Sunday, 18 February 2018

Keep running up that mountain

It's time to lit my campfire again: I'm back in my cave of wonders. More than a year ago I wrote a recap about my experiences after a long hiatus; now this situation unravels itself again after trailing many paths. Looking back, it feels like I might have come a little closer to this mountain-top view I've been longing for. Still there's a long way to go, so I just keep running up that mountain (or hill, like the Kate Bush song). So where have I been the past year?

Sep 2016 - Feb 2017: exploring the field of Online Marketing

A very quick picture I took during the first day of my internship,
because I thought that it was funny they put me on the screen.

During my whole Bachelor's I have always felt like I wasn't quite in the right place. I was doing well in school, but I kept being 'a bit of this and that', not discovering what was truly 'mine'. Therefore I decided to embark on a year of internships. First I took half a year to dabble my feet in the world of Online Marketing, believing it would give me the communication skills and understanding that I needed to perhaps step into a new career field outside design. However, since the company I worked for developed web applications, it struck me that design would never really leave my mindset. I assisted in debugging sprees, handled some customer queries and created creative content to increase usability (e.g. creating interactive user manuals). These tasks led me to the revelation that perhaps I wasn't the typical hands-on and creative Design Engineer, but my analytical and 'people' skills could flourish very well in the field of UX-design or Design Research.

I have learnt a lot in terms of communication and consumer behaviour during my Online Marketing internship, which will always be valuable given my desire to incorporate psychological knowledge in my future career. But the best part was finding out I wasn't that lost at all with the steps I had taken so far, which led me to my next internship.

Feb 2017 - Jun 2017: finding my way in Design Research

Picture by STBY.
It took me about three months to polish up my portfolio, but it was definitely worth it, as I got myself a Design Research internship in Amsterdam. Not many people know this, but I had actually tried to apply to a few Design Studios before (around May 2016) but was rejected time after time. I completely redesigned my portfolio because of those rejections, and am happy that it worked out for the better since I needed the Online Marketing internship to realise what particular field of design truly held my interest.

My brain sometimes felt like it couldn't handle all the information-overload from the intensive research we had to do during my Design Research internship, but finally I felt like I was in the right place. I was surrounded by people who, just like me, valued academic knowledge instead of just a quick-and-dirty practical mindset. This was also the first time when I was surrounded by designers from different academic backgrounds. I also felt like I was truly doing something for the greater good given the projects dealing with global or social issues, which I hope will be something that comes back to me in my future career.

Not only did I learn about what direction I would like to go into, I also learnt about tools that gave me a head-start in my current Master's program.

Jul 2017: Mechatronics Summer School in Aachen, Germany

Despite knowing I would never really be the typical 'Design Engineer' I was schooled for, I still wanted to give it a chance by adding onto my past desire to become a Design Engineer in the medical field. My first step was already taken two years before by going to the 'Healthcare and Technology' summer school at King's College London. Keeping the design of hospital devices in mind, I thought a Mechatronics and Robotics summer school would do me good. Which was a huge challenge given my background, as the course was actually designed for 2nd year Mechanical Engineers.

The summer course confirmed that engineering really wasn't my thing, but I did pass the course. This boasted my confidence, knowing that if I set my mind to something, I could always be able to reach it. Being in Germany was really good for me, as I had missed the independence and travelling that I was so used to back in Australia and the UK. I have always flourished better in international environments, and this summer school just made me want to go abroad again.

Sep 2017 - present: MSc 'Design for Interaction' and next steps

The gap year was very good for me as I never thought I would choose this Master's program, or go back into the field of design, but here I am. I just finished my first semester, which was a huge struggle to me, but academically speaking I did very well. Just one more semester left and the big deal will begin: a year of elective modules. As part of this year, I just applied to a course called 'Behaviour Change' at University College London. Hopefully I will hear from them in 6 weeks. I know that UCL is a prestigious university with high standards, so it will be tough getting in and staying in, but for now I can only hope for the best.

