ISTANBUL – AN INFINITE DIMENSIONS!

By Arpit Rathi
Electrical Engineering, fifth year
Boğaziçi University, Turkey (Autumn 2015-16)

Intro – With a lot of faded memories and a lot of cherished ones, I write this article about my experience of semester exchange program at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul more than a year ago during the Fall term, 2015-16. I went there with 3 of my batch-mates (Shubham Singhal, Kashish Sottany & Kanishk Khandelwal) from the same department. And we were the only 4 Indians among more than 400 exchange students at the university coming in from different parts of the world. If you’re someone who is considering to go for an exchange program to Istanbul, this would be a good read.

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All in one frame!

City– Istanbul has a rich history and the place is full of ancient monuments. It’s a great combo of both architectural & natural beauty and a blend of both western & eastern cultures. If you’re a party animal you’re at the right place. If you’re a spiritual seeker, you’re again at the right place. Not only does it resides people with both modern and conservative ideologies together, but in fact, Istanbul is the only city in the world that embraces two different continents – Europe and Asia.

Transport– The public transport is well furnished and economical with a large number of buses, taxis, metro and trams running through the city, but the most amazing experience is that of riding a Ferryboat. With such a variety of options for intra-city transport, travel is always easy and fun in Istanbul.

Food– Although there are plenty of restaurants around the university serving a variety of delicious food, if you’re a vegetarian, life would be a little difficult unless you know how to cook. But if you’re a non-vegetarian, you’re in absolute heaven!

University– The University occupies a huge landmass that is distributed over 6 different campuses. The main campus is near Bosphorus and has a beautiful scenic view and gives you an additional incentive to wake up and go to school every morning. One of the other campuses that is although quite far, has its own private beach. Apart from this, if you’re an animal lover, you’ll find a lot of cats and dogs all around the campus that enjoys the privilege of being common pets for everyone in the university.

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The Bosphorous view from South Campus

Students– In the university you’d find people from diverse backgrounds passionate about different fields of study like History, Political Science, Languages, etc. Interacting with them would give you a very different perspective in life and would help you grow as an individual and broaden your horizons.

Academics– All of us registered for a good number of credits. I took 7 courses, most of them being graduate level. Contrary to our expectations, there was a lot of coursework filled with assignments, projects and exams. And there was no getting away from the fact that we were only on a partial vacation. The academic standards were par excellence and the courses were structured really well. None the less we being IITians managed everything quite efficiently and in fact all of us performed a lot better than how we usually did over here.

People (Language) – The weather in Istanbul can be pretty cold with snowfalls but the people in Istanbul are always warm-hearted and welcoming to the visitors. Although the university students speak English as their second language, most of the natives speak only Turkish. Thankfully we have Google Translate for the rescue and we could easily get our way around in shops and malls. But learning some basic Turkish could prove really handy in day to day affairs.

People (Sports) – Turkish people are huge football enthusiasts. The 3 big football clubs in the country namely Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray which have a great rivalry are all based in Istanbul. You could literally feel the energy in all the cafes whenever there is a contest going on. As cricket is for India, Football is for Turkey. Enough said.

People (Culture) – Conversing over a cup of Turkish ‘Çay’ is a widely popular social custom. And apart from Football, people over there like to have discussions on differences in international cultures which are really illuminating. Although, some people might possess strong religious and political views and carry a spirit of nationalism but most of them embrace the differences in beliefs in a positive spirit. As a piece of advice, when it comes to religious or political conversations, diplomacy goes a long way.

Travel & Nightlife– Weekends are always fun as there are numerous parties organised across the city targeted specifically for the exchange students. Also, there are a lot of trips that are organized to some of the most amazing places in Turkey like İzmir, Pamukkale, Cappadocia, etc. which I’d highly recommend to be a part of. Apart from that, if you have time, money and a visa at the same time, it’s not a bad idea to explore Europe as well. Unfortunately for us, we just had the “plan” for that.

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Me in Pamukkale

Safety– Probably the only dark side of visiting Turkey is recurring terrorist threats. I’d advise you to carefully analyse the political situation of the country once before you decide to go. Thankfully, our visit was pretty much peaceful.

Concluding– I’d like to conclude by saying that for once during your college journey, get out of the game of grades for a while. Have an open mind. Explore. And I assure you that you’d be a lot wiser when you return!

