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This blog is named after one of my poems. Even thought its not the best of the lot, I just fell in love with those words- The Psyche Unknown...

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Life in Netherlands-Part 4-Studying differences...

Somewhere in the early dawn, still lying on my bed, I groggily parted my window blinds to see the wet road, multi coloured spaceboxes and the little glowing stars from the lamp posts and other buildings. Of course you can attribute the "star effect" to my poor uncorrected vision! Its become an usual ritual of mine to get a glimpse of the blurry morning outside the window before I get out of bed. I dunno why but I just do it!
Its also another ritual of mine to curse under my breath (I dont want that to be the first word I utter every morning) seeing my alarm clock showing 8:00 am when it just looked like 5 am outside!
Welkom bij Holland!
But this quarter, I had decided I wouldn't repeat what I did in my first quarter. Learnt few valuable lessons that will shortly come across you. I decided, rain or snow(forget sun) I would go to all my morning classes that started at 8:45 am. And so am I following my decision very tediously.

Back in India I'd wake up comfortably at 6, catch the bus at 7 :30 and sit happily in the bus till the traffic was conquered and then go about the day like a happy soul. That was so easy. The fact that I had to travel about 25 km just one way now seems like a child's play!

I hurried through my morning activities and got down to see my cycle lock totally disappointed with me and refused to open in the cold! Seeing that my faculty is on the other end of the campus,(about a kilometre) I had to hurry now. It had snowed the previous night and the temperature was pathetic enough to just freeze it all over. I hate walking or biking on ice owing to the fact that I have hurt quite a few "sensitive" parts of my body slipping over. I must have made a mistake in fulfilling my karmic duties somewhere along the line. The vengeance is appalling! But still undeterred I tread carefully as fast as possible literally frightened of the viciousness beneath me. Nature decides to push its clairvoyances further in trying my grit and starts showering some snow flowers and tugs the winds to crusade past me almost pushing me back to my room.

Frozen canal on the left and the icy-salted road!

My conscience thinks of me as a woman with fortitude and yes I wouldn't betray my conscience any day. With a deep frown between my brows I squint up to look at the sky that was still lapping all the different colours. It looked like one of the modern art paintings where in only the artist himself can decipher its meaning. Pondering over the pink, blue, grey and orange and dreaming of the clear blue skies back in India, I just pushed myself against the winds and after what felt like an hour of this drudgery, finally! lo behold! I reached the faculty. What a relief it was!

My faculty lobby.

I was so glad for the warmth inside there. I was already 5 minutes late but you know what? the teachers here couldn't care any lesser as to what time you walk in or out of the class. Unlike in India where the teachers (albeit a few) stop their teaching, look at you like a piece of smelly toe-rag and question you- "What I-say?? No time sense? You think this is your in-laws house to enter whenever you want??" and that which evokes an equally adept answer from the student if the teacher can be played around with. A million of which I am sure you can think of. And walking out of a class in between meant you would either end up in HOD's room or/and screw up your internals marks next time!
This professor did not bother to look away from his presentation slides and went on about the effects of flutter on different components connected to the wings. I sat down and started taking notes while the guy behind me bites off noisily on his apple. I have got used to this now but initially this struck very strange in fact offensive too! In India I was once told off by my harassed lecturer in a noisy class that did not listen to him, for drinking water "Swathi, I am an old man standing for 2 hours and lecturing and you are drinking water!" Like I denied him the privilege! Like any student could deny any privilege to any teacher!! That was for water. I couldn't imagine anyone in any class bringing anything that even smelt good. Forget eating except probably in my former HODs class 'cos he had real thick glasses and he could hardly make out what the front benchers did! May be some of the teachers took it as an offense too.

Through out school and college life, we have followed the custom of not eating inside classroom religiously even though no hoardings were put up. Guess its sort of inbred into us. Until and unless we decided to get naughty in the class, hardly could we set up a lunch table when the teacher is chalking out equations once derived by "noble" men that solved complicated questions for which, answers weren't even requested!

