Berkeley Perspective: the Hague


December 7, 2016


From left to right: Tobias Disse, Daan Hittema, Erik De Groot, Maria Estella.
From left to right: Tobias Disse, Daan Hittema, Erik De Groot, Maria Estella.

As the semester wraps up, we not only rush to finish projects and study for finals, but it’s also a time to look back on experiences we have gained and new friends we have met. The Sutardja Center welcomed four bright seniors from the Hague University in the Netherlands this fall – Maria Estella, Erik De Groot, Daan Hittema, and Tobias Disse – and as we reflect and wrap up the semester, we asked our students to share what they learned and found at their time in Berkeley.

What is your major/area of study? What do you like to do/research?

Daan: Industrial Product Engineering & Design – Product development/management

Erik: I major Civil engineering / sustainability. I focus mostly on the built environment and entrepreneurship within my studies.

Tobias: Industrial Engineering & Operations Research. I focus on process optimizations and keeping myself busy with new technologies like Blockchain.

Maria Estella: Industrial Design Engineering – came to UC Berkeley focusing on the entrepreneurial perspective.

Can you describe your Berkeley experience in one sentence?

Daan: UC Berkeley allows me to face new challenges, discover & explore many opportunities and make or try decisions for my own personal growth while connecting with interesting people and attending numerous mind-opening events.  

Maria Estella: UC Berkeley has been an engaging opportunity for me to meet people and being involved in projects. People who go to Berkeley contribute to real-life challenges.

Erik: Berkeley has shown me that hard work and the right mindset create the right circumstances to be able to grasp opportunities as they come, give 100% and you get 200% back.

Tobias: Berkeley is a place where nothing is impossible as long if you have the right mindset and focus. The sky’s the limit and you will find the right people around you to build a team that can change the world. Everybody at Berkeley is busy working on changing the world and that provides the campus with a unique atmosphere.

In one word?

Daan: Explore

Maria Estella: Chance

Erik: Hustle

Tobias: Challenge

What was your favorite part of the semester?

Daan: Certainly, exploring and figuring out how things work here at Berkeley was and is a great experience! At the beginning of the semester, we had to do multiple group exercises to find the right team members. Due to the hustling and mingling around, I realized what is needed to succeed as a group in the project, but I also concluded which skills I lack and where I could improve. This made me aware of my own strengths and how I could be valuable to the group. It is honestly so great to meet people with different opinions, backgrounds, and cultures; because that’s how you, as a team, succeed! Since I recognized all these findings, I now know what I want to do after this semester.

Maria Estella: I was able to get access to subjects that I am personally interested in for ex. Decal Web Design, Decal 3D printing, Sutardja Dai – Makers Pass and attend some events that are related to my career. I love the people that I’ve met during my times in Berkeley, and the things I’ve learnt here. They inspire me to be who I want to be.

Erik: Hard to say. I really enjoyed the process of creating groups in the startup projects. It gives you an amazing reflection on yourself and makes you realise the improvements you can make as a person. Besides that, I enjoyed meeting and talking with students from all over the world the most. You get exposed to so many different cultures and worldviews and that is something that is priceless. I have always been good at connecting with people, and Berkeley took this to the next level for me.

Tobias: I think my most favorite thing was arriving in Berkeley and making myself ready for the upcoming six months. I came here with the goal to leave something behind. Making this goal happen was in the beginning quite hard until I found my passion for Blockchain and got the opportunity to build a completely new organization and have a big impact on campus. I got to learn so much by interviewing people, building the organizational structure and last but not least working together with like minded people.

What were some new challenges you faced?

Daan:·I arrived in another country, a different continent. Being on my own, taking care of myself, communicating and living in another culture is of course a challenge.

Working in an international group, speaking English all the time is something I already had experienced for a year. Nonetheless I was challenged in making myself clear, expressing myself and working effectively among my peers in Berkeley.

Choosing how much and in which classes I put my commitment was a challenge.  I’m used to finishing what I start no matter what and giving my utmost. After a couple of weeks, I discovered that it is completely normal to “shop” classes. This means that you can try out multiple classes and see if it suits you, and if it doesn’t that you can just drop it. If I would have known beforehand that you can drop out of a class even after a few weeks, I might have tried more different classes or dropped a project.

The group/team forming here at UC Berkeley is much more extensive and thorough. This process to find the right people takes weeks, but in the meantime, you’re already working on assignments and exercises.  In the Netherlands, you form your own team within one day or the professors already put together the teams.