I am just excited that I am taking charge of my own journey again, even though I still don't know where I am heading exactly. All I know is that I keep trying to reach the top but in the meantime I also try to enjoy the path. I've been running a lot, and especially now I find it harder to slow down. But the most important thing is that I am doing this all for me: it is because I want to learn, I want to grow, I want to reach my fullest potential. Just like this blog, the world might not know about me. I am not a 'big deal' and my social media following is mediocre, but doing all of this: writing, challenging myself creatively, pushing myself out of my comfort zone and finding my way career-wise - this is a big deal to me, and I can't wait to see what the view is from above.

P.S.: In case you haven't noticed, I cut my hair short for a year already and I'm loving it.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Stepping stones

My blog must feel like an abandoned cave: from time to time you'll find a campfire flicking shadows of the past on chalk-clad walls, otherwise it's nothing but an empty space, my escapade. There's always something much more pressing than updating a silly online diary, something that justifies existence. Tell someone about a gap-year, they'll ask what you're doing. Tell someone about your ambitions, they'll wonder what you've already done to get there. Let's talk about less tangible achievements, for once.

My Summer at King's

My time at King's was majestic: the knowledge I gained through the module "Healthcare and Technology" has certainly been a worthy asset, but I learnt most from being exposed to varying cultures.
London was amazing, so was King's College. It only took me three weeks to fall in love, and I can't deny how fortunate I was with my family's support to study abroad again. Hard work paid off, yes, I will take the credits for my grades and motivation if I must. But both of them would be useless if I wasn't lucky enough to be born in a first-world country, and if the whole family didn't work so hard to survive in a country in which some people still don't believe it's supposed to be our home. 

I learnt a lot from London, most of all to feel grateful. I am by no means a clever person by nature: during high school and university I invested a lot of time in just catching up with the level of education I was granted access to. Yet, there will always be those who have it tougher. 

During my summer course I became friends with many people from China. Coming to London must've been an even grander investment for them than it was for me. Money issues aside, they had to struggle with language-issues too. Being born in the Netherlands meant that English was like second-nature to me. Whilst I happily sat back in my chair listening to the professor's story about biomechanics, my foreign friends were actively taking notes with Google translate by their side. 

There's this odd thing going on in society where people decide over their level of respect to you based on your proficiency in a particular language. My parents face a lot of disrespect from customers due to their lower level of Dutch, but they forget that my mother speaks five other languages fluently. My friends from China tried very hard to communicate with me in English and to catch up with the lectures, but I can tell you that their intelligence surpassed mine and I wished I could've adapted myself to speak to them in Mandarin instead. 

My degree at TU Delft 

These wackos have been here with me through thick and thin, from the beginning till end.
Let's face it, there's not much to be found about me regarding an awesome portfolio or curriculum vitae. Yet, two weeks ago I could finally hold that firm Bachelor's certificate with my small hands: a proof of survival. Yet again, I'm mostly grateful. Just a few paragraphs back I said I'd take the credits for my grades and motivation, but truth is that I couldn't have done it without the help of my fellow wackos. When I came to the faculty as a freshman, I had zero designer's blood and only a poor knack for engineering. If I had to brag about achievements I'd say that my biggest achievement is keeping these crazy guys with me, and many other friends who were supporting me through this struggle.

The Dutch culture is very different from foreign ones: we don't seem to be that proud of a Bachelor's degree. No big ceremonies or social-media spamming, "it's just a bachelor's degree". I honestly still feel that way, I don't feel any more intelligent than people who do not have a degree. Remember, both my parents barely finished high school. 

Some may say it's a matter of insecurity, but I simply can't be proud about a silly paper when I'm still not the very best version of myself in terms of my personality. If I could go back in time I wished I had focussed less on academic achievements and more on my people's skills. Throughout my degree I have learnt a lot about teamwork and design engineering, but I feel like my personality truly blossomed when I went to Australia.

The cultural atmosphere in Australia was inspiring, I have never felt so motivated to go out: the poetic events in Sydney pushed me to go further with my creative passions. When I came back to the Netherlands, I started to seek out the same kind of Spoken Word events. They've always been there, even before my exchange, but I just never thought they would be there because they are not as widely promoted in my own country. Sydney has made me more assertive due to my exposure to cultural events, it has pushed me to not blame a country's culture for not sharing my passion, but to seek it out myself.

