The University of Madras and the Garden of Peace, India

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This summer I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to visit the University of Madras and travel throughout the south of India, alongside nine other University of Edinburgh students from various degree backgrounds.

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In our first week in Chennai, we went to lectures at the University of Madras. Each guest lecturer gave us insight into their respective disciples, and I learned about everything from the position of women in India and its caste system, to the evolution of science.

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That said, my focus was to gain an insight into the media industry. Journalism documents and influences everyday society and culture in numerous ways and languages, and thus it seemed essential to me to explore it as I intended to grasp an understanding of life in India.

Perhaps the most valuable experience, though, was being able to personally interact with fellow students, as well as group leaders, from both from the University of Madras and University of Edinburgh, and learn from them, about their lives, culture and individual opinions.

Admittedly, my main apprehension before travelling to India food, as I am a vegan. I thought that I would find eating in India extremely difficult, however I quickly came to learn that eating vegan food is far easier than it is in Scotland, and is much more accepted. In fact, a large proportion of the Indian population is strictly vegetarian, and thus most places I ate were so, giving me plenty of options.

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My time at the Garden of Peace was the highlight of my trip to India, and one of the best times of my life. The Garden of Peace is a learning community that is primarily a school for young children. It is self-fulfilling, with parents taking part in the running of the school, and teachers being from local villages. Its purpose is to help the development of people from local surrounding villages. Professor Manuvanan, who taught us at the Universtiy of Madras, leads and funds the community.

To see how places like the Garden of Peace function, with everyone from parents to university students pitching in is heart-warming. Everything that happens at is for the benefit of those that participate. From sleeping on the roof at night, getting up at 6am to practice yoga, playing football, and helping to serve the community meals, everything was, frankly, quite magical. Further, celebrating Independence Day at the Garden of Peace was special, with a beautiful ceremony from pupils, and allowed me to understand the importance of it, as well as engage in cultural performance.

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Throughout my journey, I learned and experienced an incredible amount, which I will undoubtedly stay with me throughout university, after graduate, and beyond. I took myself far outside my comfort zone, gained an understanding of a completely different culture, met great people, and, importantly, developed individually.

Jaipur, India – Help In Suffering

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This summer I spent 4 weeks at a charity veterinary clinic in Jaipur, India. I had always wanted to visit India, and as this is a country with an over-population of street dogs – it is the perfect place to undertake a veterinary internship. The clinic had an abundance of animals including: 80-90 dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, peacocks, monkeys, squirrels, pigeons, eagles and many more! They also have animal ambulances and a separate camel clinic. The rest of the staff were all Indian bar 1 vet from England – this was a fantastic opportunity to really mix with local people.

Before I left I had a few worries. Firstly, the language. I was worried that as I knew no Hindi that there might be problems communicating in the clinic. I attempted to learn the basics of Hindi on the plane such as counting to 20 – this was very well received as the staff loved that I had attempted to learn a tiny bit of their language. Also, everybody was so friendly that even when they weren’t sure how to explain in English they would always try their best to communicate by other means. Secondly, the heat. Luckily I found out when I arrived it was the beginning of the monsoon season! This meant that the hot temperatures of June started to decline and we were blessed with rain. Not only did this mean it was suitably cool, it also meant that green plants arose in areas that are brown the rest of the year. Thirdly, the food. It turns out I loved the food. We were looked after by a lovely lady called Manju who cooked us all of our meals with a variety of vegetables. Rhajastani food is very special!

I learnt so much that I couldn’t fit it all in this blog. I learnt many invaluable veterinary skills which I could not have gained so quickly in the UK. I did my first surgeries, got lots of practice of placing ET tubes and IV lines and learnt a lot about drug therapies. My communication skills were also improved – I became comfortable with all the staff there and able to participate in conversations both about veterinary and general life. India is very very different to the UK, but I feel I adapted to this change in lifestyle well. The key I found is to be laidback and not rush things – it will no doubt take 4 times longer than you first expected! The culture in India is amazing and something I would never have been able to experience should I not have undertaken this experience. I hope these pictures help you appreciate how valuable I found the experience.

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Generation UK-India Program at Birla Public School

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I went to a small town called Pilani, in a state called Rajasthan which is located in the North-West of India. I undertook a two-month teaching assistantship at Birla Public School as part of the British Council’s Generation UK-India program. Having spent the first eight years of my life in Mumbai I was eager to have the opportunity to contribute to an education system that has helped me be the person I am today, a system I believe is a key tool in tackling poverty and inspiring progress.