 

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A semester in Sweden (And the whole Europe :p )

By Manoj Saini Kataria
Energy Engineering, fourth year
Mälardalen University, Sweden(Autumn 2016-17)

 

The Decision

I never thought that I can go abroad for studies. But I always wanted to learn as much as I can and I found myself in that position when I was in my 6th semester. So I tried first to go abroad for summer internship but I could not. Then I got a mail from Prof. Suryanarayana Doolla for sending two students from my department for semester exchange. I was so confused that should I apply or not but finally I replied him approving for an exchange.

Why MDH?

As I said that I just wanted to learn some things so for me it did not matter where I was going. But after I heard about it I wanted to go to all Europe to experience the lifestyle and weather and to adapt myself to a new culture.

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The Application 

This is (quite frankly) the worst part of the whole process. But due to my internship in ABB Bangalore I did not participate physically in any application process, my friend and batchmate Rushil Modi who was going with me did it for both of us. Course mapping can test the patience of a saint and I was no saint. Through a whole lot of chrome tabs with the detailed descriptions of courses offered at the 2 concerned universities and infinite hair pulling moments of frustration, I finally nailed down a prospective list of 5 courses out of which I would finally take 2. The road is smooth sailing post that; a couple of signatures, stamps and an application form later I was done with this till MDH sent back a confirmation of the exchange. Once the confirmation arrived, there were a host of things to do regarding the flights, accommodation and visa, most of which MDH guides the student through quite competently.

Problems before going

As I mentioned that I was going through my department professor first time from our university to MDH Sweden. So there was problem regarding scholarship time period. If you will spend 8-9 week before sept 31 then only you are eligible for scholarship (LP program). But we did not know that earlier and my visa also got delayed. So in the end we got to know that we were not getting any scholarship. This news was very bad for me as I had little financial support. As soon as I told this to my parents they were ready to sell our agricultural fields for me but I requested to SBI Bank manager for urgent loan of Rs. 5 lakhs. After requests and persuasion I got the approval for loan. I will never forget him. He approved that loan at the last day of his job in SBI Powai.pic-2

Sweden

You will not believe but Sweden is too good to live for a lifetime. There was no crowd, no pollution and so much comfort with well established transportation. People were so nice there. I joined 2 volleyball clubs there and I got in touch with lots of people. They used to invite me in their homes also. I became coach in one of the clubs to train all Erasmus student. From other clubs, every Saturday we used to go to play volleyball tournament in different cities. I also learnt Swedish dance BUG (similar to salsa) which is amazing.  I also learnt knitting which helped me in time pass during my traveling in different cities. I finally ended up knitting 2 caps  and 3 mufflers.

I also had great experience of flying airplane with my friend.

Festivals

When you are in different country we always look forward to celebrate their festivals and cultural activity. Luckily in my semester exchange I had good experience of Christmas and famous Lucia concert (in the photo the girl holding candle is acting as Lucia). Also I had 2-3 volleyball family who always invited me for Christmas special food and dishes.

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Academic

There is so much difference in studies abroad and what we have here. I bought lots of notebooks and pens but as soon as lectures started I heard that I have to submit assignment reports by writing on word or Latex. I never wrote earlier all those equations and reports like that. I asked prof to write in paper and submit but he refused. I took 2 courses and Swedish language. I couldn’t follow up with Swedish language and I had to leave it. But I did learn some Swedish. The lectures were 2 hours long with break in between. Attendance was not compulsory at all so I travelled a lot. Regarding the work, even we had no background of coding then also we had to do everything on some software. So we learned Matlab, Ebsilon, TPP 200, PVsyst, Excel, Word, Open Modelica, GAMs, etc. Also they focused more on working by self-based on literature study instead of teaching all that in class.

Trips

I never visited like that in India. I visited 16 countries in only 4 months. All my Sweden professors and friends were asking if I came for travel or studies. In the life if you want to learn something then travelling is the best option. I learnt different cultures, different actions of talking with different people and how a relationship works for all life. There are lots of stories or memories that we got in every country.

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Coming Back

This the time when you feel sad (for leaving such an amazing place) and happy (to be back to homeland) together.

Summary

Do not feel yourself that you cannot get this kind of opportunity. My English was very very bad and even then I spent the best time of my life. Your thoughts and views of living life will completely change after that. Please get yourself ready to get this feeling. This is the best opportunity IIT can provide!

