Students sharing

Mashiat LAMISA (BSc ISD student)

University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada: Spring 2020


In my Spring semester, I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity of a semester abroad at the University of British Columbia in Canada. It was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life – both in terms of knowledge gain as well as personal growth. The University of British Columbia is the oldest university of BC in Canada and I had a heard a lot about how magnanimous the campus is. I would not have believed it before but now that I have spent about 6 months in the campus, I truly completely believe in its magnanimity.

The institution is famous for its location, beach, well designed buildings, excellent connection to every part of the city, forest trail, best museum for anthropology where people from all over the world fly to visit, excellent sports facilities, and top notch academic and research reputation. And I was lucky to have experienced all of those.

As soon as I went there, one of the few clubs that I joined were the Engineering Society, the Hong Kong Society of UBC, Varsity Outdoor Club, Exchange Students’ Club, and Dance Society – and immediately after joining these I started finding like-minded people, who eventually became very close friends that I am still in touch with from different parts of the world. The experiences I gained from all these clubs are incomparable – starting from snowshoeing to the top most peaks in British Columbia, to hiking, to walking and running miles in the Pacific Spirit Park on the outskirts of the campus, to having bonfires on the campus beach, to taking online classes from my favorite outdoor spots just outside the library when COVID-19 started affecting our lives. I actively participated in outdoor activities every chance I got, but I also spent a lot of time building friendships and connections with people to learn from them and grow my mindset. And I think that really helped me broaden my mind to see how far I can dream of in terms of being independent and achieving my goals.

I think one of the toughest times in my exchange was when COVID-19 hit Vancouver and all my friends were called back to their countries. I helped each of them pack while they said goodbye to me one after another. It was very painful for me to do so but I think it also brought us closer in terms of trying to keep in touch with each other during this tough time despite the time zones. I was mentally exhausted at that time because of all these people leaving – my friends, roommates, everyone. I could not concentrate on work or studies and took up running in the forest as a habit. I also started doing yoga and learnt more about myself.

Towards mid-March, I got an excellent opportunity to starting working at a department in UBC called Integrated Renewal Program. The Integrated Renewal Program (IRP) unites previously independent projects, formerly known as Student Academic Systems Initiative (SASI), and HR Finance Renewal to replace 20-year old legacy systems and switch to Workday as UBC's core enterprise system. My role is to design and produce training content in the form of developing websites and editing videos for the UBC student and staff body to adapt and transition to the new Workday system smoothly and fast. So far, I have designed 100+ web content tutorials on Workday's application in Finance and HR and counting. I built a great relationship with my supervisor in that program and even though I am back in Hong Kong now, I am still employed by UBC which gives me great exposure for building my resume for the future and helps me build gain a lot of experience in terms of working for the systems development of a newly launched software for a large group of diverse users which included the university staff and professors.

One of the most adventurous trips I can think of while in Canada was the road trip to the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. For that, usually you would always need to drive. But because of COVID-19, all public transportation had been shut down and it was impossible for me to see the Rockies even though that was one of my goals in this exchange. I was also very disheartened because all my friends had left, but because I was persistent, I still wanted to make one more trip before I came back to Hong Kong. So I went on Facebook and searched up “Friends Who Live In Alberta” and found a senior from my middle school and messaged her immediately. She agreed to host me with an open heart and offered to drive me all around 3 provincial parks and 3 national parks around Alberta and British Columbia. Never have I ever experienced such beautiful nature where I did not mind being in the car for hours, and hiking amidst the rain, storm, and sun, and seeing incredible wildlife like grizzly bears. The trip changed me inside and out, and I have never wanted to explore the inner happenings of natural sciences more. It also made me extremely interested in environmental geography and going further, it might even add an element to me deciding on my final year project topic. Hiking has always been a sport that challenges me. But this time, because it was so deep into the wild, and because I was with another person, it helped me navigate my physical strengths and the way I act in stressful situations. I mention stressful because at one point on top of a really high peak, there was a thunderstorm and my senior was very scared of heights and keeping her calm while also navigating myself towards a downward slope was exciting and terrifying at the same time!

A very memorable experience of my exchange semester was the opportunity of participating in my first ever Major League Hacking from nwPlus at the cmd-f Hackathon 2020 hosted by The University of British Columbia. My absolutely brilliant teammates Ilana Zimmerman, Dama Correch and I were awarded the 'Empower Women Through Technology’ prize by SAP for our hack of an app called “KYR: Know Your Rights”, which leverages the power of crowdsourcing, and lets women and other gender minorities know their rights when facing discrimination in the workplace. The application empowers employees who may have experienced some form of harassment or human rights violation in the workplace. The user fills out a form and summarizes their experience. The application then displays recommendations, the Canadian law being violated, next steps, and resources available. Additionally, the output displays a similar past user experience and the resolution (if any) experienced along with a similarity score comparing the two experiences. In a span of 24 hours, we built this application that allows the user summarize their experience on the app, displays recommendations, the specific Canadian law being violated, and resources available. More details here: One thing that struck me was that there were mentors from different sponsoring companies who were there to help us at any time we needed and most of these mentors were women--- young leaders in their own companies/fields which was an incredible experience as we, or I personally haven’t seen so many leading women dominating STEM fields in the same room. My team was an all-women’s* team, needless to say. And we collaborated just like any other team with good team dynamics and healthy ideation processes irrespective of gender.

While we developed something for the welfare of women and other minorities, there were diverse teams working on diverse projects and the overall mindset of everyone was to bring excellent, impactful ideas to the table.

Regarding courses, I had a fantastic time learning new domains in UBC. My courses included:

·         COGS200: Introduction to Cognitive Science – very interesting, thought provoking course taken by three professors from Computer Science, Neuroscience, Linguistics, Psychology and Philosophy to introduce the fundamental concepts of Cognitive Science. I had never learnt these, so I found the course to be very interesting. My final project was in a team where we wrote a research proposal and a video paper on studying the possible applications of social robots with co-speech gestures in teaching humans a second language.

·         CPEN421: Software Project Management – I had a blast in this course learning about all sorts of software project management methods including Agile, Waterfall and a lot of case studies, quantitative analysis of these systems. I got to get my hands dirty on advanced project planning, cost estimation and scheduling, factors influencing productivity and success, and analysis of options and risk. It was super fun and useful for my future in Integrative Systems and Design.

·         CPSC210: Software Construction – Another very interesting and enlightening course that will help me advance in projects at ISDN as it taught software design from scratch to development, leveraging on git tools as well as version control, and testing. I think this will help me a lot playing the role of a software teammate in any ISDN project. Final deliverable included a software design in Java by oneself and writing testing code for it.

·         MECH431: Engineering Economics – Great course on economics from a very engineering perspective. The professor was very, very cool – one of my favorite classes to go to. Final deliverable included designing a business proposal from scratch in a team and analyzing the evaluation and comparison of economic models, cash flow and risk and inventory analysis.

Having a very interdisciplinary major like ISDN in HKUST and always working in interdisciplinary teams, I think doing this exchange program in Canada sharpened my group leading skills more and more, and equipping me to cater to the different needs of team members better.

I have also noticed so far on my exchange experience that I can learn how to communicate people with whom I do not have a common language. Sometimes, when English is someone’s second or third language, it is very hard to communicate with them on a professional level. However, meeting people from the most rural parts of Europe to countries I have never even heard of before, really gave me the exposure to understand what kind of communication is reciprocated by which nationality and how I can speak a universal language to talk, and understand anyone. And I think in today’s world, it is very important to do that for both professional and personal growth.