25 February 2021
Mark Johnson, the man of hundreds of patents: "There is no training to become an inventor"
I am from Mérida, Yucatán in Mexico. Prior to studying in the Netherlands, I obtained my Bachelor at Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán. In Mexico I worked on projects that concerned innovation that could be applied directly in practice.
While I was working for a (very) big soda producing company for four years, I got involved in projects where collaboration between Industry, Government and Universities was necessary. Those projects were the most interesting projects I worked on. We developed technologies that were directly applicable in practice. While working on those projects, I had the opportunity to open my eyes to new possibilities. At that moment, I knew I wanted to gain more expertise in Innovation Management. With that in mind, I started looking for a place where I could gain that expertise, in a context of intense collaboration between Industry, Government and University. I was looking very specifically for a place where both big companies and start-ups collaborate with the University (even better if that collaboration was around innovation), and secondly for a Master Program on Innovation Management which would allow me to have direct contact with that environment. I found Eindhoven, and it became my first choice because both the innovation ecosystem and the study program were exactly what I was looking for.
"I was looking very specifically for a place where both big companies and start-ups collaborate with the University. Eindhoven, was exactly what I was looking for."
The higher education system is definitely different. If I have to choose a word to describe it, that is: Intense. On one hand, studying here was a lot more theoretically driven than my previous studies. A lot of time is required to learn all that theory. On the other hand, opportunities to use the theory and turn it into something practical are everywhere: there are many interesting companies and student teams around, and they are always looking for new talented people. To do both things at the same time requires a lot of effort and resilience but it is also fun and very rewarding.
A great way to get close to student teams and companies that work on interesting challenges is to become part of the TU/e innovation space community and to follow the courses that are offered there. I got involved in TU/e innovation space because I felt like I had finally found the piece that was missing in all my other studies, both in Mexico and the Netherlands (and I also found a welcoming community of enthusiastic and entrepreneurial people and made many friends).
In practical terms, things are also different: Group work is the norm, an 8 is a good mark, there are a lot of student bars inside the university campus, the opening of the academic year is a big student party, and there are a lot of student associations dedicated to the most diverse set of activities you can imagine: Christian student associations, –any sport you can think of- associations, music related, dance related, women empowerment, etc. etc.
"Opportunities to use the theory and turn it into something practical are everywhere"
The Netherlands is very well connected to the rest of Europe, and Eindhoven is a city which is very conveniently located when you want to travel around a bit. The land here is as flat as my native Yucatan. And I love it. I love being able to see the sky all the time (even if it is grey). Yes, the weather is crazy sometimes as it can be very rainy and gloomy, but you get used to it. When the sun shines, everyone enjoys it to the most.
In terms of culture, at least in my case, the culture shock was considerable. I missed the warmness of my old friends, some of the spontaneity and definitely the food. But I also got to enjoy punctuality which is something I really missed before, the respect people have for work-life balance (holidays are sacred), and of course the feeling of openness and freedom.
"The flat hierarchy that allows everyone to express their opinions is one of the things I enjoy the most."
Dutch directness. I had heard of it before, but I had not experienced it at a personal level. Until I got involved in an interesting project at the university… It took me 2 meetings with a very interesting group of empowered students, some professors and some business developers to understand and get used to directness. And it is liberating. You don’t have to wonder what people think about anything: they will let you know, for sure.
"Dutch directness is liberating"
When it comes to applying for a study program: you should be able to convince the admissions committee that you are able to finish the study program successfully. They need to be able to see that you are well-prepared. Check the requirements of your program and motivate your application in a very careful way. When I applied for a Master program, I had to summarise all subjects of my bachelor program and I wrote a motivation letter that offered insight into the fact that my previous studies matched with the master program I wanted to follow.
Before your arrival in the Netherlands: make sure you take all the legal papers you could need with you. All required documents and their legalized translations. Furthermore, don’t be shy to ask for help. Contact the international students’ groups on Facebook, ask about the current housing offers. There are several companies that offer international student housing but there are huge differences in the services they offer.
When you arrive: Join introduction days and other activities inside and outside the TU/e campus. Get to know the city and your peers with an open mind. Do not get anxious if making friends takes some time, you will find them. And it always helps if you join extracurricular activities.
Don’t be shy to ask for help.