Week of the International Student: Soumya Sood
During the Week of the International Student, we interview international students and alumni of Erasmus University Rotterdam and ask them about their journey. Guided by photographs and memories, they elaborate on their stories, but also on the highlights and challenges of their study period. Today we meet Soumya Sood, who graduated from a MSc in Urban Management and Development at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies.
When learning more about the industry in which one works, it can be easy to take things for granted and go on with your life. When Soumya started her career in architecture and learned more and more about the destructive effects the industry has on the environment, she stopped to think. Was that what she wanted to contribute to? Instead of turning a blind eye on the impact of the industry, she decided to move into sustainability and pursue a career in that field. Not just for the planet’s sake, also for the people living on it.
That was one of the many factors that eventually led Soumya to study at the Institute for Housing and Development Studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Born and raised in India, where she studied architecture and practised a job in that field for over four years, she wanted to explore the sustainability sector abroad. “In India, the mindset of the industry is currently not predominantly focused on sustainability, because there a lot of other issues that India is dealing with. Also, I really wanted to get some practical experience in this field and my research pointed me to finding education and practical experience elsewhere. I do still mean to bring that knowledge and experience back to India, to help support the sustainability sector there.”
Soumya’s research led her to Rotterdam – not only because of IHS’ academic reputation, but also because of the reputation of The Netherlands in the sustainability sector. “For me, it was the best option. The quality of education is very high, there is an emerging market in sustainability and highly-skilled migrants are supported in various ways.” For this support, however, Soumya experienced there is a lot you need to figure out for yourself. “There are a lot of rules and regulations that you have to figure out. Getting a visa as a non-EU citizen is a lot more difficult. I think the Netherlands loses a lot of talent because of legislations like this.”
Not only getting a legal status, but also integrating into the Dutch culture proved challenging. “I have had my ups-and-downs. From my experience, it is difficult to get into very close friendships with the Dutch. They generally have very close-knit groups of friends, a lot of them since childhood. It is difficult to enter groups that like that.” Also, the more obvious cultural shocks surfaced soon. “The weather!” Soumya says laughing. “Splitting bills instead of giving rounds, especially sending tikkies for exact amounts, those things were new for me. I heard before the Dutch were strict, and very straightforward, so I was surprised to find that the Dutch are also warm-hearted. People just say hello to you, in the supermarket, or walking down the street. That’s rare!”
In hindsight, Soumya wishes to have had more contact with the Dutch during her studies. “In our class at IHS, there were people from 53 different nationalities – but somehow no one was Dutch. I think it would have been valuable for our class to also be in touch with Dutch people. Not necessarily from an academic perspective, but for the day-to-day things.” Earlier in the interview we had already covered the ‘written’ rules, applying for a visa, rules, and regulations in the Netherlands, but it took Soumya some time to also figure out some unwritten rules. In the process of finding a job, for example. “In India, when you apply for a job, you make a simple resume and get invited for an interview based on your generic skills and overall experience. I had to find out the hard way that, in the Netherlands, you write a very specific resume and cover letter for the job you apply for.” Soumya’s advice for aspiring international students? “Go over the rules first. There are a lot of things the Dutch government can offer you – allowance, offers on public transport, those things make your transition in a new country easier. Next, connect with Dutch people or international alumni that are already there. Only they can help you discover the unwritten rules.”
Another way in which Soumya sought to integrate, was through extracurricular activities in the field of fashion. She has a background in modeling, and through her professional development also gained interest in the sustainable fashion market. “First, I was just generally interested in fashion. I really started modelling because I am a ‘stage person’ and liked to walk shows and do photoshoots. Then I started connecting the dots and seeing fashion in the light of my other passion, sustainability. I want to pursue modeling but also highlight and promote that it can be done for good.” At Erasmus University, she joined the New Fashion Society: a group of people that are all interested in sustainable fashion and organize a yearly fashion show. She learned about the society through research on extracurricular activities on campus, and decided to join them right away.
It is easy to detect sustainability as a recurring theme in Soumya’s life. For her it is not merely a concept, but more of a lifestyle. “I feel, to truly be sustainable, it has to be incorporated into everything. Not just the career you choose – it’s a life you live. Your daily errands, the clothes you wear, your hobbies. You can’t just think about sustainability, come home and drink from plastic straws. That’s not how it works.” It was through this mindset that she, after a very long and challenging query on the job market, eventually managed to land a job at her ‘dream-company’ in the Netherlands, Metabolic. At the Metabolic office in Amsterdam, she is currently active as a researcher.
It seems that for Soumya, not the national but the international atmosphere has provided a silver lining in her journey as an international student. “The thing I like most is that you get to meet so many international people. That is something that I could have never achieved back in India. These people give you so many insights into their culture, professional lives, and personal lives. I have heard and learned from so many different stories, what they eat, how they dress, how they function, what they celebrate. That for me was really a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Nonetheless, as it turns out, there are also a lot of Dutch things that she has grown accustomed to. “I celebrate Sinterklaas with poems and gifts for the family, I organize my social life in my calendar, I ride my bike every day. And I eat dinner at six, haha!”