I found myself!!

By Shruti Madavi
Energy Engineering, fourth year
Exchange to University of Ottawa, Canada (Autumn 2016-17)

What started as a mere attempt to try my luck became one of the best things that life could offer me. Right from my 1st year I knew quite a bunch of people who had gone for a semester exchange to some or the other country but I had myself never applied for one. The thought of applying struck when I was helping a close friend prepare for his semester abroad. By the time I decided to apply, deadlines for few of the funded – exchange programs were already past and I didn’t want to spend a lot from my pocket. I finally landed up in OMG (Ontario-Maharashtra-Goa) Student Exchange Program funded by Ontario Universities International (It is under renewal at the moment). Under the program, I got into the University of Ottawa.

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The Prep

Two things that scared me were the fact that I am a vegetarian and the cold in Canada. To cut down my expenditures, I decided to rent an apartment and cook by myself. Fortunately, I knew how to cook!! Being my first international trip, the pre-exchange period was mostly spent in anxiety and excitement at the same time. As the day came near, it turned into more of anxiety, for all I knew something big was coming into my life.

 

Now that I reached Canada

Adapting to the new climate, culture and practices took a few weeks but was not difficult since Canada is a very welcoming country. This was also reflected in my University which hosted many International students from all parts of the world. The buddies introduced by the University International Office made sure we were adapting in the best possible manner. Activities by the students’ association ranged from Drag Shows to a Welcome Party for exchange students in a pub located inside the campus. I attended almost all of them. During each event, I met a new group of people who later became my friends. Every new person I met in Canada had their own story to tell, own experiences to share. I shared mine. This is when it struck me. All these years, I never made an effort to step up and talk to people. Back in IITB, my group was limited to certain people. Meeting new people and knowing their stories had become my favourite thing. The key to adapt is to have an open mind towards everything. Try to look at things the way people around you see it. Understand their reasons for the same. And you will know, there are numerous perceptions for the same thing.

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University and Academics:

University of Ottawa offers courses in both English and French. Most of my University friends were from Social Sciences stream. Almost all buildings inside the campus are connected with underground and overhead tunnels which made it quite convenient for us to traverse through buildings during snowfall. I did not find much difference in teaching methods except for the surprise elements that IITB professors introduce in many of the courses. Attendance as professors say, are mandatory but never taken during the lectures. You know what happens then. Exams are quite easier compared to IIT Bombay. I took a product development course at uOttawa where our team designed a joystick mouse controller for a client in Ottawa with accessibility issues.

Travel Diaries

Like everyone else, I had also prepared a long travel checklist. While most of the weekdays were spent in lectures and local events in Ottawa, I reserved my weekend for the trips and house parties. I visited Toronto and Niagara Falls in the first week of October. Toronto is ornamented with the most famous CN Tower. The downtown comprising of enormous skyscrapers on the shores gave a mind-blowing view of the skyline from the Toronto Islands. I never thought I would get a chance to see Niagara Falls for real. Thousands of gallons of water per second falling from 70 feet cliff left me overwhelmed. While I was on the boat ride to the awesome falls, it clicked me, “nature can be beautiful and scary at the same time”. The Falls looked more beautiful at night with colourful lights projected on them. Ottawa and other major cities in Ontario have a RideShare system where you can offer or ask for a ride to nearby cities. I had found my cheapest way of transport. I visited a friend from India in Montreal and we made an impromptu trip to Kingston and The Thousand Islands. Amidst all these trips, one of my favourites was solo trip to Quebec City. No matter where you go, you got to take a solo trip. Quebec is the French-speaking province of Canada. A Canadian couple heading to Quebec City offered me a ride through RideShare. Every time I met Canadians, I was introduced to a new culture or practice in Canada. It became a never ending exploration of Canadian culture which was also different in different provinces. Quebec City for example is referred to as capital of New France. Beautifully covered with the historic buildings and hotels, Old Quebec City had drawn out my love for ancient culture. History of French invaders who set up French colonies makes Quebec City quite dominant in French culture. However, I made my way through the city where everything was written in French and very few people spoke English. I felt proud of myself. By the end of October, I had developed immense love for travelling. Thanks to the exchange!