During the group forming process I faced another challenge: Just step to someone completely unknown, try to sell yourself and see if there is a good connection.There was a moment where I had to step out of a group because of earlier agreements. I found this a hard decision to make at a later stage. Being totally honest with each other and with my courage I stepped out of the group. I had only a few days to find a new group, luckily I succeeded and tackled this challenge.

Maria Estella: Compared to the environment I used to be at, people around here work hard and it motivates me more to do so. I think your surroundings can influence what you are doing. The lifestyle here also reminded me how we should see failure as an opportunity, and not the end of the world. I often forget about this and tend to see failing as a disaster. I am not very good at approaching people; however, I still want to make as much connections as I can in my own ways.

Erik: I think being by myself was a new challenge for me that I have never faced before. In the Netherlands I always have friends around me, and since I’m quite the extrovert it was hard for me in the beginning here in Berkeley. I, however, found it easy to create friendships after a few weeks, so this challenge was dealt with.

Another challenge that I faced was the orientation of my future. I always thought that I wanted to start a highly technical startup when I got older, but ever since I got here I’m not sure anymore. I like the startup environment in a sense that it is really easy to make connections, but the focus lies so much on trying to find (VC) funding in the classes that it didn’t really feel like the entrepreneurship that I want to get into. To give you a perspective, if you get VC funded, they want you to have an exit strategy ready within 7 years. Which means that you work on your dreams for 7 years and after that you either make sure your startup gets acquired, or that it goes public. Either way, it feels to me like you end up losing your life’s work to others. I realized that while I was in Berkeley, and this insight would have never been achieved so quickly if I wasn’t studying here.

Tobias: When I stepped in to this challenge I knew it was gonna be either very hard or it was going to be an amazing experience, of course it turned into being an amazing experience but there were some tough times. In the beginning you need to get used to all the new ways things go at Berkeley. Finding your way on campus, enrolling for classes, forming groups and in the meanwhile make sure you absorb all the new things too. This resulted in two very tiring weeks. After those two weeks I started getting into my rhythm and finding my way on campus and I enrolled in the classes where I wanted to be in. During this week’s you get to meet so many new people and build new friendships and that was very important for me to have real connections with people I work with. Back in the Netherlands I was always surrounded with my friends and was almost never alone and during my time at Berkeley I gave myself some alone time to overthink stuff regarding the future and where I wanted to go with my life; what is my purpose in life? This gave me a really good opportunity to sharpen my plans for the future and be ready for it. The real challenge for me was spending my time on the things that I wanted to spent my time on. I did not want to waste my time while I was here, and the first month this was very difficult because you want to do everything you can to make things work and make sure you have a good time. But the most important thing about having a good time is spending the time usefully on the things you like.

What were some things you had to do to adapt?

Daan: UC Berkeley and particularly the startup scene is an incredibly fast paced, ever-changing, diverse environment. I got the feeling that I missed out on classes, events, meetings and activities. I wanted to experience everything. Soon I recognized that I couldn’t attend everything and I had to make choices. I had to be more time efficient and proactive.

During the beginning weeks, it was very unclear how everything worked. It forced me to discover more on my own and discover myself as well. I soon learned that only I could help myself achieving my own goals. It’s up to me to make decisions and execute actions to reach those goals, because no one else looked after me.

I had to act more confident, open up and be more extroverted in order to adapt to the open, social, mingle-culture here at Berkeley. This is important for networking & presenting.

In group projects, I’ve always been or got voted team leader because I show initiative. The students at UC Berkeley, and maybe especially the students following classes from SCET, are all just like me; proactive, serious, dedicated and willing to organize and lead. As one of my goals; I took a more consulting, supportive role in one of the projects. I had to reinvent myself how to contribute in a team and in different team-dynamics.

Maria Estella: the Berkeley hustle; everything went so quick the first time I arrive here and it was also because the visa and relevant paperwork before I arrive in Berkeley was in a rush and didn’t have much time to actually have enough research.

Erik: That no one, and literally no one is looking after you here. It is all up to you. All the action that you take has an effect on what you achieve here. This level of freedom is not something that I have ever experienced before, and it requires some good internal motivation to get everything in order. Another important thing I had to adapt to is the assertiveness of the American students. They truly perform on another level when it comes to the skill of being confident and assertive than students back in the Netherlands. For me, this is of course a beautiful gift, because now that I’m used to this level, I can set myself even further apart from others back home.

