Karlijn Haagsman: 

  “Travelling abroad has taught 
   me to put things in perspective.”

Moving to the United States
"I was born in a village called Odijk in the Netherlands, near the city of Utrecht. When I was two years old we moved to the United States, where my father got a postdoc position in San Francisco. I cannot remember much of that phase as I was so young, but I do know I loved it as did my parents. My parents stayed in touch with many of the friends they made there and even stayed in touch with my kindergarten teacher for a while. My sister is still in touch with het primary school teacher. And the two times I visited San Fransisco afterwards we visited these friends again. We moved back to the Netherlands when I was four and lived most of my childhood and adolescence in Zeist with my two sisters, parents and dog.

Gap year in Ecuador
At age 18 I took a gap year and travelled to Ecuador, which I consider to be my personal rite de passage and part of my transition into adulthood. It really taught me to be independent. For the first time in my life, I was on my own, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking. I stayed with a host family, studied Spanish, went backpacking, and volunteered at a lodge and a primary school in the jungle. When the teachers went on strike, I had to run the school all by myself. I was thrown in at the deep end, but it was great to interact with people. I could do this! Although I already knew from when I was 14, my experience in Ecuador confirmed it: I wanted to study cultural anthropology and development studies!

Back home
Upon my return home, I started my studies in Nijmegen. Since I could not easily find a student room, I commuted between my parent’s place and university for a year. I had to get used to living at my parents’ place again at the start as I had lived by myself during my stay in Ecuador. The next years, living in a student room in Nijmegen, were great. In 2007, I went abroad again for a longer period of time. I travelled to Tonga for 3.5 months to do fieldwork for my Master’s research about the return migration of Tongans.

Research in Tonga
Please do not worry if Tonga does not ring a bell. It is a Polynesian sovereign state and archipelago - it is fairly unknown and not many people have been there. My first two weeks in Tonga were, to put it bluntly, extremely boring. I did not yet know anybody and there was not much to do, even though I stayed at the capital. What am I doing here? I asked myself. Through the church and teaching a mathematics class at a local high school, however, I became involved in the local community. I have made new friends in Tonga; with some I am still in contact through Facebook. My friends also helped me finding people to interview for my research. While my experiences in Ecuador had a deep impact on my personal development, my time in Tonga made me grow as a researcher. I loved doing research and learning about other people’s lives. During my stay in Tonga, I decided to sign up for the Research Master's programme in Migration, Ethnic Relations and Multiculturalism at Utrecht University.

Working life in Maastricht
For my next culture shock, I did not even have to leave the Netherlands. I moved to Maastricht for my PhD, which was quite a step; starting my working life in a new city where I knew nobody. After seven years, I have settled in well, even though I continue to travel a lot to visit my family and friends elsewhere in the country. The past years, my academic work has centred on sub-Saharan Africa. My PhD research was on Nigerian and Angolan migrants and the MO-TRAYL project focuses on Ghanaian youth. I am often asked why I have not travelled to these countries. I did not yet have the time to do so, but I am certainly looking forward to go there. Travelling abroad has taught me to put things in perspective. When working as a volunteer, I realized that in order to make a change one has to understand and contextualize the bigger picture - which is exactly what I am doing as an academic."

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