Thursday, 29 March 2018

Rotterdam in the rain - finding the extraordinary in the ordinary

I have always been tainted by wanderlust. Sometimes it feels like a condition: this eternal aching for something better that is found in the unknown, the exotic, the far-away. Yet despite having travelled quite a bit during my studies, my curiosity had started to dwindle. Many cities seemed to be the same: always this church in an old town square, these old buildings, these same shops. Most of the time, my travelling brought me excitement due to the exquisite cuisine or jaw-dropping backdrops of nature - things that are not particularly known to the Netherlands.

As such, I barely take my DLSR camera on a date anymore except when I go on a vacation. Especially when the weather is grey and murky, I much rather stay in my cosy bed than embark on a photographic adventure outside. Why should beauty only be found in the exotic, though? Isn't the real challenge finding the extraordinary in the ordinary? I have been dissatisfied with the way my camera skills have remained stagnant during the past year, so I decided: let's try to brush up my skills again. Since I have always been particularly fond of urban settings - the grungy beauty of abandonment and construction - I chose to go to Rotterdam.

The iconic 'Erasmus bridge' of Rotterdam.

Every city has a story, and Rotterdam's story is doused in the theme of reconstruction. During the second world war, almost all of Rotterdam's historic city centre was bombed. Despite the tragedy of the event, the city did not dwell. Instead, it chose to use the past to build a future, the future that is now a landscape of skyscrapers and perseverance. It is almost poetic: we either run away from our past, or we rise where we fall. Rotterdam chose to stay, re-designing its city to what it is today, placing high-risers where the city was laid to ashes.

While wandering around in the rain, the city certainly did not strike me as a happy one. The sky was a blank canvas and much of the city could almost be called monochrome - blending in with the bleakness of the weather. Quite honestly, having checked my weather app the day beforehand, I was hesitant to take pictures in this weather. Thankfully, one of my friends pointed out that there is novelty in photographing on a rainy day: high contrasts, a moody atmosphere. So armed with an umbrella in one hand and my camera in the other, I skimmed alongside the waters of Rotterdam. The surroundings were as bleak as I expected them to be, but sometimes blotches of colour would take me by surprise. They felt like sparks of inspiration to me: hidden beauties between the ruins.

Admittedly, they were not bright and poppy colours. They were still washed-out, but somehow this rawness is what I found beautiful about it. It is honest in a way - not pompous and glamourized. Having spent most of my teenage years in Amsterdam, I never felt attracted to the idea of Rotterdam. It always seemed like a cold city to me, full of modern buildings that did not hold a meaning. I regarded the city's architecture as a lack of history, when in fact, this rawness embodies its history in the best way it can. Everywhere I looked I could still see bits and pieces of construction. Since it is a harbour city, it had an industrial vibe to it with cranes and containers everywhere. I stayed for more than two hours near the Erasmus bridge, and witnessed multiple cargo ships passing by.

The rain did me good as well. I felt intrigued by the shiny surfaces as a result of the rain. I almost felt like a kid playing in the puddles: squatting down to have those low-angled photographs, waiting for individual droplets to hit the pavement and shatter. Multiple people passed by and must have wondered what that silly girl was doing with her umbrella, staying so low to the ground.

Part of the joys of photography is not just discovering bits of beauty, but also stumbling upon dynamic subjects that cannot be accounted for beforehand. Usually while travelling, we will aim for certain sights that must be visited. This time, I just wandered around freely using the Erasmus Bridge as a starting point. I never thought I would end up staying around that area for hours. I probably only covered a 500m straight distance but still found some interesting things that made my day, such as these bunch of huskies that happened to pass by while I was actually busy taking reflection-selfies. Sadly, they went by too quickly for me to take a proper picture. Don't judge me, it was a very nice reflection amongst the grey, with streaks of orange juxtaposed against a passage of pillars and light. The pillars in the background actually made it to the reflection too, making it seem like a double-passage of pillars. Anyway, I think I am getting lost in my descriptions here so let's go back to the huskies. My God, look at those beautiful fluff balls (even though you can only see their bums right now):

All in all, I am very grateful I decided to photograph Rotterdam in the rain. Without it, the experience would have been much different. Surely my wrist started to hurt a bit from holding both my umbrella and camera in the wind. And yes, it was a bit tiring carrying my tripod around which I did not get to use due to the messy weather. But looking at how I have made a very ordinary location somehow special to myself, it fills my chest with a sense of pride and happiness. It is not just the pictures I produced but also the philosophy behind it. I found myself thinking about the city and the weather in a way I didn't before. Also, it is a small victory for me for going out and doing something for myself again amidst the chaos of university life.

So where will I go next? Probably where-ever a train can take me. I've just got to keep my eyes open and blow some motivation into my body.


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 various 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 Bachelor's 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 due to someone they trusted and loved. This 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.