Interview conducted by Loura Kruger-Zwart
The Intensive Programme can seem daunting to new Euroculture students, but it doesn’t have to! Jodie van ‘t Hoff talks us through the IP preparation phase, paper writing process, and how the (online) IP in 2021 went for her. While Jodie’s Euroculture experience has been almost entirely online due to the ongoing pandemic, she is making full use of the programme’s mobility. Having started in Groningen then attending Olomouc online, Jodie moved to Göttingen for her third semester and is currently preparing to spend her fourth semester in Olomouc (in person this time!).
Euroculture Magazine: Would you mind giving us a small introduction about yourself? Where are you from, what are your universities, and how did you find out about the Euroculture programme?
Jodie van ’t Hoff: I’m Jodie van ’t Hoff, I’m half Dutch/half German, and I am currently in my third Euroculture semester doing a research track at the University of Göttingen. My first semester was in Groningen, my second in the Czech Republic. During my Bachelor’s programme, which I also completed in Groningen, I learned about the Euroculture master. In the end, I applied because the subjects seemed a great continuation of my Bachelor and the mobility aspect to me was a real selling point.
EM: What were your expectations when starting the Euroculture MA, and have they matched the reality?
Jodie: My expectations of the master were very mixed. On the one hand, the Master sounded like a great way to deepen my knowledge of Europe, meet many interesting people, and travel. On the other, the pandemic was already ongoing when I started in the fall of 2020, so there was a lot of insecurity as to how much of the experience I could partake in in person. It was one of the reasons I chose Groningen as my first-semester University. I was already in the city so travelling wouldn’t be an issue. I was lucky in that the fist semester for me could take place in presence for a large part. The only thing we missed out on was the standard trip to Brussels which was a shame. Contrary to the first semester, the second semester did not reach my expectations, again due to the pandemic because I ended up not going to the Czech Republic at all and doing everything online including the IP. However, this makes me all the more excited to spend my fourth semester there. All in all, the “unprecedented times” as many like to call it naturally altered the expectations I had of the programme. Yet, in the end, I am still glad I made this decision and I’m grateful for the experiences I got to make and the people I got to know.
EM: How has the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic affected your studies?
Jodie: As mentioned before, the pandemic did affect my studies in that it hindered an excursion to Brussels, the IP in Sweden and my travelling to the Czech Republic for the second semester. Of course, online teaching was provided, and I took a lot from it, but online experiences rarely attain the effect of in-person ones. So, I sincerely hope that future students will be able to enjoy the programme as planned because it is a unique experience.
EM: Can you tell us more about your IP paper and the overall topic of the IP 2021? How did you find a suitable topic?
Jodie: The 2021 IP was hosted by Uppsala University. As the Euroculture programme in Sweden is hosted by the theology department it might not come as a surprise that the topic of our IP was Religions of Europe: Dynamics of Secularity. Having never researched religion in my studies, it seemed daunting to me. It helped a little that we received a reader with publications around the topic and that we had three subthemes according to which we could decide the direction of our research. Since my second semester university in the Czech Republic taught a course on Islam and the West, I decided to use that as my inspiration and go from there. In the end what always helps me most in finding a suitable topic is reading, reading, reading.
EM: What was the most difficult thing you encountered during the preparation phase of the IP? How did your second-semester university prepare you for the IP?
Jodie: One thing I struggle with when I have big projects with distant deadlines is that I push them aside and instead focus on smaller projects with deadlines that are closer in time. This, as well as finding a good topic, were my biggest challenges for the IP. The second semester helped in the regard that we had several courses on the IP project. It forced me to focus on the paper throughout the semester as I had to talk about and present my topic in class. Continuously working on the abstract and research proposal kept me thinking about and advancing in my research.
EM: Can you tell us more about the evolution of your topic? When did you start writing and when did you finish?
Jodie: Finding a topic was somewhat of a feat since I have never had a focus on or interest in topics regarding religion. I even changed my topic throughout the writing process. As mentioned, I started off wanting to write on Islam and the West due to the course on this subject at Palacký University. My initial thoughts were to write about religious conversions to Christianity as well as to Islam and provide a gendered perspective in asking how gender affect one’s experience of conversion. While I did find the topic interesting, I encountered problems with finding the data to answer my question. While researching this topic I came across a book by Esra Özürek that led me to another idea, namely, to compare the German populist party Alternative für Deutschland’s Othering discourse of Islam and homosexuality. The writing of my IP paper took place throughout the whole of the second semester with of course more time spent on it towards the end. Still, I remember only finishing writing the day of the deadline.
EM: How did you manage to organise yourself during the second semester?
Jodie: Regarding organisation, I’m a big believer in writing down tasks and deadlines on paper as well as scheduling it on my phone. Although the universities provide deadlines that have to be met, in order to tackle bigger projects, I like to create a loose framework for what I personally want to do when. This way, for example, I have a word count for how many words I strive to meet each day to finish the project in time without being too stressed in the end. It feels good hitting these small milestones and it allows me to actually put my computer away at some point and not work into the evening or even night. However, everyone organises themselves differently. What is important is to find the way that works for you.
EM: What were your main struggles and challenges, and what advice could you offer to the new Euroculture students?
Jodie: As mentioned, one main struggle was finding the topic – I would just advise defining an area you want to focus on within the large IP theme, then read to get an overview of what has been done before and where your research might fill a gap in the existing literature. However, it is also good to remember that with this paper you do not have to reinvent the wheel. Using an existing theoretical framework and applying it to a new case study can reveal interesting insights.
EM: Can you tell us more about your (online) IP week? What did you like, and what could be improved in future IPs – online, or in-person?
Jodie: Our online IP week lasted three days and contained interesting speeches and presentations by the faculty staff of various universities. Of course, the most nerve-wracking part for the students is their own presentations on their IP paper in their respective IP groups. Everything went well and we even had a fun group exercise we had to present; however, the online format naturally was not as ideal as an in-person one could have been. Sometimes with online events, it is fun when you’re doing it, yet afterwards, you get the feeling of “did this even happen,” if you know what I mean. In-person events can leave you with a feeling of fulfilment, joy, and memories afterwards that are harder to achieve in an online setting. Still, I appreciate everything the Euroculture staff did to still be able to give us this IP experience and I think they did a great job. So, I have no specific recommendations for future IPs except for the fact that I hope future students get to enjoy it in person.
EM: How was the experience to meet Euroculture students from other universities? Were you also able to catch up/speak with peers from your first and second universities?
Jodie: Due to the online setting of the IP, the most interaction I had was with the group we did the presentations in. My group consisted mostly of people I hadn’t met yet and it was great to get to know them a bit.
EM: Did you, or do you think you will connect your IP topic to your master thesis topic?
Jodie: Despite my being hesitant about the 2020 IP topic, I was pleasantly surprised with my positive writing experience. Therefore, I have adapted the topic in order to continue working on it for my master thesis. This goes to show that even if you are sceptical about your IP topic, keep an open mind and ultimately you might be positively surprised.
EM: Thank you very much for answering these questions! Your time is so appreciated and your experiences surely give valuable insight for other Euroculture students.
Picture credits: Jodie van ’t Hoff