[Column] The end of an era?

Older, but hopefully wiser, columnist Vishal Onkhar looks back on his student life in Delft now that he is facing exit.

“I grew from a bright and hopeful MSc student to a tired and somewhat jaded PhD candidate in the final stretch of his endeavour.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

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Six years ago, when I first set foot in the storied halls of TU Delft, I was filled with a fluttering mix of anticipation and anxiety. I was a frightened 21-year-old international student carrying nothing but the weight of a suitcase and an ambitious dream of becoming an automotive engineer. This wasn’t just my maiden voyage outside India, it was also my first venture away from my parents’ home. And as an only child, moving halfway across the globe to plant roots in unfamiliar territory wasn’t easy. I think the separation was especially hard on my aging parents, although they’d never admit it. A brave face, many whispered promises of keeping in touch, and they let their only bird fly.

But there was a silver lining: I wasn’t entirely alone. I had four friends from my bachelor’s programme back in India to accompany me and cushion the initial landing. We were all due to begin our master’s degrees at TU Delft. And honestly, for the first few weeks, I pretended it was all just an extended European holiday and laughed off the pangs of homesickness. The company of old friends diluted the daunting aura of a new beginning, offering a blanket of comfort against the unknown.

In time, the quaint town of Delft, with its cobbled streets and towering spires grew on me from a mere dot on the map to a canvas of cherished memories. And I grew from a bright and hopeful MSc student to a tired and somewhat jaded PhD candidate in the final stretch of his endeavour. My professor seemed to have a crystal ball; he predicted this transformation the day my doctoral journey commenced.

Now, as I wander through the campus, seeing fresh waves of students embarking on their adventures, a familiar, bittersweet nostalgia washes over me. They seem to get younger every year, their faces a beacon of untapped potential and unblemished dreams. The realisation is palpable: this might be the end of an era.

While I hope to remain tethered to TU Delft, it just won’t be the same

Time, in its relentless march, has witnessed countless cycles of learning here in the eternal dance of knowledge and discovery. But the winds of change whisper that this dance is nearing its final bow, and the familiar embrace of student life is preparing to loosen its hold. Are these really my final days as a ‘student’ in Delft? Maybe they also mark the end of my stay in the city altogether? Where did all the time go?

A part of me laments the transient nature of friendships forged in the fires of academia, the shared meals, the international trips, and the laughter that echoed through TU Delft’s corridors. I ponder the future of these bonds sculpted in the hallowed hallways of TU Delft. Will they stand the test of time and distance or, like delicate silken threads, begin to unravel?

While I hope to remain tethered to TU Delft in some professional capacity, something tells me it just won’t be the same. The cloistered world of education is all I’ve ever known, and now, facing its exit, I’m reminded of that uncertain 21-year-old again, standing tentatively on the precipice of adulthood for the first time.

However, this isn’t the same timid youth who arrived here years ago. He’s older and, hopefully, wiser. The student life in Delft has been a treasure trove of invaluable lessons, guiding stars as he navigates the uncharted waters of the future. And though the parting may sometimes feel like a melancholic symphony, it’s also a song of gratitude and enlightenment, a sweet, enduring melody of the days gone by.

Vishal Onkhar is from Chennai, India and pursuing his PhD on self-driving cars at TU Delft. He is an avid museum goer and chess player, but also harbours a soft spot in his heart for dancing and petting cats. He doesn’t drink coffee, but good books, music, and film have the same effect on him.

Columnist Vishal Onkhar

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