Guwahati, in the Northeast Indian state of Assam, is a long way from The Australian National University (ANU). Meeting fellow alumni based in my hometown at a recent ANU event reminded me of how personally defining my time studying in Canberra was.
It reminded me of how much work and sacrifice I put into my Master of Machine Learning and Computer Vision degree. It reminded me of trying to make ends meet, and learning how to find 'complimentary' or 'FREE' food on campus to save money. But ultimately, that chance to connect with ANU alumni here on the banks of the Brahmaputra River reminded me of the many friends I made at university - friends and colleagues that I keep in touch with today.
As someone new to Australia, and new to ANU, it was difficult to find my way initially, but my advice would be to let people in, make friends in your courses and try not to get too overwhelmed with everything. Eventually, you will enjoy it and it will pay off. ANU is there to help you and the opportunities for both academic and general help are there, but it helps even more when you meet a friend like Mansoor Ali.
I would not have made it through my studies, nor been able to find a way to afford to live and eat, if it was not for my good friend Mansoor, a fellow computer science student. Mansoor was in his 40s at the time and had left behind his wife, three children and a secure job in his home country of Pakistan to pursue a career in computer science. His drive helped me more than I will ever be able to acknowledge properly. He was like a big brother to me, encouraging me to study, and he even taught me to drive so I could get my 'P's.
His composure even in times of great adversity has left a lasting impression on me. Arriving early in the morning to get free breakfast from BKSS, studying and napping in the library if we missed the last bus home, exploring the campus for free coffee and food events, making new connections and gaining hoards of information while doing it - these were just some of the things Mansoor and I used to do.
There were times when Mansoor did not have a place to stay, so we shared an apartment, which would help my finances as well. Mansoor was working night shifts, packing shelves at Woolworths, and when he wasn't working, we would study together. There were times when we fell asleep in the library, due to the mental strain of studying and trying to learn as much as we could from the fantastic lecturers and teachers at ANU. We were always asking the teachers for more information, wanting to absorb as much as we could.
Having been awarded an excellence scholarship, I was incredibly driven at the start of my degree. Once I got settled into Canberra and got a job, however, I started to be a bit more lenient with my assignments and time on campus. That's when Mansoor stepped in like a big brother, saying: "No, no, no, we must study. Let's come together, let's study."
Looking back on my time at ANU I am so lucky to have met Mansoor and the many other great people from different cultural backgrounds - each with their own struggles, but all humble and hard-working enough to help each other through and get the work done.