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.