Paris Conference: Turns me into a storyteller – Sarnali Basak

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Every student has gone through the same challenging path during the dissertation period like I did. Lots of reading, attending meetings and discussions, coding and validating the results, and so on. As an informatics student, I needed to gather up-to-date related work which could give me useful hints as to how to model my own research work. I felt lucky, because that time I got the chance to attend the International Conference on Computational Creativity (ICCC), 2016, in Paris for a week, which was solely related to my subject of research. The conference was a full package of workshops, tutorial sessions, and valuable speech of the scholars from different universities all over the world. I was very much interested in joining the event, and taking part in the interactive learning sessions. It was a really practical and competent platform for my research works, and it later helped me a lot in my dissertation. In addition, it was a great experience to get to know such a vibrant city like Paris for the first time.

However, before stepping outside the UK towards France, I had to think about several issues such as my personal safety at the new location, using public transport at night, calculating my budget, avoiding crime situations etc. I managed to take care about all these, and came back with an wonderful experience. Coming from a far away country, I was always curious to know more about the locals and the culture of Paris. I managed to attend several social events such as cocktail parties and the Casparo opera, talk to renowned professors and researchers, as well as to visit the famous City hall, Hotel de Ville by the invitation of the honorable Mayor. Of course, I did not forget to see the majestic night view of the Eiffel tower either. My entire journey was excellent. No doubt, this international experience assisted me to enhance my personal and academic skills, and to make valuable connections around the world.


City hall, Hotel De Ville,Paris, France (Clicked in June, 2016)


Honorable deputy mayor was giving speech, Hotel de Ville, Paris (Clicked in June, 2016)

Internships in Washington D.C.

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In April of 2016, I accepted a position with the US Marine Corps, working as an analyst preparing briefings. However, due to an administrative complication I was unable to assume my duties, and I was told I would have to wait until my paperwork was processed.

Yet when I accepted the paid Marine Corps internship, I had rejected an unpaid offer in a US Senator’s office and I was left without an internship. I therefore started looking for temporary work to bide my time until my paperwork made its way through the bureaucracy of the United States Department of Defence.

One of the original aspects of my proposal for the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund was the incredible number and variety of educational events in the Washington, D.C. area. So, once I received my grant, I purchased a ‘SmartTrip’ public transportation card and a student membership to ‘LinkTank’, a networking and event platform that compiles think tank events in the DC area into a single calendar and began attending events.

At university, I focus on International Security, and as such the first event I attended was the ‘Defense One Tech Summit’. The summit was an all day affair, and included events ranging from an exhibition of new software to help service-members deal with PTSD, to a speech by the US Secretary of Defence. At the Summit, I met Geoff Orazem, the managing partner of Eastern Foundry, a start-up accelerator for government contractors. I had emailed Geoff earlier in the week to determine whether or not his company was hiring interns, and though I hadn’t received a reply, I was able to secure an internship through speaking with him.

However, I was still eager to find something related to my degree. I eventually secured an internship at the American Council of Life Insurers, where I worked in the international policy department performing international legal research regarding the implications of cross-border data regulations.

At Eastern Foundry, I planned a curriculum focused on providing online business education to small businesses and businesses new to the government contracting. At ACLI, I created a reference matrix for laws governing data protection and cross border data transfers in over 40 countries, a project which was picked up by the US Chamber of Commerce. Finally, I was able to attend more than 20 think tank events across the area, collecting information, asking questions, and interacting with members of the government as part of my dissertation research.

My initial summer experience was unbelievably humbling. After being rejected from nearly 15 internship programmes, I was finally accepted by two—and neither worked out due to circumstances beyond my control. However, I learned a hard lesson about the power of perseverance, and was able to gain valuable experience and build relationships with professionals in a variety of fields which have since paid off immensely.

I cannot thank the University enough for both the education they have provided and the funding to make this trip possible.

‘Summer in the City’ (New York)

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I was lucky to have the opportunity to undertake a five week legal internship in New York City, at a civil rights law firm. I looked forward to the internship throughout my final year at university. Thinking about all the fun I would have and what it would be like to ‘live in the City’ made all the hard work of fourth year worth it! However, the invaluable experience did not come without hard work to prepare for it (difficulties in finding accommodation, visa considerations etc.) and even with this all organised, by the time came to get on the flight, I had a few worries about what it truly meant to be a New Yorker for the summer.

Being someone who likes company, I was concerned about my first truly solo trip. They do say that despite the population nearing nine million, NYC can be one of the loneliest places to live. However, the flight proved the first opportunity to make friends and connections in the City. The lady who I sat next to happened to work in the civil rights field and as well as having lots of interesting tales of her exciting working life and showing interest in my internship, she also had some good tips on how to work the daunting subway system! She was kind enough to give me her business card and offered to help if I needed help over my placement. It seems that you never know where you will meet interesting people and eased my concern about being lonely for the summer.

