Czech out Prague!

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Czech out Prague!


I count myself very lucky to have been granted the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund. I used the money I was given to attend, upon acceptance, the 28th International Youth Leadership Conference in Prague. The £700 paid for almost the entire conference, leaving only the transport costs to my own pocket.

In front of the Czech Senate

In front of the Czech Senate with all IYLC participants.

The conference was an intensive 5-day forum on leadership, world politics and justice, somewhat like Model United Nations, but with embassy visits, guest speakers and VIP parties with diplomats! The other participants came from all corners of the world: India, Pakistan, America, Australia, Malaysia, Puerto Rico, Peru, Spain, Holland, Ethiopia, Swaziland, South Africa and many more. It was amazing to meet everyone and to get to know their cultures and languages. In fact, we threw a culture night, where we saw all kinds of things, from Spanish dancing to Dutch singing, American rapping to Australian food tasting.

Representatives from South Africa, Somalia and Swaziland!

Representatives from South Africa, Somalia and Swaziland in traditional garments! I forgot my kilt…

In terms of the work we did, all participants were split into three groups of around 12 with facilitators and we had several intensive 2 hour Planning, Development and Strategy sessions for the topic in question – the UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court or the EU Parliament – and the following simulations. This was hard work because I hadn’t been exposed to the nature and functions of these institutions before and suddenly I was appointed to a role – France delegate, the Chief Prosecutor, and Lobbyist and Committee Secretary respectively – where I was expected to debate with confidence. Hence many hours were spent on research, case-preparing, and presentation and rebuttal development. Very quickly I became aware of my strengths and weaknesses  – things we all worked on together.

A couple of the guys and I on Charles Bridge, enjoying the sunshine.

A couple of the guys and I on Charles Bridge after a visit to the American Centre with the American Ambassador.

In my opinion, it was the experience of getting to know all these different people from different places above all during the week that I cherished the most; and it wasn’t all work, it was play too. We got opportunities to do touristy things in the Old Town of Prague, get a taste for Czech nightlife and relax after utterly exhausting days in seminars and simulations to a pint of Czech beer and international card games.

We got pedal boats on our last day and soaked up the sheer awesomeness of Prague

We got pedal boats on our last day and soaked up the sheer awesomeness of Prague.

All in all, I would definitely recommend students to attend the IYLC in future. I am so happy to have attended the conference and to have met all the people there! So I’d like to say a MASSIVE “děkuji” to the Go Abroad Team!

Teaching First Aid in Tanzania

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I travelled to Tanzania, east Africa for 5 weeks with the charity First Aid Africa to teach a first aid course in a rural community. I was based in a village called Mwika which is situated in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. I lived there with a host family and one other volunteer. Together, we taught pupils in a local primary school in the mornings and community members in a church in the afternoons. Some topics in the course we taught included: snake bites, fractures, burns, blood loss, and major medical conditions such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. I chose to travel to Tanzania to teach first aid as there are very high rates of road traffic accidents resulting in many serious injuries, therefore the work that I did will have a huge impact. Teaching first aid to a local community has equipped them with the skills to treat life-threatening injuries before a casualty is taken to hospital. Before I left I had some worries about where we would be staying and what the food would be like. Fortunately, our family were extremely welcoming and the food was quite plain – rice and beans – so nothing to worry about.


The project leaders organised an induction programme for teaching and settling into Tanzanian lifestyle. This included doing lesson plans, practicing teaching to large audiences and learning basic Swahili -which I enjoyed very much.  One thing I didn’t really realise was how much we would use Swahili when taking to the locals. This came in extremely useful when bartering at the markets (an eye-opening experience!) and basic communication with our family and everyone in the community that we met. Our weeks were packed teaching from 10am to 5.30pm. We taught three classes at the school. One thing I found surprising was the varied ages of the children in each class. Class 6 would typically be 12 year-olds but the ages in the class ranged form 10-14. I found that many pupils are held back a year if they do not perform well and it is common. I found it surprising that there was no learning support available – very different to the UK.


Another thing that shocked me was the method of discipline the school employed. During our induction weekend we were briefed about caning of students in Tanzanian schools, however I did not actually believe I would witness this. One lunchtime, a few of they boys were taken aside from the lunch queue and hit on their hands and the back of their legs with a wooden stick – they all started to cry. I found this punishment difficult to witness as well as being humiliating for the individuals being called out and caned in front of everyone.


