Destination 5, 6 and 7: Environmental Justice, Skagen Summer Lab 2017 and Jakarta, Indonesia

I fail to start this blog post with a quote, simply because I could not find a suitable one. When I started this blog, I had the ambition of writing something for it every week. This quickly turned into once every two weeks, to once every memorable activity and now I find myself writing about three memorable activities in one post. I hope it suffices to say that this is, partly, due to the fact that I am quite busy (a lousy excuse, because aren’t we all…?), but also because I am just so happy at the moment and do not often feel any lost moments where I would just like to sit down and write! I love doing this PhD, it’s busy, but it’s a great and rewarding experience. I love living in Denmark and the people that I have met since I moved here, and I love living in my new home in Roskilde (I moved here from Copenhagen in May!).

However, this blog is about my PhD, so let me start out with telling what I have been up to since my short trip to Aarhus University in May.  In June, I followed a PhD course on Environmental Justice (Destination 5) which discussed the intimate relationship between environment and social difference. This is not exactly my research topic, but people at my own research department organized the course and they encouraged me to sign up, because it was going to be great! They did not disappoint! I learned so much and felt rejuvenated after discussing both the academic and activist side of environmental justice questions. As an academic field, environmental justice examines how environmental inequalities arise and are maintained. As a field of activism, environmental justice has become a focal point for different advocacy groups aiming to contribute to both environmental and social change. As such, this PhD course did not just teach me a lot about theories of social sciences, it also helped me to become more conscious of the contested concept of justice and, as a bonus, I met a lot of new people interested in the same research topics and with the same life-views as myself. PhD courses are not just great learning environments; they are also a great way to meet like-minded people!

Only one week after I finished the Environmental Justice PhD course, which took place in Copenhagen (the office next to mine in fact) and, therefore, close to home, it was time to pack my bags to go on the Rule and Rupture Summer Lab 2017 (Destination 6). In total, there were 15 of us going to Skagen, the most northern tip of Denmark and continental Europe, to stay at a beautiful retreat called Klitgården. Klitgården is six hours by train from Copenhagen. It used to be a summerhouse for the Danish Royal Family and has been turned into a great place for a work get-away. It was our research project’s very first summer lab, intended to get some space and time for reading and writing and to read the papers of other people in my research team, comment on other people’s papers and get great feedback on your own work. These brainstorm sessions were very fruitful and certainly gave me a lot to think about. However, they were also painstakingly hard to follow at certain moments, because my lord, the people I work with are so extremely smart that I felt dumb at the best of times. I have a lot to learn and read. Nevertheless, the people around me were supportive and especially my walks in the beautiful surroundings of Skagen, with my new friend Jesse, really helped to get my head around everything that I am doing with my research project.

During this time in Skagen, I also got to know my colleagues a little bit better and I am pleased to say that I consider them my friends more than colleagues now. We went to the utmost northern tip of Denmark together, where the waves of Skagerrak and Kattegat meet and collide into each other. I believe it was a very special place and a great moment to share. In addition, we went swimming in the sea together (the water was extremely cold), had a picnic, went for walks, and picked chanterelles that were growing wild in the forest, had a BBQ and just chilled a lot.  Skagen, Klitgården, we will be back!

This brings me to my 7th Destination, which was a little bit further from home: Jakarta, Indonesia! Only two-and-a-half weeks after I got back from Skagen, during which my sister and my parents visited me in Denmark (though at separate times) it was time to pack my bags again and go on a trip for 7 weeks. As it is, I am writing this blog post only 6 days into my exploratory field visit and study exchange to Indonesia! At the moment, I am sitting in my Kost in Jakarta, where I lived just one-and-a-half year ago during my internship at the Dutch Embassy here. It has been a great experience to be back here. I met my old friends and some new ones and finally got to meet with my aunt (not really my aunt but the niece of my grandma’s best friend and close family friend) Erlina, who lives in Bogor. I went to visit her for a day by public train, where people were laughing because there was a ‘bule’ (a common term to describe foreigners) on the train! This, apparently, doesn’t happen that often. I was grateful to my friend Indra, who works at my kost, that he took me to the train, because I wouldn’t have had a clue what to once I got there and how to get to Bogor!