With sound advice from my friend on the flight, I made it to my accommodation the New Yorker way; one train, one subway, two overweight suitcases and a lot of stairs! Having researched where to stay in NYC, I decided on a residence for women who intern in the city. Although seeming a bit of a ‘blast from the past’ with a no boys policy, it was a safe, affordable and fun place to stay. My experience at the residence demonstrated how important it is to find somewhere that will suit you to live, it gave me the opportunity to take part in social events and meet people, who similarly to me, wanted to make the most of their time in NYC.

Having settled in to my accommodation, the next event was starting work. I could not wait to get stuck in and gain experience in the civil rights field, something which I would not be able to do back home. I had been told that part of my role would include delivering documents across to some of the courts across the district. At first I found the sheer number of people travelling to work and the widely scattered courts intimidating. It is a little different to what now seems the more compact system in Scotland. However, after shadowing my supervisors for the first couple of court runs, I soon found it easy to find my way around and enjoyed getting to see all the different parts of New York along the way. One of the courts was beside the famous Yankee Stadium and so I could really do some sightseeing on the go!

I found that this ability to get manoeuvre my way around the busy city, made me more adventurous in my spare time. I The challenges I faced in NYC made me more independent and some of the highlights were things I had done myself including the runs across the Brooklyn Bridge and visits to the arts museums. I am extremely grateful for having had this taster of life living in the city and the experience has given me confidence that I am able to handle challenging situations. I am now left trying to think of my next excuse to go back!



Engineering in Cambodia

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This summer I had an opportunity to travel to Cambodia and work with the local NGO, Community First, on developing and building aquaponics systems for the rural community in Siem Reap province. We started as a group of four engineering students who were involved in student-led society, Engineering for Change, and wanted to spend a part of our summer volunteering. Before going, we looked at the current aquaponics designs, came up with the ways how they could be improved, even tried to build one of our own here in Edinburgh. The main reason why we chose aquaponics development is the current situation in Cambodia where average diet in rural areas has led to many of its population suffering from malnutrition and diabetes. Some organisations within the country, such as Community First Initiative (CFI), are working to overcome this problem by developing more efficient and sustainable methods of farming that are completely organic and off-soil.

Before leaving, I was concerned about facing similar challenges to my previous journey to the program I attended in China, where I found out local community had a different understanding of the concept of personal space than mine. Also, travelling to a country where I could only communicate with the minority of population speaking in English. However, Cambodia proved me wrong, local people were very welcoming and understanding while most of the people tried their best to communicate, universal hand gestures and facial expressions helped a lot.

This trip was a lifetime experience that helped me to realise that I am privileged to have such an opportunity and made me reconsider some of my personal values. After meeting people from one of the poorest countries in the world, everyday worries and complaints, such as having no time to have coffee in the morning, became so meaningless in comparison to people’s problems of not being able to let their children attend school because of financial difficulties. In addition to this learning experience, I should not forget all the technical skills that I gained about aquaponic and water purification systems, design skills while making drawings for drainage systems and creating floor plans for the local school. Overall, I really enjoyed this trip and would definitely recommend something similar to everyone who might be questioning our everyday life style in relatively more developed countries.




Getting the most out of China

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After a few days in the wonderful city of Chendgu, a second-tier city in South-West China, I came to realise that pandas are just the very start of what’s going on. I loved how easy-going the city was (in comparison to Beijing!) whilst working doing coaching, marketing and research.

My confidence grew enormously, and by the end of the month I was teaching in mandarin, running the day-to-day summer camp operations, and working on the company’s marketing presence. Having whole classes of young people look up to me as a role model made me appreciate how fortunate I am, and what a great responsibility my role had been. These children were captivated by stories of the UK, saying how they dream of studying back in the U.S. of U.k.


In addition, during my time in Beijing I was able to visit museums, and talk to a wide spectrum of people, making progress with my dissertation. This experience has been invaluable in setting me up for me year abroad, giving me the foundation from which to build on during my third year abroad studies, and allowed me to adjust to the great jump in cultures.


Not only did my language skills come on leaps and bounds, but I learnt far more about what running a business entails, having had a real hands-on approach with the company I was interned for. I wrote up information for the website, blogs and developed their long term marketing plan, as well as making numerous contacts (especially important in the Chinese business world).

I explored much of both Beijing and Chengdu, both by day and night, making a host of Chinese and international friends along the way. Till next time.


Teaching in Tanzania

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In June 2016 I embarked upon my journey to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as an exchange participant in AIESEC’s global volunteer programme. I travelled there to work on the Jali (Care) Project, an initiative run by a Kijitonyama-based NGO called Tanzania Aspiration Initiatives. I chose this project because it focused on several issues that I care deeply about, including human rights and social action, gender equality, health, education and poverty alleviation.

