… continually facing a problem which is very familiar to anthropologists: how to express a different system with a vocabulary which is inevitably moulded to the institutions of the society in which it is normally used. (Bloch, 1983: 34)

Seasonal Change

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Blogger Nadya Karimasari needs some tips to enjoy the breezy autumn.

Summer is officially over. For someone from the tropics like myself, to let go of the glorious summer days is easier said than done. The night comes sooner and the morning is terribly dark. I have to bring a flashlight to the bus stop, otherwise the bus driver can’t see me. This is my first lesson on how to survive autumn in Wageningen.

For most of Wageningen people, nothing is more normal than seasonal change. But as a person from a different part of the world, I can’t help thinking, why can’t the sun just rise and set at the same time throughout the year? It is hard to deny the gloomy feeling that comes with not seeing the sun as much as I used to. I tried several things like using brighter lamps and eating warm noodles, but these things don’t help that much.

I tried several things like using brighter lamps and eating warm noodles, but these things don’t help that much.

Instead of telling myself, ‘just get over it and get over it quickly’, I would like to embrace this gloomy feeling for a while, because it signifies where I am coming from and the distance that I have to go through. It brings me to a small realization on how we tend to forget how far we’ve come because we only see how far we still have to go.

As students, we are coming from different places and background, not only in spatial terms. Most of the time, the school only sees students from our ‘output’. There is a general ‘finish line’ and a universal standard that all students are expected to achieve.

But sometimes the school doesn’t see how each student goes through different distances to get to that line. For some students, reaching the line is a no-brainer because of their default proximity to it. Other students, who are coming from a very different starting point, feel every little step is a milestone.

We shouldn’t limit ourselves to view only how far the line is. We should also take some time to look back and look into ourselves, and appreciate all the process that made us this far.

Organizing PhD Research

While attending summer school at Zurich University, Switzerland, blogger Nadya Karimasari got some inspiration on how to organise her PhD research.

Zurich gives me the impression of being very organised, orderly, and extremely detailed. It aims for the greatest accuracy of predictability. It tries to anticipate and minimise any possibilities of things going wrong. Hence, people’s daily life can run as smoothly as possible.

Public transport
This high degree of order and organisation manifests at its best in how the public transport works. The trams buses, and trains are absolutely on time. They also have a monitor inside the vehicle that shows how many minutes away you are from your connecting trams or trains. So, you could predict and anticipate how fast you should run to your next tram, or whether or not you have enough time to grab some coffee and a croissant before continuing your journey.

I wish I could be more like Zurich in terms of organising my PhD research.

I wish I could be more like Zurich in terms of organising my PhD research. Perhaps it is good to have a set of predictable working routines. It is also significant to allocate some time to relax, otherwise PhD candidates could burn out, feeling stuck, having difficulties in finding inspiration, and need longer time to recover before getting back to the groove and having those juicy flows (or hops) of thoughts again.

Small goals
Another thing that helps is to set small goals that build up to bigger goals. These can be monthly, weekly, or daily goals, depending on how detailed you want to be. By setting smaller goals, PhD candidates could lay out what tasks actually need to be done in order to create the final “product” of a good research. By making the small tasks visible, it becomes more manageable.

At the end of the day, every person has their own style that fits and works best for them. The point of making a better organisation of our research is to help us maintain our sanity while doing intense research, and avoid getting entangled in a disarray of having to do too much while having too little time. Hopefully through a better tasks organisation, we could avoid unnecessary stress and enjoy our research process – and life in general – a bit more.

featured photo: timshel

Summer Break

What’s the thing about summer break? Blogger Nadya writes her observation.

“How was your holiday?” That’s the opening line coming from most of my colleagues these days. The new academic year is around the corner. My next holiday season will be around Christmas and New Year. No wonder people are taking long breaks before summer is over, before being caught up in the demanding, hectic rhythm of academic life.

Dutch people are notorious for being the example of good work-life balance. I don’t know if it’s true or if it is just another stereotype. Dutch people are also known for not having as much stress from work as compared to people from other countries in the world. According to recent estimates, Dutch people in average work 29 hours a week, get around 8.2 hours of sleep every night, and guaranteed a paid vacation.

Holidays are something to be proud of.

Based on my limited observation, for Dutch people, holidays are something to be proud of. Because I am used to how Dutch people perceive summer breaks, I felt surprised when I noticed my office mates from other countries tried to avoid sharing their summer vacation stories. When one of my professors asked about our holidays, the room was suddenly quiet. Everyone started looking at their shoes. I was wondering why. If they were Dutch, they would’ve showed off their amazing holidays right away. They went to Basel, Munich, England, Czech Republic, and Croatia to name a few. Their holiday were really quite something, but instead of being proud, they felt guilty.

When one of my professors asked about our holidays, the room was suddenly quiet.

