Different Beginnings

Hello, everyone! Welcome to my blog! I shall be posting about my experiences here at TU Delft, and will provide a student’s eye view of how life is as a Master’s student here. Feel free to let me know if there’s anything amiss in my posts!

A really short introduction about myself: I was born and brought up in one of the largest cities in the world (Mumbai, India), and after 17 years of living at home, I decided to breach my comfort cocoon to attend college in a quaint little hamlet in the northern part of the country (Pilani, India), and another 4 years later I found myself working in the “Silicon Valley of India”, Bengaluru. I worked for about a year and a half, and over time accumulated enough motivation to learn more and go deeper into what interested me a lot.

A student’s view of the campus

I decided to become a student again, and applied to a few colleges for their Master’s programmes. No points for guessing which college I enrolled in!

That was a little bit of an introduction about my background before coming to Delft. This also brings me to the main content of this blog’s first post – I intend to draw some comparisons between life in India as a engineering student, as a professional, and in the Netherlands as a student (again!). More posts will follow on this topic, but for this post, I’ll stick to the differences I noticed in the education system and people’s lifestyles.

Part I : The higher education system

The first and foremost difference is seen in the system of structuring the academic year – in Indian colleges (and I’d say, in a lot of colleges elsewhere too), the academic year in divided into two semesters with subjects spanning an entire period of four months at a stretch. It is not the case in TU Delft, where the academic year is divided into four quarters with subjects running for one or more quarters and having intense assignments and exams throughout the period. One simply cannot be laid back in this system, and can’t help but end up learning a lot!

Moreover, I can’t remember the last time I saw an academic schedule in which every single lecture is so thoroughly planned and the schedule is strictly adhered to! I did have an academic schedule for every semester back in India, but except for the examination dates, the rest was just an estimate, and hardly was the schedule followed precisely. It probably has something to do with the culture of the place, as the Dutch are known to be very punctual and planned in general.

Another aspect that really took me by surprise was the concept of “resits” for exams. Back home, an equivalent of a resit (called a “makeup”) was granted only in exceptional circumstances, and students taking makeups wasn’t a common case. If one wasn’t able to clear a course in a particular semester, it’d usually be a wait of a whole year before the course exams could be attempted again. Here, if there is a resit planned, it’s a wait of just a few months after which one can give it another try!

One more point of difference that is very apparent is the use of new technology in teaching – I’d never seen a “digital blackboard” in my life before coming here! Collegerama is another great example of using technology for better learning. Missed a lecture due to some reason? No bother – it’s recorded and posted online! There are a lot more tiny examples one may come across, like automatic doors, automatic lighting and window shades, solar panels on all rooftops in the university, and so on. The point that this is a technological university is clearly driven home!

Part II: The Dutch lifestyle

Bikes. Bikes, everywhere! Anyone who’s a buitenlander will find it fascinating that almost every road has an adjoining bike lane, and the sheer number of people biking around will make one take up biking as a routine activity, for sure! It’s an integral part of the Dutch culture, and probably one of the reasons for the amazing fitness levels people have here!

Cycling lanes next to car lanes

One very noticeable difference between cities in India and cities here is in the number of people you can spot on the street at any given time. They say that the Netherlands is among the most densely populated countries in the world, but when it comes to densities in Indian cities and Dutch ones, there’s no comparison. For reference, the population of my hometown is more than the population of the Netherlands. (Yes, you read that right!) You don’t see as many people around here as I did back home, so it feels quite different when you’re the only person walking on the footpath for a kilometre!

Almost empty streets at 8 o’clock

The general lifestyle is quite different as well. Shops and restaurants close early, earlier than 8 o’clock in many cases. Streets start becoming really quiet around that time, and you see very few people around in most areas. Back home, streets are bustling with activity till midnight, and the movement of vehicles and people is a constant sight at any given time. Getting used to this change took me quite a while!

Punctuality and planning are very important aspects, I feel. And so do the Dutch. Every single thing is on time here! Be it your post delivery, your lecture, your train, or even your party! Everything starts at the time it’s scheduled to start, and the agenda for the programme is clearly set. This is a huge difference that gets pointed out to me every time I witness it, because back home, starting at least 5 minutes late is the median norm for starting early, and a deviation from the schedule is a given! I can’t not be punctual even if I intentionally didn’t want to be punctual here in the Netherlands! I’m really liking this aspect of my transition.

Food is a slight problem for a person coming here from India, though. No doubt about that! Back in India, people are used to having spicy food and a very varied cuisine for their meals, and compared to that, a typical Dutch meal with sandwiches, meat and cheese without spices takes a lot of getting used to. An Indian tongue can’t handle lack of spice very easily! But there are quite a few stores around where one can buy spices, so if one really has cravings for spices, they’re not too difficult to find. The effort required to prepare some of the Indian dishes is, well, a different story altogether…

It’s been a really nice beginning to my time in the Netherlands and I’m really liking it here. There’ll be more such posts to follow on transitions to this beautiful, flat country soon. Until then, tot ziens!

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