Elina Jonitz followed the GMD Sociology track and recently graduated summa cum laude. She has a background in Social and Cultural Anthropology and Intercultural Communication. Currently she is working as a research assistant at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. In this interview she reflects on her studies over the past year including the challenges due to COVID-19 and her future ambitions.
I am happy to finish this Master programme with this result after putting a lot of work into it.
You graduated with excellent study results summa cum laude, how do you feel about this achievement?
“I feel very good about it but was also a bit surprised as I was not used to this concept following my previous studies in Germany. So I am proud that I achieved this also considering the different academic environment at a university which is not based in my country of origin (Germany) and the fact that it was an English Master's program. I am happy to finish this Master programme with this result after putting a lot of work into it.
It was sad that we as the GMD students as well as the professors did not get the chance to complete our year and celebrate our achievements together. It would have been very nice to see some fellow students again after all these months. However, I also understand the decision that was made by the university. In the end I celebrated my graduation together with some friends and roommates at home. It was also my birthday that day, so I could combine these two ‚celebratory moments‘ over a nice homemade Italian dinner and some prosecco.”
How did you experience the GMD Master program?
“I very much enjoyed to study together with such a diverse group of people with different nationalities and academic backgrounds. I also see the combination of different disciplines as a strength of this programme. Regarding my background in Anthropology and Sociology, it was very valuable for me to learn more about Public Administration, History, Urbanism and Development Studies and to study at different universities in Leiden, Delft, Rotterdam and The Hague. Some highlights were the site visits, such as the visit to Brussels and to the mosque in Leiden where we could meet governance actors and discuss the theories we studied in class. In this way, we got introduced to the practical side of the governance of migration and diversity. I also took part in several extracurricular activities, such as the student feedback group where we could critically assess the programme or writing an opinion piece together with a fellow student. Moreover, with a small group of students I am organising a talk show with several experts in the field to discuss the complex situation at the Greek-Turkish border, a great challenge facing the EU’s migration and asylum regime (the talk show will soon be available online). Through these activities, I have been able to engage with current societal issues outside of the classroom.
Overall, it was an intense year also due to the changes caused by the pandemic. Once the strict measures were announced, many friends of mine left to their home country and the university campus closed. We were used to study together at the campus and met each other frequently outside of the classroom. So with these changes, the whole social aspect of being a student was gone. Regarding my thesis research, I was lucky that I already conducted my interviews in February and March, just a week before the more restrictive measures were implemented. “
What was the topic of your Master thesis?
“I wrote my Master thesis about labour-related regularisation opportunities for rejected asylum seekers in Germany. In Germany there is a so called ‘Duldungsstatus’ or ‘tolerance status’ for rejected asylum seekers. This means that deportation is suspended and they have different opportunities to get a legal status which is often based on whether they are employed or started with a vocational training. For my research I wanted to take an actor-oriented perspective and therefore, chose a qualitative research method by conducting interviews with several (rejected) asylum seekers and experts who are working in this field.
I applied the concept of civic stratification to look at opportunities for (upward) mobility within the legal stratification system in Germany and concluded that access to labour-related regularisation arrangements is stratified. It often depends on the resources people have, such as qualifications, language skills, professional experiences or social networks which Bourdieu refers to as different forms of capital. But also migration discourses play a big role in this context as the negative image of a particular group, such as asylum seekers, can be a great burden and can affect their opportunities. So the successful regularisation of rejected asylum seekers in Germany very much depends on the resources or capital they have and it remains a bumpy road for many to get there.”
In my future I would like to continue in the research field or work in a more EU related context.
What are you currently doing and what are your ambitions for the future?
“I am currently working as a research assistant at the Erasmus University looking at the role of the regional level in Germany in integration policy making and the interaction between the regional and the local level. Germany is an interesting case to look at due to its federal structure and the increasing relevance of the regional level in the field of immigrant integration. I was very happy with this opportunity, as I can apply the knowledge which I acquired before and during the GMD Master programme. In my future I would like to continue in the research field or work in a more EU related context. There are still a lot of challenges and open questions regarding the EU migration approach, which becomes, for instance, apparent when looking at the current situation at the Greek-Turkish border, and I would like to broaden my knowledge on this topic.”
Which advice would you give to the new GMD students?
“Before corona I would have said: engage with your fellow students and meet as much as possible because all these discussions in and outside of the classroom are very valuable. It is very nice to learn from each other, get together to develop activities and benefit from each other’s expertise and experiences. Under the current circumstances it is still important to engage with each other. It also provides students with the opportunity to reflect on their own patterns of mobility and immobility during this pandemic and how this relates to what they are currently studying: different forms of migration, circumstances in which they arise, and their impact on people themselves as well as their countries of origin and residence.”