I had become a Canadian by then

Of all the people I met in Canada, almost half of them were through house parties. House parties had become an integral part of my life back in Canada. One thing I miss the most about those 4 months is the house parties and all the levels of craziness we reached in each of them. The most amazing part was that you need not necessarily know the host; everyone was welcome – friend, friend’s friend and so on. Mid of November had already started to trouble me with the cold. However, I loved the snowfall – smooth and fierce. Freezing rains made guest appearances from time to time. Within a week, I had developed a habit of checking weather before leaving home since the temperature varied to a large extent across the day. Fortunate enough to see with naked eyes, I was fascinated by the intricate designs of the snowflakes. My friend, Natalie and I somehow attended events almost every day. If not, we had our own gym sessions. I had become a fitness-freak. But at times, there were days when either of us got homesick (I was more) when we used to go for Pizza..

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What’s New?

Halloween came with a surprise when our course instructor dressed up as a rockstar. He gave the entire lecture holding a guitar. Well he was disappointed because he dressed up as a rockstar and we showed up in normal boring attire! I spent Thanksgiving with a Canadian family in the countryside. They had made vegetarian dishes just for me. One thing I liked the most about Canadians is their welcoming nature. Christmas however, was on our own. I and my other friends decided for a potluck dinner for Christmas. Being a social work enthusiast, I did not spare a chance to participate in #SlutWalkOttawa to support protest against body shaming and rape culture.

End of an era

The thought of leaving Canada started striking me hard towards the start of December. I bid hardest of the goodbyes to the friends I may not meet ever again, the friends who had changed my life for good. Now when I look back at those 4 months, I think applying for semester exchange is one of the best decisions I made till now. Not because, I spent 4 months with awesomeness but it introduced me to my own self. It made me bold enough to express what I feel and be confident about it. It gave me a better understanding of my beliefs and my aspirations. I look at life through a whole new lens now. This is what semester exchange does to a person I guess.

Amidst all the people I met in Canada, I found myself

Cheers to new life, new me!

Four months of bliss-Danish diaries

By Moin Khan
Chemical Engineering DD, fourth year
Exchange to DTU, Denmark (Autumn 2016-17)

Going for an exchange was something I had never thought of until the starting of my sixth semester at IITB. At that time, I was trying mainly to procure a univ intern in an area related to my previous research experience, so that I could build upon my interests. After finally succeeding in getting one at NUS, I started looking at options available for me to explore in my seventh semester. I had spoken with past exchange students and also a friend of mine who went on exchange in the same semester, and figured out that this was something that I could really look forward to. I already had plans of converting to dual degree as I believed that doing a year-long project would help me decide whether or not to go for a PhD later. After making up my mind, I started searching for universities and having a look at their course catalogues.

During course mapping, my focus was to match at least a couple of core courses, so as to save myself from the pain of doing them later. While searching the DTU course base, I was quite fortunate in getting a lab course mapped too, which happens quite rarely to be honest. In addition to this, DTU offers a scholarship to exchange students in collaboration with Novozymes, an enzyme industry in Denmark. One is eligible to avail it provided he/she is willing to take up two to three courses in industrial biotechnology. Having some previous background in biology gives you an upper hand, in case of a lot of applications. I had a sound experience in bio related research due to my project at IITB and later at NUS, so getting the scholarship was not much of a problem. The scholarship that I received pretty much covered the expenses of my stay in Denmark, including flight, visa and travelling across Europe. All exchange related queries are handled by Vanita Singh, MSc admissions officer at DTU. She is quite helpful and guided us smoothly over the three week long application process, starting from submitting department approved course map to finally receiving acceptance and scholarship approval letter.

Having said about my initial enthusiasm and application procedure, it’s time to write about the real part-experiences! Getting into a new university somewhat made me feel like a freshman again, in the sense that you make new friends all over again, finding your way to reach places and exploring a completely different set-up. Add to it, the buddy programme at DTU which is similar to the student mentorship programme we have at IIT. The buddy groups are strategically formed and includes exchange students from different parts of the world. Each group is taken care of, by a senior student from DTU and he/she makes sure that we don’t have any problem in adjusting to a new place. My group had people from every continent and the introduction week at DTU was a lot of fun with a whole set of new friends, exploring a wide range of activities planned by DTU. I had an amazing buddy group and we continued to hang out throughout the semester. I was also shocked by the intense party culture over there, and the fact that the college campus itself had a few bars :p People don’t really need reasons to celebrate, and some parties are organised by DTU itself.

