Here’s a story about how the internet proved to be a fantastic opportunity for an international student

10 Oct

I am actually very pleased to have had an opportunity to study in the Oregon State University. It wasn’t something planned. I wanted to do something in the space I was interested in, and [the] opportunity to go to graduate school at Oregon State [came up]. So, I went there.


This was mid-1980s. The internet as we know it today did not exist. What existed was something called ARPANET. There was the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), and then there were a few other nets that were all disparate – there was no interconnection.

Here I was in electrical engineering and computer science, we were connected to ARPANET, and it was just fascinating to me the fact that I could connect to any system in world, any time I want[ed], and nobody would charge me for that! I remember [once] where I was connected to a computer in Finland from my lab at Oregon State. I didn’t realize it was Finland, the moment I realized, I disconnected. And I sent a note to my administrator saying, “You know I think I connected to Finland not knowing. If I have to pay for it, please tell me how much it would cost.” He replied saying “Oh don’t worry about it! The US Department of Defense will pay for it. You have fun.”

I was simply fascinated. This was a fantastic opportunity to learn and I was thrilled with the fact that being on the internet allowed me to graduate. [Thanks to the internet] I was able to collaborate with people who [were strangers] – all I had was their email address. They were giving suggestions about this and that, about the project and thesis I was completing.


For anyone who wants to go the US or any other country to study, I think the important thing is that you go there with an open mind. If you don’t do that then you are not doing a service to yourself, because you are only spending your time and your physical presence somewhere else. Things will be very different from where you come from – the temperatures, language spoken, [accents] won’t be as clear as you’d like them to be, so on and so forth. The education system might be different, your friends maybe new, you will need to adapt.

We are highly adaptable creatures. If you don’t [adapt], you are missing out on a fantastic world of opportunities, whichever country you go to. So, go in with an open mind, learn as much as you can, and make as many friends as you can. At the end of the day, it is not the education part that matters, it is whom you know, whom you met, and what is your long-term relationship? I have a lot of friends from that time and I think that is a blessing that comes out of it. So go for it!

Harish PillayHarish Pillay is Global Head, Community Architecture & Leadership, Red Hat. He is also a Fellow of the Singapore Computer Society. In 2016, he was elected into the Board of Trustees of the Internet Society and in 2017, he was inducted into the Institution of Engineers, Singapore, as a Fellow. Mr. Pillay has an MSEE and a BSCS both from Oregon State University.

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