Student interview – University of Copenhagen

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Student interview

Jacob Holmsgaard is 27 years old and enrolled in the MA programme in African Studies.

Why did you choose African Studies?
At 15 I went to live in Kenya with my family because my mom worked at Folkekirkens Nødhjælp and was setting up a regional representative office. It was an important time of my life and it sparked a great interest in Africa in me that became the basis for my educational focus. In my youth I traveled for a couple of years and worked for some NGOs before starting the BA programme in Geography at Copenhagen University. My main interest was development aid in Africa and I did both my first year assignment and my BA Project on different African subjects. The Centre of African Studies was the ideal continuation as both Geography and African Studies are interdisciplinary in scope. The language courses in Kiswahili were a big attraction to me. And the possibility to spend an entire semester on field work leading up to the thesis was very important to me. It makes it possible to explore your subject really thouroughly. After years of theory you want to get out and use it!

What part does the Field Work play in your studies?
I just finished 16 weeks of field work in Kenya. I did it with a fellow student with whom I will be writing the thesis too. We examine how micro businesses (with between 1 and 10 employees) in Nairobi makes use of their network in crisis situations. It has been perfect for me to have so much time available for field work. Half the time was spent on situating ourselves in the area on a practical level – getting to know the people and test our questionnares, to know what actually worked. One thing is the theory you learn at home, but that does not nessesarily correspond to what you experience on the ground. During the field work we narrowed down our subject from Social Capital to Network Theory , so we needed the time to adjust our questionnaires.

What does your professional future look like?
I was just asked to join the Board of an organisation that runs a Health Centre, a school and a sports programme for youth from the ghettos of Kenya. That’s exactly the kind of project I’m interested in. I got in contact with this through my personal network of friends, and I imagine I will get my first job like that. For instance a friend told me about a position in an educational project in Uganda, which is called 'Learning Academy for Leadership and Development in Africa'. I don’t think I will stay in one organisation for 10 years in the near future. I think I will work in different projects while I’m young and gain experience of both private and NGO–based enterprises. And then when I’m older and maybe would like to sit behind a desk in an embassy for instance, then I’d have the practical experience that is important when working in development in order to understand the partners and the projects at all levels.

See other interviews and film about the MA in African Studies.