So this week I went to Delft.
I went there to see a grad school, in a tiny little city in the Netherlands, that I knew about because one of my design professors had gone there on sabbatical and brought two Dutch people back with him to teach our class about sound design.
A lot of American designers don’t go to grad school because it’s not necessary, we are a skill-based field, and you gain skill by working. But my Life Goal is to be a design professor, because I know how to do research and teaching makes me happier than most other things, which means grad school is in my future.
Paris is burning me up inside. It’s not the City, it’s the city. The big, the loud, the dirty. My internship is burning me up inside. It’s not anyone’s fault, but I came here and I think I developed social anxiety.
(“You don’t talk a lot, do you?” that creepy old man said at the lunch with the old people.
“No, but I’m...like that,” I said. BUT NOT USUALLY! I'M TRYING!!!!
“She might not talk, but she listens,” Maurice said, tilting his head and touching his ear, and I thought, ah, that’s why he’s perhaps my favorite personne âgée.)
So I was burning up inside all day from anxiety. I can hardly even remember the morning, to be honest, because I stayed up until 2am research the Netherlands and Delft, one because I’m a champion procrastinator and don’t do things until they have to be done, and two because that’s the time I can usually bring myself to go to bed anyway. Moving halfway across the world did nothing to fix my bad habits.
But then the anxiety slid away with the smooth rolling of the first train to Lille, blonde air and blue sky, I looked out the window and I felt calm, felt happy, felt okay.
One time I was walking down to campus at 6:30 in the morning, and in the pre-natal morning light the sky was soft and dim and blue, that color of the night when the night has not quite fled away, and I felt like a future I did not understand was rushing toward me, and that somehow being on campus for this 7am design final was part of it.
But that’s how I felt on this train, except this time instead of my future rushing toward me, I was rushing toward it, and taking charge of it this time.
We got to the station in Lille, me and Elizabeth because Elizabeth came with me, looked out the window at those industrial towers of that industrial town, bought some chocolate because you know we both needed it, sat on a bench and used the 20-minute free wifi, there was a pigeon in the terminal and it was missing all its toes on both its feet.
And then we got on the train again, Elizabeth again put her head down and music in, I looked out the window and got a text from my phone saying “Bienvenue à Belgique,” all the little houses were connected with up-down zig-zag roofs and each of them were different colors.
We got off at Rotterdam, having passed through the entire country of Belgium in less than an hour, we got down the platform and past a couple restaurants and came back up, the interior space was clean and beautiful and not at all like the metros in Paris.
We took a little train, like the RER lines but quieter and cleaner, past forests and canals and a swan and a gray heron, I looked out the window and asked Heavenly Father to help me know if I should live here, I looked at the tiny green water plants and I think I felt good.
The ticket lady kicked another lady off the train, we gave her our tickets moments before descending, I talked to Elizabeth in French because that is my default setting for a foreign country, apparently.
And it was amazing, first of all, how clean and nice the inside of the station. Everything seemed new, or well-maintained, there were words on the ceiling.
We saw a seemingly endless garage of bikes hanging up on racks—for rent, or belonging to the people here? Two young people took their bikes and started riding them around the station, it was 9pm, there were very few people there.
We exited the station, we couldn’t believe this place.
We arrived in Delft at the setting of the sun, after night had started falling and the colors of the horizon were pink and orange and that light and gentle blue that I saw at the salt flats, I think.
There was a canal in front of us that ran to our left and our right. Red brick cobblestone road, bikers going by, everyone biking, everyone is biking.
I could see the windmill to my left from that picture, the tower of Old Church or New Church in the distance, I couldn’t tell, I read about them on Wikipedia—
We found our hostel with the help of some of the locals, our room was at the top of a steep steep spiral staircase, we went to bed, I had to wake up at seven.
I woke up in the morning morning from heat and strange dreams. I think I had been half awake half the night, in and out of consciousness, and when I woke up I didn’t know where I was, or which orientation I was facing, and I was 100% convinced I was here with Caitlin until I looked over the side of the bed and saw Elizabeth.
