Math and Computer Science major taught machine learning in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Kyle Swanson (Mathematics and Computer Science and Engineering ’18) experienced the incredible hospitality of Kazakh people while teaching machine learning at Suleyman Demirel University (SDU) in Almaty through MISTI Global Teaching Labs

“I absolutely loved my time teaching machine learning at Suleyman Demirel University. I was given total freedom to develop and teach the course as I saw fit, which allowed me to build a challenging but engaging course that I think the students really enjoyed,” Kyle says about his time in Central Asia during IAP 2018.

Kyle explains that most of the content was based on MIT’s introductory machine learning class, 6.036. He began with simple machine learning algorithms and then proceeded to more complicated neural networks. “[These] are state-of-the-art in machine learning and are roughly based on how the brain works. I [also] covered some fun, additional topics like reinforcement learning, which is how machines learn to play games like chess or Go,” he adds.

In addition, Kyle developed two masterclasses for SDU’s alumni. These classes focused more on machine learning applications rather than on understanding the details of specific machine learning algorithms. Kyle’s lectures and labs could be found here.

Kyle found Kazakh culture incredibly welcoming during his experience. “A post-doc I met on the second-to-last day I was in Kazakhstan invited me to his house for dinner after just a couple minutes of chatting with me. Two brothers who were taking my class invited me to stay over at their house not once, but twice. Though their parents spoke no English, they both immediately treated me like I was their child,” he remembers.

Through these experiences he got a rare opportunity not just to learn about the life in Kazakhstan today but to hear many curious stories about its Soviet past. “From my interactions with the older generation in Kazakhstan, I gained a perspective on the Soviet Union which I almost surely would never have gotten back in the U.S.” he notes.

"You may be tempted to plan everything out in advance before you get there, but that’s just not how Kazakh society works,” advises Kyle. I found that some of the best and most memorable experiences were the ones that were most spontaneous, whether it was agreeing to go snow tubing with my host in -18℉ weather or getting dinner with an old businessman who attended our masterclasses and told us stories of his early days of programming in the Soviet defense force. I highly recommend GTL Kazakhstan to anyone else considering it.”

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