The Dutch Classroom
How I wish my first university lecture in the Netherlands would have been in an auditorium. A classic lecture hall, almost like an Indian cinema, with hundreds of seats, lights running sideways, fire sprinklers spread all over the roof, and, of course, the massive projector in the middle of two clocks above the exit points, with missile-like recorders facing the lecturer.
But even online, the Dutch classroom was quite an experience. It was evident that this new online lecture environment was new to the teacher. While he was struggling to admit everyone into the video conference, a student prompted: ‘Martin, you need to start recording!’ Now, how can you be on a first-name basis with your professors? But the next thing already continued to take me by surprise: the gender ratio tilted in favour of the opposite sex, something I wasn’t used to in Indian classrooms.
Breaks in the middle of the meetings were new for me as well. Classes in the Netherlands last for a mad minimum of an hour and a half, making these coffee breaks essential to, quite literally, stay awake through the ordeal. However, what amazed me was the way the breaks were declared. The teacher announced: ‘So, we come back by half past ten!’ Half past what now? I ended up never taking a break because I didn’t know what to make of the Dutch way of expressing time in relation to half hours as opposed to hours and minutes.
However, the dilemmas do not end here! When Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the father of integral and differential calculus, replaced the ‘x’ as a symbol for multiplication with a ‘dot’, he accordingly also replaced the ‘dot’ with a ‘comma’. Continental Europe conformed. America and Britain did not. The British came to India for textiles and spices, so we, of course, conformed to the British way. Now in my math class, neither me nor the Californian native could figure out what was happening with the writing of the decimal points. Do we write a disclaimer for every math assignment because our professor went the Leibniz way whereas we did it the ‘right way’?
While I progressed with school, decrypting funny differences, I started working with a group to figure out the socio-economic consequences of the quinoa demand boom in Peru. I had no clue what quinoa was, let alone grasping the problems arising out of a demand rise in the first world. My friend from Tilburg explained the hype of the so-called ‘super foods’ in the Netherlands. With these clarifications, I got a step closer to understanding why the Dutch could be one of the tallest people in the world: it’s the ‘super foods,’ folks!
However, for the same course, to understand globalization, we were introduced to the former German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s report that drew a dividing line between the rich north and the poor south. So here I was – the sole face from the so-called Global South. That being said, the daily discourse in the classroom took a strong stand against such dividing lines seeing it as an ‘othering’ instrument, which was a comforting assurance for my choice to pursue my higher education in the Netherlands.