Stay in Pilani, Report by Marik Lefeld

An exceptional experience! When I left Germany for India it was a mix of excitement and a little fear of course. But this is what traveling into new environments is about – getting out of your comfort zone. You can study the guidebooks about India but in my eyes you can just plan roughly. You cannot really prepare for your first impressions of this country, first and foremost because it is so significantly different to Germany. In case you ask yourself: yes, it really is that noisy in the streets, yes, cows, cars, dogs, two-wheelers and any other vehicle you can imagine share the same roadway, yes, it is a country of contrast, tradition, hierarchy and bureaucracy. But it is also a country of colours, diversity and warm-hearted people.

After having arrived at BITS it took me one or two weeks to arrange myself and get familiar with life on campus. It was beneficial that some students from Braunschweig were still present and introduced the newly arrived exchange students to all BITS-specific features. For any further request there were the PhD scholars in the workshop who took care of us and fixed all our problems (“India is managed by phone!”). The campus is huge and very beautiful.

After approximately one and a half months I decided to shift to a room in one of the student hostels. That was a good decision as I got the ability to interact with other students (the guesthouse is kind of isolated from authentic campus life). Although it was a big difference (much less comfort) I got used to my new home very quickly and did not regret the decision. For example, preparing Indian food in a tiny hostel room with my new friends was good fun.

For my master thesis I investigated potentials of Mixed Reality in learning systems for engineering education. My practical part at BITS Pilani was designing a prototype of a virtual extension for the experience lab by creating an interactive Google Cardboard application. The immersive learning scenario aims to transfer theoretical knowledge about industrial processes in a cost-effective way while addressing JInGEL goals and gapping qualifications. I finally presented the system to students and gathered their attitude towards the system through a survey. Many BITS students I met in the lab or on campus were very interested in my project but also in me and my home country.

I enjoyed the possibility to use my weekends or days off for traveling and exploring different places in Rajasthan. Traveling by trains and buses can be challenging in the beginning but somehow the system works and you get used to it. One good thing about BITS is that it is kind of a “safe haven” – less crowded, polluted and noisy than it is outside of the campus. This allowed me to adapt to India and all its characteristics in my own pace. Furthermore I was able to learn about the country’s characteristics and thus prepare properly for a three week trip through India I made after having left Pilani.

One very remarkable experience was celebrating Holi, the festival of colours in Pushkar. Visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra or the Golden Temple in Amritsar was also very impressive. These architectural masterpieces literally made me speechless. Furthermore, sleeping outside under the stars in the Thar Desert or relaxing up in the mountains are only two of many amazing activities. Another fundamental experience to mention is the great (street) food and its broad variety. If you are into cooking and exploring new culinary delights India is the right place. In case you are exhausted from studying, working, traveling or bargaining a fresh Chai will be served somewhere near you and reenergize your body.

I am very happy that I took the opportunity to participate in the JInGEL project. It was an exceptional, mind changing experience I will remember forever. Outstanding impressions for me were the helpfulness and warm hospitality of the Indian people, intensive colours, exotic tastes and smells but also heavy littering and severe poverty. The stay in Pilani was a unique opportunity for me to take the broader view and strengthen my cultural competencies. The daily life in a different academic environment was really interesting. I enjoyed working on an interdisciplinary subject which broadened my professional horizon. However, the most important point is the enriching personal experience.

If you are interested in the exchange do not hesitate to apply for it. There is nothing to lose. You can only gain from it. I had a great time and am thankful to all people and institutions that made my exchange possible. All the best!