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.

Interview with Zhengyang

The following is an interview with Zhengyang Feng, an Olin exchange student from the University of Michigan – Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute.

Zhengyang comes to Olin with a solid foundation in Computer Science and is in his senior year. His hope for studying at Olin was an experience that would challenge him, help him build new skills under project-based education, and broaden his perspective on engineering.

Tell us about how you found Olin and why you wanted to study here?
I found Olin on the list of Global Engineering 3 website – GE3 is a consortium of elite engineering colleges and universities all over the world. I knew I wanted to study in the United States, and the description of Olin was very appealing. I was also familiar with a computer science faculty member from his books.

Can you tell us a little about your university in China?
Jiao Tong University was started by the Chinese (Qing) government. “Jiao Tong” means “transportation” and it was the Department of Transportation that created the school. Joint Institute is an engineering school founded by both University of Michigan and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Can you tell us about your academic experience at Olin?
It has been very positive. I am taking mostly computer science courses. Unlike at my university, the projects are designed with the user in mind and the group work is better organized at Olin.

What about life outside the classroom? Have you felt welcome at Olin?
People have been very friendly. I really like the living accommodations – the dorm is nicer than my housing in Shanghai.

Have you done any traveling?
I have visited New York City, which is like Shanghai only bigger! I have never seen a park in a city like Central Park. I also love the diversity of food there!

What has been your favorite meal in the US?
I had oysters at one of the coolest restaurants in Boston. Neptune Oyster is located in Boston’s north end. They have big delicious lobster rolls and oysters. It’s a very popular restaurant. I also went to a good Japanese restaurant in Natick, MA.

When you think about why you came to the US to study, have you achieved what you set out to do?
Yes, my courses are what I was looking for at Olin and I think my English has greatly improved. I will be coming back to the U.S. for graduate school in August.

When you think about American culture, is there anything you find weird or hard to understand?
I don’t understand names in the United States. Names have no meaning. In China, parents combine Chinese characters to make names that express their hopes and dreams for their child’s future. And names have so many meanings [here] – one example is Washington. Washington is a last name (of a U.S. president), a street in many different cities and towns and also a state. It’s confusing!

Is there something in Chinese culture you would like to share with your fellow Olin classmates?
Monkey King is a fictional character from a very popular novel in China called The Journey to the West. I think Monkey King (whose Chinese name is 孙 悟 空 Sun Wukong) is like Superman in America. He is very famous! In this picture of him, can you find the 3 characters of his name?

Would you encourage your classmates to visit you [in Shanghai]?
Yes, definitely. I can show them all around Shanghai where I go to school and also my hometown Wuxi – a city not far from Shanghai. They will need to come for one or two weeks. I live near a large scenic lake called Tai Lake, and it’s very beautiful.