How about now?

I'm getting out of my shell and becoming more assertive: these are some Humans of ESN Delft I've interviewed.
I have become more assertive and built up some design engineering skills during the past three years, but I'm nowhere near where I want to be. In terms of my personality, I wish to be more open, less judgemental, less biased and more positive. Sometimes I can be so critical and sceptical that people wonder whether I have anything positive to say, but sometimes I am so naive that I wonder what good my degree has done to me.

Currently I'm taking a gap year, and I honestly have no idea where I'm heading. There's still an urge in me to become a full-fledged engineer, yet here I am, doing an internship in online marketing and joining the Erasmus Student Network's PR Committee. It was time for me to get some real life experience, but I also needed to find myself. As of late I have been more interested in communication, hence the heavy switch.

The PR and marketing world has a whole different perspective to what I'm used to. At the TU Delft they stimulate us to be socially responsible and to create innovations that have an impact on the world. I've always wanted what's best for the user of a product, not necessarily caring about what it might entail for a company, or whether they will even get any concrete benefits out of it.

The last couple of months it has occurred to me that I'm incredibly naive. In my eyes, a product should be good and the user should be the first priority, feasability in terms of manufacturing comes second. In reality, profit should be amongst the top priorities, whether it's in the shape of money or brand awareness. An unknown product cannot do its job because nobody knows about it, and a product that doesn't make money will make game-changers starve.

Naiveté and dreams

New skills are valuable, but a new perspective is worth gold. Photo credits go to my sister who's just as weird as me.
I'm the kind of girl who doesn't enjoy shopping: a closet full of unworn clothes makes me feel guilty, and seeing unnecessary products frustrates me. Even though I'm aware of my own unrealistic moral standards, it doesn't stop me from dreaming. Gaining a new perspective doesn't mean I should bow down to it fully, it only means that I have to take it into consideration with whatever I do and tone-down a few stubborn thoughts.

Yes, I'm stubborn. For a long while I refused to go into social media, and even when I did, I'd share pictures sparingly. Look at this whole blogpost full of boasting and pictures of myself: it still feels odd to me. Did I sell my soul? Perhaps. I'd like to say that I'm just getting to know the game rules of real life, only then it's possible to become a game-changer.

I'm still a lunatic, I'm still a dreamer. I think a lot about the future, and it seems to change day by day, but for now, I just want to stick to this phase where I still feel like things can be changed. For me, for anyone. The past has shaped my frustrations, and therefore also my ambitions. Here's to naive life goals and fine-tuning them to reality. But in the meantime, let's acknowledge our small achievements. My academic road has opened many opportunities for me, but the achievements weren't in numbers, they were in personal change and the people who were with me during that road.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Wicked: the magic of rumours.

Just five weeks ago I was still sitting at the very back of the Apollo Victoria theatre in London. Highest seat, of course, not to elevate myself for a splendid bird's eye view, but because that's how students are: always pick the cheapest option. Whilst sitting in my red, cushioned seat, I was staring straight into a piece of theatre decoration that resembled a dragon. It was quite obvious that it was connected to mechanical wires, and so I could only feel my anticipation building up as I was reminded of my last theatre visit at the Lion King.

Wicked was the kind of musical you'd expect it to be: the typical broadway songs stretching till the highest pitches; dances derived from classics such as tap dancing or waltzes; and the decoration finely attuned to the royal atmosphere of London. I must admit, it didn't have much of the modern flair seen at the Lion King, but comparing these two musicals would be a waste of time since they have a whole different intention. This musical was more about the fine details and emotional depth than wooing the audience with glitter and glamour. I almost found myself regretting my student mindset because I didn't have an eagle's eye to spot the details on stage, as I desperately tried to put one pound into the small compartment in front of me, which would grant me a pair of binoculars. Of course, I couldn't find the hole to put the coin in. What's worse: I couldn't even use my phone as a flashlight, too afraid that the security with real flash lights would body-slam me and tell me that it was forbidden to record the show.

