Join the EAS team in conversation with Sampurna Pal who talks about her Study Abroad experiences in the Netherlands in 2016. Here she discusses the vast knowledge she gained from being in an international country away from home and speaks on the challenges she faced and overcame with the help of others!
What was your biggest challenge?
The weather... When I reached the Netherlands in January, it was so cold and windy. As a person from a Tropical region, it literally gave me brain-freezes. Two days within my arrival to The Hague, I needed to go to Rotterdam to pick up my Dutch Residence permit; a cute powder-pink card, with a raging bull embalmed in the top-left corner!
It was drizzling lightly since the morning, and by the time I reached Rotterdam the raindrops had turned into mild snowflakes. It took me some time to find the administrative building from where I was to pick up the document; for I was a complete stranger to Dutch language, and apparently, the locals were not familiar with the English term I learned for its substitute.
Then, to put the icing on the cake, I was wearing a pair of canvas shoes that I carried along with me and knew, so far, to be comfortable to wear during winter. But by the time I finished with the procedures, I arrived at a different realization; the snow had melted on my shoes, and made a cold-sagged lump out of them. I couldn't feel my feet. By the time I reached the place I rented for my stay, I was completely numb, shivering miserably and when I removed the dreadful pair of damp rags, my toes had started losing colour, and the tips had turned blue! I was having cold-feet, literally!
Thankfully, my housemate Valentina, a charming girl from Croatia, knew a thing or two about what could help. She made me a hot cup of tea, increased my room heater to the top notch, and gave me an extra umbrella and rain cover as a housewarming gift. The next day I talked to the Student Administrator in school, and she suggested where I could find some more suitable pairs of boots and jumpers. Thanks to the eternal warmth of the people around me, I survived the Dutch winter alive and in one piece!
What did you learn?
Where shall I start? From the school to the streets, to the restaurants, I was soaking up information like a sponge! I learned that the Netherlands has a number of bikes, two-and-a-half times more than its net population. They come in all shapes and sizes, and you can find an array of bike-accessories to customize it according to your need and preference. I learned about various kinds of cheeses and alcoholic beverages.
I learned the sheer fun of touring around town with my all-girls-gang at 3:00 am in the morning, without the compulsion of feeling the pressure to be accompanied by a masculine counterpart. I learned to manage my budget, do my grocery shopping and cook my meals. I even went so far as to dare to make some Indian sweet dish on a friend's birthday, flavored with inexperience and cinnamon.
But perhaps the most important lessons I learned were in my school from my IST Photography guide Ruurd and during my midterm presentation from a member of the assessing-body, Tatjana Macic. Ruurd taught me to be unapologetic about my opinion, along with tricks and techniques in photography. Under his enthusiastic suggestion, I worked in one of the Black Studios to learn to use its state-of-the-art equipment facilities. Tatjana approached me with her fiercely honest criticism about my presentation and critical practice, and introduced me to the challenge of seeing them in a new light. From then to my final presentation, my work changed rapidly, though keeping the authenticity of my ideas intact. I became bold, ambitious, more meticulous about my analytic process, and perhaps a bit more mature in my execution of the presentation than I ever was before.
What was your favorite experience being abroad?
As "Anne Frank's Diary" has always been a staple for nurturing my faith in the goodwill of humanity, I corresponded with the Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam, and in association with them, participated in MICC World (Model International Criminal Court), on behalf of a Dutch team, organized in Krzyzowa, Poland. The program widened my perception even further about cultural diversity and the unification of mankind. We learned about various manifestations of Law and Order and how they are imposed in international scenarios to uphold human rights, as well as various technical aspects of law-enforcement, during our sessions with trainers and mentors.
It is what I learned outside of the classroom through--engaging in informal conversations with friends and acquaintances from over 11 different countries around the globe--where I gained the most perspective about the diverse cultural spectrum.
It is as varied as one can imagine and at the same time reconfirms my faith in our ability to build a better world from the one built by the generations before us. I conceive the firm belief that our generation is well in order to take the baton forward through its collective conscience, because it is always possible to be united by our ideas instead of divided by our differences of caste, creed, color and custom, which prove to be invaluable. These conversations re-established my faith in the fact that the perception of differences can be broken down when people start recognising their own experience in one another, and strengthened my belief on the fact that this is why art is often a powerful tool in building socio-cultural bridges. Through art people recognise for the first time their own reflection in others.
What works did you produce and why are they meaningful to you?
At KABK one is free to pursue whatever interests them as a topic of research and development, and they can be as varied as football or memories. On the first day, our Course Coordinator duly informed us that it can be as amusing as pizza, if we are seriously and sincerely interested in the topic. (Later, on a school trip to Ghent, we came to know that he himself authored a thesis on the ‘Origin and Difference between Belgian and Dutch Potato-fries’; apparently intriguing!)
So I took three ISTs or Individual Study Tracks, as they call them, instead of one, partly because I was much too excited, and partly because I thought it was a good idea--in case I fail in one, the other two might come to my rescue.
One of them was the Drawing Lab; with a grandmother-like lady with childlike enthusiasm, Cecile. At her atelier we produced a series of quickly-scribbled concept-drawings from a book of clichés. The purpose of this class was to develop our visual reflex and image-making capabilities. I had Photography with Ruurd, Sessions with our IST Coach Pim, and weekly reports to our course tutor Ewoud, besides the theory classes and workshops. Speaking of workshops, KABK possesses an amazing facility for silkscreen and Digital printing, and a well-equipped metal and wood workshop. I knew It was impractical for me to think of bringing my productions back, all the way to India, but nonetheless, the greed to try them all was adequately over-exceeding.
As I am interested in the Holocaust, I was studying about it more deeply; coupled with contemporary accounts of genocide and mob-lynchings, and was trying to find the pattern of history repeating itself to express them into visual articulations. It was ten days to my final presentation, I left for the MICC in Poland. I was neck deep in my work pressure as the submission was approaching, so I carried some of my work to finish on the way. The week forward was one of the most engaging educative experiences of my life, and it added a significant point of perspective to my project so far. I felt the need to redesign my presentation.
Upon returning, I revised the layout and went through it all over again. There were only two days left until the presentation, and I wanted to make a couple of major changes, which added a lot of work to finish within time. I lived on espresso and eggs for two and a half days, built my site-specific Installation, curated a verse out of my research material in order to create a narrative, and made my decision to be bodily present in the installation space to recite the text and embody the role of an insider from the experience I have gained and feel so strongly about.
By the time things were finally wrapped in a decent manner, I was feeling like a walking zombie. It was the sheer nervousness that kept me awake for the presentation. My head was feeling hollow and I couldn't eat a bite, as I was completely nauseous and was afraid of throwing up. But, the submission went well. In the afternoon assessment meeting the teachers gave me suggestions on how I could move the work forward. Of course they had their critical opinions, but they thoroughly appreciated the passion and self-drive, and complemented me for its simplicity. I was finally relieved and had my lunch with a large bucket of Ben n' Jerry.
(Images provided by Sampurna Pal)