Tobias: Make sure you fix all your own stuff, it was a deep dive and you had to make sure you not drown in everything that came on your plate. Focus was very important in making this experience an amazing one. The things I needed to get adapted to was speaking English all day and translating my feelings and vision and speaking about literally everything in English. My roommate really helped me to improve my level of English and made sure my pronunciation was perfect. I thought that I found motivated people in the Netherlands, but when I came here almost everybody had a vision of what they wanted to do and how they wanted to change the world. Being part of something like this needed adaption to understand why that happens here at Berkeley. I think being yourself was also one of the adaptation. It is important to be yourself and keep close to your own mindset. Adaptation to the American culture and experiencing the presidential election and thanksgiving was also very special and it was a great experience to learn more about the American culture.

What was your least favorite part of the semester?

Daan: That it was only one semester. The time passes by so fast!

At a certain point I was part of a different team every week(for the purpose of finding the right team members in a chaotic environment)to work on different assignments. It became confusing until we had a permanent team.

Maria Estella: Going back home late at night makes me feel insecure lately because Berkeley is not safe anymore and some of my classes ends late and I ended up ditching some of it.

Erik: I think my only troubles were with the settling in classes, because we had no official student status.

Tobias: I think the same as everyone, that it was only one semester and leaving behind what I have built out.

Favorite class/professor?

Daan: Product Management/Ken Sandy. He brings a lot of experience and knowledge into the room. I admire his open, honest approach during the class. I have never seen a professor so well prepared; the GSI, presentation slides, online material were all very clear and complete! He relates the topics to current events, uses fun examples, and makes the things we need to learn abstract and simple to absorb. His dedication & enthusiasm triggers all students to do their utmost. I’ve learned a lot about the tasks and role of a PM within a company; the techniques you can apply and aspects where you need to pay attention! Because of mister Sandy`s class I want to become a PM one day- I think being in such position is a very valuable experience for everyone’s career.        

Maria Estella: IEOR 150 – Mariana Olvera Cravioto – I like the way she explains the subject because she understood it well, and I also enjoyed Challenge Lab, Decal Web Design.

Erik: 185: BMoE – Ricardo san Martin. He is a serial entrepreneur with such a good spirit and amazing vibe around him that I can’t help but being inspired every time I listen to his entrepreneurial advice, or talk with him outside of class.

Tobias: To be clear I really liked all the professors, the quality and engagements was outstanding. But the one I liked to most was IEOR191-  Naeem Zafar, he really showed us how Silicon Valley works and how you can build a company in this eco-system and it really helped me understanding the SV way of entrepreneurship.

How has Berkeley helped you?

Daan: Berkeley helped me to become a complete team player in business. Berkeley made me realize what I want to do and achieve as a person. It forces you to be bold and network. Berkeley made me realize how much is possible in this enormous world with all its opportunities. Only here at UC Berkeley there are already countless examples which shows how much can be achieved. Berkeley stresses the fact that you just have to do it, it all starts with making that first step and continue when you fail.  

Maria Estella: I came to realize how networking is so important and when you want to do something big you just have to do it. I think experiences are the most essential and that’s how you learn best.

Erik: Berkeley helped me in so many ways. I think the most important growth I got through Berkeley is personal growth. Being here on your own, talking to complete strangers and creating friendships out of that has been such a great experience for me on a personal level. Besides that, Berkeley has shown me that it is all about action in life. Even though I always knew this deep down, here you get a good feeling on how it really works. Lastly, Berkeley has shown me that there are no limitations on life, except the ones that you impose on yourself. Traveling around in America made me realise this too.

Tobias: UC Berkeley and the SCET helped me to understand why I want to be Entrepreneur and what kind of Entrepreneur I want to become. It is truly a unique place to be and spend time with so many different people across to world and it gave me the opportunity to make so many new friends and connection all over the world, just as an example, Turkmenistan, Israel, China, Singapore, Greece and many more. It helped me to understand myself and how i can move forward on the things that I’m doing. It helped me to be true to myself and not lie to myself about certain aspects in life. UC Berkeley & SCET gave me the opportunity to play around in this community of diverse people and it changed me in a positive way.

How has SCET helped/challenged you?

Daan: SCET provided me with all necessary contacts and information I needed in the beginning and during my stay here. Their service to help and offer support wherever needed is a blessing! They like to think with you about how to achieve your goals and their suggestions are valuable! The regular update about events and connections are an extremely helpful resource for personal development and projects, I am glad that I took advantage of that!  

Maria Estella: I didn’t take advantage of the collider projects and I wish I did. However, Danielle and Susan (our Global Partner managers) have helped me to find related networks to do what I want to do: design.

