I am a graduate student and I come from the state of Kashmir. Most people wonder where that is. It is in the North of China, the subcontinent, and Afghanistan. Kashmir is a disputed state and is not a part of any country but parts of it are administered by China, Pakistan, and India.
Living in Kashmir I was exposed to many different cultures and languages which helped me learn and understand 2 or 3 different languages. That highly contributed to my interest in learning about different cultures and people and how differently the world works. After my bachelor’s I moved to Pakistan to start my first job. It was a great experience. But in my heart, I knew I wanted to go beyond the borders to explore more. While working I was applying to different countries for a Master’s. I got offers from different places but the research position and direction at the University of Tennessee aligned well with my research interest and I was luckily blessed with a great mentor too. While working as a research assistant at UTC I came across this opportunity to do a summer research project in Spain. I was thrilled, I started my application right away. I wanted to experience both the cultural difference as well as research experience in Spain and the States. Although I still have a lot to explore here too. I was blessed enough to be selected, for which I can’t thank the school enough for this opportunity.
Moving to Spain for the summer was very exciting for me. We had a one-week crash course for the Spanish language; for me, it was hard to follow because I was a beginner and had no previous experience with Spanish. But now I can at least understand basic Spanish. After that week we started on our research projects. My research project was related to the field of artificial intelligence which was somewhat new for me. Previously I worked on intelligence-related topics but this was more advanced, so I knew this was going to be challenging. But my mentor was very understanding and supportive which was reassuring.
I believe research in any form is challenging in general, you just must stick to it and keep going. I had started from scratch, I had to learn a bunch of programming languages and programming platforms online to be able to start on my project. It didn’t come to me naturally, but it surely was worth it. I got to learn a bunch of new skills which will come in handy in the future. I had to take courses on Udemy and Coursera on advanced python, a platform called Pytorch, and Convolutional Neural Networks i.e., Deep learning. All these skills are a division of Computer Science and are being used in almost every field now. So for me as an engineer either if I go for a job or a Ph.D. they will very useful. My mentor helped me out and guided me along the way and was very patient and supportive of me. Our Dean was very helpful and supportive besides taking care of our needs she tried to ease me out when I told her about the concerns and doubts that I had about my research. She told me to do my best in addition to allowing myself to have fun. And I am forever grateful to her for that. Finally, after multiple revisions and iterations of my code, I was able to get results and wrap up my project. Although the project was new and challenging for me, if it weren’t for this I wouldn’t have been able to learn all the skills and experience that I have now.
Besides the research, the cultural experience in Spain was a whole new experience for me. I got to experience so much color and joy in those two months which is hard to explain in one paragraph. We were brought to the city of El Puerto Santa Maria which lies in the municipality of Cadiz. Unlike the big cities i.e., Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, etc. these little cities have a lot more charm. Being there we got a chance to see the real southern Spanish culture, food, and people. The cultural events like La Ferria, and the Carnival in Cadiz were wonderful. The Flamenco music and dance really caught my attention. It is a very famous folkloric music tradition in southern Spain. Interestingly Flamenco is closely related to the Romani ethnicity and the oldest record came out in 1774.
Cadiz also has tons of historical architecture which is preserved from years ago so you can happily get lost while exploring the city. The Moorish architecture in Cadiz really stood out. I was introduced to these places and traditions by some local friends and later I explored further on my own, not to mention these places are incredibly safe for women also. The food was awesome, tasty as well as healthy, and incredibly affordable which made it even better. The place was close to tons of beautiful beaches which just added more charm to it. The people were incredibly nice and polite. It was easy to make friends in Spain even if they know a slight bit of English or you know a slight bit of Spanish, they are welcoming and happy to interact. I also got the chance to experience scuba diving in Tarifa, Spain right where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic ocean and it was magnificent. I always wanted to scuba dive, and I don’t know if it could get better than this. I visited two other countries while I was in Europe and Spain is by far my favorite. I would go back whenever I get a chance.
This overall experience helped in many ways, I learned some new skills and also understood that there are some things that I need to work on. I learned more about myself as a person. Also, I got a chance to see another part of the world which added to the perspective of how I view the world. This whole experience certainly helped me grow both in my field and as a person.
Faiza Khan (MS Civil Engineering) participated in the Summer 2022 international summer learning opportunity for students offered through the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors. The International Summer Undergraduate Research Program represents a collaboration between The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the University of Cadiz in Spain. The purpose of the initiative is to support students to participate in an eight (8) week intensive research experience during the summer in a global environment. Faiza had the following to say about studying abroad, “Keep your mind and heart open. You won’t be the same person you were after this experience.”
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