Living la vida internacional

What goes around certainly comes around in the world of international education. Thanks to help of an international student classmate from Ecuador, three TU Delft Dutch students recently enjoyed a student exchange program at Espol University, in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

As TU Delft struggles to improve integration between its Dutch and international students, one of the many ideas being considered is to encourage more of the university’s Dutch students to participate in student exchange programs, as this, the thinking goes, will make them more open and willing to integrate with international students, because they would have once been international students abroad themselves. A sound policy, if the experiences of Stephan Hermanides, Lars Putter and Bart Dingjan, are anything to judge by. These three Dutch Management of Technology (MoT) students recently enjoyed studying abroad at Ecuador’s Espol University. But get there in the first place, they were greatly helped by Harold Alvarez, an international MSc student and classmate of theirs in the MoT program, who is from Ecuador and studied at Espol before coming to TU Delft. In just a matter of days, Harold had made all the necessary arrangements for his Dutch classmates to study at Espol. 

Why did you choose to come from Ecuador to TU Delft?
“While studying at Espol I met a student from TU Delft’s MoT program who was doing very interesting research on business ecosystems in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s main port city. This made me realize that the U.S. is not the only destination for studying abroad.  Although I had recently completed an internship in San Francisco, I chose the Netherlands and decided to apply for the MoT program here as well.”

And why did you three Dutch guys decide to go the other way: from TU Delft to Espol University?
“Harold and I wanted to learn Spanish and were interested in experiencing a totally different culture. Harold was in one of our classes at TU Delft, and we knew he came from Ecuador, so we decided to ask him about his country. It turned out Harold knew exactly the right people at Espol who could arrange everything.”
“I also wanted to study abroad in Latin America, for the same reasons, and also because of the nice weather and passionate people there. I wanted to learn something about Latin America, not just the language. At first, I was planning on studying in Buenos Aires, but that didn’t work out. So I talked with Harold and he arranged everything for me in just a couple of days!” 

What would you guys recommend to other Dutch students interested in studying in Latin America? To ask a Latin American classmate, as you did? And what about exchange agreements between universities?
“Sure, definitely ask, but that will depend on finding someone who is as willing and helpful as Harold was with us. About exchange agreements, they’re not absolutely necessary. In Latin America, the costs aren’t as high as here, but generally it’ always a good idea to check for existing agreements. For us, the case was that there was no exchange agreement with the university we were going to, but Espol is really keen on attracting more international students, so they facilitated us with cheap housing, and we didn’t have to pay the tuition fees.”
“Exchange agreements save a lot of time and assure you that universities are open to international students. For example, here in the MoT program, international students meet many other students who are in the same situation they are in, and they are all part of a huge international community.”

Which aspects of the TU Delft international student community should a Dutch student look for abroad? Should integration be a priority? And why is the MoT program a good example?
“TU Delft’s international community may not be the best reference because of the large number of international students here. For these students, solely being part of the international community might keep them from the Dutch community, and therefore from the real Dutch experience. One aspect we enjoyed about going to Ecuador was being accepted into the Ecuadorian culture, not so much being part of an international community.”
“In the MoT program it appears that integration between Dutch students and international students has gone a lot further than at other faculties. Some reasons we came up with to explain this are that in MoT there is no joint Bachelor’s program, that the percentage of international students in MoT is high and so not easy to ignore, and that the MoT program relies on project-based learning in small teams.”

What are some notable differences between Espol and TU Delft?
“Student associations at TU Delft are a vital part of student life, and that’s something that’s not very common in other universities. Getting involved in these organizations is a very big opportunity for TU Delft’s international students. Another notable difference is that at Espol most students work full-time and attend lectures in the evenings.”

I understand that after studying in Ecuador, you all speak Spanish now. Was it difficult to learn the language?
Lars: “Sí, bastante! Before studying we all traveled to different parts of South America, and we took Spanish classes at the beginning of our travels. I think the order in which we did this was exactly right. We first learned the basics and theory, and then when we traveled we met lots of people who couldn’t speak a word of English, so we were forced to practice our Spanish a lot. You improve to a certain level, in which you can manage your daily life, and then, when you get to the university, you improve even more because you have fellow students who can help you with English and Spanish combined to gain another level, in which we could actually have real conversations – not just about practical things.”

In the context of international education, is there anything about TU Delft that you would change?
“Build up more connections with foreign universities, so that more Dutch students can enjoy the experience of studying abroad.”
Stephan: “The reception of TU Delft’s international students and the information provided to them is practical, and there’s is some support available, but it’s not preparing them enough for the real Dutch student life. There are many things that are very specific to how people interact here at TU Delft that are just not clear or understood by international students. So, perhaps even some cooperative efforts between TU Delft’s various student associations would help improve the situation.”

What did you like most in Ecuador?
Bart: “That you can sit on the roof of the bus. We requested it most times, especially when the bus was full.”

Did your Ecuador experience change you in any way?
Stephan: “We all speak Spanish well, for one thing.”
“I started behaving a little bit like an Ecuadorian, especially in the first days since coming back.”
  “I’m enjoying the moment and relaxing more frequently. I’ve stopped worrying about small things and taking myself too serioulsy.”

And what’s different about you, Harold, now that you’ve lived and studied in Holland?
[laughing]: “I now schedule my dinner appointments a month in advance, which isn’t really something I’d do back home.

Ter gelegenheid van het honderdjarige bestaan publiceert de Botanische Tuin het boekje ‘Van Plant tot Techniek’. Auteurs Pieter van Mourik en Gerard van der Veen zijn beiden werkzaam bij de Botanische Tuin. Het boek laat zien dat de oorspronkelijke doelstelling van de tuin, het leren van de natuur, weer actueel is. Daarvan getuigt ook de bijgevoegde dvd over actueel onderzoek.
Het boek is te gebruiken als een uitgebreide gids door de tuin, en als historisch document. Hoofdstuk 1 geeft de Van Itterson-route door de tuin als wandelroute. Het vierde hoofdstuk gaat kriskras door de tuin in een thematisch opgezette lijst van planten en producten, waaronder nootmuskaat, tabak en rubber. Bijzonder zijn de historische afbeeldingen van planten en de oude foto’s uit de beginjaren van de tuin. Het boek ligt binnenkort in de boekhandel.

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