Erik: SCET provided me with all the resources that I needed to start here in Berkeley. Danielle and Susan connect you with everyone that you want to connect with, and kept me very well updated on all the amazing events going on around the Berkeley area.

Tobias: SCET pushed to make my dreams come true and help me reach my goal of leaving something behind. When we started Blockchain at Berkeley, SCET was so supportive: they helped me in every single way possible and they really helped to make my dream come true and I’m deeply thankful for that. Besides this SCET is all about networking and that is what we did. I got many new connections by asking the people from SCET and these connections will help me in the future. The SCET is a special and fun place to be. I want to thank everybody from the SCET Center for good time and I don’t know how I can thank them enough.

What have your experiences at SCET been like?

Daan: The weekly coffee collider is a nice touch-point that forces you to think about your progression here, this is only a small example of the supportive environment. My experience with SCET has been extremely good. They help you wherever possible and put you in touch with many interesting contacts and opportunities.  

Maria Estella: Everything went so fast and I wish I could have done more. But I’m glad I came here because I wouldn’t thought of how important is to have experiences, to network with people

Erik: The people that are involved in SCET truly want to help you to become a better version of you. They want to help you in every single way possible, and that is something I kind of miss back in my university. This is one of the main things that sets Berkeley / SCET apart in my opinion. Not the knowledge, but rather the environment in which you are forced to grow.

Tobias: SCET was our homebase and our second family and if something was wrong you could always email, call or just reach out to talk. It was a great place with so many kind people who helped to make our experience better and better, it did not matter about what, travelling our California or which classes to follow they helped me with everything. During this period it was really good to be surrounded with these kind of people and it made the experience complete.

Favorite + least favorite SCET experiences?

Daan: I like the fact how much SCET is involved in and around UC Berkeley, and it is even trying to improve that! I enjoy the coffee colliders, the international meetings with all sorts of people (Students, Staff, GSI, professors, researchers, fellows, etc.). As the first group coming from The Hague University of applied sciences, there were a few unclarities in the beginning. I must say, this was part of the fun and experience, I didn’t know what to expect at some points!

Maria Estella: I love the challenge and the opportunity around here.

Erik: Favorite: All the international meetings, and interactions with the teachers & students. Least favorite: The realization that the classes you take are mixed with non SCET students, so it is hard to create good schedules to work together with your group members on a startup.

Tobias: Favorite thing: All the connections Susan made for me and it helped me to build a complete network of people besides studying and making friends and the international meetings where we discussed everything regarding entrepreneurship.

Least favorite experience: That the entrepreneurship classes were classes with people who also attended other classes and this meant that when you worked on projects nobody was fully focused and dedicated to really build something but were just there for the experience.

What do you miss most from home?

Daan: I am not homesick, but I miss my loved ones at home. I like to tell how my day was when I get home, even if I am grumpy.

Maria Estella: I kind of miss the ‘taking things slow’ moment back home.

Erik: My longtime friends.

Tobias: My friends and family, but mostly my mom’s home cooked food.

What will you miss most from Berkeley when you get back home?

Daan: The whole culture, environment and all the lovely people I’ve been in touch with. I think the number of available events, meetups and interesting activities in my direct area is something I will miss. I will miss Cal-life in general.

Maria Estella: the people I meet and the opportunities around here

Erik: I will miss everything about Berkeley. The people, the classes, the teachers, the area, the weather, the lifestyle and the freedom I have here. That’s why I’m going to try to get an internship here, so I can enjoy this beautiful place just a bit longer.

Tobias: All the friends and like-minded people I met during this period. I built some real friendships which I feel sad to leave behind. What I’m definitely going to miss is the fast pace. I really love to work in a place where everything goes really fast, it is really my style and I know back home that everything goes slightly slower and people make decisions slower.

What are your plans when you get home?

Daan: When I get home I need to write a few reports. I must finish a mandatory project at my university in collaboration with a company. Then I will finish my bachelors with an internship + thesis at a hardware product development company. After I graduate, I’ll do a masters. During all this, I’ll be working part-time at a design studio. If I have some spare time left, I really want to execute the idea of starting an own company with a friend(s).  

Maria Estella: I want to run a company in my hometown and start my graduation project in The Hague.

Erik: I will continue with my event management company, which I came to appreciate more during my stay here in Berkeley. Besides that I will have to create a thesis for my bachelors, and depending on whether I stay in Berkeley to do that, or go home, I will either write a thesis on water engineering or ‘building with hemp’ , the latter of which I’ve found a passion for during my stay in Berkeley. The goal after my thesis is to create at least one more company next to the one I already have, and then start to grow with both of them.