“I haven’t been working on my research proposal for a long time, that’s why I feel guilty about my holiday,” one of my colleague confessed. “I really don’t get what’s all the fuss about summer break. Apparently, here, summer is such a thing. My friend who went on vacation to the beach abroad was being laughed off by his friends because he didn’t come back with a tan,” added another. “In my country, people just went to see their family and help with errands during holidays, so it’s not a big deal like it is here,” one of them concluded.

I believe such guilt is unnecessary. There’s nothing wrong about enjoying holidays. We should feel normal about enjoying our precious summer breaks. I just wish the vacation continued a little longer.

PS: Summer break for us:

Food glorious food at Ben White’s summer home:

Cherry picking:

 

3 lessons for PhD candidates

Her 1.5 year old toddler taught blogger Nadya Karimasari how to do a PhD properly.

Trust me when I say my PhD process is not going as well as expected.
To my surprise, my 1.5 year old son really helps to understand how I should do a PhD. Most of the time, I feel like things just fall into place. Thanks to my son, who gives a day-to-day example of the best attitude on learning and from whom I try to learn.

He has no fear of failure. He never thinks he’s silly, ridiculous or not making any sense. He has a steadfast trust in himself.

First, he’s never afraid to make mistakes. He has no fear of failure. He never thinks he’s silly, ridiculous or not making any sense. He has a steadfast trust in himself. It’s okay not to know things, that’s why he is here to learn. Never mind what other people might think, he simply enjoys learning new things. No matter the result, for him the joy of the learning process in itself is enough of a reward.

Second, repetition is fun. Every little thing is exciting for him. He likes to do things again and again until he’s good at it, and better. And, always with a big smile on his face. I must admit that I might not be the most efficient PhD candidate because I often have to go back to a document many times over. But I always think about my son who never gets bored doing peek-a-boo game for the umpteenth time.

A lot of PhDs read academic paper not only to understand what is written, but to imitate the method

Third, he’s a very active observer, and he imitates even before understanding the meaning of what he’s imitating. Not long after, he gets the context and see the pattern, thus he can do it at the right moment. He starts to understand the meaning of what he’s doing. He’s learning very quickly by imitation. Similarly, a lot of PhDs read academic paper not only to understand what is written, but to imitate the method of how the author builds up an argument and brings evidence to come to a conclusion.

So, next time you don’t understand an academic paper, try to imitate it and you will get it eventually. Don’t forget to have fun repeting things and never be afraid to make mistakes.

Too hard to impress

Blogger Nadya Karimasari will reveal the secret of making a good impression in academia.

‘How are you, Nadya? Have you been trying hard enough to impress everybody?’ said Wolf, one of my supervisors from University of Melbourne, Australia. He recently visited Wageningen for a conference at de Wageningsche Berg. His snarky remark was, as usual, on point.

The syndrome of ‘trying-too-hard-to-impress’ can occur at every stage of the academic ladder. It can happen to both young, aspiring academics (a.k.a. PhD candidates) and senior professors.

The syndrome of ‘trying-too-hard-to-impress’ can occur at every stage of the academic ladder.

During the conference lunch, some PhD candidates reluctantly ‘humble-brag’ about their publication. ‘Ah, this journal is very slow in their review process!’ or ‘That journal never got back to me but suddenly published my article on their special issue!’

One senior lecturer popped up in my office one day and talked about – what else could it be – publication. ‘Finally I got a reply from a journal, about an article that I sent three years ago!’ After complaining about how unserious the reviewers were, he said, ‘I have to withdraw, of course!’ Every occasion becomes an opportunity to tell about publication. It can be a paper that is actually published at an obscure low-rank journal that no one has ever heard of, a paper in review, or in the process of being written.

This is what we do. We write papers that nobody reads, and we think we are doing something important!

Getting the paper to be read and cited by other scholars is another, daunting problem. My colleague sarcastically advised me once, ‘This is what we do. We sit down all day writing papers that nobody reads, and we think we are doing something important!’
Interestingly, those who are well-published, well-cited, and have a good reputation – at least in academia – seldom mention their publication. They don’t need to, and perhaps they’ve lost count of each paper that they’ve published anyway.

When I asked her how she met her husband, prof. Rosaleen Duffy from SOAS (London School of Oriental and African Studies), rightly pointed out our shared sentiments of this ‘trying-too-hard-to-impress’ syndrome. She said: ‘We (she and her husband) were both new staffs at the university. We sat together at the registration desk and we managed not to talk about our work all day. Sometimes academics keep talking about their work and it gets boring. Sometimes we’re interested to know more about each other as a person.’

I totally agree with her, and with Wolf who made me take notice of this acute syndrome. As Wolf bid farewell he said, ‘Skype you later! I have to pack and … write a paper!’ Same here, Wolf, I also have to write a … blog.

featured photo: s-dav

Support System

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No PhD candidate is an island. PhD research is as much a collective effort as it is individual, blogger Nadya Karimasari discovers.

PhD candidates are often seen as someone who works in isolation, like a hermit. They are living inside their mind or busy with their hectic schedules in the laboratory, with deadlines upon deadlines of paper writing.