This experience has allowed me to experience rural Tanzanian life and understand the health inequalities that exist globally. Good medical facilities are still required in rural parts, but teaching first aid has enabled me to pass on valuable skills to treat casualties and help save lives.

Art in Barcelona

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I spent a week in Barcelona helping out in a glass art studio, I wanted to use this opportunity not only to develop my skills and learn new techniques in glass making, which is what I am studying at ECA but also to improve my Spanish language skills which have been neglected since I finished my A Levels 3 years ago!


Before I left I was mostly worried about whether I would be able to understand and communicate at all in the studio but the couple I was working with were so friendly and welcoming that it turned out to be fine.  I was really proud of myself for speaking Spanish for the whole week and sticking at it.  It was daunting to be spending a week there on my own with lots of free time but it gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted and also met people I would never have spoken to if I had gone in a group.

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Although I only spent a week in Barcelona I learnt so much about the culture, language and city as well as learning lots in the studio which I hope to bring into my work in my final year of studies.  I spent the week helping with ongoing projects, test pieces and finishing and polishing some existing work.


I would love to have been able to spend more time living in Barcelona and not just for the weather!  It was really worthwhile spending my week there and something I am proud of for doing.

Language & Tapas in Barça

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After being fortunate enough to receive a grant from the Go Abroad Fund, I was able to fly out to Spain for a two-week language course in central Barcelona. I stayed in a flat with four other students from across Europe, and by the end of the two weeks it was like we had known each-other for years!

The course involved two lessons per day: grammar in the morning followed by a speaking class at lunchtime. I found the speaking class to be especially useful, learning so many essential words and phrases for general conversation that textbooks just don’t teach you! For anybody looking to brush up on their Spanish ready for the new term, I really would recommend Olé Language Schools. The staff and facilities were excellent, and the flat we stayed in was in a great location – it took us about 3 minutes to get to the school, which is just what you need with so many late nights on the cobbles of La Rambla!


Clear skies at Barceloneta

On the subject of activities outside the classroom, Barcelona is all that you would expect and much much more. After lessons finished early in the afternoon, we usually headed towards the coast; where the beach at Barceloneta stretches for several miles along the Mediterranean coast. It was great to sit back and relax with a Mojito to the fantastic Latin beats of local bands, such as Los Made in Barcelona  after a hard day of Spanish 🙂

Los Made In Barcelona

Rolling over every 20 minutes or so to ensure an even tan is tiring work, and after a good few hours on the beach, aftersun tapas is necessary!! Although more of an Andalusian tradition, with it’s roots in the South of Spain, tourism has brought tapas to Barcelona, and there are far too many fantastic bars to mention. If I could give a little advice, always find a bar down the side streets where nobody speaks English! The best Jamón and the freshest fish are always found away from the mainstream tourists.. as is the cheap beer! ‘Una caña por favor’ will get you a chilled glass of Estrella for little over 1€

Tapas of course 😉

It is true that the best way to learn a language is to be immersed in the culture – thanks to this opportunity, my Spanish has improved so much!! During my stay, the festival of St. Joan was in full swing, where the entire population of Barcelona descends on the various beaches bordering the city for bonfires and barbecues – its something very special to see, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good fiesta!

Cheeky snap near the Magic Fountains of Plaza España

Barcelona was an experience that will never be forgotten – I’d like to say a big thank you to the Go Abroad team for allowing it to happen, and wish all the best to the other students yet to fly off into the sunset!


To be young and wild again…

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When I accepted the challenging task of writing the main theme song for a new German movie, called “Young and Wild” , I knew that I had to deliver a song that would capture the mood and the main idea of the film. “Young and Wild”  is a road trip/coming of age feature film, a light comedy drama, which brings the story of three young guys, dealing with growing up and facing the harsh world of adulthood over a weekend of party and mischief.
After establishing the fundamental message of the song, through brain storming Skype sessions with the talented and up and coming director, Felix Maxim Eller, I eagerly embraced the songwriting process and the melodies and lyrics came rushing in. It took me a couple of days of rewriting, until I was satisfied with each hook line and phrase. The song appears in the culminating scene of the film, with the whole cast performing choreographed moves in a club, in an uplifting atmosphere. And it also closes the film at the end credits.
I was invited to the world premiere of the film, which was held in Unna, near Dortmund, in Germany, on 28th of May 2014. I seized the opportunity to explore the influence this title song would have on the audience, and how it could help promote the film. I took an exciting train trip from Edinburgh to Unna, and stayed there for three days. Not only did I have the pleasure of meeting the cast and crew, and getting their reactions to the song, but I also “interviewed” members of the audience, and watched the reactions of people in the movie theater. They were dancing in their seats, most of them smiling and singing along after the first chorus. At the end credits, everyone was eagerly clapping along. People thought the song captured the mood of the film, addressed all the important issues of growing up in this fast moving world, and offered hope, joy and support to young people. But most of all, it made them smile, dance and sing! The song is now being used as a powerful and effective promotional tool, featured on radio stations and in clubs. Internet makes it accessible  to everyone via digital distribution- ITunes, Amazon, Deezer and Spotify, and social media.