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I was allocated accommodation within the DTU campus, so I saved time and money involved in travelling back and forth for classes, unlike a lot of students who live quite far away. The place where I lived was like a global village which mainly hosted the international exchange students. The place was divided into several containers with each one having 10 rooms, the residents sharing kitchen and laundry facilities. It isn’t quite affordable to eat out in Denmark on a daily basis, so everyone used to cook their own food. I started as a novice in this department, but became a pro cook gradually :p Going for shopping regularly and planning everyday meal was an added responsibility, something which you are least bothered about in your home university. There are a few Indian stores in Copenhagen, so getting necessary food ingredients was not a problem, though they sold everything at very high prices.

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Speaking about Denmark, I feel that it is one of the best countries to live in with the people so nice, everything so beautiful, and things working out quite hassle-free and peacefully. I loved the biking culture over here and most of the people using public transport, which speaks volumes about how much people care for their environment. I used to bike my way to places as far as 15 km, just because of the fact that the journey itself used to be very enjoyable, with fellow citizens riding alongside on a separate biking lane. During August and September, the place was all green and warm with daylight till 10 pm. With time, the colours changed from green to yellow to orange to red, and finally no leaves in December. By the time I left Denmark, the weather had become all grey with occasional
snowfalls. My dream of having a snowy Christmas, however did not come true :p .

Studying at DTU was quite different as compared to what we have here. Here, more focus is laid on working in groups which promotes team-work and creative thinking. Courses did not have mid-term examinations or quizzes, which made life a bit easy. But it was compensated by assignments which involved extensive literature survey, and made us think beyond the course textbooks. The professors were very friendly and always eager to help, with the lectures being easy to follow. Some courses had all their weightage assigned to end term examinations (the assignments and groups being just for learning), something which I did not appreciate, as I wasn’t used to working hard for something which would not earn me any credit :p

Coming to my travel diaries, I managed to set foot in 10 European countries and was
amazed how different they all were in so many aspects. We started with attending la
Tomatina in Spain, and ended with celebrating Christmas in Prague. We made the most of a long Autumn break, doing a 7 day road trip in Iceland, followed by visiting Italy. Apart from this, I travelled to other countries like Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Hungary etc on extended weekends (I had off on Fridays, so used to ditch classes on Monday to make a 4 day trip :p). I had developed interest in photography in my third year, and travelling made me explore my hobby to the fullest. I found immense joy in navigating my way through Google maps, and capturing anything and everything that caught the eye. I could write endlessly about my travel experiences and meeting people on the way, more on that later sometime.

This exchange programme at DTU changed me in ways I never expected to see within
myself. It enabled me to witness a world so different from mine, showing how large and
diverse the planet is, which was indeed an enriching experience. Living for 4.5 months n a
different country has made me independent, contrary to the initial nervousness, and I
believe I can now live anywhere in the world by managing my resources. It has been an
unforgettable experience for me, and I will cherish the moments that I spent here forever.

Do I feel Swedish yet?

By Dikshant Chauhan
Energy Engineering, fourth year
Exchange to KTH Royal, Sweden (Autumn 2016-17)

Pre-exchange events

4th March 2015, I was outside my HOD’s office trying to get Warsaw University of Technology in Poland approved for my 5th semester. I failed terribly as I can say I did not do my homework on when to apply for semester exchange. Although I was determined to go abroad in some university preferably funded but that time it didn’t work out. I attended the exchange 101 session the next semester and thought I have to be on the other side of the platform, addressing the audience as a speaker (and I did succeed). By March 2016 I was done with the approval of courses by Department Undergraduate Committee (DUGC) of not one but three universities. These were University of Toronto (Canada), KTH Royal University (Sweden) and Denmark Technical University (DTU, Denmark) in the order of preference. The following things happened by the end of April:

News 1: I got nominated for UofT.

News 2: My application was rejected by UofT because they wanted less number of exchange students.

News 3: I got nominated for KTH and got the acceptance letter.

I had a great support from the international relations office in carrying out further procedures which eventually took me to Sweden.

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Getting there

Right after my internship in Pune I went to my hometown, stayed there for a while and flew from New Delhi to Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden. I have heard that Scandinavian countries were the happiest places on earth and I was not disappointed at all.