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I was very nervous before I left, Pilani is in a very arid region and apart from a short training week in Delhi I had very little teaching experience. The school is a vegetarian military style boarding school and was entirely out of my comfort zone. Luckily everyone in the Junior school was welcoming and kind, the student and staff embraced me into their community. While the work and the hours were long my experience was very rewarding, I have a much deeper understanding of the Indian education system and the society in Rajasthan. I worked with some amazing children with such an inspiring desire to learn. Teaching not only allows you consolidate and develop what you know but also to gain new perspectives from your students. I also learned among other things how to put on a saree, some basic Hindi and how to make a mean Daal!

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India is such a diverse country with a rich history and distinctive cultural thoughts and ideas, I was very lucky to be able to travel and explore some other states during some of my weekends off. I visited Jodhpur in Rajasthan, a city characterized by it’s beautiful blue houses and Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, a spiritual enclave on the banks of the Ganges where the Beatles wrote on of their albums in the 1960s. When I was not teaching or working at the school I enjoyed learning more about yoga and read on the beautiful roof of my flat.

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I am so grateful to the Edinburgh University for making this unforgettable experience possible, the support the Go Aboard scheme provided has been invaluable and I would recommend the Generation UK-India Program to anyone who wants grow during their summer while having a great deal of fun at the same time.

Debating Championships in Poland

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On the 14th of August, I shoved some pens, paper, and a Saltire into my already overstuffed suitcase, and hopped in to the same taxi I’ve been taking to debating competitions since I was in my first year of high school – my parent’s car. This competition however, was one unlike I ever attended as a school kid. I was being taken to the airport to fly solo to Poland where I would meet my team, and finally, after months of preparation, compete at the European University Debating Championships.

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This summer the Go Abroad fund took me to the largest student conference in Europe, to debate and discuss everything from the playing of Wagner’s music in Israel, to the creation of a new international banking organisation for the BRICS nations. As a little Scottish fresher, I was one of the youngest competitors, and that made the competition all the more terrifying, but after a while, all the more amazing. When I debated at school it was my team versus another team who also had no idea what they were talking about, and so the quality of discussion could only be so high. At this university tournament, I was facing people who had master’s degrees in the study of the laws we were arguing to change and PHDs in the cultures of the places we were fighting to protect. From the minute I arrived I was in total awe of pretty much everyone around me, listening and learning to some of the most intelligent and knowledgeable university students in the world. And all of this made the outcome of the tournament for myself, and my amazing partner Tim, seem all the more surreal.

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If you don’t debate some of the terminology can sound confusing, but in reality its pretty simple. Like many sports, the tournament begins with a couple of qualifying rounds, or out rounds. The best performing teams from this ‘break’ to the Octo’s, then the Quarters, etc. ‘Break night’, where the teams going though to the out rounds are revealed, as you can hide the results of the final few in rounds to keep suspense, is undoubtedly one of the most exciting evenings on the tournament calendar. This year the evening was held in a Warsaw nightclub, and hundreds of students descended on the venue to find out who had made it through. We drank, and danced, and had an incredible time. We had had some of the best debates of our time on the circuit during the out rounds, had stretched ourselves academically and emotionally, and we were ready to relax. And then the announcements began. Glasgow Uni broke as one of the top teams, and we waved that saltire and screamed in celebration of our friends and countrymen. And then, out of no where, they called our team name. We broke. We had one dream when we arrived in Poland, and we reached it. I have never felt so proud. We cheered for the Uni, and for Scotland, and cheered even louder when a team from St Andrews broke as well, and national pride hit us even harder.

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This summer is one I will remember for a long time, and that is very much due to the incredible experience I had at EUDU 2016. It is an intense competitive environment which is made fun and interesting and so worth while by the amazing people who inhabit it.

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Engineering Workshop in France

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Thanks to Principal Go Abroad Fund, I undertook the Sustainable Building Engineering [SBE] workshop at ESITC Caen, France that is only open to students that have completed three years of higher education. It was a tailored mix of lectures (medium of teaching is English); tutored group sessions and independent group work over a period of 4 weeks from Monday 30th May to Friday 24th June 2016. The choices of lectures were background dependent and delivered from high-level international companies. It comprised of project teams composed of students from several different European civil engineering schools working on a group project that was assessed by three project reviews.

The program is a higher-level course in sustainable engineering that was very relevant to my master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with Renewable Energy and the modules that I had already completed such as Sustainable Energy Technologies 4, Sustainable Energy Group Design Project 3, Renewable Energy Principles and Processes 3.

The main objective of undertaking this workshop was to define and organise a building design project. The workshop also concentrated on gathering and analysing relevant information and data, elaborating and evaluating energy and material saving strategies and using state of the art software to do the same.

