Claire Hollants, a student at Ghent University, Belgium is a semester exchange student at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. She talks to Rasika about various aspects of her life here in Chennai and about how insti is different from her university back home. Here are a few excerpts from the conversation –

What’s the most striking thing that you observed about India?

I study sociology, so that most striking thing to me was the social stratification over here and how it dictates the way people interact and behave. And you don’t get to study this in detail in Western literature, so it’s interesting to see and explore it first hand over here.

Also, I really like the people here; they’re so nice!

 How is it different studying at the HS department here compared to back in Belgium?

I like how friendly everyone here is and how this department is like a big family. I’ve gotten to know so many more people than I expected to, and that’s great! Back home, we don’t have the quiz system, and the professors have much less freedom when it comes to teaching their courses. So over here, when we find some topic interesting to study, the professor will spend more time with it. Or sometimes they’ll cancel classes just ‘cause and it’s the best!

 What bit do you dislike the most?

The mosquitoes :3

 Have you had any run-ins with the monkeys?

No, I like the monkeys, actually! But then I live in Sabarmati :3

 What do you miss the most from Belgium?

The food :3

I also miss the independence that we have to travel around freely across the city – no matter what time of the day or area it is.

 How do you deal with the food here? Do you like Indian food?

Yup, for sure, I Indian food! But it’s difficult to get used to eating it every day. Mess food is good, but it gets pretty dull after a while. So, there’s always Zaitoon or Suprabha to the rescue.

 Random thoughts about insti life. Tell me the first things that come to mind.

I think the students here are way more informed and knowledgeable. I like how so many people read academic books for leisure. That makes class discussions really interesting and quite intense sometimes.

I don’t like relative grading here because that creates unhealthy competition between the students. There’s a sense of “I don’t want my classmates to perform well because it might mean I end up getting a worse grade.” So I don’t think it’s a good idea to have that attitude towards tests. I wish they’d change it.

I love the way you celebrate birthdays here, with everyone getting together and having fun – it’s quite wholesome.

I like the deer – it’s incredible that they’re not afraid of us at all.

The vibe at OAT during the movies is so cool – I watched a Hindi film there, and everyone was cheering and hooting, and it was really fun!

 Some fun things you did in Chennai?

I like the small streets and the tiny shops everywhere. I loved all my visits to George Town as part of a field project. The metro is pretty cool too. I enjoy how vibrant the city is. But it’s always nice to return to peace and silence of the campus after a busy day outside in the city.

 What will take back with you when you return to Belgium – souvenirs, and memories?

I’ll take back lots of jewelry and sarees for sure! And some shell decorations I bought at Marina beach. And the little cups they serve coffee in here – I found them so fascinating.

I’ll certainly try to be more informed and well-read like the students over here. And be nice to everyone!

Author – Rasika, HS’22

This article is part of the series – Foreign Exchange. To get regular updates on all our articles, follow us on Facebook at /chennai36 and Instagram at chennai36_iitm