Akshar Mandyam Chakravarthy came to the Netherlands from Bangalore, India, in August 2016 for his master's degree at TU Delft. That course started in September, but Akshar came a month earlier to get used to the Netherlands in advance.
For him it was an advantage that Delft is a relatively small city where many other Indian students live. In this way, he quickly got to know people and was able to get acquainted with Dutch culture, while also maintaining his own Indian culture. For example, he still celebrates Indian holidays. "Usually we cook something delicious then and have good conversations. But of course I also want to get to know the Dutch culture. I find that very important. So I actually have the best of both worlds," says Akshar.
Getting used to a new environment
For Akshar there are some major differences between the Netherlands and India. To begin with, the way of thinking. He explains: "Suppose you have a problem and are looking for a solution. If you ask an Indian and a Dutch person what to do, they will come up with two very different answers. So a person's cultural background has a big influence on his or her actions." By observing others, Akshar tries to adopt the ‘Dutch’ way of thinking. This is not a simple process, because after almost 4 years in the Netherlands, he is still learning.
"Here, the days are very short in the winter and super long in the summer"
Akshar Mandyam Chakravarthy
Another thing Akshar still has to get used to is the big differences between the seasons. "In India, all the days of the year are about the same length and it is nice and warm all year round. Here, the days are very short in the winter and super long in the summer. Also, here in the winter and in the fall it is very cold and we only have a very short period in the summer when it is really hot." But even crazier for Akshar is changing the clock to summer or winter time. He thought it might take one or two years for him to get used to this, but he still isn’t.
The seasons have a great influence on one of Akshar's hobbies: cricket. This is a real summer sport and is only played 4 months a year. Akshar prefers to play this every weekend at the Delft sports club Concordia, but unfortunately no competitions are currently being played there due to corona. There are over 40 cricket clubs in the Netherlands, but the sport is a lot less popular here than in India. At Akshar's club only 5 of the 45 players are Dutch. The rest are all from the Indian subcontinent.
Besides cricket, Akshar has a passion for poetry. Around the age of 13, he started writing it himself. Now he is 26 years old and has written dozens of poems about all sorts of things. Mostly he writes about feelings. His own feelings, feelings of others or feelings that are going on in the whole society. A while back he even wrote his first Dutch poem.
During his studies, Akshar took his first Dutch lessons at language level A1. Here he learned simple questions and phrases such as: "What time is it?" and "It's ten past one. He has now taken several courses and is at language level B1. Having a conversation in Dutch is fairly easy and he understands almost everything, but making complete sentences himself sometimes takes a bit longer. "I know what I want to say, but sometimes I don't know how. Usually I can explain it then and others still understand. When I am at home and look in my Dutch workbook, I can see what went well in a particular conversation and where I made mistakes. That way I know what I can do better next time.”
"Fortunately, others also help me to speak even better Dutch. I think that's one of the best things about the Netherlands. People here are much less judgmental than in India. They don't say you're doing something wrong, but rather help you do it better. They are also very open and curious about Indian culture. They really give me the space and freedom to continue practicing my own culture. For example, I put a red line on my forehead every day for luck. People don't necessarily think that's crazy, they're actually interested in why I do it."