They are very focused, slightly obsessive even, with their research and find social life an exhausting burden or a waste of time. This narrow perception of PhDs overlooks the collective aspect of doing research.

Collective work
As much as each researcher is individually responsible for what she/he produces, every research is a collective work. From my experience as a beginner, the process of doing a (social) research is often not linear.

A lot of factors cannot be predicted nor anticipated beforehand. Element of surprise is always expected, and it is a good thing. Most of the times, happenstances play key role in making the research move forward. Without a support system, it is difficult to deal with each challenge that comes along.

Another unexpected perk of working on my research project was the new laptop the university provided me with.

I get a lot of support from the very start of my PhD journey. Besides paying monthly allowance, the scholarship that I receive from NWO also covers my research expenditure and book spending. It also provide money to organize a national seminar in my home country at the end of my study.

Another unexpected perk of working on my research project was the new laptop the university provided me with. It makes me so happy to finally have an organized way of accessing my files and folders; which is very crucial for managing my research efficiently.

Budget
The university also allocates a “self-development” budget per annum for each student. This funding is used to pay for summer schools, workshops, or conferences. With this support, I can register to any classes or events necessary to stimulate my process of creating a good research project.

It doesn’t have to be directly linked with the theme of my project; it can also be about general skills that I consider useful. I am thrilled to be selected as a participant of a summer school highly relevant to my research topic with top quality tutors in Zurich this September.

Budgetary support is important, but the core support system is the people. Building collegial bonding is an ongoing process and I would like to see more work done to strengthen this aspect.

A charming old house

Dutch people understand the special charm of an old house. The family house that I am renting is more than a century old. I am sitting in the living room, in front of a round wooden table. The fireplace brings a light sizzling sound in the background. The floor is also made from wood and three wide windows are facing the street. Through these windows, my son often watch the thick morning mist slowly fades into thin air.

My landlord is a former sailor and a handyman. He can make a lot of furniture or housing parts by his own hand, no wonder his house is brimming with characteristics and functionality. As a sailor, he has to conquer the volatility of tidal waves, but for sure he has no problem to tame the heart of a woman who is said to be deeper than the sea. While he went for adventures on his boat, his wife enriches her life through adventures on the written world. She is a librarian at WUR. During our housewarming dinner, she speaks the word “free” a lot. She also gave us a dictionary to learn Dutch language.

They defied the stereotypes of Dutch being highly penny-pinching people. When we arrived, they picked us up at Ede-Wageningen station. In the house they’ve already provided every little things, all furniture, all cleaning and cooking utilities, also food, including bread, margarine, milk, yogurt, homemade berry jam, homemade salad dressing, coffee and tea.

They have been living approximately 30 steps away from this house for 25 years, complete with two dogs, a lot of sheep grazing on their large lawn, chickens, and a small “hideaway” self-contained room in front of a nice pond when they want to take a break from their house. With the spring looming, we are going to join them cultivating onions and potatoes. We really enjoy to be into the true rural feel of this place.

After a day at the office, it’s nice to bike home for 30 minutes to the hilly parts of NL, to a place that really feels like home.

Guilt-free Policy

Academics are prone to the constant plague of guilt-feeling. Is it true that the Dutch are different? Blogger Nadya Karimasari tries to find out.

Pressure

It’s common for students in Wageningen to have lunch with their professors, during which some wholehearted confessions were being exchanged. Some stories that I gathered from different professors were about the subtle pressure to stay on top of the game.

The pressure is high in most universities in the world, especially in the best universities, including in the Netherlands (read: Wageningen). Being part of the Wageningen University and Research means having to constantly strive for the best. Such pressures manifests in guilt-feeling that creeps in if one does not work all the time, not producing enough publications, not teaching enough classes, etc. It is such a contrast to the image of professors having flexible working time and managing their own workload.

Guilt

The guilt is especially pervasive on academics on the tenure-track system. They will have their performance evaluated in four years. Either they would reach the “standard” or they would be out. Some of them internalized the pressure and secretly compare their list of publications with other academics, and then they feel bad about themselves for being lagged behind in the competition.

But do not worry! There is a Dutch quirkiness that contradicts the plague of guilt-feeling. It is called a high-level of “compartmentalization” between life and work.

“Last week I didn’t check my e-mail at all. It feels so good,” said one of the new professor in my chair group. He noticed that a lot of people who work in Dutch (universities or elsewhere) often does not replied to e-mails during the whole summer. “I didn’t know that it is okay, to just shut yourself off like that, not even replying to e-mails. But I figure it’s quite normal in the Netherlands,” he added.

It is a good illustration of a strict life-work compartmentalization, but it means people have to try their best to finish work-related communications before summer.

For overdriven people who feel guilty whenever they’re not “productive” enough, remember, it’s summer. Go soak up the sun, right now – says me who stay in front of the computer all day long.

Research Location

Ethnography is increasingly popular among social researchers. Blogger Nadya Karimasari is undecided about her ethnographic research location.

