Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ideal Education

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I wish more teachers kept this quote in mind while educating the young, fresh and adaptive minds. You have to instigate passion in them for the subject instead of making things complicated and elitist. Sigh

Monday, October 26, 2009

Switzerland guide for Interns

The assumption is that you have already received an offer letter for internship in Switzerland :P
All facts mentioned are of the period when I went to intern. They might have changed. So here goes.

The major Swiss Universities are EPFL and ETH Zurich for IIT students.
If you plan early enough, you can actually manage to get Swiss Air return tickets as the cheapest options.
There is a flight daily from Mumbai to Zurich. From Zurich, it is best to take a train to your destination city. I made the mistake of taking a flight from Zurich to Geneva and then a train to Lausanne.

The trains in Switzerland are run by SBB. The first thing to do after getting your luggage from the airport is to buy a SBB Half fare card. Valid for a year, it reduces all your tickets to half the price. If you are going to do even the slight amount of traveling, you will recover its cost very very soon. Trust me on this one. And if you are even a little adventurous and an evening traveler, the Track 7 card will prove to be really useful too. I highly recommend it. To buy these at the station, you have to ask at a CFF (railway) desk. Keep your Swiss address and passport pictures handy along with cash.
Find all the information you need on SBB site. You are going to be seeing a lot of this website.

Local Transport in Lausanne

Buying a monthly pass for 41 francs is advisable. It covers both metro and buses. You can get that made from the SBB counter at EPFL or at Lausanne Flon. Otherwise, each normal journey costs 2 francs with half fare card.

Luckily, I was picked up from railway station on my first day. Otherwise, normally there is some problem to manage all that luggage and finding your way about in the a new country.


Among the 6 student accommodations, Bourdonnette (where I stayed), part of Cedres and Ochettes have apartment systems. Rhodanie and Falaises are more like a dorm. All of them have some advantages and disadvantages. Bourdonnette worked really really well for me.

Your first 10-15 days might be cold. So take some warm clothes. Especially, if you are not from North India and used to some amount of cold. If possible, take something for the night. Bedsheets, pillows and all are not included in your room rent. Though you can take them from your house manager for around 50 francs which is not so bad.

If you are not staying in an apartment, do take cooking utensils and food from India else you might have to buy there and that is not cheap.
Take atleast 500 francs from India for your initial expenditure including Half fare card.

Shopping and Food

All shopping is done at Migros and Denner supermarkets. Migros is the cheapest. Denner is cheaper for some things. The most important thing: Migros doesn't have Alcohol and cigarettes. Denner \m/

Shops in Switzerland usually close at 6:30 or 7 pm. Even earlier on Saturday and on Sunday everything is closed. Migros at Ouchy is an exception.

There are also Indian shops close to Avenue de France and one under Lausanne station.

Do take health insurance from India with large remuneration. Around 100 000 USD upwards.

Post questions in comments.
More travel and living advice later. Have fun in Europe.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Land that is India

A snippet of a very old article in TIME describes nicely India as a Kaleidoscope of contrast. Link courtesy Avinash Prabhu.

Shastri's India is less a nation than a notion, possessed of a fragile unity that barely transcends its geographical boundaries. Into a triangular wedge of the world only a third as big as the U.S., India packs 480 million people and more than 200 million cows. From the mirage-like ice peaks of the Himalayas, down the vast and sinuous Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers (which most Indians regard as holy), through the crammed chawls and boiling bustees of Bombay and Calcutta, to the humid tip of the subcontinent at Cape Comorin, India is a kaleidoscope of contrast (see color pages). Within its embattled boundaries it embraces six distinct ethnic groups, seven major religions, 845 languages and dialects, and two ancient and antagonistic cultures: the Indo-Aryan (primarily Hindi-speaking) in the north, the Dravidian (speaking mainly Telugu and Tamil) in the south. Its peoples range from sultry Sikhs in silken turbans to naked Nagas armed with crossbows; from country dwellers who are seared black by a cruel sun to pale and perfumed maharanees who ride to the beaches of Bombay in air-conditioned Rolls-Royces.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What IITians do

This article in Outlook feels honest.
A few excerpts.

"Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of IITians do nothing of note in their lives. Indeed, many of them became IITians because their parents told them that’s what they should mug their butts off for, and aim to hit the US of A, so that’s what they did. They attended classes, took notes, passed exams, took the gre, applied to a dozen American universities, and disappeared into that country’s vast technological underbelly, to reappear only in the matrimonial columns of Indian papers with a dollar salary multiplied diligently by the day’s exchange rate. Or they stayed in India, working at unexceptionable jobs, doing reasonably well. In either case, they got beautiful brides (often from rich families) and presumably lived happily ever after, meeting classmates once a month and chatting about their IIT days, and how Hippo has just changed jobs, and Zap is three rungs away from the top in Cisco Systems. Each of them had intelligence well above the average, and most, exceptional academic tenacity."
Something that I really agree with. And I wish my life is not like that. Though currently I am considering the belief that happiness comes from within, and you can be happy in any circumstance but damn, I am human.

"IIT was also a whole insular world in itself, complex and complete, and it sucked us in. As The Chosen, we lived a full life with no necessity of any contact with the outside world. Totally cut off from politics and "the bigger issues", our delights remained in competing fiercely on the field or the stage with other hostels or other colleges. There were few material pleasures. Lifestyles were spartan, the food abysmal. The vast majority of males were totally deprived of female company. The girls lived a strange life-on the one hand, they were hounded by dozens of would-be suitors; on the other, they faced the petulant hostility of the majority which saw them as undeserving of so much adulation and so many free lunches."
So true.

When we graduated, we went out into the world with a rare confidence and strong tribal loyalties. The confidence eroded a bit over the years, and we learnt some humility when we discovered non-IITians as smart as we were, and also people who could outwit us because they were intelligent in a different way-in a sly political way-an acumen we had not developed in our isolated environment which, above all, inculcated a sense of fairness and a respect for ability. We came to terms with a world that compared poorly with our beloved campus, and some of us even went ahead and conquered it. Others didn’t do well, but knew that the ties between them and the masters-of-the-universe classmates would never change. They were ties born of the pride of being an IITian. That pride would never diminish.
It never can.