Stanford experience by Suha Chowdhury

I have always wanted to study abroad for as long as I can remember. The idea of experiencing a new culture and gaining new perspectives while being a part of a diverse yet enriching academic community has always fascinated me. Hence, having the chance to attend one of the prestigious and renowned universities in the world was like having one of my dreams come true. For that, I would like to extend my most sincere thanks and appreciation to Aalto University for not only granting the opportunity but also providing the full scholarship to attend Stanford Summer International Honors Program (IHP). I can say with indisputable certainty that this summer has been nothing short of amazing.

When I first stepped foot on the Stanford campus, I thought it looked like an image straight out of a postcard; a replica of a tropical paradise with lush green vegetation, tall palm trees, sparkling water fountains and the warm California sun. I remember that the day had been scorching hot, too – I think it might have been the hottest day during my stay at Stanford – and I dreaded that the weather would be like that for the whole summer, but the weather was surprisingly quite pleasant for the rest of the time being. I would still, however, suggest bringing a hoodie or a light jacket because it can get chilly at night.

This year all the IHP students resided in Branner Hall. It was my first time living in a dorm, and I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the dorm life experience. It gave a sense of belonging and created a vibrant and supporting environment to study and share interests and experiences with one another. I particularly appreciated the fact that it was easy to find like-minded people with eclectic backgrounds, and I was continuously drawn and inspired by the intriguing stories of these people. Their drive and enthusiasm were simply contagious. In the end, some of my fondest and greatest memories were created in the common area within the confines of Branner where people would huddle around the tables to study or engage in long conversations and light-hearted chats, play table tennis or simply bring snacks to watch movies and documentaries.

There were several activities organized for almost every day. From spa sessions and football matches to outdoor hikes and special weekend trips arranged by the staff, there was something for everyone to try out. My favorite weekend trip included visiting Santa Cruz. The limited spots to the weekend trips were up for grabs on a first-come-first-serve basis, which meant that you had to be quick to enroll if you wanted to secure your place in one of the offered events. Hence, I would advise anyone interested in attending a weekend trip to sign up fast – especially for the first ones. However, even if you happened to miss a spot, there is always a chance to travel during and after the program. In general, I strongly recommend traveling because there are many places worth seeing and exploring in the USA. I personally have many unforgettable travel memories of places, such as San Francisco, San José, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles.

Along with traveling, I enjoyed visiting Silicon Valley. Particularly, a trip to Mountain View in Silicon Valley was one of the highlights of my summer. This trip was organized by a professor in one of my courses who works at Google. He gave us a tour around Googleplex and presented an inspiring talk while providing refreshments and gift bags with some Google related items to all the participants. For a workplace, the atmosphere in Google was laid-back and unique with all the facilities and gadgets, and it was quite interesting to learn about the dynamic working culture of one of the most successful tech companies.

As for the academics, I completed an Intensive Study on Data Science and took the following courses: Introduction to Machine Learning for Social Scientists, Data Mining and Analysis and Leading Trends in Information Technology. Originally, I had not thought about signing up for an Intensive Study, but I later noticed that Stanford Summer Session program was offering a new intensive this year on Data Science, and I got intrigued to pursue it as it matched my interests. In addition, an official document of completion is later sent to the students who satisfy the requirements, which I think is a nice additional incentive to take up on an Intensive Study in case the chosen courses fall under one of the intensive categories.

From my personal experience, studying at Stanford did not differ that much from studying at Aalto. However, there were some aspects in the teaching field that differed. The main notable difference was the fact that instead of exercise sessions there were office hours. This meant that the students could schedule an appointment with either the professor or the teaching assistant to have discussions related to the course and beyond its content. Although I only went to the office hours a couple of times, I found this to be a great way to interact with the faculty and had some insightful conversations on topics, such as research in machine learning and studying opportunities in the USA.

As for the homework, I was surprised to find them to be a lot easier at Stanford compared to the assignments that I have had at Aalto. On the other hand, I must say the number of assignment problems was significantly higher at Stanford. These assignment problems, however, tended to be quite simple and similar in style. This made the process of solving the problems relatively easy and quick, but sometimes tiring as you had to do them repeatedly. However, I would say this technique helped me better prepare for the exams and highlight the most important concepts. Regardless of the workload, I only had classes three days a week and managed to still have an adequate amount of free time during the exchange program.

All in all, I had a wonderful summer that I would not trade for anything in the world. I can say without a doubt in my mind that this short and action-packed, but sweet and enriching experience has provided a lot more than just a transcript of records. I will forever cherish the cultivating experiences that have shaped my mindset and the beautiful moments that I got to share with the people I met along the journey. Inevitably, this summer has positively impacted my life both academically and socially. Therefore, I absolutely recommend any eligible student with the slightest interest in the summer program to apply.

If you have any inquiries related to the application process or the summer program at Stanford, I am more than happy to answer via e-mail or Facebook.

Suha Chowdhury

Electronics and Electrical Engineering

School of Electrical Engineering

Aalto University