I was grateful to witness the way a title song attaches the audience to the idea of the film, and has them humming the song long after the film has ended! Hope you enjoy it as well!
The journey begins!

The journey begins!

Talking to a local TV station reporter about the process of composing a title song

Talking to a local TV station reporter about the process of composing a title song

The VIP After Party at the Unna Cultural Centre

The VIP After Party at the Unna Cultural Centre

Posing for the cameras at the Red Carpet:)

Posing for the cameras at the Red Carpet:)

ISSCR Vancouver, Canada 2014_goabroadblog_TRuetz

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I recently attended the International Society for Stem Cell Research’s 12th annual meeting in Vancouver Canada. The meeting aims to present the latest findings across the broad field of research involving stem cells and regenerative medicine. Over 3000 scientists from 55 countries around the globe attended the meeting. As stated by the head of the ISSCR in her opening remarks, the meeting is intended to highlight the latest findings from all the fields of stem cell research, from basic biology to clinical trials. I chose to attend this meeting, and not other more defined meetings with specific research topics, because I have very broad research interests in stem cells and believe that innovation and inspiration often come from research that is not necessarily directly related to your specific field of interest.
Prior to my departure for Vancouver, I was concerned that the meeting might be too general, and that I would be overwhelmed or confused by talks that were not related to my field of study. While a majority of talks were indeed outside the scope of my PhD project, I found that many methodologies utilized were identical to those in our lab. Many labs employ similar strategies when addressing a given hypothesis, and therefore it becomes routine to follow the stories, as the findings are unveiled.
Throughout the course of 5 days of talks, focus sessions and meetings with our collaborators, I was inspired by the passion of scientists in their respective fields. It also became clear that people embark into research for very different reasons. Many scientists appear to follow a given format for success, and sometimes it appears they are driven to chase topics that are publishable in high impact journals, while neglecting to reflect on the importance or relevance of such research. Yet, there remain a number of scientists who still maintain a high standard for research with the ultimate aim of improving basic scientific knowledge and translating that into advances in global human health. Those researchers have inspired and guided me to stay true to my ultimate goals, going forward in my research career.
During the meeting I presented a poster about my PhD research and met many scientists with interest in my work. I learned that many people are utilizing similar approaches, but none have taken the path of my work or formulated a similar hypothesis. This was unexpected, and I am now excited to continue my work in hopes of publishing the story in the coming months.
I take away from this meeting a renewed excitement for my research, and further understanding of what it takes to make a career as a scientist. The principals go abroad fund was instrumental for me to attend the conference, which has left a lasting impression and inspired me to continue in my scientific endeavors.

Visiting New Orleans: Work, Food and Fun

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I was awarded to present my paper titled ‘Outdoor as learning environment for children at a primary school of Bangladesh’ in the 45th Annual Conference of Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). The conference was held from 28-31 May at New Orleans, Louisiana in the USA. Conferences combining landscape architecture and children’s development is not very common and this conference was an ideal one in the field I have been working.

There was excitement about the opportunity to attend the conference yet I was tensed because of all the arrangements I have to make before I set out. Applying for visa was the first step and also the most hectic one as I had to travel to London to face the interview. Besides booking the flight I had to arrange the accommodation beforehand. I shared a room with three other conference delegates in the same hotel where the conference took place.

Attending EDRA45 provided me with the great opportunity to meet and interact with some of the key researchers in my field whose work I have been following. I had the opportunity to talk with Professor Robin Moore, Dr Nilda Cosoco, Professor Louise Chawla, Dr Ian Simkins about my PhD research and they gave me important feedback about the research methods I am going to apply in my study, future application of the study etc.