Tobias: When I get back home I need to write my research thesis to finish up my study and this is going to be for a consultancy company. I will be researching the impact of Blockchain Technology on their current way of doing business. Besides this I will be starting my own Blockchain Consultancy company and already have 3 potential clients lined up and I will be starting one of these projects beginning of February. Additionally, I will pick up Crossfit again and make sure I will get fit again. Crossfitting in Berkeley was kind of expensive so I did not have the opportunity to go as much as I wanted.

What have you accomplished here at Berkeley?

Daan: I’ve accomplished a dream. Studying abroad at a top American university, learning more and gaining experience in entrepreneurship & the startup scene. Create a diverse network of interesting, nice, helpful people. Worked on challenge labs, start up projects, did investment/vc presentations, and I did a lot more(lectures, classes, readings, homework, trips, parties, sports, eat). Become a more complete human being, this whole experience was mind opening! Made friends for life! I have finally developed a specific goal and direction I want to pursue in the future.  

Maria Estella: I got to know some things about HTML/CSS, in which I think this skill is so favorable to find a job. I learnt about forecasting in IEOR 150 class, in which I find it interesting and relevant to what I want to achieve in the future; I want to build a factory and mass produce something. There is one thing that I learnt in Berkeley as well: there is always someone else better than you and you just have to know where you stand, use what you have and do what you can do with it.

Erik: I have finished two challenge labs, in which I learned a lot about leadership, self discipline, problem solving, working with limited group-hours etc. With both challenge labs (clean energy & technology entrepreneurship) my teams and I have created products that I am very proud of. I think that the biggest accomplishment though that I have made here in Berkeley is, again, my personal growth. I had a lot of questions about my future when I came here, which have been resolved. Through all the different things I was exposed to in Berkeley I finally have a good understanding that I probably won’t be going to start a heavily technology based start-up, but rather something related to industrial hemp.

Tobias: At first I agree with Daan. Studying in the USA was my biggest dream and I accomplished it! That is something that will keep me busy for a long long time.  As I mentioned earlier my goal was leaving something behind and I accomplished that by building a new Student Led Organization on the Berkeley Campus. The organization is called Blockchain at Berkeley and we help students understand Blockchain by providing them with workshops and learning sessions. We are also starting to consult for companies next semester and we will help them understand the technology and potentially build out POC. Besides these there are many more things that are being developed for next semester and I truly believe this organization is going to have an impact on the Bay Area and I’m really proud of it and feel really blessed to have worked with the people I built the organization with.

How will YOU impact the WORLD?

Daan: I will do my utmost, trying to do best, achieve, and give back! I want to create. Make a positive, behavioral change in the way we use and communicate with products and humans.

Maria Estella: As my skills and interest lies in the field of design and creativity, I will definitely invent something that will contribute to society and environment.

Erik: I have always had a passion for the creation of a sustainable future for mankind. This is a topic that is central to my studies, and with all the wrongdoings going on in the world these past years, it only became more important to me. With this in mind, I know that I will create my impact through sustainability-focused entrepreneurship.

Tobias: In order to make an impact on the world you first need to make sure why you are in this world. I think I have been put on this Earth to build and create networks of people who push themselves to the limits and change the world in a way that we can sustain and live longer, healthier and happier. We are awaiting big changes in our world, people are getting more connected, processes are getting more optimized and jobs will be automated and we need to make sure that these people who lose their job will find a place to be happy. The way I want to have an impact is by becoming successful enough so I can start giving back to the people in need and make sure I will impact more than just one industry or community.

Any final comments/suggestions?

Daan: Make your goals clear! Know what you want and how to accomplish this. It’s hard to say “no”, but sometimes you need your dedication and commitment somewhere else. Stay focused on what you want to achieve here. Be bold, take a risk, try something new. Let everything just happen to you, experience, learn and adapt! Don’t forget to enjoy UC Berkeley and the rest of California!

Maria Estella: To any future The Hague students, you should get involved as much as possible!

Erik: To all upcoming SCET students: set your ego aside, don’t be afraid to fail and let yourself be surprised by everything that comes on your path. The best experiences lie right outside of your comfort zone.

Tobias: Don’t be afraid to fail and step up the game and make sure your make things happen and get people motivated. If you get other people onboard and motivated these will go by itself and you will have a great experience doing the things you love.