Then again, I was still able to move along with the growth of the Wicked Witch of the West, also known as Elphaba during her student years. Being born green and fairly intellectual, Elphaba was bound to be an outcast. The reason behind her green appearance was beautifully suggested with a dance between her mother and a secret lover. It is so easy to make sexual intercourse an explicit facet, just for the wow-factor, but here I was glad to enjoy the subtlety of romantic love-making, which only dance seems to do ever so elegantly. I found myself enjoying the quiet between these two secret lovers, as the spotlight hovered behind their hushed footsteps. Naturally, Elphaba was seen as nothing but a disgrace to her stephfather, over-shadowed by the purity and helplessness of her little, crippled stephsister, Nessarose.

It is no surprise that her words and stride became weaponed with a bitter edge, but how can anyone blame her when people are always so quick to judge her on her green skin? She'd walk around a train station and strangers would just scream and scurry away in fear. I found these scornful scenes to be the most powerful of all, as it only took some quiet glances at body language to feel the awful side of human nature. Even at university, a place where intellectual beings should be gathered, she'd only be a target for mockery and ridicule. The saddest thing of all was that these scenes, despite being fictional, only reflected reality. In such a modern, educated world, I find it frightening how youngsters are still driven into suicide through gossip and bullying. Being educated does not make you less of a savage.

Thankfully, Elphaba found solace in her love for animals and the discovery of her magic powers. Through the blood, sweat and tears of university, she also met Glynda, a girl that was the very embodiment of rich, blonde and pretty. Even though they were put into the same bedroom by unfortunate circumstances, their friendship blossomed soon enough. However, Elphaba's sense of righteousness, her desire to belong and her habit of speaking up, quickly got her into problems and shaped her into the character which would be called: the Wicked West of the Witch. Since I didn't read the books, I was always under the impression that Elphaba was indeed the villain of the story, but as the story proceeded, I realised that the "Wicked Witch of the West" was nothing but a fabrication of rumours and lies. Despite all of her good deeds, society had simply marked her the villain. There was nothing to do about it than to live up to the rumour and fake her death through the hands of a chosen heroine. After all, that was the only way to restore peace and relief among the common folk. We don't want our leaders to be green and ugly, we want them to blonde and pretty like Glynda.

It is mind-blowing how destructive the magic of rumours can be, and it seems even more concerning with the ease in which information is stored and passed around nowadays. I am no saint, as I, too, am slowly stepping into the murky waters of social media. Yet I try as hard as I can to not involve people I care about in a way that would put them in an awkward position. I love the ease of always having a camera with me due to my phone, but it is sad to see that when we see something funny, our first reaction is to record it and show it to people just to have a laugh over it. It is an innocent gesture which causes less harm if it is done in a trusted environment among peers, but then there are those who need to share everything publicly, blindly following internet mobs without knowing what's truly going on. People need to realise how lethal this is. I remember once reading a cut-out newspaper article on Facebook which triggered the racism-issue in the Netherlands, causing quite some uproar as can only be done in the Facebook commenting section. Later it was discovered that the Facebook post simply did not show all the relevant sections of the Facebook article. In other words: a blind uproar was caused based on ignorance and the heat of the moment.

We live in a sad world where people feel the need to share everything blindly. Not only misleading information, but also personal details that could put oneself or others in harmful positions. If word-of-mouth spreads like a fire, then the internet is an instant forest fire. We often hear all the stories about celebs and their leaked nudes, laughing it off and saying how dumb they must be, not realising that one day it could be any of us or our children who simply made a mistake for someone they trusted and loved that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. If leaked nudes are too extreme, then think about our "innocent" screenshotting behaviour. How sad a life it must be when you feel the need to screenshot personal whatsapp conversations and to put them on your public Twitter feed just so the world can see and laugh along. Does that even make anyone feel safe? Opening up through texting, yet knowing that any moment you could end up on Social Media, never to be erased again, retweet after retweet?