Can you find these Chinese characters in this picture of Monkey King?
孙 悟 空

Interview: Meet Gwendal

In January, Olin welcomed 3 exchange students to campus for the spring semester. One of those students is Gwendal Plumier. Gwendal is an engineering student from Olin partner school KULeuven, a leading higher education and research university located in Belgium. He has come here to improve his English and his intercultural communication skills and to have the opportunity to learn from people and experiences, which is (of course) the Olin way!
How did you find Olin and why did you want to study here?
I found Olin on my institution’s website (Campus Group T, the industrial engineering wing of the University of Leuven), where there was a list of partner schools by country. I knew I wanted to study in the United States.
Tell us about your academic experience at Olin.
I chose 3 project-based courses at Olin which is a learning method not widely offered at my institution. I believe engineering is much more than just mathematics and scientific courses. You can have an unrivalled idea but without good communication with your team and investors, your idea will not see the light of day. I think studying at an American institution will help me improve my presentation and networking skills to help me launch a successful career.
How is life outside the classroom? Did you feel welcomed to Olin when you arrived?
From the first day on campus, I have felt welcomed to the Olin community. Some students were especially welcoming and consequently I met many students very quickly. I really like suite life and it has offered me the opportunity to become familiar with American culture through my suitemates.
When you reflect on why you came to the U.S. to study, do you feel you are accomplishing your goals?
The experience of working on projects that have a real world impact has exceeded my expectation. I have learned so much from meeting with people who would benefit from my group project. And I believe my English has improved because I am immersed in the language in my classes and dorm life.
Is there any part of Belgian culture that you miss?
Leuven is a very much a university town with lots of outdoor cafes and places to have a drink or coffee with your friends. That is one thing I miss but little else since I am so busy and enjoying myself at Olin.
Would you encourage Olin students to spend a semester at KULeuven or to visit you in Belgium?
Yes, definitely. Belgium is in the center of Europe and a very international place. It is the home of Stella Artois beer, excellent Belgium chocolate, and is known for its beautiful medieval towns and Renaissance architecture. With a population of over 11 million people, the country has distinctive ethnic regions including Dutch-speaking Flanders to the north, French-speaking Wallonia to the south and a German-speaking community to the east. My institution is the best engineering school in Belgium. It is only 20 minutes by train from Brussels, the capital. For students interested in international politics, Brussels is home to numerous international organizations. It is the de facto capital of the EU and the headquarters of NATO.

Build Your Global Resume

In January, 13 students left Olin’s campus behind to explore academic opportunities in other countries; specifically Argentina, Hungary, Singapore, Germany, South Korea, Spain, Ireland, England and Scotland. Concurrently, Olin welcomed exchange students from China, Belgium, and Singapore.

Olin has worked hard to build strong partnerships with foreign institutions in places like South Korea, Germany, France, Belgium and Singapore. We’ve tried to make it easier for you to find a program that is a good fit given your academic goals and/or preferred destination. For specific guidance about how to plan your study away, visit our webpage and let us know your initial thoughts about where and when. We can walk you through the application process whether you want to fulfill your AHS concentration while abroad or take classes in engineering and sustainability.

Some study away providers and programs that we recommend checking out include:

API Abroad Many Olin students have travelled all over the world on API programs from Argentina and the UK, to Italy, France and Spain. They offers programs in over two dozen locations throughout the world: in Asia, Europe, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand to name a few. If language acquisition is one of your goals for study away, API offers high quality language and culture programs for all levels of language learners in Spanish and French. Take a look at their website at
IES Abroad boasts over 65 years of experience in short and long term study abroad and has 34 locations around the world. From Multiculturalism and Immigration in the Mediterranean to Paris Business and International Affairs, IES courses are taught by well-credentialed professors at prestigious institutions. Check out their blog at to see what students are saying about their programs and experiences.

DIS From Global Economics and International Relations to Sustainability and Architecture & Design, DIS offers a wide variety of courses that are taught by academic, military and political experts. The programs are in two locations (Stockholm and Copenhagen) and offer many different housing options that provide students with meaningful cultural engagement. Go to for more information.

IFSA Butler offers future-focused study abroad programs that include world-class academics and community-based learning for students who want to make a difference in the world and enhance their intercultural skills. They offer more than 100 programs in 53 cities in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Check out

AIT in Hungary began, like Olin, with the goal of shaking up undergraduate electrical and computer engineering education. Hungary takes great pride in its rich tradition of excellence in mathematics and computing. AIT is specifically designed for computer science and software engineering students. Courses are taught in English in by well-known scholars, designers and entrepreneurs that emphasize innovation, interactivity and creativity. Centrally located in the heart of Europe, Budapest provides easy access to other countries if travel is a priority for you. Check out the program at

Global E3 Because of the demand for engineering graduates with international perspectives, a group of leading universities around the world established Global E3 over 20 years ago. Olin is part of this highly-selective consortium of engineering programs. If you want to study engineering on your study away, then start your search with the Global E3 network. You can search for a member institution in one of the 23 countries listed on their at

Whether you are looking to study abroad to broaden your view of the world, be immersed in a new and unfamiliar culture, or to build your resume and/or portfolio to be a grand-challenge scholar, come see us in the Student Affairs office. We can help.

