05.07.2019by David Maier

Diary of an international student at QuTech

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by David Maier

QuTech not only offers a wide range of interesting research, but also a diverse group of employees from numerous countries around the world. As a student from the far away country of Germany I was very curious if I would be able to fit in and overcome the cultural differences. Four months ago I came to Delft for my master’s project. In this little piece I would like to tell you from a humorous perspective about some of the challenges I faced as an international student coming to Delft and how you can overcome them too.

Disclaimer: this text contains irony.

Week 1: Forms
The first challenge you will face as a new international student coming to Delft is forms. They will come in many shapes: long forms, short forms, colorful forms, simple forms, online forms, ridiculous forms. In your first week(s) in this new environment you will need one pen to fill them all (except the online ones). As a reward you will be blessed with a personal identification number, a working contract, a campus card, a Dutch bank account, a Dutch phone number and many more perks. But don’t worry, in this challenge you can rely on powerful allies in the secretaries office to come to your aid. Since this is your first challenge they will make sure you have all the support you need, so there is no way to fail here. On to the next challenge.

Day 10: Sandwiches
Forget everything you know about food! Forget the ancient and much debated scientific question of whether a hot dog is a sandwich! You are in the Netherlands now. Your entire concept of what the word sandwich even means will have to be rewritten. You will soon find out that this country cares deeply about what they call ‘sandwiches’, which can reach from just two plain untoasted pieces of toast slapped together to the most intricate of bread, vegetable, peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles combinations. You will eat it whether you like it or not, because it will be offered to you for free at almost every possible occasion. But don’t you dare putting one in a box or any other sensible means of transportation. There is only one correct way to transport a sandwich in the Netherlands and that is in the very plastic bag you bought it in. There is hope though and it is called the toastie machine. Use it as often as you can. You can thank me later. With a stomach full of bread on to the next challenge.

Amazing sandwich.

Day 34: Defenses
A Defense. This seems like a challenge in your far future at the very end of your project. But that is not the defense we are talking about here, nor the one you should be afraid of. The actual challenge is not making a fool of yourself when going to your first PhD/Master’s defense by someone else here in Delft. While in your country of origin a defense might be something very informal or even private, things are very different here in Delft (think ‘wizard robes and orbs on staffs’-different). There seem to be so many rules that it is hard to keep track of all of them (what people are allowed to wear, who is allowed to speak and when, just to name a few), so better restrain yourself, try to imitate the experienced locals, lean back and enjoy the show. And don’t worry: With every challenge comes a reward. This time in the form of free snacks and beers. Hooray! and on to the next challenge.

Every Day: A diverse working day
As a member of a simulation team I face a demanding diversity of tasks every day. It’s a wide range of work reaching from sitting at my desk to plan my day to sitting at my desk to code a new part of a simulation or sitting at my desk to read an interesting paper. This requires a new student to be in tip top shape. Previous experience in yoga and several extreme sports is highly advised. This will also come in handy for the next challenge.

Me, sitting at my desk.

Day 69: Socialize
Every physicists nightmare: socializing. Here QuTech offers a relentless environment where with gruesome regularity voluntary social events are organized for all members. These might include cozy evenings at a bar restaurant or even such torture as a diverse selection of sports events. One might be tempted to think: “ A bar event? That doesn’t sound too bad. I can just hide behind a large glass of beer and hope nobody notices me.” But in sharp contrast to the perfectly sized German 1 liter glasses the Dutch seem to prefer to drink their beer out of something slightly bigger than a shot glass. So hiding is not an option either and your best bet is to face the challenge head on. You might even get to know some nice people around you. With all those newly found friends we are off to face the next challenge.

Week >2: Connecting to a Screen
While complex research questions at the forefront of quantum physics seem to be solved quite routinely at QuTech every day, there is one technical challenge that seems almost impossible: Connecting your Laptop to a screen. Be it in your own office or in a meeting room, there always seems to be either an obscure array of DisplayPort cables and no adapters to HDMI or one of the million issues with somehow defective cables. Once you master this challenge you will be an admired member of the group and your laptop will be the protagonist of many presentations. Otherwise you can just retreat to the save environment of your own desk and ask your colleagues if you can use their devices for presentations. With your super compatible laptop in your bag, let’s check out the next challenge.

Connecting a computer to a screen.

Day >2: Finding a room to meet in

If you think you can just wander into any old room here in QuTech, you are once again mistaken. Even though you have access to quite a few rooms with your campus card you will soon find out that QuTech is a crowded place. If you want a room you will most likely have to book it in advance or be kind of lucky. Once you have successfully secured the room you might face additional challenges such as notoriously empty white board markers. Once you have mastered these challenges though, nothing can stop you from having long meetings with all your favorite people in QuTech. Once you are done with all the meetings and it is time to go home, you will be faced with the next test.


Day 100: A dutch birthday

What can be challenging about a birthday you might wonder? Well I don’t know either, but for whatever reason the Dutch tend to believe it is a major achievement to be present at someone else’s birthday party. So even if it is not your birthday be ready to receive a lot of congratulations from your Dutch friends for this great feat. Dutch people literally congratulate everyone at the birthday party (and are also unable to explain this behaviour). So sit back and feel good about what you have achieved. You deserve it!

A Dutch person congratulating me for nothing.

1 Day after deadline: Write a blog post
Just when you think you have finally managed every challenge in your path, someone turns up and asks you to write a piece for the QuTech blog. “Of course!”, you say, knowing nothing about what you just got yourself into.

Once you realize what you have done, it will already be too late and you will be too shy to bail out. Then you will actually have to come up with an article, take pictures, listen to comments on your writing and finally upload your text to the QuTech Blog, with your picture out there for the world to see…

If you are reading this then congratulations! You are now officially well prepared to study in Delft. There is nothing that can stop you!
Here is a little certificate for you:

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I, David Maier (Master Student) hereby certify that ______________________(insert name here) has been informed about the risks of studying at QuTech and is now perfectly equipped to master any challenges ahead.

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I hope to see you soon at QuTech.


David Maier is a student from Munich, Germany working on his 1 year master’s project at QuTech. In his free time, he used to go climbing and do thai-boxing.

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