Visiting ‘Europe’ and Home.

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The following facebook conversation took place this morning while talking to a friend.

Friend: Dude you’re in Pakistan?

Me: Yeah 😀

Friend: After only a month of college? Why?

Me: Didn’t you hear? I left Bilkent.

Friend: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?

Me: I mean for a week! I am here for my brother’s wedding 😛

So yes. After only a week of classes at Bilkent, I am back in Pakistan. Back home. There was no way I was going to miss the first and biggest wedding of my family. You see my brother is like the superstar of the family. So people from even other countries (Saudia Arab?) have arrived to attend his long awaited wedding. Honestly I am super pumped up for it. Not only I get to see so many cousins and family members after a long time but also I get to hang out with my own friends. This is just perfect.

My total journey time from Ankara to Islamabad is around 26 hours. The reason(s) for the elongated time was my short visit to Istanbul. So I flew from Ankara to Istanbul on one of those extremely inexpensive promotional flights ($28) and had to change airports in Istanbul. The two airports in Istanbul are continents apart. And I mean literally; one is in Asia and the other in Europe. So on the way I got to hang out with my two awesome YES buddies Bilal and Zoya who came to Taksim Square just to see me.

You guys are awesome!

Zoya and Bilal
Zoya and Bilal at Taksim

Zoya is studying at a university in Istanbul so she was a cab ride away whereas Bilal (our very own global traveler) was in Istanbul because of a conference and was living in a hostel nearby. I was really glad I got to meet both of them. It’s just the sort of experience I used to envision. Sitting on a road side cafe in some foreign country and speaking your heart out to a good friend.

You can literally feel the difference between Istanbul and Ankara when you’re at one of the other places. Even though my visit to Istanbul was only for a day, I could see the high level of diversity in the city and a larger variety of people. Maybe it’s because Taksim is full of tourists. It’s definitely a bit more expensive and the weather was warmer than Ankara. However the most beautiful thing is the lakes and sea that surround the city. That exact sky blue color of the sea gives certain warmth to the overall image of Istanbul and I would die to play in one of those football fields right beside the sea. The traffic is horrendous in Istanbul. It reminded me of Los Angeles’ never moving traffic for some reason when we were stuck there for 3 hours and almost missed our flight.

Future advice for anyone travelling from Sabiha Gokcen Airport to Attaturk Airport: the best way to do this is to take the Havaş Bus from the airport. It will take you to Taksim and from there you can get on another Havaş. Total trip will cost you 23TL ($12) and depending on traffic it can take from 2.5 to even 4 hours. So make sure you have plenty of time to make the transit.

Oh and of course how can I fail to boast about visiting Europe( Read: European side of Istanbul) for the first time ever. I was expecting some sort of European welcome as soon as we crossed the Bosphorus Bridge but unfortunately the presence of something evident was missing. It is possible that I had the wrong view from the bus seat so couldn’t notice the vital differences between Asian and European parts of Istanbul.

In front of the famous Republic Monument at Taksim.
In front of the famous Republic Monument at Taksim.

Right now I am at Karachi Aiport. The Rs.100 tea was totally worth the WiFi (swear to God they won’t let me sit here without me ordering something). My next flight to Islamabad is after 4 hours; so what better to do than blog when you’re stranded at an airport. I am missing a lot of classes back in the university and they don’t even have a leave system so they will all count as absents. I depart back to Turkey on the 1st Oct and hopefully will get to see more of Istanbul this time or meet my old time school friend Humza. For now I am just super duper excited for the next 5 days of shadi food,  photographs, dances and all the attention I can get from them ‘aunties’.

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Extinction Level Event and you survive out in Space

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So yesterday, oddly enough, while taking  a shower it occured to me that so far I haven’t read a certain type of space related story. That is in which an extinction level event happens on the Earth but a few astronauts out in space survives. As the idea swarmed through my head, I quickly jumped out of the shower and jotted some points down. The main idea of the story that I want to write is that the story will be from the point of view of a team of astronauts who witness everyone on Earth die from their space ship and how they themselves contemplate and handle the situation. Its just a rough ideas so a lot of room for addition. If you know a story/novel based on this idea, please let me know in the comment section below. I will be grateful forever.

