UCU Student Studies at MacEwan U. (Canada)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Developing computer games and… breaking stereotypes about Ukraine: An UCU student’s experience of study in Canada

Anastasia Vedernikova, a third-year student in the Bachelor’s Program in Computer Sciences at the UCU Faculty of Applied Science, during the last semester studied at MacEwan University in Edmonton (Canada). For three months, Anastasia was able not only to feel like a real “hacker” and creator of computer games but to understand how it is to try to change stereotypical ideas about Ukraine.

–How did you end up studying at MacEwan University?

–Every September, UCU’s Department of International Relations conducts a competition for international study. I found out about this when I entered the university. But first-year students cannot participate in the competition, because first you need to prove yourself through your studies and gain a high rating. So I waited a year and during this time did my best on exams and presenting projects.

After a year, when I came to the “open doors” day, I understood that, for me, the best variant was to apply to study at a Catholic university in Europe that has a computer science program. For this a grade-point average of no less than 85 was necessary. I had a high educational rating, so I then needed a recommendation from a teacher or the dean. I needed to write a letter about my motivations and take a test to demonstrate my knowledge of the English language. I did all this. Then there was, for me and many other interested UCU students, an interview in the English language, which was held at the university with the participation of deans, native speakers, and representatives of UCU’s Department of International Relations. There were about 10 people. During the short time of the interview, they asked me about my motivation, values, and how I see my future. That is, there were generally broad questions that revealed my worldview.

At that time, I expected to end up at Wysyznski University in Poland, which has a computer science program. But during my interview they told me that UCU had recently signed a new agreement with MacEwan University in Canada, which also has a computer science program, and asked if I would like to go there. I was surprised, since I was thinking about studying in Poland, and Canada is another part of the world, where everything is strange and I would be the first UCU student with the chance to study there. And I wasn’t yet ready to take the IELTS test for knowledge of English, which was necessary for entrance.

Re-thinking a little and speaking with my parents, I decided to try, and started preparing for the test. For a month, every weekend, for four hours a day I took English classes at a special school. This is in addition to the fact that we have a high level of study of English at UCU and spend hours studying this foreign language. Finally, I took the test and received the results in April. I received 7 out of 9 points, and a score of 6.5 was necessary for entrance. Then the Department of International Relations connected me with Yurii Konkiny, my advisor at the Canadian university. He helped me assemble the packet of necessary documents and in August 2017 I flew to Canada.

– What was your first impression as you flew to the American continent?

– It is truly an entirely different world. Before this, I had the opportunity to travel in Europe: with UCU I traveled to Riga for Teze, for SDM to Poland, but still you have the feeling that you’re not far from home. But here Canada has only been a country for 150 years; everything is modern and new. There are very tall buildings, a wide horizon and a small population density, compared to Lviv. In Edmonton, where MacEwan University is located, everything is in a line. There are no twisting European streets, and the city itself is divided into equal blocks. The horizontal axis has “avenues” and the vertical has “streets.” They’re all numbered and only a few of the big streets have a name.

So it’s no surprise that the construction of the university in which I was about to start studying was also very modern in all senses. For example, it recently opened a modern Centre for Arts and Culture with many specialties, connected with theatre and acting, painting, cooking…

–Tell us about studying at MacEwan University. What subjects and assignments do you remember best?

–  I had three special subjects in computer sciences and the chance to choose an additional discipline as an elective. I chose Spanish, because I thought, in addition to computer language, it would be worthwhile studying one ordinary human one [laughs]. As a result, the experiment started, because to study a third language (English as the second) was a real challenge. But in my case it was successful and I am convinced that my English is fairly good.

One of the most interesting disciplines was developing computer games. At the start of the semester they divided us into groups in which we worked for three months and developed large team projects for the exam. As a result, instead of the classical exam, we tested each other’s computer games, looked for mistakes, said what was done well and what was not. It was very fun. And for the class on computer security we tried to break into each other’s computers, looking for passwords, that is, we acted like real hackers. Of course, we did all this to understand how necessary it is to defend a project, so that it won’t be broken into. At MacEwan University the access system is fairly similar to the content management system at UCU. And so we studied how the university codes information and where the threats for outside interception are. Analogically, we could do a similar inspection of UCU’s system.

Another interesting project was analyzing criminal activity in Vancouver, Canada. Using various algorithms, we researched enormous open databases in criminology, which collected all types of crimes and the time and place that they most often occur. Eventually, we visualized all the information and developed a system of recommendations for the government and police of Vancouver. Let’s say, the police, using this system, by stating the area, day, and hour in which they are on duty, can receive information with relative percentages about what types of crimes they should turn their attention to. In this way it’s possible to find out, for example, that at a certain place, at a certain time, there is a higher possibility for bicycles to be stolen. This was a really practical project. We worked on it the whole semester.

– How do their programs compare to UCU’s? What would you recommend borrowing from MacEwan University?

– The completeness of the program and the organization of the educational process is very similar to computer studies at UCU. But at UCU we have much more individual time with teachers, and when we are doing our own project, at any time we can approach a teacher for advice. MacEwan University had practically no such opportunities, because it’s a very big university and it’s very difficult to provide close interaction of students with teachers. There are special hours when the students can go to the teacher to ask questions, but personal projects must be done without special help. And there are almost twice as many projects at UCU.

I like the “buddy-program” at MacEwan University, in which students who have studied abroad become mentors for students who come to their university. UCU does not currently have such a program, but I told the Department of International Relations about this and there they decided that it’s worthwhile borrowing this experience. A student from Belgium will soon be coming to us and I will be her mentor. I expect this will help us create an international family. Projects like this are very necessary, because the best way to break stereotypes about Ukraine is to invite people to see everything with their own eyes.

–Did you feel a stereotypical attitude towards Ukraine?

– Yes, because the majority of students, who had no special education in history or political studies, really knew almost nothing about Ukraine and thought that it was mostly a country of villages. During my first days at the university in Canada they had funny questions for me: “Do you have computers?”; “Do you play basketball?”. And when I showed photos of Lviv, everyone was surprised: “Is that REALLY Ukraine?”

Since then I started looking for opportunities to talk about Ukraine and our students, and to acquaint people with the culture. At one of the theme-based evenings, I even decided to prepare varennyky. I made too much dough and students from various countries helped me. A pretty good master-class happened, and the students from France called our varennyky “Ukrainian ravioli.” Many learned the words “dyakuyu” and “smachnoho” [“thank you,” “buon appetit”].

– What’s your advice for students who want to study abroad?

– I won’t be the first to say that you need to study a lot and be ready for exams. That’s obvious. But from my own experience I came to understand that, in addition to knowledge, you need to develop in yourself great motivation and set your goal. Believe you can do it. No steps backwards.

Prepared by Oksana Levantovych, translated by UCEF (USA)

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