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Please tell us about yourself
Gayathri Unnikrishnan pursued her Masters in Architectural Lighting Design at the Lighting Laboratory at KTH and is currently working as a Lighting Engineer in Dubai. She joined KTH after her Bachelors in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from National Institute of Technology Calicut in India.
Jairam: Why did you choose KTH and such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting course?
Gayathri : I chose a course in Architectural Lighting Design as I was always interested in lighting and its effects on people. There are only a handful of universities that offer this course in the world. Having traveled extensively, I was certain that I wanted to do my masters in a European country. Sweden seemed the right place to me because it is geographically located in a very unique position. The winters have long dark nights whereas the summers have long sunny days. I was curious to know the perception of the people here towards light in such an environment, and I also wanted to experience this phenomenon as it was radically different from what I am used to.
I was also fortunate to have been chosen for the SI Scholarship and it was an irresistible opportunity that I could not give up.
J : What differences do you find in the education here?
G : In the beginning, it was a little challenging for me to get used to the education system. I have an engineering background and I was doing a design course, so the shift in the method of working was interesting.
There was a lot of teamwork in the course that I was doing. Also, the faculty encouraged us to discover things on our own instead of spoon feeding it to us. This was definitely harder and more time-consuming, but in the long run, I think we learned more than we would have from a class or a text book. The course in itself was very hectic but this helped us become very close friends with our classmates. The best part was studying with people from different cultures, backgrounds and experiences, I learned a lot from my classmates and it was fascinating to understand different perspectives to the same problem.
We were also encouraged to contribute our ideas. No matter how silly and trivial they seemed to us, our professors were always interested in listening to our view points and discussing them. We also had the opportunity to meet and attend classes by well known designers and people in the field. Projects were critiqued by students, guest professors and resident faculty and it could get quite stressful before submissions. Altogether it was a very open and enjoyable learning experience, and I would repeat it again in a heartbeat.
J : How do you find Stockholm as a place to live in?
G : I was not living in Stockholm city per se- my campus was in a suburb called Haninge about 25 minutes by train from Stockholm city. It is a quiet quaint little town with beautiful lakes and woods. What I liked most about living in Sweden was the change in seasons. The whole landscape changes every season and it is a beautiful thing to experience. Having lived in tropical and arid climates all my life, it was all very intriguing to me.
The winters were very hard- the temperature can drop to -25° C, and it took a while to get used to the short days. But the summers are beautiful and made it all worthwhile.
On my numerous visits in and around Stockholm, I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. Everyone was very helpful, polite and spoke English well. There was no problem communicating or finding my way around, and there were many stores that had ethnic Indian spices and goodies.
J: How have you found Sweden in terms of gender equality and what do you think of the topic of Gender equality in general?
G: Sweden is a very open minded country. In fact, it has one of the smallest gender gaps in the world in terms of politics, economics, education and health. I have not experienced any discrimination on account of my gender. It was exhilarating for me, but it also meant that men weren’t holding doors open or offering to carry heavy bags ;).
I think gender equality is one of the cornerstones of the development of a society. Everyone should be given equal opportunity to grow and develop as an individual. People should be valued by their behavior and actions instead of the traditional preconceived notions of how they should behave. Women account for roughly half the population of any country, and empowering women and giving the choice for them to decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives, can only help positively in progression.
I have been lucky enough to have faced discrimination only a few times, and I can’t imagine how hard it must be for girls who have to face it every single day. I strongly believe that education and awareness should be spread to both little girls and boys from an early age.
J: We see that number of girls opting for higher studies from India is much less when compared to that of boys, why is that so?
G: I think that there is not much of a disparity in terms of the number of girls going for higher education in Stockholm. In fact, nearly 75% of the students in my class were girls! But there seems to be a lack of awareness of the higher education opportunities in Sweden in general.
There could be fewer Indian girl students coming to Sweden because there are fewer Indian immigrants in Stockholm as compared to popular locations with universities. I feel parents and students are more comfortable studying in a location where they know somebody else instead of starting in a brand new country where they know no one.
J: What would your message be to parents who are reluctant to send their children for studies abroad and to students who are hesitant?
G: My experience was an eye opener for me in terms of understanding different cultures, education systems and working styles. I also learned a lot in the field I chose and about the practicalities of living alone and dealing with different weather conditions.
I would highly recommend this to other students since it will help you grow as an individual. Having started working again recently, my approach to my colleagues and tasks is different as compared to earlier, as I am more aware of different perceptions and cultural differences. I feel that the education is all rounded, and studying abroad is a crash course to prepare you for future challenges that cannot be learned from a book or in a class.
Students should definitely consider studying abroad as it is an incredible experience, and at the end of your course you not only get a world class degree, but more importantly, a plethora of beautiful memories, fabulous new friends and enough stories to entertain your family and friends at home for a long time.
J: Thanks Gayathri! I wish you all the best for your career and hope to see you again soon 🙂