In this edition of Insight’s summer blog, Deepak Dilipkumar talks about his internship at Oxford Brookes, UK.
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My internship is at Oxford Brookes University, in the UK. Before I begin, it might be prudent to mention that this is not the Oxford. As you might understand, this isn’t a misconception that I bother clearing up very often. Oxford Brookes began as the Oxford School of Art in 1865, when the founders realized that the fact that there had already been an Oxford University in Oxford for a few centuries didn’t mean that they couldn’t use the name too. Hell, it might even work in their favour.
Now, I entered my second year hearing a lot about “apping”, and like most sophies, I thought I’d give it a shot. When experienced seniors told me that I had plenty of hard work ahead of me, I mentally prepared myself to buckle down and do what had to be done. Send as many mails as needed to be sent. 10 maybe. Or even 20. Not more than 30, surely? Well, a 100 mails later, I was just as intern-less as before, with only a handful of “Good luck for your future endeavours” to show for my efforts. For the second time in as many years, I resigned myself to a summer of, in the words of IITians before us, “infi lukkha”. That’s when the Brookes IAF opened. It was a great opportunity; interesting projects, a good stipend, and foremost on my mind, a chance to visit the UK. The first step was resume shortlisting, followed by a telephonic interview. The interview was fairly straightforward. [pullquote]I mentally prepared myself to buckle down and do what had to be done. Send as many mails as needed to be sent. 10 maybe. Or even 20. Not more than 30, surely? [/pullquote] Some basics from the CS101 course and an honest resume were all that was needed, and I was selected. Though it may pale in comparison to many others, I did believe that I had spent a considerable amount of time apping, and I was happy that, one way or another, I’d landed a foreign intern.
The events that followed were challenging at times, often unbelievably frustrating, but in the end, immensely satisfying. And that’s just the VISA application. [pullquote]The events that followed were challenging at times, often unbelievably frustrating, but in the end, immensely satisfying. And that’s just the VISA application.[/pullquote] After crawling through the comprehensive process, producing the required documents, and skipping past IITB’s own bureaucratic obstacles, I finally got my VISA, 1 day before my scheduled flight. Talk about cutting it close. A couple of days later, I found myself finally at Oxford.
The city is is really peaceful and beautiful, and primarily consists of students (apparently, 10% of the population will end up getting a Ph.D). While accent and pronunciation can be a bit of a pain sometimes (Magdalen is pronounced “mawd-lin”, Thames is pronounced “temz”, Leicester is pronounced “lester”), this is the one place in Europe where there is virtually no language barrier. As it is a hub for international students, most people have an accent which is somewhere in between their native accent and the local one. Thankfully, 2 months wasn’t enough for that transition to set in. I think.
The university has multiple campuses at different locations. This isn’t unusual here. THE Oxford has 38 different colleges under its banner. The 3 campuses of Oxford Brookes that I’ve been to are all beautiful, modern and seem quite conducive to learning. My supervisor is a really nice person, and the project she gave me is open-ended. The main aim of my project is to design a model of a racecar in MATLAB and Simulink, and eventually simulate its motion around a racetrack. I have complete freedom to approach it in whatever way I wish to, and she constantly encourages me to try whatever ideas come to mind. I have no official work hours, can come and go to the university as I please, and can proceed at whatever rate I’m comfortable with. [pullquote]I have no official work hours, can come and go to the university as I please, and can proceed at whatever rate I’m comfortable with.[/pullquote] In fact, my professor seems keener on me learning something about the subject and having a good experience, than on actually having a “deliverable” at the end. This is my first real foray into any research in my department, and I found it to be very interesting, and wholly satisfying.
The stipend seemed ridiculously high at first, but that’s before I found out that a standard restaurant meal can cost £10-15. Preparing your own food can be done at a fairly reasonable rate though, since it’s the services that are charged very highly here. A great opportunity to pick up cooking, or at the very least, to figure out the order in which to press the buttons on the microwave, which is my idea of cooking. The accommodation, while expensive, is very comfortable as well.
Politeness is an unspoken expectation anywhere in the UK. Any interaction which doesn’t include a “Good”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me” or something along those lines is considered rude. Smiling at random strangers on the street is accepted. Encouraged, even. Considering all this, you’d be surprised at how much they can swear when Rooney misses that chance in front of goal. But in general, everyone you meet just seems content with their life. Beggars are rare, but even if you refuse to give them change, they smile warmly and wish you a happy day. True story.
I have plenty of free time to explore Oxford and the nearby areas. London is less than 2 hours away with a direct bus, and it has something for everyone, be it a shopper, a foodie, a casual sightseer. I didn’t get to go to Europe however, since the UK is not a Schengen nation. Oh, and to make things clear, The UK is The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where Great Britain = England + Scotland +Wales. So, the UK is a sovereign state, which is made of up for 4 countries: England (home of Shakespeare), Wales (home of Gareth Bale and Ryan Giggs), Scotland (home of the Loch Ness Monster and guys wearing skirts) and Northern Ireland (home of the Irish Quidditch Team). This can get confusing sometimes, especially when it comes to sports. Ireland and Scotland have their own cricket and football teams, but Andy Murray is conveniently considered “British” instead of Scottish, especially since July of last year. Interestingly, Scotland will be having a nationwide vote later this year, to decide whether or not to split from from the UK and become an independent country. Coincidence? I think not.
I’ve never been much of the sightseeing type, but I’ve had plenty of things to do anyway. The highlights of my trip include watching matches at Wembley, Lord’s and Wimbledon. [pullquote]The highlights of my trip include watching matches at Wembley, Lord’s and Wimbledon.[/pullquote] Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that Stonehenge is about as interesting as a bunch of rocks. But overall, the entire experience has been very fulfilling. Take-aways? An insight into the world of research, a new-found respect for my department, a love of fish & chips and a whole bunch of Wimbledon keychains 😀