This might all seem like an exaggerated response based on a musical, but it has been sinking into my mind for quite a while now as I see bits and pieces of people I know being thrown into public without their permission. They are not supposed to be shark bait that lure others to the shores of popularity. We can't just pretend to die and start anew just like Elphaba did. The internet makes our information eternal, and companies are relying on the internet to get to know us. Next time you post or retweet, please think about the consequences. If not, you should probably sit on your high chair at the back of the Apollo Theatre and experience more of the wicked magic of rumours.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Lion King Musical, Lyceum Theatre

Whilst being in the nucleus of culture in the UK, I couldn't let myself leave without seeing a musical. Even all the street signs wouldn't let me go, as they screamed their titles at me, spanning from more traditional, well-known shows to newer yet tempting ones. Tonight I decided to visit the Lion King at Lyceum Theatre. Half of the people I know must've grown up with Disney movies, and so the story of the Lion King is pretty straightforward and familiar. I went in without any expectations, mostly curious about how the animalistic characters would be executed. Hakuna matata, it was well-worth the visit.

If I had to describe the show in two marketing-like keywords, I would say: vibrant and clever. The orange glow of the decor immediately reminds you of sand-laden Africa. As a rising sun marked the beginning of the show, drums and enchanting chants could be heard echoing all around the venue. Even whilst sitting in the very back-row at the top of the theatre, I could enjoy the visuals as they were so very bright and cheerful. A pleasant surprise was the way the animals were depicted: no cheesy onesie-like costumes that would probably make the actors sweat in unison, but elegant headdresses that also had multi-functional aspect of acting like puppetry. The human aspects of the actors were not overly disguised, and I think that is beauty in itself. After all, the emotions of these animals are no different from what humans face on a daily basis, yet elegance was preserved as the clever costumes made way for a good balance between human and animal gestures.

I found myself surprised again and again, because everyone knows what would happen in every scene, yet the special effects made way for clever and mind-blowing solutions. A great deal of the show was puppetry and mechanically powered. Whether it's a small cart with mobile-like antelopes, or the bigger giraffes which bent their necks with mechanical strings, it all required quite an amount of brain-power to execute in a way that it wouldn't seem silly. We are all used to moving decors, spinning platforms and lit-up screens, but the integrated puppetry is something I have never encountered in other musicals before. Actors did not only have to think about their own movements whilst dancing, they also had to keep in mind how their puppet-half would move along. I cannot imagine the amount of effort that must've been put in perfecting these double movements.

The cleverness continues into some characteristic scenes from the movie as well. When little Simba got himself stuck in the moving herd, who would've thought that the elephants would multiply themselves in the form of automated puppetry? Then came the emotional moment of Mufasa's dead, his fall further dramatized by making use of stroboscopic light, it was as if you were frozen in the realization yourself. Carrying on, even the spirit of Mufasa was shown in an emotional combination of light and echoes, as a grown-up Simba studied his own reflection.

However, the enjoyment of the show did not only come from its technical aspects. Timon and Pumba did well in bringing the carefree, hakuna-matata spirit into the venue. It's in the little things such as their silly movements and greatly imitated, cartoonish accents that made their characters so believable. Of course, more laughs were triggered from characters such as Zazu, the anxious servant who always gets his feathers ruffled by everyone, and desperately started singing "Let it go" when captured in his skeletal cage under the reign of Scar when he demanded "a song with more bounce". Not to forget Rafiki, with his (or actually, in this case: her) foreign mumbling and shaking of the hips. And of course, the three hyenas literally rolled on the floor laughing with their own humorous idiocy, it was as if you were dragged right back into your childhood memories again.

Words just cannot describe how bombastic and intense the show was, especially because I have no pictures or recordings to justify my words with. Furthermore, I just believe that the songs would speak for themselves as you are there, listening to a video recording is in no way the same as the acoustics you get from sitting at the venue. Songs like "Can you feel the love" felt like an amplified, touching ode to puppy love (or should I say kitten love?). The mischief of little Nala and Simba that quickly got exchanged for a whim of maturity was noteworthy as well.  You would have to see for yourself to go through the excellent singing, dancing and acting. Expect to have your mind-blown, it is certainly worth the 45+ pounds.