating academic sphere is only one of the many experience that I have come to cherish in the past several months. With respect to this, I cannot wait to find out what the next several months of university have in store for me, and I’m excited to go full steam ahead to achieve the best results possible.


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