How do social researchers make a decision about where to conduct their research? I guess it depends on their research question, proposal and design. Are they trying to do research at national level, global level, or a more localized one?

Right now, I am developing my research proposal. I am doing my PhD under an umbrella research project with two other PhDs. We have an overarching research theme and methodology predetermined for us. In total, each of us will do around sixteen months of ethnography in our respective countries. Later, our supervisor and a post-doc will make a comparative analysis of our research.

I have been longing to have a long-term ethnographic research, so this opportunity is a big deal for me. I have done long-term research before, but mostly on policy and bureaucracy at national level. When I got local, grassroots-level research projects, it was only for a couple of months. Often I didn’t stay on the research location but went back and forth from my home to the site.

When I asked my colleagues at the Leeuwenborch on how did they choose their research location, most of them said they had been in that location before their PhDs. They might have done their master’s theses there and find further research questions that piqued their interests. They might also had worked in that location before and found a lot of puzzles that motivates them to do a doctoral degree.

Well, such is life as a PhD candidate. Decisions has to be made.

I have such location in mind, let’s say location X. Previously I have been engaged with the people in X for years. Gaining their trust would not be such a big hassle. I know there is a great research problem that could only be investigated in X. It will be a great contribution for the academic discussion. I am feeling confident and comfortable to do my research in X, but I have a little worry about “managing my bias” as I have been very much “on their side” for some time.

On the other hand, I have another possible research location, Y. This other option is interesting because very limited studies had been done on Y. Doing research in Y, anyone would be somewhat a pioneer and bound to find interesting things. A lot of happenstances are also pointing me towards this location. But I don’t know if they would accept me and be open to share their life stories with me. I barely know anything about Y, so I was making a lot assumptions when I was developing a research problem for Y.

Well, such is life as a PhD candidate. Decisions has to be made. I am sure there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

City of Alternative Lifestyle?

Wageningen prides itself as the city of life science. Blogger Nadya Karimasari found that some people think of it as a city of alternative lifestyle.

It feels like summer in Wageningen. What a relief, especially after a hail rain in late April. Now the weather is more bearable and warm. Cows are finally out and horses too. People are wearing light clothes and soak up the sun. Such a perfect time for liberation day festivities!

During the liberation day, we went to Emmapark. There were a lot of fun and games for kids. My son met some new friends, and I became friends with their mothers.

Having conversation with other moms brings me away from the academic bubble that I’ve been in. One of the mom whom I talked with said Wageningen is not only a city of life science. It is a city of alternative lifestyle. Interesting. How come?

In a time where a lot of farmers went bankrupt, she said, there are still a lot of people who wants to do agriculture in Wageningen. Maybe, in an era where urbanisation is the norm, doing agriculture has become an alternative lifestyle.

Wageningen is the place where people still have a lot of pride to work on the land.

Wageningen is the place where people still have a lot of pride to work on the land. My landlord is one example. He’s seems to appreciate agriculture work more than ‘office’ work. He enjoys cultivating the land, tending his plants and cattle carefully, diligently. He said he doesn’t want to be lazy.

There’s another aspect that makes Wageningen a city of alternative lifestyle. Farming-related organisations and activisms are very common in Wageningen. The mom that I talked with was an activist at ‘Future Farmers’. It’s an organisation that creatively finds ways to tackle the barriers of doing agriculture, especially for new farmers who do not come from an agricultural family, have never done it before and don’t have land inheritance.

Perhaps, being an activist, not necessarily related to agriculture, is the norm here. Even my neighbour who obtained her PhD on ethnobotany works at an organisation that support farmer’s movement. There’s also organisation for young farmers, organic farmers, do-it-yourself activism, and a lot more.

I am just starting to get to know this city. Is it true that Wageningen a city of alternative lifestyle? Are you also part of an organisation or activism? I am all ears.

Anthropology of the academic conference

An academic conference is a social event and so much more, concludes blogger Nadya Karimasari after attending a symposium at Oxford University last week.

Subscribing to academic list-servs, checking call for papers, getting in touch with panel organizers, submitting abstracts, and finally presenting research findings at academic conference have increasingly becoming a ritual for both emerging and seasoned researchers. Such events are expected to circulate ideas, broaden academic network and boost the outreach of research.

When I was in Oxford (and at other conferences in the past), most symposium participants wore their conference name-tag outside the venue. It is not clear whether their mind were too preoccupied with research knick-knacks hence they couldn’t bother taking it off, or is it a deliberate act with hidden meaning.

Conference name-tag serves as a symbol to distinguish the wearer from ‘other’ random passers-by, tourists, or jobless ramblers. Perhaps it resembles a much-deserved badge of honour worthy of showing off to the world. It might also be worn like an imaginary shield to soothe and temporary protect the researchers from their own constant horror of being irrelevant after long and painstaking research process.

Conference name-tag serves as a symbol to distinguish the wearer from ‘other’ random passers-by, tourists, or jobless ramblers.

