Arts and culture

The Rendezvous



After being dropped by the autowallah in the middle of nowhere on the freezing Saturday morning of 12th of December/2015, Zoe Brereton (an exchange student in J.N.U from the University of Queensland, Brisbane) surprisingly managed to reach on time for the rendezvous.  Sipping her coffee in a petite café in Hauz Khas, she talks at length about her love for the graffiti on the J.N.U’s walls and for the city of Delhi. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

Why J.N.U?

Well I got a scholarship from the Australian govt. and it was to travel to any country in the Indo Pacific region. I was very interested in knowing the Indian culture. Also my legal research centers on women rights and there is a lot of media coverage around sexual assaults and women rights in India so I picked India as the country I would like to come to. Dr.Ashutosh Misra, a professor of mine back in Australia who did his studies at J.N.U told me to consider J.N.U and then I looked it up and it looked like a good university so I applied for it.

Have you ever been to India before?

No. When I came here in July it was my first time.

Did you have any kind of expectations before coming here?

No. Not really. I was told that I will have to look after myself really well and that I should not travel at night time and I was told that I would be stared at a lot, having a blonde head and I found that although I was stared at a lot, I felt a lot safer than I thought I would.

A professor of mine who is from Brussels told me the same. She told me that although she gets ogled a lot, she feels comparatively safer here in Delhi than in Brussels.

I won’t say comparatively safer because I have been sexually assaulted here in Delhi  and it had never happened to me before in Australia or in England but I do feel safe in Delhi, as it never happened again. I do walk home at night time because I often work late in Starbucks until they close at midnight. I feel perfectly safe while walking back because streets are well lit; there are security guards on street. I feel happy to catch autos alone and I don’t feel  threatened. I do know that Delhi has a high crime rate but I feel safe here. I even extended my stay here until June so that says a lot about how much I like being here.

Where do you stay?

I live in an apartment in G.K with my friends.

How do you travel to J.N.U from GK for the classes?

I take autos. I can take metro but for that I will have to walk till Kailash colony metro station and then take an auto from Hauz Khas metro station till J.N.U which will take more time and money.

Why did you not apply for a hostel on the campus? Things would have been easier for you and also J.N.U is known for its vibrant campus life.

Well it was quite complicated. I got an email before I came to India saying that as a foreign casual student I wasn’t allowed a hostel but when I arrived at J.N.U I was told that I could have a hostel but by that time I had already found an accommodation. Also I was doing a legal research project which required me to travel to different police stations in the city and I needed freedom to do things which I got by renting an apartment by myself and also , I mean India is very different than  my place and I needed to have  a refuge, I needed to go to a place at the end of the day where I could feel completely home, where I would not need to worry about what I was wearing or how was I acting so in that sense it was a good decision to live off campus although I do know people who have done exchanges from J.N.U and have lived on campus and said it has been amazing because they have developed a much stronger friendship circle while living on the campus.

Which course have you been offered in J.N.U?

At my university in Australia I am doing LLB, bachelor of law and BA majoring in Spanish and in Latin American studies. It is a dual degree for five and half years. So , when I came to J.N.U  I wanted to study some law subject in ‘centre for law and governance’ but as a foreign casual student I was told when I arrived that I could only study subjects within the ‘school of foreign languages, literature and cultures’ and they chose that my centre should be the center for English studies and I was originally enrolled in the masters of English but  never having studied English literature before I found it completely out of my reach so I approached the head of the school and asked if I could be transferred to some undergraduate course. He told me the only undergraduate courses available are in foreign languages so because I had already lived in France I decided to study French and Spanish.

How different did you find J.N.U from your university?

Very different, in every single possible way and that does not mean I did not like J.N.U, I simply loved it and none of the differences were better or worse. First of all my classes at UQ (University of Queensland) were not with the same people all the times. We choose a time table and we have a lot of electives and there are two lecture streams each week and then there are tutorials. In my tutorials there are 15 people and they change each week. So for example let’s say I am doing 4 different law subjects, so each of these subjects would have tutorials and in each of these tutorials there would be different people. In lectures there are 100 people and we sit in a big amphitheatre and the lectures are recorded which can be watched online.

Do they have any attendance criteria?

In my language classes there is but for my law subjects there isn’t any but 10% of the grades are from attendance or participation in those tutorials. Also lots of students work outside the campus so having lectures online ensures that they don’t miss out any.

So before coming to J.N.U what kind of impression of the university did you have and how correct it turned out to be?

So Aashutosh having studied at J.N.U told me what it would be like. I was told that it is very political with a very vibrant student culture and I found it to be exactly like that. The student culture here is amazing and I loved the graffiti on the walls.

Talking of graffiti, how did you find the posters in J.N.U?

I loved them, even the ones I didn’t agree with. My favorite ones were the feminist ones because I have been studying sexual assaults and have been very involved in feminist discourse. I loved how knowledgeable students are on political issues and how free their expression is. I mean J.N.U is a very communist, leftist university and it is fabulous that this kind of mindset can prosper in a university in India where it is not very evident outside.

In what ways did you find J.N.U different from outside?

Well at least I wasn’t stared at in J.N.U, maybe twice or thrice but that’s far better than outside where I get stared at all the time. Also I found the students very friendly and welcoming here. The dynamics of a class are really different here than what you find in Europe or in Australia. In Europe and in Australia arts subjects are considered to be a feminine thing, which should not be whereas here in J.N.U I found equal number of boys as girls in the language classes which I think, is great.

Tell us about your scholarship.

It is from the Australian govt., dept of foreign affairs and trade. There is a big push at the moment for Australia to be more engaged in the region we are actually part of because obviously we have close ties to America, Europe and England but when you look at where we are in the world, we are present in the Asia pacific region and yet we are not fully taking responsibility for our partnership with the countries with which we should be working together because we share a lot of same kind of dilemmas and also since I come from a legal background I am interested in similarities we have in terms of our common law system. The law system of India and Australia are much more similar than that of India and England. But anyway my scholarship is called New Colombo Plan scholarship. The scholarship was earlier called Colombo Plan scholarship back in the 50’s. It was an initiative started by the Australian govt. to fund bright scholars from Indo Pacific region to come to Australia. New Colombo plan is basically paying back. It funds the bright minds from Australia to study in the Indo Pacific region. The scholarship aims to create an institutional link between the two countries, people to people links between the two countries. So my scholarship funds my travel expenses, insurance, my living expense and gives me a monthly allowance.

Does J.N.U have an MOU with your university?

Yes but it hasn’t been used very much and I am one of the first student to actually use it. J.N.U sent a bunch of post grad biotech students to our university, couple of years back but we have been discussing in depth with our university about making this agreement more useful. So we have discussed co-hosting conferences in areas where both the universities have expertise, making research projects more collaborative, joint projects between the academics of J.N.U and University of Queensland and have the bright students from J.N.U go to U.Q and vice versa.

So let’s say a language student from J.N.U applies for a scholarship at your university. Then what kind of course can he/ she pursue there?

One of the greatest things about UQ is that you are not limited to faculties. As I am doing a dual degree, I am doing both arts and law. I can study subjects across both faculties. The arts faculty includes languages which range from Sanskrit to French and many other foreign languages. But what subjects you study depends very much upon your degree and what your university allows you to. For example you have optional courses in J.N.U you can take such courses at UQ as long as J.N.U allows you to.
These are excerpts from an interview conducted by a student of CENTRE OF FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE STUDIES, SCHOOL OF LANGUAGE for-The Informer. The purpose was to learn about the views held by students joining JNU community via student exchange programme.

The  Informer


Categories: Arts and culture