Furthermore, it also presented and justified choices of concept and design solutions and experimental experience in the research lab. The topics addressed in the workshop range from life-cycle assessment of buildings and building materials to a system engineering approach to building design. It also involved discussions about architectural aspects, energy assessment of buildings and innovative construction materials. As this workshop was a part of the exchange between The University of Edinburgh and ESITC Caen, France, there were no fees payable by the students in order to participate and all students were provided with affordable campus accommodation.

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Vertical Concrete Behaviour (Rouen, France)

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Ceiling of Vertical Behaviour Building (Rouen, France)

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Pervious concrete constructed in the laboratory

Community First in Cambodia

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I spent almost two months in Siem Reap, Cambodia working with an NGO called Community First. Whilst there I was assisting them on their aquaponics project. This is a type of farming that they hope will help improve the quality and quantity of food produced in Cambodia; a country that suffers from adverse farming conditions, malnutrition and poor diet. It encompasses fish and plant base farming; where fish waste is used to natural fertilize plants and the plants and growing medium in turn filter and clean the water for the fish.

Before I left I was most worried about the long journey to get to our final destination. We had a long flight to Bangkok, an overnight stay and then a long bus ride to Cambodia. I was a bit concerned about us managing to find our accommodation in a city as big and sprawling as Bangkok, and then having to find the bus station the next morning. None of our group spoke any Thai and trying to decipher signs is harder than in western countries as the letters are different. However I think the important thing to remember is to stay relaxed and know you’ll get where you’re going eventually. The confusion of a long journey is part of the travelling experience.

I was also slightly concerned about the technical aspect of what I was going out to do. As an electronics and computer science student I was mostly working with developing sensor technology for the farming systems. This involved some networking and coding that I had never come across before. However I learned a lot from this and will definitely be able to apply what I learnt in Cambodia to university work back in Edinburgh.

The best part of my time abroad was being able spend a longer period of time in a completely new and different place. Cambodia is a fantastic country with an interesting – though tragic – history. Being there for almost two months allowed me to really get to know the area and discover things I might not have seen as an ordinary tourist. It also meant we had time to meet and get to know some of the locals who were incredibly friendly and generous people.

I would greatly recommend a similar experience to anyone. It is the perfect combination of developing skills within a chosen degree, visiting a new and interesting place, whilst doing something to benefit a community.

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This picture shows the aquaponics planting bed with its efficient irrigation system. The fish are kept in a tank below

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This picture shows some of the team standing beside a larger aquaponics system.

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This is one of the many ancient temples found near Siem Reap, Cambodia. This temple complex is the largest religious monument in the world. It began as a Hindu monument but eventually became Buddhist.

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This is a Waterfall located on Kulen Mountain, one of the best and most beautiful places we got to visit.

Veterinary Practice in Panama

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I travelled to Panama City, Panama in Central America to volunteer for the charity Spay Panama. The organisation is a branch of the Humane Society which aims to stop animal suffering. Spay Panama is a veterinary practice in the heart of the city offering veterinary care to pets owned by low income families as well as stray animals. Their mantra is high quality and high volume veterinary care focusing on the surgical sterilising of cats and dogs to control the ever expanding stray animal population. After five years of theory and learning on the Veterinary Medicine & Surgery course at the University of Edinburgh I was looking to get as much hands on experience in my final year as possible. Volunteering for Spay Panama seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to apply my knowledge, as well as learn from the experienced vets at the charity.

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Before I left my main concern was the language barrier. I had been trying to learn some conversational Spanish in the run up to the trip but with finals and deadlines I didn’t manage to dedicate as much time as I had hoped, therefore I felt underprepared. I lived at the practice and although many of the veterinary surgeons spoke English and Spanish most of the volunteers and clients did not, so I was fully immersed and thankfully picked up the basics surprisingly quickly. I was also anxious as to what was to be expected of me in terms of my veterinary skills, however all the vets and volunteers were so welcoming and showed me the normal routine and procedures of the practice before getting me stuck in.

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As well as the charity veterinary treatment at the practice we went on ‘blitz neuter events’ to remote areas outside of the city where there is no veterinary service available. We would set up all the surgical equipment and start surgery at 8am and did not stop treating animals until the medications and anaesthetic would run out at about 8pm. The queue of people with their pets was always very overwhelming and in one day we neutered 500 cats and dogs. Learning to deal with pressure on these events has been invaluable to practising in busy clinics now in the UK and working within my capabilities and not succumbing to the stress. The dedication of the vets and volunteers was inspirational, with so few resources and only the most basic equipment they were still able to make a huge impact on the wellbeing to thousands of animals and their families lives. It was something I’ve taken home with me, now practising as a veterinary surgeon, your attitude towards a patient and a problem speaks volumes over the diagnostics and specialist high-tec gear that you have available.

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