CLMN | Not Lost in Translation19 April 2017
Truth be told, the Dutch language doesn’t exactly rank among the most useful ones. Being spoken in a tiny corner of Europe and some remote specks of land elsewhere coupled with the natives’ fluent English are enough reasons to never learn it. But the real virtue of a language isn’t in how it has spread around the world; ask anyone from places like India, many of us speak multiple regional languages.
A visa may open the doors to a nation, but it’s the language that seeks out the people. I spent several years in a city in India where I didn’t speak the local language. I didn’t attempt to learn, because ‘what’s the point?’ But, in my ignorance, I efficiently bypassed an entire cultural experience. Here in Eindhoven, I am atoning.
There’s more to a language than being able to go Google Translate-free. Certainly one’s vocabulary goes further than the Albert Heijn product labels, alsjeblieft and dank je wel, but for me, it’s more about the experience of learning itself. Attending lessons with people enthusiastic about a language bears a stark yet amusing contrast to other academic lectures in a tech school. And if earlier I was wetting my feet in Dutch culture, now I find myself being slowly immersed into the IJsselmeer. Being able to enjoy Zondag met Lubach or karaoke-ing to Guus Meeuwis, or even struggling to read a book in Dutch, brings a strange sense of belonging. The shouts in the market that once were just a cacophony are now the beacons for the best deals.
And of course, being able to describe the slightest change in weather in elaborate detail is a marker of progress. But the approving nod for trying, from Dutch colleagues, is probably the greatest reward. Some offer to switch to English, but I try not to chicken out. They correct my vocabulary as conversations progresses and we slowly move on to English on a really bad day.
There’s a difference, I now realize with each passing month, a fading uneasiness that was so pronounced before. Bonds with people have become stronger, expressions like alsof een engeltje over je tong piest are no longer shocking, and my curiosity and connection with this place has grown unexpectedly, much of it thanks to an endemic language that I could have chosen to hop over. If the film Arrival taught us anything this year, it was to believe in languages beyond their most obvious function. May be the Dutchies know something that we don’t?
The quality of education seems to have slipped at TU/e. In the latest Dutch-language guide to universities (Keuzegids Universiteiten), Eindhoven's university has dropped from third place in the overall ranking to seventh place in the course of a year. "It's understandable but it's not good," says President of the Executive Board Jan Mengelers, "and it is all the more reason to push on with introducing an upper limit on student intake to our programs. This is a result of the strong growth in student numbers."
Eindhoven's iGEM team has arrived in Boston. In the coming days, the students will participate in the Giant Jamboree, competing with nearly three hundred teams from all over the world. Their competition entry is their project GUPPI, in which they propose encapsulating tumors in a gel to prevent them growing and spreading.
As well as professors, from now on associate professors (UHD-1) at TU/e may also confer doctoral degrees on PhD candidates. Sixty associate professors were awarded the right to confer doctoral degrees at the start of this academic year after the move was approved by the Upper House of Parliament in the Netherlands shortly before the summer recess. “We couldn't wait to introduce this here.”
Before you google yet another one of my invented diseases and subsequently begin to question the title of this story, let me tell you this. With a new academic year having begun and a shiny new batch of freshmen accompanying it, the university is full of people suffering from the so-called octopus syndrome.