Or, maybe, it is a sign that researchers are secretly expecting to be found. To be recognized. To be discovered instead of discovering. Although, it is yet to be known whether wearing such symbol would ignite conversation with people or shoo them away.

Other researchers had enough of academic conference. They are not eager to unwittingly spending time for long-distance travel that could otherwise be used to simply sit down and write. ‘All this effort, just meet each other and talk’, as my colleague phrased it.

Yet, the mystique of academic conference have magnetic power that does not easily wear off. Researchers delve deep into their topic and specialization, making it harder to find other people who gets them. All the extra efforts to ‘just meet each other and talk’ would hit the jackpot when they finally find ‘academic soulmate’ who share the same level of enthusiasm on similar topic.

It is not easy to find ‘the one’ who ‘just clicks’, but it’s worth the try. Hanging that shiny little plastic name-tag might just be the key for researcher to get noticed. Keep trying.

Exciting times

It’s been exciting times for our little family but I don’t know why I haven’t been blogging at this space at all. I have some books scattered around me and different things on my task list. I sneak to the computer and let my son sleep alone. He’s fast asleep, perhaps he’s tired. I didn’t see him much today, I’ve spent the whole day in campus working on my long-delayed Teaching and Supervision Plan – so happy that it’s done, one thing off my task list. When I got home, his daddy said he was clinging to daddy all day, wanted to be hugged and wouldn’t let go, but when I got home he was cheerful again and we played together (that’s what his daddy said). My son’s so funny and silly and likes to show off his new “talents”. He’s so interested to come inside different drawers and cupboards (it’s empty), and put different things on his head and shake his head to test whether the thing will fall or stay. Everything is so interesting to him, especially we are now living in the middle of grazing areas for sheep. Sometimes his father brings him to touch and see the sheep up close.

We’ve also just come back from Oxford, stories and pictures on next posts!

A different side of Holland

After a week in Wageningen, blogger Nadya Karimasari concludes that not all stereotypes about this small, rural town are true. But some definitely are.

Wageningen, despite being the location of the best university in the Netherlands, is not always known by strangers. Before I came here, my non-Dutch fellows had said things along the line of: “It’s so quiet, there are more cows and sheep than humans in Wageningen. But it’s a great environment for your baby, it’s very child and family-friendly.” And one of the characters in the Indonesian box-office movie Negeri van Oranje, about student life in Holland, partly filmed in Wageningen, says to his friends: “Wageningen wouldn’t suit you guys, it’s going to be very boring for you as there’s no party life here as there is in Amsterdam.” Interestingly, a colleague who teaches at the Sociology of Development and Change group told me he chooses to commute from Amsterdam to Wageningen three days a week because he says he meets more interesting people there.

I have only been here for one week, but I can safely say that some of these stereotypes are not accurate. Firstly, I haven’t seen any cows. Secondly, I’ve seen some sheep grazing, but I had expected to see a lot more farmland. And thirdly, Wageningen is full of student apartments, more than what I had imagined. This means you see students everywhere and there are parties where students go to de-stress, although, of course, not as many as in Amsterdam.

It amazed me when I had to go to Arnhem to exchange money.

But Wageningen is undeniably different from the parts of the Netherlands I am more familiar with, such as Den Haag and Amsterdam. It is a rural side of Holland that was out of my radar. It amazed me when I had to go to Arnhem to exchange money. On my way there I saw lines of luxurious (for Dutch standards) farm houses with their large lawns. It was like a beautiful sight from the past and very different than my earlier experiences in the Netherlands. I still remember very vividly the very first time I set foot on Dutch soil, at Schipol in August 2010, when I saw two women in punk attire unabashedly kissing for what felt like a very long time. At that time, same-sex marriage was still mostly a taboo, except perhaps in the Netherlands. I couldn’t believe how my first experience was confirming the stereotypes and I said to myself: “Here I am. This is the Netherlands.”

At work I have also encountered some quirky situations that I think are typical of a town like Wageningen. For instance, a staff member in de Leeuwenborch told my friend, in all seriousness, “I can only fix this computer tomorrow. If you want me to do it today, you have to pay.” Of course it was his Dutch sense of humour. My friend didn’t understand it, but he and I laughed. Dutch peculiarities. No matter which part of Holland I am in, it’s always the Dutch people who make me feel at home.

MVV and not taking it for granted

On our second and third day in the Netherlands, we went to the Expat Center at Wageningen University to do some paperworks. My husband and son got their residence permit, while I have to register for a change of address from Den Haag to our new municipality because I was already registered since 2010. The advisor at Expat Center said our family was “the quickest ever” in terms of administrative procedure. Other “expats” need more time to prepare themselves to depart to the Netherlands after getting their MVV (NL visa). Our MVV were approved on March 1st, 2016, and we arrived in NL two weeks later. How was this possible?