 

Bye Bye Earth

Applying To U.S Universities: All You Need To Know

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This article is written keeping the average Pakistani High School student in mind. However most international students can benefit from it. First place of publication was here.

 

Applying to universities abroad for undergraduate programs can be quite exhausting. However, being a pivotal point in one’s life, all the efforts in the world are still no match for the rewards that await.

Are you studying through your FSC or A levels? Do you dream of studying in Ivy League universities such as Harvard or Yale? Then read on.

Being a Pakistani high school student, I share your perspective; most of us want to study in a prestigious International University but we also want to study without paying. As vague as it may sounds, it’s quite possible for you to study abroad with full scholarship. Sheer determination and persistence are the key ingredients towards your success.

Internationally, United States universities’ offer more scholarships than any other university world over. There are many opportunities elsewhere, but here I will primarily discuss how you can successfully get in an American university of your dreams. The application is like a big puzzle, and in order turn that beautiful picture into a reality, each piece has to fit together perfectly. Following is the list of all the important prerequisites required to create your own picture.

 

 

Standardized Tests


Unfortunately, or fortunately for some of us, the standardized tests required by American universities hold more importance than our FSC or A levels examinations. Candidates have two options; they can either opt for the American College Testing Assessment (ACT) or SAT (since 1997 the SAT does not officially stand for anything).

SAT was designed as an aptitude test – it tests your reasoning and verbal abilities, not what you’ve learned in school. The ACT on the other hand is an achievement test. It is meant to test what you have learned in school. However, this distinction between ‘aptitude’ and ‘achievement’ is dubious. The major differences is that SAT is longer and contains only Maths and English sections whereas the ACT is shorter but includes Science sections along with Maths and English.

So which standardized test should you take? Until recently, ACT was required by American colleges in the Midwest, while SAT was the test of choice for schools in the Northeast and on both coasts. Now however, most schools accept both. This increased acceptance of both exams give students a strategic advantage. ACT is a content-based test, whereas SAT tests critical thinking and problem solving skills. Depending on your particular strengths and weaknesses, you may perform significantly better on one test than the other. Regardless, it is important to not stay ambivalent. Grab one of these and make them a part of your life. Study for the test like there’s no tomorrow. They are one of the most important part of your college application.

Some Ivy League and top tier colleges ask for SAT-II Subject Test scores. They are 1 hour tests of individual subjects and normally you are required to give two of these tests. They are quite similar to your academic curriculum.

Academic school record and teacher recommendations


I’m guessing you didn’t pay much attention to your high school’s mock exams or monthly tests? As unfortunate as it may sound, if you didn’t then you are in for some disappointment. In American education system, the strictness of secondary school record is one of the most important part of a student’s academic career. As goes the general trend, Pakistani students rely more on their end of year examinations. But if you are still in the beginning of your school year or you have some tests left, you must work your way to ace them all. It sounds rather perilous, but you need to realize that this is necessary. While applying your school transcript of all the monthly or quarterly tests will need to be forwarded.

Your teacher’s recommendations’ play a major role towards your successful acceptance into an American University. If you don’t like that one teacher, that’s fine. But if you don’t like any teacher in your school, then that’s not cool. You need to make sure there is at least one teacher who can write a good recommendation for you. The teacher can be of any subject you wish to pursue a career in. It is worth mentioning that American universities trust your school more than anything else. So make sure your school knows you. If you are that quite kid sitting in the corner of the class, you’ll lose substantial credit in the recommendations department.

Personal Statement


The personal statement or personal essay is an important part of your application package. Depending on the topic you choose, the essay you write provides additional evidence of your intellectual and creative achievement. This is your chance to give the admission board an insight into your life as a person and a student. The essay is also where you can put your academic record into the context of your opportunities and obstacles. It is often stated that the personal statement is the ‘most’ important part of your college application. Don’t take it as any other essay. Take your time, ask others to review your essay and then only when you are fully satisfied, submit your essay. The 500 word essay is your chance to outshine and prove why you should be chosen instead of thousands of other potential applicants.