We woke up at 7 and got ready to leave by 8, because I had that appointment with Reinier at 9 (a PhD student and one of the Dutch people who had taught us about sound design), and I didn’t really know how to get down to TU Delft.
Delft is beautiful in the morning. No one was on the streets yet, everything is quiet. It’s kind of light and blue and gold, and the sun touches things and everything is quiet. I like mornings. Light in the mornings and it feels like magic.
Suffice it to say that Delft is lovely, there are flowers on the canals, the people are kind and beautiful and welcoming, the streets are paths of cobblestone for bikes, the shops are sweet, I felt good here, I felt safe.
The streets here are red and brown, and they’re made of bricks that are long and thin and it’s the same as the houses that stand on each side. It’s like the city folds down and holds you in and it feels complete, gentle, safe, and calm. And up top, the sky is blue.
We walked the wrong way at first, because everything is flat and I didn’t know what way was north or south.
We figured it all out eventually, with the help of two maps and some street signs with names we didn’t know how to pronounce.
When you come down from Delft into TU Delft, everything opens up. The campus is long on the sides of the avenue, like really long. I think it’s a long as the city itself. And it’s not clear when it starts, because it’s just on the continuation of that road, but we suddenly started seeing TU Delft on the street signs.
I realized too late that I didn’t actually know what building I was going to. The campus doesn’t have one main central building, apparently, and we didn’t have wifi so it was too late for me to ask. Luckily, there was a student services building to our right with a guy smoking outside, so Elizabeth said “It’s all you” and I went inside and asked the guy at the counter, which was kinda scary because he was hard to understand, but apparently the industrial design building was right next door so we walked down to that.
And it was HUGE! It was white and blue. And HUGE inside, and spacious, and so beautiful, and well-designed, and clean. Everything was high quality. By that, I mean all the furniture was just really nice and really just well-designed. The whole building was like that. It was fun and it was colorful and it was clean and spacious and beautiful and just good, it felt good, it felt like everything I love about industrial design culture.
We waited at the revolving doors behind the information desk for a while (a place that has a huge whole spacious building and an information desk dedicated to industrial design! I thought about our dark beige little hallways and wow, what a difference), arriving by the mercy of God just five minutes early, but it was almost 9:15 and Reinier hadn’t showed. I didn’t think we were in the wrong place…but we sat at those tables and waited, until I got the courage to go up to the information desk and ask to use their phone.
A male voice answered and said something in Dutch on the phone, so I said, “Is this Reinier?” “Yes.” “It’s Camilla.” “Oh Camilla, yes.” (Reinier says “yes” at the end of all his sentences.) I told him that I was here, that I hope it’s the right place, he said he’d come down.
And so I sat with Elizabeth on those chairs for a second, and then I saw Reinier come down, tall and slim and dressed in jeans and black.
He said hello and we shook hands. I felt like a child, which I guess I am, because I’m only 20, but here we are on a grad school visit, so I’ve got to feel legitimate.
He asked if we wanted a drink of water (and remembered that we don’t drink coffee, how nice of him), and Elizabeth decided to stay on the tour after all, which I turned out to be really happy about.
And then he led us upstairs to the break room with the good drink machine where you can get water with "sparkles", and for everything I walked through, I just loved it. It was colorful, there were design projects on the walls, there were studios everywhere—beautiful studios, full of fun and random things (like any design studio should be), with names like StudioDO and StudioMAKE and all sorts of other names in negative-space cloudy white on the door, which were just studios for the professors and their research (because industrial design research is FUN), and that’s how design should be!
The office spaces were AMAZING too. The hallway just widened out gradually for a bit, and there were like six or eight desks just kind of strewn around equidistant across the space, each one of them full of STUFF and COLORS in their corner, and Reinier said “Hey” to lady with long dark brown hair, or however it is they say things.
There was a set of vibrant-colored couches, an ornate table covered in chalkboard paint, Reinier said this is where they have meetings when people come to do research.
