Delhi belly or Indian delight?

Here I am…in a taxi with a complete stranger. I found him in a big crowd of people, holding a note with my name on it. It is the middle of the night and I can see and smell the smog in the air, while I see the outskirts of the city passing by. Without my Wi-Fi and GPS working here, I have no clue where we are or where we are going. The roads are desolated at this time of day. Highways with 10 lanes and huge crossovers suddenly change into dusty bumpy roads, only to almost magically change back into highways again just a minute later. Not knowing the name of the guesthouse where I am supposed to spend this short night before catching a domestic flight to Chandigarh, I have no other choice than to put complete faith in the driver.

And rightly so: After driving for over an hour he drops me off with my bags at a big house, where I receive the keys of a big room with a very fancy-looking bathroom with a bubble bath. Someone has even put a heater in the room, as it gets quite chilly in the evening. I can’t stop thinking: Is this really Delhi, the place everyone warned me about? Where people would constantly try to rip me off, a place full of bugs, dirty… My biggest “problem” that night is the lack of hot water…but hey…it doesn’t make the bathroom look less fancy. So here I am…in India!

“Thapar University is a very successful technical university”

Together with my colleague Theo Bouman, I happily accepted the offer from Thapar University to visit, and discuss possibilities for collaboration. Thapar University is a very successful technical university that has recently started a 2-year Master program in Clinical Psychology, led by Dr. Santha Kumari. The welcome we get when arriving at Thapar University defines the whole experience: Warm, hospitable, and with delicious food. When we step out of the car, the team of staff members welcomes us with flowers and a big sign saying “Thapar University welcomes the Groningen team”, and we are immediately invited to enjoy lunch with them. They serve soup, delicious curries, dal, vegetables, paneer, yoghurt, rice, and chapattis, and the waiters are ready to top you up whenever you tend to get close to eating half of what’s on your plate. We finish off the meal with a delicious sweet desert. I can assure you: Patiala, India, where 70% of the people are vegetarian, is a Valhalla for people who do not eat meat, and actually…for anybody who loves food.

The visit is neatly scheduled and super-efficient. We are lecturing for the master students and attend many meetings, including with the director and other deans and department heads, with the psychologist and psychiatrist who offer internships to the students, with other staff members, and again with the Psychology master students themselves. All meetings are accompanied by the best chai and local food; we are fascinated by the fact that so many products we get to try are made out of milk, while ranging drastically in texture and taste.

“cultural differences emerge when we get a tour exploring the huge and still expanding university campus”

The hospitality of our Indian colleagues is overwhelming and at the same time makes me feel ashamed of our own culture, where it is considered impolite to unexpectedly show up around dinnertime and where it is even normal to be sent away or asked to come back later “because we are having dinner”. Other cultural differences emerge when we get a tour exploring the huge and still expanding university campus. Not only nearly all students, but also most staff members and their families live here. Moreover, the campus hosts sports facilities, a swimming pool, shops, and an amphitheatre, making it a town of its own. The flyers in the academic buildings reveal there are lots of social activities being organized, while there are also strict rules on what times boys and girls can use the swimming pool (strictly separated) and what time they should be in at night.

All in all, this visit gave us a good flavour of Thapar University in Patiala and resulted in very concrete plans for collaboration, for student and staff exchange, for teaching and research. I wish for many more people to discover, enjoy, and learn from such an intercultural experience. I am sure this is only the start of a fruitful and exciting collaboration between both universities. So far, it has been an Indian delight!

“I wish for many more people to discover, enjoy, and learn from such an intercultural experience”

In her work, Miriam Lommen combines experimental studies in the laboratory with clinical studies. She focuses on identifying individual differences that make one vulnerable to develop post-traumatic stress disorder after a traumatic event, or to develop an anxiety disorder. Using experimental and longitudinal designs she tries to unravel how these individual differences exactly contribute to the onset or maintenance of anxiety symptoms. Ultimately she uses these insights to (further) develop and test (new) interventions to treat psychopathology.


Miriam Lommen completed her Bachelor and Master degrees at Maastricht University. For her PhD degree she went to Utrecht University, where she also started her clinical training. In 2013, shortly after obtaining her PhD degree and her registration as a cognitive-behavioural therapist, she moved to the University of Oxford. After 2.5 years as a postdoctoral researcher at the Oxford Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma, she started as an assistant professor at the University of Groningen in 2015.


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