Once in Bogor, my aunt and her husband took me to the tea plantation in Puncak, which I have been wanting to visit for years now. We also went to visit the Kebun Raya (royal gardens), a beautiful garden where the Indonesian version of the White House, the house of the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, is situated. For anyone visiting Indonesia, go to Bogor to see it. It’s beautiful. Unfortunately, my trip to Bogor was also a source of minor frustration as we were stuck in traffic a lot and plagued by heavy rainfall. It wasn’t until after my trip when I was back in Jakarta that Indra told me Bogor is also referred to as Kota Hujan (rain city)! I took the car back from Bogor to Jakarta with Desi, the sister of my grandma’s best friend, who, surprisingly, spoke Dutch almost perfectly. It was an enjoyable, yet long (due to traffic…), drive, during which she told me how she knew my family. It was actually quite special to learn about my own roots through these ‘strangers’, yet (extended) family.

Once back in Jakarta, I met some other friends, worked a lot and prepared for my trip to Yogyakarta, where I will be going tomorrow to follow a language course Bahasa Indonesia at the Puri Bahasa School of Indonesian. In my next blog post, which I will hopefully post next week (no promises though!), I will tell you all about how this went!

Destination 3 & 4: Wageningen University, The Netherlands & Aarhus University, Denmark

“Time could not be kept at bay. The more it goes, the more it’s gone, the more it takes away”

Written by Lang Leav

It has been a while since I have updated this website or written a blog post. This is not due to lack of motivation, but due to lack of time. In a way, this blog makes me realize even more that time is (sometimes literally) flying and that we can only spend it once. I know that everyone has 24 hours to spend every day and that the difference is the way that we choose to spend it. However, most of the time I feel, like a lot of people do, that I could do with 36, or maybe even 48, hours a day, because boy where has the time gone. I am now halfway through my first year of my PhD and this thought scares me more than I like to admit. My sole consolation: people still seem to believe that Brexit is going to happen within a two-year timespan. If that’s the case, I should be able to finish my PhD within the next two-and-a-half ;) #noguarantees

In this blog post, I will tell you a bit about both my third and fourth destination:

Destination 3: I went back to The Netherlands to follow a PhD Course on ‘Spatial Thinking: the Politics of Place’ at Wageningen University at the end of April and the start of May. During this course it was discussed that the concept of place, as much as time, is an elusive one. It is constructed and we are all responsible for this. People, our social relations, our culture, our understanding of space through education and our different convictions, shape the way that we talk, think and theorize about the world around us. Whilst studying this topic, I got to experience this sensation as well. Though it was amazing to be back in The Netherlands for a few weeks, I found that it is also quite hard at times. The space around me has changed, people have changed, and I have changed and am looking at The Netherlands with new eyes. Admittedly, at some moments I felt like a tourist in my own country, where I have lived for so many years, and this is quite confrontational. However, it turns out that many PhD students that start living and working in another place than where they come from and where their home is find it hard to return sometimes for this reason: change is taking place all the time and it seems impossible to keep up with all of it. Nevertheless, it has been amazing to see some of my family and my friends again and I realize now that, though living and working in Denmark is amazing, I do miss them.

Destination 4: with some of my colleagues, we took a 2-day trip to Aarhus University in Denmark at the end of May. Here, we had a roundtable session with Professor Tania Murray Li and attended the annual lecture that she was giving on her most recently published book: Land’s End. It was super awesome to meet such an inspiring anthropologist, who has dedicated her working life to unravelling how land and its assets are distributed in the highlands of the Indonesian island Sulawesi. Both this roundtable session and Professor Li her lecture have given me new inputs to develop my own research project. In addition, this trip has been great, because it has given me and my colleagues a lot of opportunity to talk about our research projects and get to know each other a little bit better.

In my next blog post, I will tell you all about my next PhD course ‘Environmental Justice’, organized by my own department at the University of Copenhagen, and about the Rule and Rupture Summer Lab 2017 to Klitgården in Skagen, Denmark!