Fortunately I had the student accommodation from the university and unfortunately, Sweden is one of the most expensive places in Europe to live. As I was funding myself I had to be prepared on every aspect of expenses I was about to do. I met many other exchange as well as full time masters students in my corridor. My neighbor on my left was Dominique from Germany and on my left was Allen from Mexico. Many other nationalities in my corridor included French, Chilean, Spanish, Chinese, Hungarian, Americans, other Indians etc. In no time I had my hostel gang.

In no time I felt like home. Me and my batchmate Anisha who accompanied me on the exchange also went moose safari with a local guy in his car and also ate Surströmming in a local festival. This was all done within 10 days of my arrival in Stockholm.

Welcoming international students

KTH had a huge culture of welcoming international students. The week before lectures was fixed for informal events like tour to Skansen (Swedish zoo), kayaking, Gasque (the formal Swedish dinner), pub crawl, hiking to Tyresta National park, etc. Fun fact: KTH had over 10 pubs within the university campus! On the arrival day I met few other international students who then became best buddies. Most of them were Polish, so no wonder I know some “really good Polish words”. That was how I found my university gang. While we all were assigned buddies for our stay but the international office was very helpful in every issue. I was having the best time of my life.

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Academics

Acads were little different from what we had here in IITB. I had total 5 courses and all were half semester courses. For the first term I took 3 courses and Swedish language. I couldn’t cope up with Godzilla like grammar of Swedish language and I had to give that up. But I did learn some good Swedish words (just like Polish). The lectures were 2 hour each with 15 minutes break after first hour. Attendance was not compulsory at all so I was always travelling. Professors were chill as well, we used to call them by their names. Free coffee in the breaks were common. Each course had some or the other group presentations or projects. I made sure those were not to be missed since they were required to pass the course. The best thing about the lectures were they were very interactive, so all the students were always talking. I never slept during the lectures, in fact I loved them. They had amazing research facilities and I had chance to work in nanotechnology lab. In these ways I was constantly in contact with other students. Late night report making in library with team and surviving on coffee became very common.

When it was summers and the temperature was over 10 degrees we used to sit on the main lawn soaking sunlight and having lunch. Stockholm in summers was really beautiful. That was why academics never felt like “the acads”. But Swedes were very hardworking people, exactly opposite to what I used to do. Deadlines! One day before the deadlines and I was done with my work. Well, it’s not everyday you get to be in Sweden!

Lifestyle in Stockholm

I had been to mainland Europe before but life in Sweden was quite different. In my opinion Swedes were very closed people. In metro I always saw them wearing headphones or reading novels but rarely talking to each other. Most of my friends were international students, same as me looking for other international students. Although I’ve been in contact with some Swedes but that was only for work or academics. They seemed to be very fluent in English but they always talked in Swedish. During lectures also there was always a herd of Swedish people somewhere in the classroom.

Swedes are very particular about their meals. Swedish meatballs are very famous. For the breakfast kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls) were seen almost everyday in metro. Lingonberry jam is a thing which goes with almost everything, from freshly baked crispbread, pancakes to mashed potatoes. One of the different things I’ve done was to eat Surströmming. It is the world’s second smelliest food. We smelled it from 300m away from where it was served and it was not good at all. This typical Swedish food is put in just enough salt to prevent it from rotting. It was actually delicious. On the same day I tried raw Crayfish (see photo). So much raw seafood in a day! If you ask me if I feel Swedish yet, I would say if it’s for food, definitely yes.

The student accommodation I got was around 20 km from the university. The location was too good with shopping malls and supermarkets around. But I had to travel for 2 hours each day to go to the university. With more friends accompanying me to the university it was always enjoying.

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Travelling: Couchsurfing and Roadtrips

Travelling was the main motto for me to go on exchange. I had already been to 5 countries on my previous Eurotrip, which gave me a headstart on my travelling part. Being in Scandinavia gave me different starting point. My first international trip was on a cruise to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Then it became quite common for me and some of my friends to miss a few lectures and get extended weekends to travel. Couchsurfing helped a lot in budget travel. If you do not know what couchsurfing is I must tell you it is the best thing which exists if you have wanderlust. It is a website and an application where you can personally message the locals and live with them, exchange stories, experiences and even local food. I personally have done couchsurfing in 5 countries and over 7 cities and I think solo travel and couchsurfing go hand in hand. That is why, I had travelled to 5 countries solo. It included a trip to London without visa for free- this is not advisable at all. There was no involvement of any university or organisation but it became the wildest adventure of my exchange. That time I was so pumped up that I went to 7 other cities alone.