He showed me ALLLLL the studios for students (there were 60 studios! 60!), the project spaces for master’s students’ second year, the AMAZING machine shop (metal equipment, wood equipment, VERY LARGE 3D printer), the “workshop” for hand tools (which is what “shop” is short for, of course—and I think I like workshop better) which is a massive room downstairs, the fact that they have giant LECTURE HALLS, AND I LOVED IT, I LOVED IT, IT MAKES DESIGN FEEL SO GOOD AND SO IMPORTANT!!!!
So then we sat in the front terrace where Elizabeth and I had been sitting in the first place while waiting for him, and I asked him a lot of questions about the Netherlands and the program.
I have two pages of notes on this stuff. Let me tell you just a few little parts—
He told me about how they have 350 first-year students in the industrial design engineering program here. How they have no selection process, which makes them have some kind of mediocre students, but about 1/3 drop after the first year.
He said that the students at BYU seemed to him to be a lot more passionate and focused—on the whole, better students. I told him that’s because we had to fight to be there.
He said that the program at Delft focuses more on the actual engineering of products and how to make things in reality, how to make things that work. He also said that their program focuses more on design research, user research, rather than on just arbitrary measure. I told him that it is true. But that I think things are about to change, and very soon.
He said that there are 55 elective courses in the masters, that you can specialize or you spread yourself broad, that the topics cover everything under the sun.
It seemed to me that their master’s program is just an extension of the bachelor, not a big separate GRAD SCHOOL type of thing, with teaching experience and everything, and I was worried that doing this program wouldn’t qualify me enough to be a professor. Because we’ve got to remember the end goal here.
We talked about the differences between the educational system in America and the Netherlands. A lot of subtle differences in terminology, a lot of differences in how the system is set up.
Reinier has been here FOREVER. He started at TU in 2000 and in the industrial design program in 2002. I asked him what’s next, and he said he’s got (hopefully) got another year in his doctorate, then he’s going to do a post-doc, then he wants to teach!
Reinier says “yes” at the end of his sentences. Very well-enunciated, “yes”. “How old are Dutch people when they start to learn English?” Elizabeth asked. “You speak English so well.” And Reinier was so pleased.
I left from that feeling excited and hopeful. Not sure if This Was the Place because we have to remember my Life Goal. But the sun was shining and the day was bright, and Delft is wonderful and nothing can go wrong.
After that we just WANDERED AROUND THE TOWN for hours and hours. We ate lunch at the CUTEST little restaurant called Jans with nice, kind, tall waitresses who were very friendly and spoke English. It was the type of restaurant that very easily could have looked like it was trying too hard, but it didn’t somehow, it just had that right amount of sincerity and charm and flat out quality that it didn’t need any sort of pretention. That was just how it was, plain and simple.
I got what turned out to be an open-faced chicken sandwich on gluten-free bread with frilly little greens and a curry mayonnaise sauce. Then we got tiny delicious ice cream (apple tart for me and stroopwaffel for Elizabeth—simply amazing) and I got a gluten-free dutch pastry that was absolutely NUTS. It was like a giant tall macaron but the pastries had more sugar and there was a massive amount of whipped cream on the top and in the middle, and it was covered with nuts. In all honesty, I LOVED it.
We stopped at a little design café/shop right next to the hostel that had some nice felt bags I liked, bought some Delft blue china in the centrum market square, stopped in a little store that had a lot of the really clever/charming design things made of silicon (you know the kind), then we swung by a thrift store on the side.
This was a cool thing. It was a pop-up store, which means that the lady just rents a building for sale for like a couple of weeks or a month, and then moves on to a new city.
There was a lot of vintage/secondhand stuff, but also a lot of handmade stuff from modern-day designers. You know the kind. Leather bags and even a cool pair of wooden headphones. I didn’t think I liked anything at first (definitely not the clothes), but on the way down the stairs, I found a vintage medium brown small leather bag with embossing on the front and a thin strap for €12,75 or something (and I have been looking for one of those for a long time, even if I didn’t know it the entire time). Then I impulse-bought a soft light blue suede pouch near the register from a modern-day designer. It was €30, but I bought it because it’s actually worn around your waist with a brown leather belt, and I thought that was kind of silly but also just so rad.