Destination 2: A ‘change of scientific environment’ at Aarhus University

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”
Written by Marcel Proust

On my first official trip for my PhD I have been to Aarhus University (Aarhus Universitet) for one month, in March. At first, I didn’t really see the point of going on such a ‘change of scientific environment’. After all, Aarhus is in also Denmark, rather similar to Copenhagen (so, not the most exotic place one can think of) and, therefore, it didn’t actually seem like much of a ‘change’. Or, as my new-found friend Tom, who lives in Aarhus, phrased it: “Aarhus is not exactly where the action is”. Surprisingly, this trip has delivered on its promise and provided me with new perspectives. I’ll admit that gaining these new perspectives had a lot to do with the coziness of the city of Aarhus and the stunning, serene and idyllic landscape of Moesgaard campus where the Department of Anthropology of Aarhus University is situated. However, above all, it had to do with the people I met there, both privately and at the University, and the way that they have inspired me to look at my life and work differently.

I travelled to Aarhus by train from Copenhagen on 5 March. Secretly, I was a bit nervous, because it was my first time traveling a long distance in Denmark, I was carrying a lot of luggage and rented an Airbnb for the first time in my life and had no idea what to expect. After having been assisted in the train by nice people with getting my luggage to Aarhus, I had to drag the suitcase for approximately 1.5 mile to the Airbnb. Here, thank heaven, I was welcomed by my host Daniel who owned the apartment where I was staying for the month, which was quite unfortunately situated on the fourth floor meaning I had to carry the suitcase up the stairs as well. Luckily, Daniel turned out to be one of the nicest people I have met in my life. During this month that we lived together, we spent hours talking during dinner or simply whilst standing in the kitchen, sharing travel-stories (his experiences walking the Camino de Santiago were particularly interesting and entertaining) and life-views. Without a doubt, this nice apartment, including the cool roommate, has contributed a lot to my pleasant and refreshing stay in Aarhus.

What also contributed significantly to my pleasant trip was the location of the building in which my office (yeah, they gave me my own office!) was situated, at the edge of Moesgaard forest, called Moesgaard campus. The forest is owned by Moesgaard Museum, a regional museum specialized in archeology and anthropology, and the Departments of Anthropology and Archeology of Aarhus University are, therefore, situated nearby – close by the fire, as we would say in Dutch. Naturally, this work environment is completely different from what I have gotten used to working in busy Copenhagen. The peace and quiet of Moesgaard campus has given me lots of time and space to read a lot, work on my application for my research permit for my fieldwork visits to Indonesia, start developing and writing a draft conceptual and theoretical framework for my dissertation (I am now in the middle of sifting through Bourdieu’s works on ‘field theory’) and simply reflect on my project.

Resulting from all this hard work, my project has slowly, but steadily, started to get more shape and substance over the past month. My co-supervisor Michael, who works at Aarhus University, his guidance has been quite substantial in this development. His enthusiasm for Indonesia as a country is rather captivating and his experience of doing research on border issues in Kalimantan is quite impressive. Therefore, his insights and support have been indispensable. Through Michael I got into contact with Siwi, a sweet Indonesian girl who works at Diponegoro University in Semarang, the capital of Central Java in Indonesia and my field research site. I am very grateful that, with her help, I have established an official collaboration with Diponegoro University for the duration of my future stays in Semarang, where I will do ethnographic field research on small-scale business entrepreneurship and the governance of property in Indonesia.

It is often said: “a change is as good as a rest”. Through my experience in Aarhus, I can conclude that this is at least partially true. Changing my work environment, even so close to my new home in Copenhagen, has opened up my mind, which had been a bit stuck before I came to Aarhus. I have discovered that most people doing a PhD do not really have a clue what to do in those first few months of the PhD (so, if you’re a new PhD student and you are reading this: yes, feeling lost is completely normal, so don’t freak out). Admittedly; I have occasionally felt this too. By coming to Aarhus it has become more clear to me where I want to take my project, both theoretically and practically, and I would definitely recommend such a ‘change of scientific environment’ to any PhD student who feels lost.