Before I left the Isle of Man for Tanzania, there were several things that I was concerned about. Firstly, I was worried that I would suffer from the culture shock. Having never been to Africa before, I feared the total immersion in entirely unfamiliar cultural surroundings. With no friends or acquaintances in Tanzania, I also worried about feeling lonely and homesick – after all, eight weeks is a long time to be away from home! I was also anxious about the job description. Having only been given fairly vague instructions, I was not entirely clear on exactly what my day-to-day work would entail.

Arriving at the airport in Dar es Salaam, I was picked up by an AIESEC UDSM member and taken to my accommodation – which I can definitely say reminded me just how far away from home I really was. Despite finding my accommodation, you could say – uncomfortable, I was welcomed with huge enthusiasm by the AIESEC team and other volunteers working on several different projects in the area.

On my first day of work I was introduced to the founders of TAI and several of their volunteers. I was thrown in at the deep end, and one of my first tasks was to give reproductive and sexual health lessons to the adolescent girls living at a local orphanage. The language barrier was at first a challenge, but it did not take long before these girls became truly engaged and interested in this vital information that they were not given in school. Another of my tasks was to devise a curriculum to be followed when TAI returned to the local schools after their holiday break was over. Here I learned of a serious gap in Tanzanian education caused by attitudes towards ‘unmentionable’ yet vital topics such as sex education, menstruation, contraception and STIs. Our curriculum aimed to overcome this gap. Another of my jobs was to organise an event celebrating and supporting USAID’s ‘Africa For Her’ initiative. I was forced practise several skills including public relations, public speaking and events management. Continuing with the theme of the event, I was heavily involved in TAI’s fundraising campaign devised for purchasing sanitary pads for girls in rural areas who are forced to miss up to a week of school every month due to menstruation.

This experience truly pulled me out of my comfort zone yet I gained from it several new professional skills, an understanding of Tanzanian culture and friends for life, whilst at the same time making an impact in TAI’s local community.


The TAI team at the Africa For Her event organised and hosted by TAI


Discussing the idea of re-usable sanitary pads for girls in rural areas of Tanzania


The girls receiving education at the Sinza orphanage in Dar es Salaam


The TAI team climbing Mt Kilimanjaro as part of the ‘Climb Kili for Girls’ campaign, raising money and awareness about the barriers preventing girls from attending school in Tanzania


TAI volunteers teaching in Makumbusho secondary school

Graphic Design internship at a Saffron Brand Consultants in Madrid

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Early on in the year I knew that I wanted to spend my summer doing something exciting and worthwhile. My preferred destination was Spain because it is where I would like to work when I graduate. Madrid and Barcelona are two cities that I feel immensely attracted to, they are home to internationally recognized branding and graphic design agencies with unique styles. After carrying out research on some of the best graphic design agencies in Spain, I took the initiative to approach each one of the individually and offer myself as an intern for the summer. I created a set of postcards showcasing my work, introducing myself and sent one to each one of my 10 chosen agencies. I was quite ambitious with my choice of agencies; they were all very well known and received tons of portfolios from students. I was lucky that one of them got back to me and offered me and internship: Saffron in Madrid, founded by the legend Wally Olins!

I wasn’t specially worried before I left for Spain. I’m fluent in Spanish and I’m familiar with the culture, however, I had never lived in such a big city and that made me feel a little bit nervous but excited at the same time. I was a slightly concerned about what my accommodation would be like, considering I booked it without viewing the flat previously as I needed a place to stay as soon as I arrived in Madrid. I had never before shared a flat with 9 people, but the flat looked quite nice online and the landlord was very friendly over the phone. I was a bit worried of living with very noisy people and having trouble sleeping.

My room turned out to be lovely. There were one or two parties on weeknights but I survived. By the end of my stay Madrid felt like home and I didn’t want to leave. I had become used to my routine at work and I had become familiar with working in a large company. At Saffron I learned how keeping organized, communicative and efficient is crucial when work as a part of a big team. It was amazing being surrounded by many people with different skills, I was asking people for tips and advice to help me with my work. I have learned many new skills specially regarding the Adobe Suit software. Of course I had a mentor that made me feel supported along the way, but I learned that if you want something you have to go and get, people are busy with their own work to be worrying about how you’re getting on. For me, the most valuable part of my experience were all the wonderful people I met from all over the world (France, Morocco, Italy, Germany, Israel, UK, Spain, USA, Honduras, Mexico and many others). I have made friends for life and have found a home in Madrid.


The view from my room in Madrid


The Fuencarral Market


El Retiro Park


The Saffron Interns


My work sketchbook