To be honest, my arrival was late because my class started on March 1st, 2016. I’ve been contacting the senior financial advisor of my project several times since the start of this year because I wanted to make sure that I got my visa on time–and not late for class. Some of my country fellow who are, were, or have been studying in the NL insisted that I should come by myself first, and my family should come later. It’s almost impossible to come together as a family, they said, because what needs to be taken care of are overwhelming, like the visa and housing for family, not to mention financial issues. I am glad that I insisted that their suggestion is simply not an option for me.

I have mentioned a little bit in this blog about the housing, now let me try to remind myself about the administrative procedure. Early on I have mentioned to my supervisor that I will be coming with my family. My supervisor was the best because he was very supportive and stand up for my rights. I have a good reason to demand being together with my family all times, not ever separated one bit, not “myself go to the NL first and then my family will come later”. The reason is my son is still very young, one year old, so I don’t want to be separated from him for more than a couple of hours, and my husband too. But anyway, without such reason I think every person also have a right not having administrative procedure separating them from their family, temporarily or permanently.

A couple of months before my class started, I have contacted the person in charge for our family visa many times over. I started to worry because I knew administrative stuff takes time. In my opinion, the problem was incomplete information. The NWO scholarship was designed for a single person so I need to send a letter of additional income. It’s a statement that I could bear the extra expenses of bringing a family. With the NWO scholarship, I need to pay from my own pocket around 150 Euros every month otherwise I would not be allowed to bring my family. Without that additional amount of money, the NL government are afraid of the risk that I would not be able to provide a living standard for my family hence they would not grant me a visa.

I understand their concern and I sent the letter of additional income, but I also negotiate for a daycare support top-up with my supervisor. This also took time to be discussed with the sponsor (NWO) but thank goodness the sponsor finally add my monthly allowance with daycare support. Having the financial top-up, I no longer need the letter of additional income. But it took time to get the decision. I only knew about it a couple of days before our visa were approved.

If only any of the project’s financial advisor knew from the start that my husband also gets allowance from Louwes fund for his PhD in Leiden, all the above-mentioned hassle would be sorted early on. Only after the financial advisor found out that my husband also gets a monthly fellowship, she gave a “greenlight” for the Expat Center to proceed with our visa. And only after she found out about my husband financial situation and employment status, she could finally calculate how much the extra day-care support they should request to the sponsor. This was in mid February, and the Expat Center advisor started the visa arrangement straight away.

I read the e-mail from Expat Center carefully and try to do my best to fulfill all of the required documents. But I have to mention that I got a tremendous help from a visa consultant that I hired in Indonesia. I guess most people will think that, for what he (the visa consultant) does, his rate is considered high. I paid around 27 Euros for a consultation session that lasts less than one hour, but it was very helpful. It doesn’t matter how long your consultation session was but The important thing is, you need to know what questions are you going to ask. Do your research first. You have to know the right questions that suited your particular situation, and he will provide the answer. He used to work as a consulate in Dutch Embassy, but he no longer do that work since the visa holders are required to come to the embassy in person to provide their finger print.

One of the things that I don’t understand at first was the legalisation of formal documents such as birth certificate and marriage certificate. I thought I need to send it to the Expat Center before they could proceed with the next step of our visa arrangement. If so, it would be too damn late because legalising the documents needs around two months. Indonesians need triple legalisation, from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Dutch Embassy. If you’re Muslim you need to legalise your marriage certificate first st the Ministry of Religion, and then continue with the triple legalisation. And for birth certificate, before the Ministry of Justice could legalise, you have to legalise it at the municipality and provide an additional sheet of specimen of the municipality officer who did the legalisation. Sounds complicated? It’s actually very simple but it takes time.

The visa consultant explained that the legalised documents are needed for the Dutch municipality, when we register ourselves to get a residence permit. But to get an MVV visa, the IND (Immigration and Naturalisation who approve or disapprove our visa) only needs my host organisation to let them know that my family and I need visa. That’s it, the IND does not need our legalised document to grant visa. They usually approve the host organisation’s request in two weeks. It happened in my case too. Then the Dutch embassy in Jakarta, upon having that approval letter, also does not need our legalised documents. As long as they have that letter, there’s nothing in their way of giving us the visa sticker on our passport. It took six working days from the day we attend the Embassy to provide our fingerprints to the day we can collect our passport with the visa sticker.

That’s how we managed to arrive early. Wait, how? Well, first, after getting relevant information from the visa consultant, I asked the Expat Center advisor to proceed immediately with our visa because the legalised documents were on their way and I was already late for class. She, representing my host organisation, said that to the IND, she had all the documents that I have sent via e-mail (without legalisation) whether necessary and the IND approved within two weeks. After getting the approval, we waited for a week before going to Jakarta (one hour flight from my hometown where I was living) to provide our fingerprints at the embassy. And then, the next week, we went back to Jakarta to collect our passport with visa sticker and went to the Netherlands the same day. We’re in the Netherlands, at last.

