I got a positive reply for this internship in the month of March after framing close to 300 emails. I used to select universities based on their QS rankings and mail professors of my department accordingly. I was interested in the transportation field of Civil Engineering, which contains Railways and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), mostly coding based, so I kind of knew what I was looking for while applying. I had also completed some online courses related to the field of ITS, which helped me during the internship.
The professor I had mailed was from Monash University, Australia but was temporarily based in the Suzhou campus in China. I thus underwent my internship in China.
I worked on Resilient Railway for timetabling Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR). I was required to write codes on python for optimising the travel time of the user in times of disruption by comparing the current network with other generated networks. I used Python libraries (Pandas, NumPy and NetworkX) to generate a new network resilient to disruptions. Through this, I was able to generate all the possible paths given on an Origin – Destination pair in a network. Although whatever I just said might not really make sense, it was an exciting challenge, one I had hoped for.
The work hours were flexible since all my work was on a computer, so I was allowed to come and leave whenever I wanted to. The professor and his whole research group were very supportive and they used to pamper me a lot since I was the youngest one in the group and would even play FIFA and Table Tennis with me.
Nevertheless, China can be a difficult place for Indians. My first day was very challenging, I reached on a Saturday and didn’t have an internet connection hence couldn’t ask any of the people around me about the commute options to my dormitory due to language barriers. Ultimately, I stood for a while near a market (wandering aimlessly) and waited for a random Indian to show up and luckily, I found my saviour.
The language barrier is a huge issue when you go to China. Hence, the interaction is very limited, you would have to use a translator for the simple of things, like asking for a grocery store and since Google doesn’t work either, VPN is a must.
Since I was a vegetarian, I rarely ate outside and had to cook my own food (Food, being the next big issue in China). I couldn’t explore local food over as I was a vegetarian, and on top of it, most restaurants served beef due to which I preferred not to eat over there. My labmates, however, were very kind; they used to get chocolates and fruits for me whenever possible. Luckily I made a lot of Indian friends over there, so everything turned out to be manageable after the first week.
Places I Visited:
China is a huge country, so I couldn’t explore much (sites like the Great Wall of China was around 2000 km from my place!). Suzhou itself is a very big city and I also went to Shanghai, but apart from that, I didn’t go out much.
Bottom line: It was a wonderful experience, wouldn’t have missed it for all of China’s difficulties.
Interviewed By: Jayesh Jawandhia