From Pune to Nijmegen
My first encounter with the Dutch was on the football field. I was glued to the television during the 2010 World Cup finals as the Oranje took on the Spanish side’s ‘tiki taka’ style of play, of which I was a big fan. The Dutch looked good with their aggressive, free flowing ‘total football’ – until they literally hit the wall with a free kick and Andres Iniesta scored the deciding goal. Sitting in India, some 6,900 kilometres away, I couldn’t have imagined then that I would be pursuing a post-graduation programme in the Netherlands one day.
My journey with Radboud University began in April 2020 with the arrival of an acceptance letter, while my home country closed down over fear of the coronavirus. Because of the pandemic, my academic year began with me still stuck in my home city of Pune, situated a good 560 meters above sea level on a vast plateau bounded by hills. Here, I was trying to connect with a far-away country, with most of its flatlands lying below sea level. It took a while to get in sync with the video conferencing and online learning and the first few weeks were noticeably puzzling for everyone in the class. But soon enough, the ice was broken and I started to feel a greater sense of belonging, especially in smaller classes where interaction was encouraged.
I liked showing some curious Dutchies around my crowded neighbourhood in India. A peer from Geldrop was amazed to see the huge amount of two-wheeled motorised vehicles, while another from Breda was curious about the colourful festivals celebrated in my country. An American classmate caught me by surprise when she mentioned spending the previous evening sunbathing at the ‘beach.’ It took me a while to realise she was referring to the popular sandy river bank at the Waal and the recently-built Spiegelwaal channel.
By early November, I was able to fly off to the Netherlands. I was super excited, but the global pandemic had ensured near-deserted airports, with few people, masked up and keeping a cautious distance. As I stepped off the flight, the European cold hit me hard. Still, the intercontinental shift felt more like moving from one room to another. Perhaps it did because of the useful tips on what to expect on arrival or because of my Polish classmate, who was nice enough to receive me at the train station.
And although it took me a while to figure out the exact purpose of the heat radiators, my little room in Nijmegen felt comfy. My much younger, helpful housemate from Romania appeared baffled when I revealed I was 24 and here for my master’s studies. ‘Oh, you just look very small,’ she exclaimed. I wasn’t surprised, considering that I had landed among Europeans. But I was yet to meet the world’s tallest people.