Perspectives on Olin from The Netherlands

Exchange students on campus add cultural diversity and new perspectives to the Olin Community. This fall, Olin welcomed seven exchange students from The Netherlands, France and Belgium. The following questions and answers provide an image of how these students feel about their opportunity to study at Olin. Thank you, Florian and Jai, for your thoughtful responses and your insights on the novel educational experience of Olin, valued cultural traditions you left behind in the Netherlands, and much more.
1. Tell us a bit about how you found Olin and why you wanted to study here?
Jai: My home institution of University College Twente in the Netherlands has an academic model similar to that of Olin. I wanted to use the semester abroad opportunity offered by my college to not only further develop my engineering skills and knowledge but also explore educational frameworks best suited to preparing me for the complexity of global engineering challenges. After talking to professors and advisors at my college about Olin, I was convinced that it was the best fit for me.
Florian: Olin College of Engineering is not only one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the United States of America. Olin also has an educational model that is most likely to teach you the skills you expect to learn when you go to college.
Can you tell us about your academic experience at Olin so far?
Jai: I had high expectations of the academic rigor at Olin. While I had expected many similarities in the collaborative, project-based learning approach of Olin and Twente, I was pleasantly surprised by the efficacy of learning even highly technical subjects through exploration rather than traditional instruction. I enjoy the freedom to determine my own learning path, so I find my courses challenging and stimulating. The instructors are very approachable, and they provide the needed academic support so that I feel confident in myself in exploring a subject.
Florian: So far, I have really been enjoying my courses. Of course, given that the University I attended in the Netherlands was largely modeled after Olin College’s educational strategy, the way education works at Olin was not exactly new to me; however, at the University of Twente I really missed the competitive aspect of work. At Olin competition is not about beating each other, but it is about continually improving your work and yourself. Because there is some sort of numerical reflection of your performance, liberal though this may be, I feel that Olin does a better job of maintaining the drive to improve than the UT.
2. Can you tell us about life outside the classroom?
Jai: Olin has a very warm and friendly community. I find it amazing that you can strike a conversation with anybody, be it sitting in the dining hall, walking to the residence halls, or out playing on the fields. It is a pleasure being part of such a closely-knit community. I’m also planning on exploring the beautiful countryside and national parks in the New England area on weekends and breaks this semester with other Oliners.
Florian: Life outside the classroom is a bit different from what I expected. For instance, at Olin everyone can be who they are and, even though we are all peculiar in our own ways, everyone is accepted and welcomed into the community. I definitely think this is fueled by the size of Olin. The college at the UT I went to is about half the size of Olin, and I think in this sense the community is too small to maintain a truly open and accepting environment.
3. Do you think studying in the US will ultimately help you achieve what you want to do professionally?
Jai: The US is an undisputed world leader in higher education. Colleges and universities are not only well connected with industry and its needs but also driving a lot of the innovation in science and engineering in the US. Olin and this small region of Massachusetts with its many prestigious universities has many opportunities to connect with exciting ideas and projects in research and industry. With my novel engineering education at Olin, I am certain I will be better equipped to tackle complex real-world challenges and build my career in the challenging field of materials engineering and Nanotechnology.
Florian: Currently I am looking to explore the relatively novel field of combining urban engineering with health sciences to optimize living standards in cities across the globe. Relatively open learning environments such as the one offered at Olin enable me to learn the skills and gain the technical knowledge I need to achieve this. My ambition is to apply for a mid-size to large architectural firm in the United States as a consultant urban planner after completing grad school. I firmly believe that US firms are uniquely well-positioned to make the global changes that I would like to contribute to. US firms are more or less universally looked up to around the globe, and I believe we could harness this respect to make real, lasting impact.
4. What do you miss most about Dutch culture (or your own home country culture if it’s not the Netherlands) now that you’ve been here for over a month?