Image: Cruise over Mississippi river with conference delegates (From left: Dr Ian Simkins, Muntazar Monsur, Matluba Khan (PhD Candidate, ESALA), Dr Nilda Cosco, Professor Robin Moore, Mohsen Ghiasi Ghorveh)

Besides the works, I had the opportunity to roam around the city of New Orleans. French Quarter situated at the heart of New Orleans is a place for food and fun. One night we had dinner at the Bubba Gump Shrimp (Do you remember Bubba on shrimp from Forrest Gump?).

Louisiana is famous for Po-boy (a sandwich containing fried shrimp with French bread). It cannot happen that you have been to New Orleans and did not visit Café de Monde. The cafe serves world famous beignets and dark roasted coffee 24 hours a day, 364 days of the year, closing only on Christmas.


Image: You should try different types of food there- mashed potato with fish, everything contains shrimp at Bubba Gump Shrimp


Image: New Orleans Musical Gardens Park

New Orleans is the birth place of Jazz music. Listening to Jazz while having a drink at the New Orleans Musical Gardens Park on a Friday evening is an unforgettable experience. You should not miss the river cruise on the Mississippi, I also had the opportunity to visit the cemeteries, World War II museum. I travelled through the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway bridge- the longest continuous bridge over water and had a nice afternoon at Mandeville lakefront.

The most remarkable part of this visit is that my paper has won the best student paper award and also the overall best paper award among all the papers submitted by experts from this field across the globe. This is a great achievement and also a huge inspiration for me to keep up the good work in my PhD and go forward overcoming all the hurdles and challenges of life.


Image: Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge


Image: The cantilevered balcony, a general characteristic of the architecture of French Quarter


Image: Certificate for the best student paper and overall best paper award

Principles Go Abroad Fund- Amie Robertson’s blog piece.

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My Go Abroad experience took me to the foothills of the Himalayas on a month long campaigning programme set up by Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) India, a grassroots organization that fights in solidarity with Tibetans to regain independence of their homeland and raise awareness about the Human rights abuses within Tibet. I had always had a deep concern over global justice issues and knew that I wanted to better train my skills and working in solidarity with human rights defenders across the globe. When Edinburgh University Tibet society were putting on an India trip to work with Tibetan activists, I knew this would be an opportunity I shouldn’t miss.


This was in no way going to be an easy ride and previously I had tried to prepare myself for what I knew would be an intense experience of campaign skills training and real time information sessions on the situation within Tibet from some of the top Tibetan activists in Exile. However, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how it would plan out! From food poisening to altitude sickness, battling 47 degree heat and inconceivable crowds, this was set to be a culture shock to rack the brains- if ever there was a setting for building endurance and patience, I had found it.


Our days were fully packed with a mix of the most inspiring yet harrowing of activities, giving us insight into the lives of Tibetans in Exile as well as the Free Tibet movement as a whole in Dharamsala. Beginning with visiting the Dalai lama’s temple and an course on Tibetan Buddhism and it’s relevance to the political struggle, we began to get a real feel for the situations Tibetans are facing and start to create lasting friendships with our programme co-ordinators after spending the majority of our days together!

Soon we were beginning to meet Tibetan Exile activists, Tibetan poets and writers, visiting the Tibetan institute of performing arts, the Tibetan centre for human rights and democracy and even meeting the Prime minister of Tibet in Exile (Sikyong), Lonsang Sangay! My most memorable visit however would be our day with Ama Adhe, 84 year old Ex- Political prisoner who had suffered 27 years in a Chinese jail after she protested the occupation of her country at aged just 24.


This is a meeting that will stay with me for the rest of my life, to actually hear her first hand account of becoming a target of state colonialism. It was testimonies like this which put our direct action training into real perspective. Over the course of the programme we were joined in discussion and brainstorming by SFT Asia’s board of directors, and taught essential campaigning skills which we could then implement back home in order to show solidarity towards the Tibetan Freedom movement.


Sometimes it’s the things you never even think about that become the biggest worries, like how to say goodbye to the people you have grew to love whilst away! Going to Dharamsala has really influenced my life in unexpected ways, but ultimately it is the people you meet which make a place memorable. Leaving is very difficult, but you just have to appreciated the journey for where it took you and what it taught you. To the people I met and loved there- I will be eternally grateful!