Then we went down to another vintage store, where Elizabeth bought a black jacket that said “Parisienne” and I bought a little colorful woven wrist/arm band/wrap.
By the way, this entire time of walking through the city, all I could think of was that this is lovely, this is lovely, there is no other word to describe this but lovely.
The streets are that shade of reddish-brown. Even when the day is hot, it is not unbearable. There are happy, pleasant people walking by and biking by, and no one is trying to steal your wallet. There are beautiful, cute little shops, this town has two or three churches, there are little green pebble-plants in the canals, and did I mention that there are canals and bridges everywhere.
We walked down a road by a canal, on a path by the canal and the road, ducked under the leaves of a weeping willow, and I said that I felt like this would have to end, that there was no way that something could be so lovely.
Then we took a walk on the “Outer Canal Street”, as suggested by Reinier. I thought it was going to be a hilly, grassy little canal shoot with trees, so I thought that we could both sit there and write for a while. Turns out it wasn’t, that it was just a canal street like all the rest, but it was still actually pretty nice, and it was cool to see how people had all parked their boats there. We saw a swan pedal boat, and a bridge that was like a ramp instead of stairs because it was for bikes.
We walked down it and watched the city change, watched it change from an insular little medieval village to something a bit more like what we see in America, with overpasses and dirty white walls of buildings.
Then we couldn’t really find anywhere suitable to sit, so we kind of came back to the city and chose a spot at the side of a canal, even though I haven’t seen any Delftian people do that, so I don’t know if it’s socially acceptable.
We both pulled out our laptops and started to write at that point. People on bikes went by, and a lot of food delivery on motorcycles. They were loud, and had big boxes on the back. There was something under the water that kept sending up bubbles. Elizabeth stuck her earbud up her nose, and I took a snapchat.
Delft has a smell, you know. It’s not like the Paris smell, which smelled of pink and light powder. The Delft smell is like deep deep brown sugar and a bit of syrup turned sour. Not bad, but a bit heavy, deep maybe, like a rich amber molasses or something a dark forest green.
We got up and wandered around the city after that, because it got cold, and I think we both were done. Two sets of perhaps Arab boys in cars with the windows down said “Hey” as they passed us, and I wondered about the student life here.
And then we were walking up the street, watching the magic descend with the colors in the dusk, running my eyes along that red-brown brick stone and the upper story of the houses across the canal, and I felt good, so so good inside, and I turned to Elizabeth and said "There is a very good chance that I am going to live here."
I think I decided in that moment. That it would work, I would make it work. Then we spent the rest of the night wandering around and feeling good, visiting the north-east corner of the city, meeting some cats. The colors touched the air with the dusk. This city was meant to be seen in the evening and the early morning, and I fell in love with it more with every step.
Which is why it felt like someone had carved out my heart with an ice cream scoop when, seconds before I was about to close my eyes that night to go to sleep, I saw I had three new emails and Bryan Howell told me that the MS degree from TU Delft was not enough to make me a design professor.
NO! NO NO NO NO NO!
It turns out that to be a professor, you have to have a terminal degree. That means a degree with no other degrees that can come after it. An MFA is a terminal degree, because there’s no PhD in fine art. An MS is not because you can get a PhD and beyond, and guess what TU Delft offers?
Then why did this place have to be so lovely? Why did I feel so good about coming here? Why did that design building have to be light and open and blue and white???
It would be so easy to be swayed. This place has a charm like I’ve never never seen. But we have to remember what counts, we have to remember my Life Goal.
I woke up the next morning in the white room and it for a second I didn't know anything at all until I remembered that something was wrong and it was like the ice cream scoop all over again.
But I still laid in bed and looked at the ceiling, read my scriptures and felt disappointment but when I prayed I could pray nothing but gratitude, thank you for letting me come here, for letting me fall in love with this city, for letting me see that beautiful design building, I trust you to guide my life.
But it was just time to get up and go. There was no need to take my time, I got up and washed my face and felt kind of like my chest was hollow inside.
Elizabeth and I checked out and left our stuff under the stairs so we could walk around and get it later. We left and there was a market set out on the street outside, something that hadn't been there before.
