Sunday, August 21, 2011

my application experience

As planed, I may post soon my application experience to our newly established TKTL English Blog. It's not a short one yet funny to read. The original one is written in Chinese about 5 years ago. The English one came out around 2007. Well, all those good old memories :)

To ease my editing, I post it first here for comments.

In all, it's funny story how I end up here.


Not by Chance


That is exactly THE term to sum up my entire application in the final undergraduate year - one of the darkest periods of my life mixed with bitterness, sweetness, and uncertainties. Still, I cherish such experience.

The moment I decide not to further my study in finance after jumping into it for half a year (it is another story sorry), it's around the end of 2005. For international experience and personal curiosities, I start my application for universities around the world.

As you might notice, when I begin to look around, it's quite late already. Even worse is that I don't know anything about the procedure of international application, to say nothing of pre-investigations or preference. Hopefully, many of my friends are studying abroad at that time. When I turn to them for help, priceless information is offered, as much as they can. Based on their suggestions according to my background in terms of academic records, family supports, and financial resources, I initially locate myself in north America, west and northern Europe.

Upon that point, I am totally a newbie and naive on which university is the one for me. To be specific, the way I pick up candidates just couldn't be more childish and ridiculous - I simply look up the ranking list done by SJTU and consult my friends country by country. Due to the time limit, I had to act fast. And maybe this quick and dirty way is the only and probably the most suitable one for me to kick off during that special period.

The reason I apply for Uni. Helsinki is quite straight forward - one of my senior fellows is in Finland. When he get my message "any good university in Finland?" he piggies back "University of Helsinki..." Okay, check the page, find the information, and fill in the forms... just as instructed by friends.

But why I mark it as an interesting story concerning my application to TKTL? 

-- line break, follow the link to read further

The whole thing starts with a long long delay after I complete the application form on UH website - oh, not just once, our university is actually the only one that forces me to fill in the form twice.

The time when I turn to Nordic universities, final exams also arrive one after another. My life becomes totally a mess - I live like a creature from another planet comparing to my roommates. Studying both on my major courses and applications - which should be handled in parallel.

And that night, I still remembered clearly - after I finish the form on our university's website until 3 A.M, I am supposed to receive an electronic form immediately from the webmaster. The form contains what I need for the application and reference. However, horribly, it does not come! I wait and wait for half an hour, still no response. In the hope of getting it tomorrow and more importantly because I have an exam in the coming afternoon, I go to bed.

Next morning, open my mail box... still nothing there, and later that afternoon, a difficult exam on computer graphics. Even now I find it still amazing to pass that - my mind is more or less like dreaming, and I keep on writing for hours sub-consciously . After a nap, on the same day, I decided to fill in the form again. So, nothing special, names, backgrounds... But again, I still don't get it!

I have no choice but to give up with kind of pathetic feeling, due to the exams piling up in front of me before the new year.

Two weeks later after finishing of all the exams, the application deadlines for many universities come. I get a letter from that senior fellow in Finland as a caring "how is your application going on?" which reminds me there is one university I want to apply but appears not that easy. So, I write to the international office for helps and list all the necessary information.

Luckily this time, I get reply very quickly: it is a half-finished form in which I only need to choose the major. Majors? A horrifying question. There are three choices on the form with priorities. I notice that the deadline for Faculty of Science is in 5 days but the pages for mathematics and statistics are all in Finnish - I tend to apply for that major because I thought my background fits it better. 

Which major? I am totally confused - today is Friday, that if I use DHL, it may arrive there in time. The office of DHL is closed for the weekends, so obviously today is the deadline for me. With an indescribable dizzy feeling, I started to surf on the web aimlessly.

"Hi man, wanna play CS with us? We are all on line now!" My roommate broke the silence, "CS?" The department of Computer Science crossed my mind, which I never thought about before. Hopefully, there is a decent looking English page and it seems to be quite detailed, although I do not have more time to check. Okay, first major Computer Science, second maths and statistics, third... That's it. I ran out of room and rushed to the DHL.
*NB: CS - Counter-Strike, a popular video game

If the story just stops here and later I pick up the offer, it's just a so so story ~ Things come afterwards make it more special.