Extracurricular Activities
Did you sacrifice that very important lecture for a youth conference or a day out volunteering? Chances are that you are on a right track already. Multi-tasking is a vital characteristic of a successful applicant. It is significant that along with your studies you maintain a well balanced extracurricular activities calendar. Sports play a major role in this category and a lot of kids are already involved in extra activities outside their school. But American universities are curious about what you have done to make your school a better place. Did you organize a social event? Did you initiate an in-school community service project? They want to know all this so they can predict how you will make their university a better place through your actions. They predict your future based on your past. It is wise to suggest that ‘I will’ do this or ‘I want’ to. They want to know what you ‘have’ already accomplished.

Choosing the right university


Choosing the right university has never been an easy process; which course, state, campus or city-based, big or small, what are the accepted SAT scores, does it offer scholarship or not?

Questions like these are essential when you want to decide on the right university. It is advisable to apply to a U.S university during your final year of high school. It is not only because of the general trend but it also provides a safe plan; if you are rejected by U.S universities, you will have plenty of time to prepare for Pakistani universities’ entry tests. Sometimes the amount of tuition fee you are willing to pay can also affect your admission decision. So make sure to mention this if your parents are able to pay some percentage of the tuition fee.

While applying to U.S universities you can have two options, or plans you can follow:

Early Decision or Early Action:

Almost all of universities in America allow their applicants to opt for an Early Decision plan. The deadline for applying Early Decision is 1st November for most universities. Before that you need to have all your SAT or ACT tests taken along with a complete application. In this plan you can apply to one U.S university only, hence indicating that the chosen one is your first choice university. But Early Decision is binding: you must attend that university if you get in with adequate financial aid. Some universities offer Early Action. It is similar to Early Decision in all respects other than the fact that it is non-binding.

Regular Decision:
The deadline for Regular Decision plan is 1st January. You can apply to as many as twenty U.S Universities via the Common App. If you are rejected in Early Decision, then you can still apply to other universities (except the university that rejected you) through Regular Decision. I would advise you should take full advantage of both plans.

It is often said that there is no such thing as the ‘perfect application’. Everyone has different characteristic traits. Therefore your application is reviewed overall and it does not depend on one factor alone.  I hope all this information will aid you in your application process. Good luck!

Stanford Engineering Everywhere – Learn Computer Programming in a Month

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Over the last few years, many universities started following the trend of offering online courses for free. Whether it is a mere ethical act to aid prospering students or a latent profit scheme, we know that these courses are extremely helpful and worth lauding.

Among the courses offered by the likes of top tier universities such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford, I felt that Stanford’s Engineering Everywhere (SEE) Program stood out. SEE program offers online access to full courses in the school’s engineering program – including classes in computer science and artificial intelligence. Courses include lecture videos, reading lists, handouts, quizzes, tests, and even a social network for fellow online students.

With a strong leaning towards computers, I wanted to learn programming. Mind you I am one of those who don’t know the ABC of computer languages.

I tried books, videos, I even bought the official “Java for Dummies” book, but I was not even near understanding how this whole programming works. Luckily, just when I was on the verge of giving up, I was introduced to Professor Mehran’s Computer Methodology course at SEE.

The purpose of this course is to not only introduce newbies like myself to computer terms and methods but, it’s also an extensive course on JAVA. As Professor Mehran himself states, “The prerequisites to this class is that you should be able to identify if a computer is on or off”. That’s it. No geeky stuff , no pre-lecture code memorization.

The Iranian-American Professor who teaches this class is quite a character himself. From Star Wars references to handing out candies to his students, he’ll make even the most boring topics seem enjoyable and humorous. Taking you step by step, these video lectures are totally worth a try. A full course contains around 30 one hour lectures including assignments and handouts. Getting free education from one of the best universities in the world? It doesn’t get any better than this.

Other courses I would highly recommend are iPhone Application Programming, and Introduction to Robotics.

Exam Season Came Early This Year

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Doing crazy shit is what we will remember when our limbs will no longer function, and our teeth will no longer chew. What’s crazy for me? Well for one would be exactly what I am doing right now; blogging and surfing the web when I must be studying. The certain emphasis on “must” is because of the fact that tomorrow is my first Cambridge A levels exam. It’s just so unfair. Everyone is having their exams in May, whereas us computer geeks get to give the practical two months before the regular exam schedule. Playing soccer all day the day of the exam is what falls in the examples section of “awesome” in my dictionary. However that depends on whether I score an A or not. How’s my prep? Relatively fucked up. But meh (my way of implying “whatever”). It’s computers. Easy shit.