But here, I still remember the first day vividly. I was out of my wits. This guy walks in half an hour after the class, sits in the front row, pulls out his new coke bottle and uncorks it. It makes an unusually loud gurgling sound in the silent room with the gas trying to escape. I look around and no one is least perturbed by it. Its like they hadn't noticed this guy at all. The professor declares a break of 15 minutes while people go out, get coffees and chocolate bars. I did take a coffee too, but I hastened to finish it before the break was over. Back in the class again, I was taken for a surprise.. All around people started ripping open their packets and sipping drinks even after the professor had resumed the lecture. In India, only the notorious lot or those who wanted to get out of class did that! And to a bigger surprise, the prof himself was sipping coffee while changing slides. Now thats something I hadn't seen at all! Soon another guy just stood up in between the class, picked up his coat and walked out silently. I was waiting for the professor to say something. I didn't know how they abused students in Holland and I wanted to hear it! But the prof couldn't have been more impervious to the situation. I was dumbstruck. I then realised may be this is all common here.

Oh, students are never abused by teachers here whatsoever! Students are respected and treated as equals just like the teachers, may be not in terms of knowledge but in every other human way you can think of. Of course you have no hitting businesses here and the situations and people you deal with seem so sensible and full of maturity. I wonder why is it mostly never like that in India.
But you cannot deny teachers hitting you meant they cared for your development. You wouldn't realise it when your getting beaten up but atleast you'd realise it some day that some teacher cared for you so much and because he/she beat you, you have learnt something really worthwhile and good! I cannot see how you would realise if a teacher cared for you here. Actually I'm not sure they do!

As days passed by, I realised my previous realisation was true but I still couldn't take a coffee cup inside the classroom forget eating when the lecture is being delivered. But today, in the break, I zip up a coffee from the vending machine right outside my class and sip it slowly- as slowly as the lecture was going. I still cannot bring myself to eat something in midst of a class! I think after coming here, I am addicted to coffee! With huge books, monotonous lectures and hours in front of laptop, I need caffeine now. Oh! Hollanders are coffee lovers as well..

The coffee, chocolate and drinks vending machines outside the class in the corridor.

There are other changes too.. Hardly any professors used lecture slides to teach students in India. It was just chalk and board. But here along with those two, everything was in a presentation format. Its later put up on a portal where one can access the class notes online. The teacher-student relationship is much better in India where we get to speak more often! Here everything goes online. From schedules to meetings to assignments. One mail to all in the group and the job is done. No professor would ever know your name or your existence until you are acquainted with them for a good reason. And then students print out every single thing- slides, lectures, assignments-even those which can be read from the net!! I kinda feel the westerners waste too much paper.

My coffee mug and my nemesis! :-o

But one really likeable aspect of the faculty is its brilliant classrooms! Well decorated, well lit, well equipped for both students and teachers, its got space and the aura for learning. They have something called the smart boards- you can see to the left of this picture. You mark on it, you have it marked on the presentation slides! So the profs need't use long sticks or laser beams to point out above their heads!

One of the classrooms.

Anyways, after 4 different courses at the finish line of the day, I am again at the bottom of my well brooding that I may never end up getting my degree! For one though its not all that difficult to understand he subjects, its just bad enough to give answers in the exam which is never related to the text! Everything here is application based. Students are bred in such environments from their early bachelors. They are used to it. But me coming from VTU, where a question like- Derive Euler's equations- can be found in Pg 150 of one particular text book, its difficult to answer a question such as-Derive the condition for Euler's equation-the condition unfortunately pops out of nowhere in all the books! You are given a hint and the rest is left upto you to use your brains! These guys are terrific in math. I mean real math! not mere arithmetic. Series functions, PDE, ODE, are all second nature to most of them here. We hardly used them back in India. We were only aware of its existence!
You could say because of this factor and also me underestimating the exam standards, I have done hopelessly here. the main reason I have transformed to a new leaf in the 3rd quarter!
Hopefully it goes better from here. Got so many more differences to list, but I need out now. I will continue this post soon enough!