Get to know the new (research) master students!

Fransje Bolwijn (23) and Ryohei Shiozaki (24) are two of our new students of the Research Master in African Studies, Jochem Scheelings (24) is doing 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!

Fransje Bolwijn
Tell us a bit about your background, and where does your interest in Africa come from?

‘I did my bachelor’s in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Utrecht University. Next to the mandatory courses of my major, I chose to follow a minor in French, and multiple subjects that dealt with religion, imagery, gender and its intersections. For my BA I did research in Casablanca, Morocco and focused on young women’s ideas of femininity. I was interested in how women from 18-25 shape and embody their notions of femininity, especially in relation to their religious beliefs and the fashion choices they make.

‘During my BA I dealt with a lot of case studies from Africa and I gradually became more interested in the continent and its diversity. There is, however, a lot of history about the continent that I don’t know about yet and I would like to learn more, broaden my scope and contribute to class discussions by offering my anthropological perspective.’

Is there a specific region or theme you would like to focus on during your Research Master?
‘I’m open to all sorts of subjects, but I tend to focus on religion, identity, women, sexuality and Northern Africa. I am aware that a researcher will always be an outsider to some extent, but I hope to relate my experiences as a woman to those of other women who live in different societies and social contexts. Next to speaking English and French, I would love to acquire a basic level in another foreign language such as Dharija or Swahili. This will enable me as a researcher to communicate better with my informants and hopefully to understand them more fully.’

How do you see yourself in the future, doing what professionally?
‘I am not sure yet. Ideally I would like to work for a not-for-profit organisation or perhaps continue in research. There is still a lot I have to learn and topics and regions I would love to explore, so I want to use the next few years to find out what suits my personality and interests best.’

Ryohei Shiozaki 
Tell us a bit about your background, and where does your interest in Africa come from?
‘I did my bachelor’s degree in Portuguese Culture and Languages at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. At first, I wanted to focus on Brazil and Portugal. My hometown, Iwata-City in Shizuoka Prefecture, is home to a lot of Brazilians because of the car industry. Also in my class, there were a lot of Brazilian students. But unexpectedly, I was given an opportunity to do a gap year, which made me change my mind. I wanted to go somewhere really different from Japan, and I wanted to go to a Portuguese speaking country. My university already had connections with Mozambique, which made the choice easier for me.

‘Once in Mozambique, I was invited to a wedding ceremony. I was surprised about the many emotions I witnessed at this wedding: people cried, people laughed, it was an amazing experience. It contrasts a lot with Japanese society, where people don’t show emotions; it’s all about status there. Anyhow, the function of the traditional marriage ceremony in Mozambican society became the subject of my BA thesis.’

What region or theme would you like to focus on during your Research Master?
‘I would like to do more research in Mozambique and look beyond the function of the traditional marriage ceremony; I would like to focus more on the emotions of the people, from an anthropological point of view. I also met a lot of people who have a passion about what they’re doing in Mozambique. And they use their environment to achieve their goal. In Japan, you just follow the trail and the perspective that society provides. This is a big difference between the two countries.

‘I have developed a broader interest in Mozambique that I would like to explore. Perhaps later on, I will extend my focus to other Portuguese speaking countries in Africa, like Angola.’

How do you see yourself in the future, doing what professionally?
‘In the next few years I want to find out what I want to do. The Research Master gives me two years, including a considerable fieldwork period, in which I can explore if I want to continue in research, and whether I might even continue with a PhD.’

Jochem Scheelings
Tell us a bit about your background, and where does your interest in Africa come from?
‘I did my BA in History at Utrecht University. I focused on the colonial history of Southern Africa, and a little bit on West Africa, Liberia in particular.

‘I found out that I am very much interested in Africa in 2016, when I still studied English Literature and Linguistics. During a course about the history of Britain – which of course also dealt with British colonialism in Southern Africa – I made a sidestep to Dutch history in South Africa. And started to read about other colonial extensions of the Netherlands in the rest of the world. I switched studies to history. From a friend’s South African neighbour, I even received a knife that was made as a keepsake of one of the Boer Wars. It has the profiles of Kruger and De Wet carved in it. It is originally from the Boerenrepubliek, but these sort of souvenirs were also produced in the Netherlands at the time.’

What region or theme would you like to focus on during your Master?
‘At the moment I am thinking about the subject for my master’s thesis. Since we can’t do an internship in Africa due to COVID-19 - which I really find a shame - I have to find a subject that I can research in the Netherlands. It will either be a study of Aquasie Boachi (or Kwasi Boakye as he was called in Dutch), one of the two Ashanti princes that were sent to the Netherlands in the 19th century. He completed his studies at Delft Technical University. Or, I would like to write about school books and prints from around 1850 about Dutch possessions in Africa, which are in the Rijksmuseum.

‘My big interest, however, is in German colonial Africa. We know a great deal about Namibia’s history, but the Dutch don’t know about Tanganyika or Togoland. The problem is that the German colonial archives are in Frankfurt, and I can’t go there now.’

How do you see yourself in the future, doing what professionally?
‘I’m hoping that something will come out of our internships… I just wrote to the Royal Tropical Institute. I don’t see myself working in business. Getting an internship organised is now top of my priorities.’