Personal advice 1: Never stop yourself from going somewhere solo.

Personal advice 2: If that place is Iceland, get a group.

Iceland is a highly recommended country to visit be it in summers or winters (check the photo above: Diamond Beach, Iceland). Since there is practically no public transport, the only mode of transportation is car. Get an international license and get a car from a rental company and fly off to beautiful cities. I have done 5 roadtrips with more than 6000 km in Europe. I can say I have driven more in Europe than in India, from 20 degrees celsius in Gotland to -26 degrees in Slovakia.

That’s what exchange program does to you.

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Should you go on an exchange?

Definitely yes. I would say this is the best opportunity to travel, experience cultures and make friends worldwide. There might be some trade-offs but eventually what you gain is ineffable. Adjust your schedule, courses, funds a little and something beautiful will come out of that. It is more than just an exchange it is happiness! Fun is cliché but travel is eternal!

From Paris with Love

By Devang Thakkar
Fourth year Mechanical DD
Exchange to Ecole Centrale Supelec, France (Autumn semester 2016-17)

Most of the friends, acquaintances and strangers whom I met once I got back seemed to ask – in one form or other – one of the two permutations of the words that seem to be woven ever so tightly into the insti lingo – ‘Kya machaaya?/Machaaya kya?’ It seemed to me, a blasphemy to condense the events and memories into a couple of sentences uttered hurriedly while you’re rushing to catch that already packed tumtum. You end up saying what you always say – “Let’s go to Laxmi sometime” – probably the insti version of ‘we-should-definitely-hang-out-again’. Even a thousand words would not be able to do justice to those memories for they exist not in 720p movies but in sights, sounds and smells that come back to you all of a sudden while you’re walking down a street and leave you with moist eyes. I sat with a blank document for an hour on a lazy Sunday, before I resorted to the wisdom of the elders (Abhirath, to be more specific :P) and started typing down my thoughts.

How it all began:

I was halfway through my life on campus and it surely had taken a toll on me. I had survived – pretty decently,  I’ll concede – but there was a sad kind of monotony that had set into our lives and all we ever did was grumble about the outdated courses and pointless projects. I felt as if I knew all I had to know about the place, the people and everything in between. Plonked in my saddle of comfort, oblivious and disinterested about anything outside the peripheries of the campus, I was en route a harsh awakening at the end of the five years.

I had been taking up an additional course over and above the extra courses specified for Dual Degree students, hoping to have a lighter load in the later semesters. Call it unintentional foresight  if you may, but it eventually ended up ensuring I could take up three courses at Paris and yet be on track – though I did end up taking an extra course to get myself a buffer. I had given it a thought, but the bureaucracy involved in the process had managed to squash all aspirations for the moment. However, a couple of ‘groundwork’ sessions later, I was motivated enough to go for it. The first problem that arose was that most of the universities that the institute has a MoU with have a schedule that is slightly out of sync with our schedules. That is to say, the fall semester at a lot of universities does not end before the end of January, by when it would be too late to join the semester here, making you the proverbial laundryman’s dog. The other problem is that a majority of universities in Europe have most of their courses taught in English in the spring semester, which unfortunately (or fortunately?) is not the semester that the protagonist of this narrative went in. The narrator may sometimes refer to himself in third person and this quirk should be taken in jest.

Choosing France, or Paris for that matter was not a very difficult decision to make. An ideally located European country and a city with a plethora of culture, a culinary experience to die for, and long promenades along the river side – all Paris had to do to convince me was to exist. I did not want to compromise on the quality of education as well and Ecole Centrale Paris, now called CentraleSupelec, happens to be France’s second best engineering school, bowing down only to Ecole Polytechnique. Getting approvals from the department and the nomination from the institute wasn’t a piece of cake, but all is well that ends well they say. The optimist that I can sometimes be, I had begun my French lessons the moment I had applied for an exchange, and looking back, I am extremely relieved I did. I had a minor hitch with my visa process as a result of which I ended up in Paris around a week later than expected, but at last I was there.