So, who needs the legalised documents? The answer is the municipality in the Netherlands where we live. Immediately after arriving in the NL, we have to report ourselves to the municipality to get a social service number. But the legalised documents can actually wait. We just need to inform the municipality that our documents will be sent via airmail in two weeks (yes we hire a person to continue taking care of the legalisation process in Indonesia while we’re in NL). The social service number is very important to access all public facilities in NL. Without one, we cannot open a bank account, or register for our son’s daycare.

I was selected to receive the NWO scholarship in November 2015, so there was actually plenty of time to do the legalisation before mid February. But the problem during that time was they didn’t have the information on whether or not I would be able to provide to bring my family and I don’t understand the logic behind the delay, if I had known earlier about their concern of my ability to provide for my family, I would inform them even without them asking question about my husband’s financial and employment status in the NL. If I’ve known earlier, even without them telling me to, I would do the legalisation process early on because it took the longest time, two months so by the time the Expat Center got a greenlight from the project’s senior financial advisor, I would’ve had the document ready. But it doesn’t make any difference anyway, other than the extra expenses to hire the person to continue the legalisation in Indonesia. I mean, without the legalised documents we still can get our visa approved, arrive in the NL, get a residence permit and I could grin wide because I only missed two weeks of class.

Right now, while waiting for the legalised documents to arrive, the status of me and my husband in the NL are not married and the status of our baby, well, right now he is not our son. Only after NL government, in this case the municipality, see a proof of our marriage (our legalised marriage certificate) and our son’s birth certificate, would we be seen as legally married and our son is our legal son. It’s seems complicated but if you understand the logic behind it, they want to make sure that they could take care of all residents so you would understand that it’s not that much complicated. But those legal status could surely wait for two weeks. The priority is to get to NL as soon as possible so I could go to uni, access the library, go to class, and work on our project immediately. For this I don’t need a legal status of marriage and son, it can come later as long as physically we are together.

The take-away message is to get a complete information on anything because it would really help.You can provide relevant information even though they haven’t asked. Have a good and clear communication and speak up your concerns. Always have an open mind and ask questions. Don’t feel that the first information (clear or unclear) that you receive is set in stone. It’s not like, “oh he/she said this so this is the only way”. No. If the municipality themselves provides an easier way why do you need to make yourself in trouble? Try to understand the whole relevant thing that suits to your particular situation, the procedure and the why, the logic behind what’s required to do in your situation. That way you could surprise the bureaucracy or break a record of being “the family with the quickest process ever.”

I want to remember this, so I would not take for granted being in the Netherlands with my family. It’s not easy, it took a lot of procedure and people helping out. So I have to make the most of our time here and enjoy every bit of it.

Current status: It’s our third day in the Netherlands and I kind of feel like I’ve started finding my rhythm. What a great feeling and what a beautiful place to be! I love every aspect of doing PhD in rural area with my little family 😀

Late Arrival

Before leaving for the Netherlands to start her PhD, blogger Nadya Karimasari had mixed feelings. She’s excited but also having a lot of anxieties over unsettled matters.

On March 1st 2016, our visas were finally approved. After receiving the news, I took some time to be alone, lie down, and stare at the ceiling, ‘this is finally getting real’. I am going back to the country where I discovered the art of learning, now with my husband and one-year old son.

For the last couple of years, the closest encounters that I have had with a lot of great minds in my field of study was reading and studying their works. Now, I am going to meet them in person, perhaps sit in their classes, ask questions, and have discussions. I am going to have a desk and space of my own, where I could fully concentrate on my project. I am going to have the leisure of not having to think about making ends meet, I only need to immerse myself in creating good research. I will finally be free from noises of the crowded city where I have been living. I imagine Wageningen to be so quiet and peaceful, hence providing a conducive environment for studying as well as for my child’s formative years.

I feel casual but underneath I have some anxieties.

Nadya Karimasari

I feel casual but underneath I have some anxieties. Our arrival is actually two weeks late but it’s the earliest we could get. Our visas were slightly delayed. The NWO scholarship is designed for a single person, so bringing a family is a bit more complicated because I had to send an ‘additional income’ statement. Other than that, I had to negotiate over additional day care support. Also to be noted, had I known better I would do the legalisation process earlier on. It was time-consuming, cumbersome, and extremely expensive. The legalisation of our documents (birth and marriage certificate) will only be settled two weeks from now, but considering all things, I choose to have it sent via airmail instead of waiting.

By the time you will be reading this blog, we will be flying our way to the Netherlands. Hopefully we will arrive safely and see you there.