Interview with German Students

Exchange Students
Frankly Speaking

The following are excerpts from Student Affairs’ interview with Olin German exchange students Felix Eberhardt and Christian Lichter. Both students’ home institution is OTH Regensburg – University of Applied Sciences in Regensburg, Germany.

Tell us a bit about how you found Olin and why you wanted to study here?

Christian: I was very interested in Olin because of its project-based approach to learning.
Felix: I always wanted to study abroad in the US. Luckily OTH Regensburg had a partnership with such a great institution like Olin which made the application process much easier. Because of this, I decided to come to Olin without the slightest hesitation.

Can you tell us about your academic experience at Olin?

Christian: In general I am very pleased with the academic experience although it is more time- consuming than at Regensburg. It’s a much more informal learning atmosphere.
Felix: It’s a very different experience. At Regensburg, there are over 11,000 students in the University of Applied Sciences and another 23,000 in other faculties at the university. If you have a question about an assignment, you would never call the professor as you might at Olin. It’s a lot more formal and we don’t call our professors by their first names.

Can you tell us about life outside the classroom?

Christian: I look forward to rock climbing in the US. There are several students at Olin who do it regularly. I enjoy hiking and rock climbing at home in Germany. Regensburg is close to the Alps.
Felix: I play on the club basketball team at Babson and we have a lot of competitive games. At home in Regensburg, I play semi-pro basketball every weekend.

When you think about why you came to the US to study, have you achieved what you set out to do?

Christian: Yes, I had always wanted to study in the US to broaden my perspective and build my global resume. I was motivated to pursue this because of my apprenticeship in software engineering at a hospital in Germany.
Felix: I am hoping to improve my English while I am here as well as gain a new perspective on technical problem sets. That is my goal.

What do you miss most about German culture now that you’ve been here for 3 months?

Christian and Felix: Freshly baked bread, or brot in German!

Students who study abroad often talk about a point in time when they changed. 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 pick out one moment during the semester that was a turning point for you and your time here at Olin?

Christian: That was not the case for me. I have been enjoying it here since the first day I arrived.
Felix: I felt comfortable from the first day at Olin. The hardest part, in the beginning, was meeting so many new people and getting to know them, but everyone was really friendly and always tried to include me as much as possible. I made some really good friends very quickly who took care of me and helped me find my way in a new university in a foreign country.

Could you describe a “low point” or what has been most difficult during your time at Olin?

Christian: I got sick and had to go back and forth to the health services center for medication.
Felix: Missing my family and my girlfriend, but they are coming to visit me for Thanksgiving break.

Is there something about German culture or language that you would like to share with your fellow Olin classmates?

Christian and Felix: If you visit Bavaria, where Regensburg is, servus (pronounced zair wus) means hello and goodbye.

Would you encourage your classmates to spend a semester at Regensburg or to visit you?

Christian: Yes, definitely. There are three rivers flowing through the town, one of them is called Regen which gave Regensburg its name. Also around Regensburg, there are a lot of climbing rocks. And public transportation is very good; the bus comes every 10 minutes and you can get anywhere in or near the city very easily.
Felix: Definitely! Try and go in the spring or summer (April to August are the best months). Regensburg is one of the oldest cities in Germany (2500 years old). This UNESCO World Heritage city is filled with young people (35,000 students among its 160,000 inhabitants). There are lots of good (and, compared to Boston, cheap) restaurants and beer gardens. Many big companies (BMW, Audi, Siemens, Continental, and Krones to name a few) have offices in Regensburg. If you’re into soccer, Jahn Regensburg plays in the German second division. Other big cities in Germany are easily (and cheaply) accessible from Regensburg by public transportation: Munich (1.5 hrs), Prague (3 hrs), Vienna (4 hrs), and Berlin (5 hrs).

Drawing by Hadleigh Nunes