Get to know the new Master students!

Alma Ionescu (22) and Melat Pusch (30) are two of our new students of the Master in African Studies. Curious about their background, their motivation to do African Studies, and their career expectations for the future? Read their personal stories to get to know them better! 

Alma Ionescu
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? And where does your interest in Africa come from?
‘I was born in Luxembourg, but both my parents are from Romania. My dad used to be a professional handball player there, but with the end of communism in 1989, his career stopped. However, he was asked to come and play in Luxembourg. When I was 11 we moved to Brussels. My school organized a trip to Zambia when I was 16. This got me interested in Africa as a whole. After school I went to the London School of Economics to do a BSc in Social Policy, and after that I did an MSc in International Social and Public Policy. I chose development as specialization, with modules on NGOs, development, rural areas and Sub Saharan Africa. But I was never able to focus on Africa specifically. I touched upon it, but wanted to do more. That’s how I ended up in Leiden.’

What would you like to focus on during your MA?
‘I wrote my BSc thesis on malaria and how NGOs and USAID approach treatment. How do these approaches fit with local perceptions of malaria? I mainly focused on Zambia for this thesis.
For the MSc thesis I looked at mental health policy in Ghana. This is quite progressive policy, yet the practice of ‘shackling’ still exists in Ghana. People with mental health conditions are often considered as being possessed by evil spirits or demons, and are therefore chained, e.g. to trees. This happens in Pentecostal prayer camps. Shackling has been banned by the government, but it still happens. There are many layers to this. Government has ties to the Pentecostal church; the church helps them with all kinds of services the government doesn’t deliver, for example it stimulates people to pay their taxes. All in all, I’m interested in health, and I would like to focus on perceptions of disease and healing.’

How do you see yourself in the future, doing what professionally? 
‘I would very much like to do a PhD. How do people think about mental health issues? Mental diseases in Africa are still often seen as evil forces; very different from Western perceptions. Yet Western policymakers or NGOs want to impose their perceptions on African people. When you look at malaria: in Europe this sounds like a very dangerous disease. But European people are often not aware that there are different forms of malaria. So, I’m interested in decolonizing health. And I would like to work in academia. Maybe also get some work experience with NGOs, to gain more practical knowledge, and then go back to academia. That would be ideal.’

Melat Pusch
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? And where does your interest in Africa come from?
‘I was born in Ethiopia. When I was seven, I moved to Cairo with my mother. Here my mother got to know the person that grew to be my father, a German Egyptologist. Shortly before I turned seventeen, we moved to Germany. I learned German and graduated at a German high school. I studied Arabic and Islamic Studies at Göttingen University and Marburg University, but decided to change the direction of my studies. I first went to Spain to do an internship in hotel management, and later went to Heidelberg (Germany), where I did foreign languages trainings and worked in a refugee home. After this I came to Leiden to do a BA International Studies, focusing on Africa. I wrote my thesis about ethnic federalism in Ethiopia. Stefano Bellucci was my supervisor.’

What region would you like to focus on during your MA?
‘My dream place to go to for my internship would be Ethiopia, of course, but I will not limit myself to that option. I’m also looking at social enterprises in Nigeria that deal with energy solutions for low-income households. And I’m looking at possibilities with justice and reconciliation projects in Uganda.’

How do you see yourself in the future, doing what professionally?
‘I want to take some time to find out for myself if I want to become a researcher. Otherwise, it would be interesting to do an EU internship as an EU-delegate to Africa. I actually wanted to join the African Union, but as a German citizen, I can’t do that. Representing the EU in the African context is the next best option! Or join the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am interested in politics, but not in a participatory way. I am rather interested in how it affects communities and the social aspects of people’s lives. But I keep my options open!’