'Hit me with your English stick!’

What to do when your ‘undutchable’ presence is ignored? Grab the stick and start swinging. Ever watched a movie in a foreign language without subtitles? If so, then you probably noticed two things: it’s amazing how quickly you lose track of the plot, and trying to understand individual words eats up lots of mental energy.

If you’re an international student, this is probably comparable to your experience in socializing in your host country: people around you talking in a foreign language about something you’re desperately trying to understand - and no subtitles!

Sure, this experience probably isn’t unique to the international students of TU Delft; a foreign student going to school in Madrid or Copenhagen would probably experience similar frustrations.

But how can one adjust oneself to a foreign-language environment so as to make the studying and living abroad experience more efficient and enriching? As an international student in Delft, for the first year of my stay here I mostly interacted with other international students: being a foreigner with no friends or family in this strange new land automatically makes you friendly and well-disposed toward strangers. Having international friends is great, but after having heard so much about these friendly, tolerant Dutch people and having observed their strange student society rituals, themed parties, and multitasking on a bicycle skills, I was eager to get out there and socialize with some Dutch folk, and maybe even make some good friends along the way.At the university lecture halls I eventually did meet many Dutch people who seemed quite nice and friendly, but our conversations were sadly always limited to inverse matrices and Steiner components, because frankly, everything else was always discussed in Dutch. I mean, normally, you can easily strike up a conversation with some strangers by commenting on something they’re discussing, or adding a joke to the topic of conversation, right? But what do you do in situations where you don’t know what the conversation is about? “Ehh hmm aah…I heard you say ‘zaterdag’, you must be discussing last Saturday’s future-themed Jakoba party? It was da bomb!” Bit of an awkward moment when you discover they were discussing nothing of the sort!

NaggingIn project-rooms students generally work in closer-knit groups of eight to twelve people, and of course English is the language of instruction, so at least all the technical conversations should be in English, right? Luckily, the TU thought ahead, and to ensure that all groups learn and communicate in English, they devised a plan to diversify the project groups by ‘spreading the internationals thin’ among the various groups. Consequently, I always found myself to be the only non-Dutch-speaking student in an all-Dutch group. But despite the TU’s good intentions, I can honestly say their plan didn’t quite work out.

Sure the day would begin in English, but as soon as somebody had a question or couldn’t remember a certain word, people would switch over to Dutch. Asking pointed questions in English generally helped, and most guys would apologize and start speaking English again, but not for long. It’s one thing if it’s a private conversation, but if they’re discussing our project, then I have the right to know what they’re talking about. But how could an ‘undutchable’ like me ever know the difference? A second ago these guys were talking about ailerons and trim-tabs, so what’s the chance that they haven’t switched their conversation to the drunken antics of that blonde chick at Speakers last Friday night? Because I certainly don’t want to know about that!

Eventually I took to inserting phrases like “echt waar?” and “maar natuuurlijk!” into conversations to remind them of my undutchable presence. This generally seems to work, and is less annoying than whining “Guys, please switch over to English” all the time. I’m also now the proud owner of a long, foamy flotation device with the words ’English stick‘ written on it, and I threaten people with violence in case they refuse to cooperate! This however tends to have the adverse effect, as many of the Dutch students say they feel oppressed being beaten with a stick for speaking their own language in their own country — fancy that?

But jokes aside, how can an international student fully benefit from the great TU Delft education and experience if even all of the technical discussions are in Dutch? Most Dutch friends of mine simply offer the following solution: just learn Dutch! And then add that they’re in fact helping to enrich our Dutch experience by only speaking Dutch around us, as this way we’ll learn the language in no time! Truth is - they’re right! The more Dutch I hear, the better I understand it, and the faster I’ll learn it. But is it why I came to study at TU Delft? As an engineering student, would I rather benefit from Dutch language training or from knowing what was going on in my project-room? Ok, I understand, we’re all human, and when you’re tired and your head is full of computations, and some international is nagging you about speaking in English when you can hardly retain the information in your head in your own native Dutch, just remember: for those international students, English usually isn’t their native language either, and they’d also prefer to speak to you in their native Ukrainian, Swahili, Mandarin or whatever, but nonetheless they’d be eternally grateful if you’d just switch to a language we all can understand! Rest assured, though, your efforts to help fellow (international) students won’t go unnoticed: just one Dutch person in a group switching over to English can make a huge difference at the end of the day.

Olga Motsyk, from Ukraine, is a BSc student studying aerospace engineering.

Tijdens de brandbestrijding hebben zich ‘organisatorische en operationele knelpunten voorgedaan die de bestrijding negatief hebben beïnvloed’. Zo duurde het wel anderhalf uur voordat de als eerste ingezette ploegen in de faculteit versterking kregen.

Wat de inzet ook bemoeilijkte was het feit dat de bemanning niet op tijd nieuwe ademluchtflessen kreeg. Zij moest wel vier keer naar beneden om die te wisselen. ‘De slagkracht van de regionale brandweer op die punten was onvoldoende’, meldt het COT.

Door een groot aantal factoren groeide de oorspronkelijke brand in een half uur uit tot een zeer grote onbeheersbare brand. De brand vergde een grootschalige inzet. Het COT benadrukt dat de brandweerlieden hard werkten om de gevolgen van de brand zo veel mogelijk te beperken.

De omstandigheden in het pand maakten het werk ook moeilijk. De eerste pogingen om de brand te blussen, werden gehinderd door het nagenoeg ontbreken van de waterdruk op de brandhaspel. Dat was een gevolg van de eerdere wateroverlast. Verder was er sprake van vallend brandend puin, zogeheten flashovers (vuur dat door een ruimte trekt), vallend glas en een zeer hoge vuurbelasting door veel hout, papier en bedrading.‘Saillant’ was volgens professor Uri Rosenthal dat de brand van buitenaf moeilijk te bereiken was. Door veel bijgebouwen, laagbouw en de vijver was de hoogbouw moeilijk te benaderen.

Verder vindt het COT dat de brandweer eerder had moeten besluiten zich terug te trekken uit het gebouw. Twaalf brandweerlieden waren nog tot kwart over twaalf ’s middags in het pand terwijl er al geen sprake meer was van het redden van mensen.

Het besluit om zich terug te trekken kwam pas om kwart voor twaalf, maar volgens het COT was de zaak om elf uur al reddeloos. Het besluit had dus drie kwartier eerder genomen moeten worden.

Het is begrijpelijk dat de brandweer zich maximaal wil inspannen om de brand te bestrijden, schrijven de onderzoekers, maar zijn grenzen aan deze inzet. Met name vanwege de veiligheid van de hulpverleners.

Brandweercommandant Jan Bron zei hierover tijdens een persconferentie in het Delftse stadhuis dat dit onderwerp heel erg leeft binnen de Nederlandse brandweer. “We moeten goed nadenken hoe om te gaan met een binnenaanval (blussen in een gebouw). Bij het zien van de uitslaande brand hebben we als eerste nagevraagd waar onze mensen waren. Vervolgens gaven we opdracht weg te gaan uit het zuidelijke gedeelte en de brand vanuit het midden van het gebouw te bestrijden. Het is lastig.”

Download hier het rapport van het COT (bron: TV West)