Destination 1: Moving to Copenhagen and starting the PhD

All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”
Written by Earl Nightingale

If my first destination was to move to Copenhagen and start my PhD here, destination zero was definitely being hired in the first place. I applied for this PhD in June 2016, with hope, but no expectations. As you can guess, it was quite a shock when it turned out that I got it and was going to emigrate before the end of the year. Truthfully, I had never even been to Denmark, I didn’t know a lot (close to nothing really) about the country and I was still in the process of finishing my Master’s thesis. So my second response to this great news (in the first place I was obviously super happy) was; now what?

The University of Copenhagen gave an answer to this question quite quickly. After about a week I got approximately four emails with different lists of what you’re supposed to do when you are moving to Denmark to live and work here. There are the six main hoops, besides smaller arrangements you have to make, you have to jump through when you are an EU citizen. Honestly, I don’t even want to guess how elaborate and challenging the process is for non-EU citizens.

  1. Acquaint yourself with the registration process in Denmark. This in itself is a frustrating process. Before you have your employment contract and are actually physically present in Denmark, there is not a lot you can do yet, besides preparation.

  2. Finding housing and getting here. This may sound easy, but I can assure you that it is not. There is a severe shortage of houses in Copenhagen and, in addition, your ‘life’ in Denmark depends on being able to register for a CPR (civil personal registration) number at your new address. It is therefore important to find a house where you can legally reside as soon as possible!

  3. Getting an EU certificate at the state administration. This EU certificate states that you are allowed to live and work in Denmark and is mainly used to obtain a CPR.

  4. Registering for the CPR number. A CPR number gives you access to healthcare, setting up a bank account, registering with the tax authorities and getting a traveling card, amongst other things. This step is, therefore, quite crucial.

  5. Registering with the tax authorities. When you do, they assign you to a general practitioner (GP) as well.

  6. Setting up a bank account. Besides needing a bank account for obvious reasons, you need to have a one to get a NemID. NemID is used for online banking and access to online public services. In order to make optimal use of your NemID, it is also important to get a Danish phone number.

So, after you have successfully gone through all these steps, the pearly gates open and you can officially start your life as a resident in Denmark. I moved to Denmark at the end of November 2016 and it took me until 13 January 2017 to get all these ducks in a row. Yes, there were moments of despair where I felt very discouraged, but once you have it all set up it is worth it!

In the meantime, I actually started my PhD on 1 December. This was just in time for my department’s Christmas lunch, which was on 2 December. It proved to be an interesting occasion for anyone interested in different cultures and a rather rough introduction to Danish drinking culture. I will forever associate the concept of drinking (a lot of) snaps at 14:00 in the afternoon (or, as I found out later, just drinking snaps in general) with my first Danish Christmas- and office party. At the same time, I found out, during this party and after, that Danes are incredibly nice and beautiful people who, contrary to the Dutch, are surprisingly relaxed for a Western culture. Even though it was winter, my colleagues at the department and Danish people in general, have been incredibly warm and welcoming and I will always be very grateful for that.

Whilst I’m writing this blog post, I can’t believe that this Christmas party was three months ago. Time has gone so fast, which I believe is a good sign, and a lot has happened since. I have written my final PhD proposal, started this website, had my start-up seminar where I presented my PhD proposal to my own department and followed two PhD courses, one on Responsible Conduct of Research and an Introduction to University Pedagogy. Though these are both interesting and important topics, I particularly enjoyed this last course. I have been dreading having to teach from the moment I heard that it was part of my PhD. This course has completely changed my mind about this. I am looking forward to teaching more classes and getting students activated and as enthusiastic about anthropology, global development and research as much as I am.

However, for now, my next destination is Aarhus University where I will be staying this month for what is called ‘a change of scientific environment’; a mandatory and incredibly exciting part of the PhD. Photos and stories will follow, including a bit more information about my research project and fieldwork preparation.

If you are reading this and have questions, because you will be moving to Copenhagen for your PhD, Postdoc or any other research position at the University here, visit the website of the International Staff Mobility and/or send me an email. I’d be happy to share my experience.