Education without Borders an experience beyond borders
It was towards the end of October 06 that we got to know about Education without Borders 2007 (EWB2007), an international student conference hosted biennially by the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One of our friends, Kazi Anisur Rahman, had been there the last time it was held in 2003, and was all full of praise for the event. The best part -- once we reached Abu Dhabi, all our transport and accommodation expenses would be paid for by the organizers! Students were also invited to submit papers in one of three categories and four sub-themes. If the paper was judged to be one of the top ones, HCT would even pay the airfare for the author, who would then have to make a presentation on his work! Sounds too good to be true, but it is. My friend Nafid Haque and I decided almost readily to work on papers for the conference. Later, two more friends, Rezwanul Haque Bhuiyan and Farhana Mahbub also decided to turn their thesis into a paper for the same conference. We worked on these papers amidst the semester and all other work involved. Eventually, me and Nafid submitted a paper entitled “A decentralized information retrieval system for a developing country like Bangladesh”, Nafid submitted one more paper called “Localization bridging the digital divide” while Rezwan and Farhana submitted a jointly authored paper titled “Enhanced classroom learning”.
Time went on; our final exams started and ended. Then, on 15th January, we received news that all four of us have been accepted to attend the conference. We were happy, but there was now the worry of managing funds for the airfare. By 22nd January, I received even bigger news. The paper that Nafid and I had jointly authored had been judged to be in the top 36, and I was to receive the travel scholarship since I was the first author. Over the next few days, we got to know that the four of us were the only people from Bangladesh being invited to attend the conference. This news spurred on both us and our teachers, who did their best to arrange full financial support for the other three. Eventually our honorable Vice-chancellor Prof. Jamilur Reza Chowdhury granted the funds. We never got to tell him how grateful we were. Maybe now is a good time. Thank you, sir!
We departed from Dhaka on 23rd February at 9 AM Dhaka time, and reached there 4 PM Dhaka time. Abu Dhabi was resplendent beyond our imagination. The wide streets, the fast cars, everything seemed to be out from a movie. We were allocated rooms in the Armed Forces Officers Club, a luxurious hotel so big that walking around could easily take half an hour. After a trip around the city (and particularly the shopping malls, thanks to Farhana), we got back to the hotel around 12 at night (you could have thought it was still evening, with the lights and the crowd).
The conference started on 25th February and went on till the 27th. The opening ceremony was attended by several prominent speakers, including our very own Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus and Dr. Nicholas Negroponte, Chairman of the MIT Media Lab. All the speakers had one thing in common though they were all trying to save the world in their own little ways. Be it poverty eradication or education for all or trying to help the differentially able people, these speakers have always put the world first. Throughout the first day, we browsed the conference venue and got to meet several other delegates. We were pleasantly surprised to find that there were five other people from Bangladesh. Rezwan al Islam and Jahanur Rahman have been brought up in Qatar; Zeenat was born in Italy and now lives in UK, while Faisal and Farah are based in Canada. However, they all decided to call themselves Bangladeshi, something that really touched our hearts.
The conference continued with the student presentation sessions. Between sessions, the delegates were seen browsing the sponsor stalls. I myself presented my paper on the second day. All my friends, from Bangladesh as well as the ones I made there, and of course all the Bangladeshis, attended my presentation and cheered me on till the very moment I stood up to begin. It made me feel nervous, but it also made me feel very special and loved. If I could do it all over again, I would. Only this time I would smile more, and act less dorky.
In addition to the conference, we were taken along to several events in order to give us a feel of what the UAE is all about. There was the gala dinner and grand cultural show on the first night of the conference. During the gala dinner, we were supposed to wear outfits that somehow represented our culture. All the guys from Bangladesh wore Punjabis, while the girls donned sarees. The fun part was, all the guys from India and Pakistan were also wearing Punjabis, and people kept asking us whether we are from the same country. We smiled, and at least I relished this odd expression of unity, as if a reminder that we must all stick together in the end. The gala dinner was a lot more than we ever expected. Starting from high-tech laser shows, fireworks, magic shows and small documentaries, the five hour show seemed to encompass everything one could possibly have thought of. We even had the Bangladeshi dance group “Nrityanchal” performing. On the second day was our evening in the desert. We had fun riding a 4 by 4 jeep amidst the dunes and enjoyed an opera performance by Senor Placido Domingo. The conference organizers gave us the traditional dresses of UAE and gave us the chance to see their local culture very closely. They welcomed us at the desert with traditional dances and songs, their local strong tea. They also set up traditional shops and tents in the middle of the desert. We got back late that night, tired and saddened at the prospect that all of this was coming to an end.
On the last day of the conference, the 36 presenters and co-authors got to meet a very special guest Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. After a very late closing ceremony, I was rushed back to the hotel with only about two hours to spare before my reporting time at the airport. Hurrying to catch the bus to the airport, I bade goodbye to everyone I had met during the conference. Leaving AFOC with a heavy heart, I just had one regret that I was leaving so many friends, and one consolation I was going back home, to Bangladesh.
I would like to thank my friends Nafid, Rezwan and Farhana for being a constant source of inspiration and humor. Our teachers Dr. Sayeed Salam and Dr. Mumit Khan worked very hard to get us the funds, and to prepare us for the experience. Dr. Yousuf Mahbubul Islam and Matin Saad Abdullah, faculty members in the CSE Department, helped us a lot during our work with the paper. We are proud to have such teachers. Lastly, we would like to thank our vice-chancellor Dr. Jamilur Reza Chowdhury for his blessings. May God bless us all.
All the four Bangladeshi students from Bangladesh who attended EWB 2007 are alumni of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, BRAC University.
Shamma M. Raghib
North South University Debate Club organized a special event only for the NSU women on 8th March 2007.
The show titled 'Flower Power' had three thrilling segments. Initially, to pep things up, there was the rapid answer round where contestants had to come up with answers to one-word questions hosted by an NSUDC member. This show was followed by a freestyle debate around the notion, 'Why should/shouldn't women ask guys out'. Amidst woos and boos for both sides, it was not surprising to see that the whole of NSU cafeteria turned into a packed bunch of enthusiastic viewers! Amongst the speakers were Bari, Mehreen and Afwan who caught most of the audience's attention. Flower Power then steered towards a game show whose winners had fabulous prizes- free make-up for the first prize, free hairstyle for the second prize and a free book by Farzana Shakil a renowned stylist -- as the third prize.
Overall, amidst the flowery posters of pink, purple, blue and red, somewhere deep within, the beautiful ladies of NSU sure had enjoyable time thanks to North South University Debate Club.