Jai: Although, I was born and raised in India, studying for the past 2 years in the Netherlands has endeared the country and its culture to me, and I’m proud to represent it here at Olin. Although Olin’s culture of openness reminds me a lot of Dutch culture, I miss the almost brutal honesty of my foster home country. The Dutch are very expressive of their feelings and receptive of criticism. Instead of souring interpersonal relations, this honesty brings people closer and fosters ‘gezelligheid’. This Dutch word lacks an English translation but signifies a state a little beyond cozy, quaint and fun.
Florian: I am one of the Europeans who firmly believe in the unity of Europe. As a result, I consider myself more of a European citizen rather than specifically relating to any country in particular. The greatest difference between American and European culture I have noticed is the European tendency to take everything with a grain of salt. In Europe, people often take each other at face value.
5. Students who study abroad often talk about a turning point as they assimilate and find their way in a new country. For some, it’s about feeling comfortable speaking a new language. For others, it’s feeling immersed in the culture of their host country and enjoying their new home. Can you think of one moment that this was true for you at Olin?
Jai: I was surprised by how easy it was to connect with people at Olin and make friends. I think a more significant aspect of settling in at Olin was identifying with the mission of the college. I think the strong sense of community stems from a common belief in Olin’s model of education and the values it embodies. These values go beyond just the Honor Code and are reflected in simple things like the trust Oliners place in each other to the more abstract, enterprising ethos of the college. I’m still exploring what it means to be an Oliner, but since Olin’s core values resonate with my own, I feel like I belong here.
Florian: When I came to the United States, the biggest challenge was being confronted with the concept of “being offended”. Compared to other countries I’ve lived in, American culture tends to be about respect and acceptance; a virtue that manifests in very different ways in most other cultures I have experienced. In the beginning I was ridiculing it because it seemed like Americans were so sensitive. Now that I understand it better, it actually makes me appreciate American culture more than I already did. I think this understanding of an open culture will make my life in the United States even better than I expected; I hope this aspect of American culture will make sure that everyone in this country can be accepted and appreciated the way they are.
6. Is there something about Dutch culture or language that you would like to share with your Olin classmates?
Jai: The most important word for me in the Dutch language is ‘gezellig’ (pronounced heh-SELL-ick). As I mentioned in a previous response, it doesn’t translate well to English, but a ‘gezellig’ experience most closely signifies a fun, quaint, and cozy experience. I look forward to a gezellig time at Olin.
Florian: The Netherlands is one of the most internationally welcoming countries in Europe. Most of the education is offered in English, the official language of Amsterdam is English and most companies are also really open to employing workers from abroad for their international experience or new perspectives. If you are looking for a way to move to Europe in a country where multiple languages are considered working languages, the Netherlands is definitely your go-to place.
7. Would you encourage Olin students to spend a semester at the University of Twente or to visit you in the Netherlands?
Jai: I would most certainly encourage Olin students to spend a semester at University College Twente (the Honors College of the University of Twente). The educational model is similar to Olin’s. The semester is based on a multidisciplinary project on a real-world challenge. Students choose technical engineering as well as non-technical courses like psychology, economics or product design from across the university to customize their academic profile and contribute to the project by leveraging their unique skill set. Even if you’re not interested in a semester abroad program, the Netherlands is a beautiful country to visit. There’s a rich culture of design, enterprise, and innovation in the Netherlands beyond the tourist traps of Amsterdam. All Oliners are welcome to get in touch with me for any recommendations or questions about the University of Twente or the Netherlands in general, and I’ll be glad to help them in any way I can.
Florian: International experience is always a good to part of your curriculum. The University of Twente also offers good engineering programs to broaden the minds. Especially with the fully English education offered in the Netherlands, international students would have a great experience studying there for a semester. As for visiting me, I have no concrete plans of moving to the Netherlands any time soon. After my semester at Olin, I’ll be going to Singapore for a graduation project much like SCOPE, and I’m hoping to go to grad school in Trondheim, Norway. I also have multiple applications open with American engineering firms, so I’d probably end up getting a job in Boston, New York or Montreal. If Olin students would like to visit me in Singapore, Norway or Canada, they all know they are more than welcome to.

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