Paris, as a tourist:

Never before had I gone solo to a place further than SoBo and here I was, all alone, two suitcases and five layers of clothing, trying to find my way through the exits of Europe’s second largest airport, realising that reading French was a completely different ball game compared to understanding spoken French. Since I had missed the orientation week, I ended up spending my first week walking through the streets of Paris and covering all the tourist-y spots that deserved to be seen, no matter how overrated they felt. (Yes, Mona Lisa, I’m staring back at you.) What did not feel overrated was the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is purely amazing. (Only the narrator knows how difficult it was to restrain himself from using capital letters at this point.) Over the semester, every time that I passed by the Eiffel, I would end up looking at it in a manner people look at their favorite dish – with dreamy eyes, gaping and probably drooling.

eiffel-tower

The Eiffel Tower in its full glory

Campus Life:

Having missed the orientation and armed with an extremely limited knowledge of French, I found it to be an arduous task to penetrate the cliques of international students that had formed in my absence. I was the only Indian on campus, which turned out to be a bigger boon than I would have ever expected. Having this ‘exotic’ status helped me mingle faster and soon I was feasting and travelling with people from all over the world. Another advantage of being the only only Indian was that I was required to hang out with the rest of the internationals all time, which led to closer bonds – something that would not have been possible if I had a person whom I knew tag along with me.

Centrale has a hostel system, not unlike ours, but with larger and nicer rooms and a shower shared between two rooms instead of a communal bathrooms like the ones here. There is also a kitchen and a lounge on every floor and people who do not wish to eat in the mess usually cook, primarily because mess foods are usually the same, even across continents and secondarily because it turns out to be much cheaper in the long run. Or if you’re a sucker for spicy food like I am, you’ll probably be found in the kitchen for the whole of Europe is conditioned to eat – for lack of better words – bland food. The campus culture is completely different at Centrale – there are floor parties almost every other day if not every day with weekends being spent in pubs and restaurants in Paris. I went through a ‘culture shock’ in the first week of my residence – the details of which are too graphic for a public medium. You would probably ask me to elaborate; I, like our ancestors have said in such situations, have to say, “Let’s go to Laxmi some day”.

dinner

This is what a typical Friday dinner looks like

The French are known for their food – anything off their breakfast menu, their bread, their wine, their crepes – none of these failed to leave me asking for more. There are boulangeries – the French bakeries at almost every cross road and creperies dot the streets like vada-pav-wallahs in Mumbai. The croissants and the pains-au-chocolat I’ve had walking along the banks of the Seine have ensured that I would never experience the same delight in a croissant unless I go back to Paris.

Paris, as a local:

Paris, as a city, has a lot on offer for someone who loves walking. During my semester, I visited a multitude of cities however, none of them left an impact as deep as Paris did. The streets made of but sand and stone are a tour through through the centuries passed – these are the streets that Hemingway and Camus had walked upon in their prime and walking in their footsteps makes you see the Paris that they saw. The French are not the most social of people and this gave a lot of time for myself. I found out how comforting solitude was and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t addictive. I’ve said this to people before and I’ll say it again – the walks down the tiny alleys, the times spent sifting through books at Shakespeare and Co. still feel like a dream.

Europe, as a tourist:

Centrally located, a plethora of places were located at close distances from from Paris – the nearest countries were three and four hours by bus. I was lucky to have the best of both worlds – I had the best company possible for a couple of the trips I made while I was travelling alone in the final one I undertook. The start of the semester saw me spend a week in Belgium and a weekend in the Netherlands, while once my semester was done, I set out on a customary ‘Eurotrip’ covering Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Munich and Milan over a span of two weeks before spending NYE at Paris and leaving soon after. A point which I believe needs to be mentioned is that I somehow ended up spending Christmas at a friend’s place in the Alps near Munich. To those reading this, if this not enough motivation to go for an exchange, I don’t know what will be.

scenery

During a Boxing Day hike after a really filling Christmas dinner the previous night

In conclusion, I believe that it has been one of the most enjoyable semesters of my stay at IIT Bombay. The academics were manageable given one put in at least half the effort required here. Language is a bit of a problem, however the language classes there need to be commended for their effort. If you plan to go for an exchange to France, it is not required but I would recommend getting a head-start once you’re nominated, if not earlier. If you can, I would really recommend going for an exchange for the exposure you receive is something that nothing can can provide you.