We went down to where we had eaten lunch yesterday and I ate three eggs and good ham and cheese at our breakfast. There was another market with flowers, and I remembered that those girls in the Orangerie had told us about markets on Saturday mornings, and I thought, darn it, why can't I live here.
I impulse-bought a leather wallet for €17,95 at the little market, and a pair of super dope high-top shoes at a store for €29,95, because why not, you only visit the Netherlands once. And now it looks like I'm not coming back here again.
We went to the New Church by the market square and climbed the tower. It cost €4 to get into the church, and the tower, and the Old Church across the town—
The climb up the tower was an experience to be sure. The steps were wooden or stone, warped, wrapped in a ring by being stacked around a central pole (I was interested in the construction method), with huuuuge gaps between the slats, younger Camilla might have died.
It was a dizzying experience, literally. It made me dizzy, and off-balance just a tad. And nauseous, a bit. I thought about all those monks or church workers or whoever rang the bells having to climb up every day.
The view from the top was incredible. We were so so so high. All those little houses and their red roofs. We could see the trees and canals, and I thought, gosh dang it, I wish I could stay in this city.
The view wrapped around the tower. It was wonderful, but we were only up for a sec. We spent more time on the stairs than we did at the top, and then we had to go down.
There was another place to get out that we hadn't noticed on the way up. It was a little labyrinth, almost, or pillars and balconies, and the spaces were so trim that even Elizabeth and I almost got stuck, and we joked around like crazy and I was just so glad to be traveling around with that girl.
We kept going, we wandered around the city. I impulse-bought a green wool jacket from WWII, with a red cross and “NEDERLANDS” on the sleeve, from a street vendor and the only person I met who didn’t speak English.
(“Thirty! Thirty! Three…zero!” But he said it in his language, and I wasn’t sure what he was saying, and he wrote the numbers with abruptness on his hand in a way like Helen Keller, then eventually we got it, and eventually we got it that he asked if I wanted a bag, and then he said something that I thought maybe meant “Two more, thirty two,” but we didn’t quite understand so he just waved his arm and let us go, and I figured out just now that he must have meant that the bag cost two euros more.)
We walked back down to the south edge of town, where I bought hazelnoot (hazelnut) and blebessen (blueberry) ice cream from a probably over-rated vendor just outside the Old Gate edge of town (seeing as the ice cream at Jans seemed to be a lot better), but it was still very good and the hazelnoot tasted like Peanut Butter Captain Crunch.
We had an amazing lunch from a place called The Living, where you load your plate up with whatever you want and then pay by weight. The choices were all delicious fresh whole foods and salads, grilled eggplant and zucchini, watermelon and feta salad, different peppers and chickpeas, something that was maybe cabbage and fennel. Everything was made with oil and everything felt kind of Mediterranean. My entire plate was €5,85, which I would say ain't too bad.
We went back to Jans for the third time in 24 hours, because I wanted to try their “Snickers”-flavored ice cream (which did not actually have Snickers in it, or caramel, but I thought it was delicious, and probably better that way). And then I also bought that nougat thing again, because I loved it.
And then we had to go get our stuff, to leave that city, goodbye Delft, goodbye.
Delft is lovely, I cannot deny it. It broke my heart in the morning when we were walking around and I knew I could not come back here.
But at the end, I know that I can’t give up yet. This place is too lovely to do that.
So maybe I can't get an MS degree and be a professor. But what if I can come do a year here, or a semester? What if I’m in an MFA, but they don't teach me how to do research, or the kind of skills I know I need? I can come here, I can take those elective courses, don't people do things like this from time to time?
I’ve been told in this world that if you decide what you want, you can make it happen.
So maybe I will end up back here again, in this city that’s at it’s best in the mornings and the evenings, in this city with its churches and its flowers and canals, in this city where Reinier turned very seriously to me and said, “If you move here, you’ll need to have a bike,” in this city that is so nice and so friendly and so lovely and so clean, where I looked at the tops of the buildings and I felt so good about the idea of living here.
Everything is okay.