Sleep and Read

I used to put my baby to sleep in the dark. Today I realized that he can sleep with lights on, as long as the air is cool and he got a bit of warmth from attaching his body to mine. I got a lot of reading done while he’s sleeping, one of my hand fluttering a thick paper (a.k.a. fan) to him. It’s definitely going to make into our new routine, a sweet addition to our other established bedtime routine:

a massage every single day at 6 pm (occassionally several other times during the day too) until he’s around 4 months (by that time we moved to Australia and it was winter, so I wasn’t sure about leaving him bare for a couple of minutes to massage him, and I don’t want to use oils that has a warming effect because it gave him heat rash),

then we changed the massage routine with bedtime storytelling (his dad would read two books every night at 6 pm before sleep, I would borrow the books from the library),

and then, after he got to the age where he eat solids three (and then four, and five) times a day, he would eat dinner at 6 pm, drink, wash his hands, play in bed and when he feels sleepy he will lay his head on my body and sleep by himself. Starting today I can read at this time. If I want to take a break from reading or go out of the room, I can do it when I’m sure that he’s already in a deep sleep and won’t wake up if I go for a while.

Okay, that’s all for today. Hopefully enough for a restart of blogging after being away for quite some time. I’ve been travelling and legalising documents, etc. Tomorrow we will go to the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta. Finally … we will go to the Netherlands soon.

Challenge my supervisor?

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We expect you to challenge us, not the other way around. That’s the message blogger Nadya Karimasari gets in a meeting with her co-supervisor.

My co-supervisor, Wolfram Dressler, visited Indonesia a couple of weeks ago to do fieldwork in Berau, East Kalimantan. Thereafter he came to Bogor to present his findings. This is where I met him.

We had agreed to meet inside the majestic Bogor Botanical Garden, a vast area of approximately 87 hectares established in the 18th century that today contains more than 13,983 specimens of trees and plants. A tinge of freshness hung in the air; the grass and leaves were a bit wet; light rain had just stopped falling. We sat at a café near the orchidarium. Wolfram, in need of some energizing liquids after a workout session, ordered a cup of double espresso, a glass of mango juice without sugar, and a bottle of plain water.

After a while, I asked him what he thought about my research preparation so far. At first he replied: ‘Really? I thought we were just going to socialize?’ I couldn’t help it. I am eager to start my PhD research. Wolfram, who was an Associate Professor at Wageningen University for two years before he moved to University of Melbourne, Australia, gave me some advice. Among other things, he emphasized the need to balance meta-theory, meso-theory, and fine-grained empirical data. Also, he pointed out that it is important to not only work the whole day. ‘Go to the beach when you feel like it.’

We secretly expect you to challenge us

Because my PhD research is part of a collaborative team project, I also asked him how I could make sure my PhD proposal would fit well under the umbrella project, to which he replied: ‘We secretly expect you to challenge us.’ I paused, transfixed by that eye-opening line. ‘Otherwise, what would be your contribution to science? You have to come out of this PhD as your own independent mind’, he said. I was still without words, trying to absorb what this meant. As my research is on nature conservation in Indonesia, he added: ‘You are Indonesian. You have to tell us about your country, not the other way around.’

Take away message noted: I have to come to terms with this new perspective. My supervisors don’t intend to tell me what to do, which would be so much easier, instead they expect to be challenged by me. How am I supposed to challenge ‘giants’ when I am standing on their shoulders? It’s a huge task, indeed. I have to study really, really hard.

featured photo: Autumnal vibes in Oxford — © Stephanie Kelley 

My baby prepared me for a PhD

The seemingly daunting combination of an intense PhD programme and taking care of a baby doesn’t terrify blogger Nadya Karimasari. Instead, having a baby has unintentionally prepared her for her PhD research.

Before the NWO scholarship interview, I practiced several mock-interviews with my husband. One of his main question was how to balance the PhD programme with motherhood. To our surprise, during the “real” interview that question didn’t appear. This simple gesture was quite a telling moment evidently showing that the interviewers did not perceive motherhood as a major hindrance in pursuing a PhD.

Perhaps it has to do with the Netherlands being the best country for children’s well-being, according to UNICEF. Combining a PhD trajectory with motherhood might be more common than I’d thought. My former lecturer at ISS Den Haag, Ben White, who became a dear friend and mentor, mentioned a colleague who was always highly productive and consistently publishing books during her pregnancy and maternity leave.

I similarly feel that having a baby, instead of restricting me, has prepared me for my PhD. Firstly, my time management skills have improved a lot. I have become a morning person, thanks to my son who always wakes up at 6 a.m. or earlier. My husband and I share the responsibility of caring, yet still the time I can allocate exclusively to research is limited. I cannot afford to wallow in endless whirlwind of self-doubt that paralyzes my writing flow. I better be strict and quickly brain-dump (a.k.a. write) my thoughts on paper. Forget about perfection, it could always be revised later.

Secondly, baby-caring is such a humbling experience. My son is always a step ahead. For example, when I finally got the gist of making puree, he was no longer interested. He had by now decided that he preferred to feed himself with finger foods. He made me aware that I need to be constantly open-minded, flexible, and adaptive. Like research, not everything can be planned ahead. I always have to be prepared to improvise.

Thirdly, a PhD could be a stressful experience, but my son has been uncompromisingly reminding me to have regular cuddle time to lower our cortisol levels. It is essential for my endurance, puts things into perspective, it’s restorative and fun. Thank you son, for being a generally happy baby and allowing your mom to make the best of herself.