Hrishikesh Salunkhe is a PhD student studying Embedded Systems. Originally from just outside Mumbai, India, this 25-year-old now finds himself living in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Why? Because, he says, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) is one of the best technical universities in the world.[media:factfile]
“I was looking for really good universities in the field. And I only found two or three in the world which were really high quality. One was in California and the other was Eindhoven. And in India they don’t really have a good infrastructure for embedded systems.”
Senoir students from Hrishikesh’s home town recommended Eindhoven for the education, but also because of the people and the language.
“They told me everybody here was really friendly. They have Dutch as their mother tongue, but it’s not really mandatory for us to speak it – unlike other European countries. So I don’t really see any point in going to California.”
Strong ties to industry
Hrishikesh says another factor in favor of the school was its strong ties to industry, specifically regarding the “High Tech Campus”.
“It’s an industrial area with 80-90 companies which collaborate with the university. That was one of the factors because I wanted to do a master’s, but I also wanted to have some kind of future after that. And I think this university ranked first in the world in research collaborations with industry. And then you know that you can easily get a job afterwards. There are also great opportunities for research funding, not only from the government, but also from different companies.”
And the opportunities for collaboration are more than just working for one of these companies. Hrishikesh says his professors are also very much involved in the industry.
“Currently I’m working with professors who have a huge influence in the field of embedded systems. So for me it’s really a thing of pride that I’m working with the people who are the best in the world.”
Indian-inspired Dutch food?
While many people might choose California for the weather alone, Hrishikesh says, after almost two and a half years, he’s used to it now. In fact, he’s had to get used to a lot of Dutch things.
“When I arrived there was an intro programme arranged by TU/e. There I had Dutch cheese and bread morning, afternoon, and evening. I really thought: should I change my decision and go back to India?! It took me a couple months to get used to it, but now I really like Dutch cheese and I keep trying other different foods like stampot [mashed potatoes with other vegetables and sometimes sausage]. When I tried it the first time I didn’t like it, but now I really like it! Whatever it is, if it really becomes part of your life, you start loving it. So it took some time to get used to it, but it’s part of life now.”
Even with his new love of stampot, beer and Dutch cookies, Hrishikesh admits that he still misses Indian food, partly because local “Indian” restaurants don’t cook “the real thing”. But he’s learned to cook himself and has even made some interesting fusion dishes, like Indian-inspired stampot. “I asked some Dutch friends to try it and they really loved it!”
Another Dutch thing that Hrishikesh has happily embraced is the bicycle.
“I used to cycle when I was a kid, then I got my own motorcycle. But I really like the idea to go green. Because it’s not only good for the earth, but it’s good for your health. And since it’s a flat land it’s ideal for commuting!”
How to be Dutch
When it comes to the Dutch, Hrishikesh says they live up to their stereotype of being direct. But, he says, then “you really know what you lack and that’s going to help you to improve”. On the other hand, he says, he hasn’t experienced the well-known Dutch frugality.
“Maybe one of the most important things is that they speak English. Not only because they can, but because they really want you to be in a comfort zone. Which is not like other countries such as Germany or France. Even some older people who might not speak much English really try and I think that’s a respectable thing because they really care and want to help you.”
In fact, Hrishikesh was surprised many times at how helpful the Dutch are. “People just approach when you need help – you don’t even have to ask.” He was also surprised at how much the Dutch love their agendas.
“They plan everything beforehand. In India people don’t plan that much and they are generally not on time. And Dutch are so punctual! Always. Even if you just want to have a get together with Dutch people you have to have an appointment. It sounds weird but it works. Because you know that you’re going to meet on that day and at exactly that time.”
When asked about the main difference between studying in India and studying in Eindhoven, Hrishikesh points to both the modern approach to teaching and the state of the art equipment.
“In India, because it’s a developing country, the kind of syllabus they design is a bit different. A bit older. And here they always have state of the art syllabi and devices. Here they already want to upgrade a device that’s only couple of years old because they want to be at the top.”
And, he adds, the quality of teachers is very different. “Here professors are really bastions of knowledge; you just have to ask them. But in India you’re never really sure whether they have that knowledge. That’s also a problem.”
But student life isn’t only about studying… it’s also about making friends and, yes, partying. Hrishikesh says you don’t have to go to Amsterdam for an active nightlife – the pubs in downtown Eindhoven really come to life in the weekends. But there are a lot of activities on campus too.
“The campus is really lively. You have a lot of student committees. I’m part of at least three or four committees, for example one where international people get together to celebrate whatever they want – like birthdays, eating food from different countries, or watching movies form different countries. So not only do you study, but you also enjoy life and understand different countries and different cultures.”
Housing is often a concern for international students, but Hrishikesh says it was all arranged by the university. In fact, he and four friends from India asked to be put together in one house and have lived together for the last two years.
Even though he lived with fellow Indians, Hrishikesh says he’s still managed to meet people from pretty much every European and Asian country at the university. But what about making friends with the Dutch? He admits that can be a bit more difficult.
“Dutch students can be a bit closed if they are in a Dutch group. But if they’re with internationals, they’re as international as other people. If you’re in a Dutch group you might sometimes feel sidelined. So you can’t really get into a Dutch group, but you can get into an international group with Dutch people. But if you know Dutch, it’s not a problem. Even if you understand Dutch it’s not a problem.”
Paying for it all
While Hrishikesh carries on about how great the school is, he does admit that the cost could be prohibitive for many foreign students. “If I convert euros to rupees it’s quite expensive. In India I would have spent around 1,000 euros for a year of my master’s, but here I spent 9000 euros.” And, says Hrishikesh, living expenses are about two to five times more expensive here in the Netherlands than in India. “So yeah. It was quite expensive. But if I stop converting that into rupees it’s ok.”
Hrishikesh says, at least for now, he plans to stay in the Netherlands to do his PhD. And then hopefully to work as a research assistant or even a professor. “I got a lot of knowledge from the people here so I really feel that I should also give something back. It will take a lot of time but I really want to contribute to this country before leaving.” Also, he adds, it’s just a great place to live. “Apart from weather I think it’s fantastic. And once you get used to that it’s even more fantastic.”