A couple of days later when I am finally back home for the Chinese Spring Festival with my family, a festival of the most importance in China, like the Christmas in western countries. Another terrifying letter from our university knocks my door, "you apply for three majors, three complete packages are needed for each direction." I nearly go faint when I get that mail. What? Why don't you tell me earlier? (or just because I am in such a hurry to ignore it) 

You know during that time, all of my relatives came to my home, uncles, aunts, grandpa, grandma and my naughty cousins... I was so busy and enjoyed playing with them. What's more, where could I get more transcripts? All the offices are closed! I could not ask my teachers and officials to draw one by hand for me.

I write back with despair and a tiny hope, " I could not get any more document needed due to the holiday issue, please, if possible, just keep the first option and drop all the other ones." And the moment I click the SEND button, I feel like I am saying goodbye to this top university. And to be honest I don't even remember which is my first choice. Anyway, under that circumstance, who cares.

"Goodbye my love" ?

When the spring returns, the offers and rejections come one after another. Such mix-up feeling is so unique that is understandable only to those who had the same  experience.

Due to my application in such a hurry, which leaded to some careless mistakes. For example, one British university I applied, the major was close this year but I did not realize and still sent my documents. The official lady was nice somehow, she transformed my application to another major which I had no background but could only agree. So, as you could predict, a rejection letter came soon.
Hopefully, even early in March, many of my dreaming schools reserved a position for me. Our university - since that mail, no more response ever heard, which of course, I took as a silent rejection and nearly forgot about the fact that I ever applied for that.
But that day, a cool spring morning, when I went to post office as usual to pick up my paper-acceptance letter from University of Edinburgh. A huge package dropt out of my box. I thought at first it would be some kind of propagandistic magazine I received before. From Finland? Oh, even now I still had no feeling. Open it and read the cover paper, "Dear Yi Ding... Board of Admission has decided to admit you to... Computer Science"
An offer?!! I scanned it one more time word by word. Oh my ~ , I nearly dropt the whole package off.
Our university took me totally by surprise. To be honest, I really had no preparation for that and even expected a rejection letter.

Later on when I investigated our department's homepage, I gradually realized I luckily picked up a top department in Europe &even around the world. For the Linux O.S, the only picture I had is from my CS introduction book, that it is created by a Finnish guy. Well, at that time, I just can not make any difference between a Finn or a German - they are just from Europe, and that is all. Even more interesting, he is from our department! This fact greatly brought up so much of my curiosity - must be very interesting to go there and experience how and what kind of place our dept. is to cultivate a genius like Linus. I soon tried to contact some professors like Jukka Manner at our department, requesting for more detailed information. Again but not as before, I got satisfactory answers and many warming greetings which touched me quite a lot.

Retrospect those steps during my application along the way - it is like a long journey full of ups and downs (although just half a year), and I nearly gave in during the middle. With some kind of lucks and mysteries, I made my way here.

As I always feel, if there are so many things coming one after another by chance, then, it is not By Chance - it is Meant To Be!

So, thanks for our department to make an early decision before I confirm other offers. Otherwise, where I am and what I am doing now could be a big question mark. More importantly, I owe a lot to our department for offering me such precious opportunity to explore my potential in a fresh field and taste how exciting CS is.

And, that, is how it starts...

Last but not least, I owe so much to friends helping me alone the way:

Xin Yu: 6-year classmate of high school, Uni. Oxford, now Morgan Stanley, London.
Hantao Liu: the senior fellow, Uni. Edinburgh. After leaving Finland, now in 
Netherlands and get his PhD from TU/Delft.
Ning Zhang: get the same offer as mine from TKTL, but flied to US instead, now in Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.

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