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Multitudes – In conversation with the exchange students

Like every semester, this semester too, we have a bunch of what we lovingly call “exchange students” in our campus who have come from diverse geographies and cultures from across the world. BSP got in touch with a few of them and here’s what they had to say about their experiences in India thus far…

While the majority of the exchange students, such as Thomas who’s currently studying electrical engineering at IMT Atlantique, hail from the French universities, the diaspora is replete with students from and studying in Germany, Canada and Sweden. The most natural question to ask was why they chose IIT Delhi, and India at large, as their destination for exchange to which we witnessed some interesting responses. “I wanted to see a culture which is totally different from mine, and IIT Delhi being right in the heart of the city gave me the best opportunity to travel around easily,” says Fabian Schnetgoeker, who is studying mechanical engineering at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. “Eventually, for a semester exchange, I think that it’s important to live something different from home, to discover a new country, a new way of living and studying,” points out Iphigenie, who is also studying electrical engineering at IMT Altantique. Some of them, to our pleasant surprise, came with a little more background knowledge and a history of past exposure! “This country is at the antipode of Canada – geographically and in terms of population, climatic conditions and everything in between. I watched numerous documentaries and movies, read books and tried to learn Hindi to discover more” chips in the ever enthusiastic Yi Lu, who hails originally from Sichuan in China but was brought up in Canada. For Aditya Joshi, who was brought up in the States and born in New Delhi, it was a trip down his childhood in a parallel universe. “Being born in India (and being of Indian descent), I think coming to India to experience the stories, cultures and other aspects I hear about from my parents and extended family first hand on my own would be something that would help bridge the gap between my Indian heritage and North American upbringing. Also, the opportunity to connect with my (large) extended family in India was something that would be hard to pass up.” Aditya is currently pursuing a major in computer engineering at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Most students, to little surprise, agreed that Delhi’s great location, touristic reputation and connectivity made IIT Delhi an easy choice for them.

On being asked what they love about IIT Delhi, now having spent over half a semester here, we saw some intriguing replies. “IIT Delhi functions as a community” was the unanimous winner among other answers. “What I like the most I think are the students, everyone interacting with us is really open and helpful. Maybe I would wish that people would be a bit more relaxed about the studies, but that’s really okay,” asserts Thomas.

“The fact that there is always something happening around! I like the hostel life, even if few things could be better here, it’s nice that all the students live together. And I really really like the momos at the main. What I miss most here is having a kitchen. I used to cook quite a lot back home,” claims Joanna who is studying mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen in Germany. Yi says that while he loves the friendship and the warmth that he sees amongst Indian students towards each other, it saddens him to see “the image of a segregated social system, (I) notice here the hierarchy between freshmen and seniors, between seniors and PG students, between the students and the TA, between the students and the professors,” which undoubtedly is something most students of the IITD fraternity would vouch for.

On being asked about the things that leave them a tad disappointed and disheartened, we received a multitude of replies. Thomas and Iphi say that the general attitude of people towards cleanliness and waste disposal on streets was dismal, something we couldn’t be closer in agreement with. Yi, however, went a level deeper to bring out his distress over a sensitive issue at most IITs. “I see some students speaking harshly about how a few scheduled caste members “get an easy ticket to IIT.” I’m not completely aware of the situation here, but it may be a result of centuries of ignorance, abuse and social segregation experienced by these people. I know some take advantage of their caste situation to get certain privileges, but let’s not generalize.”

PS: Also, Yi earnestly requests all the students at IIT to not hesitate from interacting with them exchange students; “we are genuinely more curious about you than you are about us,” he says to put forward his point. ☺

On a lighter note, we tried to delve into their experiences with travels around the country. Not astonishingly, most of them have visited Agra, Jaipur and sites around Delhi. While some have ventured to Bikaner and Jodhpur for a desert tour, others have been to the hills of Shimla and touched the serenity of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Kerala, down south, has been another favourite amongst most students. “My favourite has to be hiking through the mountains in Munnar. The view was absolutely stunning. Sitting by the waters and watching the sunset at Kanya Kumari was also mesmerizing,” says Aditya. Fabian undertook an adventurous biking expedition on a rented Royal Enfield starting with Bangalore and traveling around the south for 10 days. Amongst the tourist spots in Delhi, Iphi claims she really loved the Lotus Temple – “Of course it is a nice building but what I liked the most was the idea of creating a place for all the religions. Just a place where people can gather.” Thomas, on the other hand, loved the city of Jodhpur for its architecture and the old town feels. Of course, one of the most popular tourist destinations amongst foreigners in India, Varanasi, had to be on the list too. “My favourite place was Varanasi, that’s where you see the pious India in all its grandeur. I loved seeing the holiness of that place, the importance of it for the pilgrims. Unfortunately, I will never experience their feelings,” says Yi.

Yi, Erwan and Adrien celebrating republic day in Mathura

Talking about the academic load, something which the IITs are notoriously famous for across the country, most students replied that it was, so far, manageable ,given they haven’t taken up many courses to be able to enjoy their exchange semester. A constant remark, however, was about the general methodology of teaching the courses. Fabian and Joanna (both studying in Germany) lament that they feel they’re back to school again thanks to the policies on attendance and the general system of assignments and quizzes. Needless to say, it also surprises them to witness the level of personal interaction with the instructors given the small size of the classes at IITD. Yi feels there’s more focus on concept development than problem solving, something he’s used to doing at his university in Canada. “Here, you are very specialized unlike our university system in France which consists of engineering schools. So the level of difficulty is actually the same but you have more skills in one particular domain, that’s what sometimes can be a problem for us,” says Iphigenie. Aditya, however, asserts that “It’s considerably different from my home university. The work load is significantly less. Courses rarely have assignments or labs. On the other hand, the exam questions are relatively difficult. Instead of a build up to the challenging questions, to test basic knowledge like at UW, all my exams questions here were pretty challenging or unfamiliar.

All in all, sharing their fondest memory, Joanna said her visit to Old Delhi was quite an intense experience for her – “after having spent most of my time in the campus initially, there were so many people, so many noises, just so much of everything…”

For Thomas, his fondest memory is from when he spent the weekend at Jodhpur, just before Holi. For Fabian, who was biking in the south during the semester break, says that “in the course of these 2100 km through Goa, Kerala and back to Bangalore, I visited many secluded villages and saw a totally different side of India than the crowded cities I’ve seen before. In many rural villages where I stopped during my road-trip, the people came to me just to watch what I was doing! Sometimes, I learnt I was the first white guy the people had seen in their village. It was an unbelievable experience.”

Fabian’s rented Royal Enfield in the field of Kerala.

“No one will ever be able to change what I think but I love the multiplicity of the country. There are so many cultures, sort of people, landscapes… I mean, when you travel around the country, you always discover something new! I hope the country will never be standardized!” says an effervescent Iphi.

Holi! Florian, Thomas and Fabian at Kumaon hostel

“Once we reached the end of the trail, there was a rock that overlooked the valley and mountains. Exhausted, we got on the rock, with the valley below us, and just spent some time appreciating the nature. It was a great place for me to reflect upon my journeys in India and what a fantastic opportunity and time it’s been in India thus far,” reminisces Aditya, leaving us all smiles.

– Yi Lu, Aditya Joshi, Fabian Schnetgoeker, Iphigenie Delpuech, Thomas Foucher, Joanna Sitarz in conversation with Swati Agrawal from BSP

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