In this episode, we speak with Stamatis Melissourgos (GMD alumn and LDE GMD Writing Fellow) about his initial motivation to study the GMD Master programme, his experience as an LDE GMD Writing Fellow, and his future plans in the field of migration.
By Vanessa Ntinu
Thank you so much for your time, Stamatis! Seeing as your incredible thesis is largely why you began your writing fellowship; do you mind telling us a little about it/your research?
Of course, thanks for having me! When the time arrived to find a topic, I could not find one that I was really interested in. So, I asked Dr. Arjen Leerkes if I could do something that was close to my interest, and he was really open to that idea. I wanted to do research on the access of rights for unaccompanied minors in Greece. Back in Greece, I was working at a center for unaccompanied minors; while there, I saw some of the daily difficulties these children experienced. Together with Arjen, we thought it was a good idea to write about the family reunification of these children. Specifically, we wanted to understand how these minors, who often see Greece as a transit country, continue their journey towards reunification. In the beginning, I was trying to identify relevant research on this topic and by the end, I was able to identify new categories of these children. Some of them desired reunification with family members, even through irregular pathways.
During my thesis, I had the opportunity to interview 11 people working for different NGOs back in Greece, including lawyers, psychologists, and social workers. We mainly discussed who can apply for family reunification and under which conditions. We similarly explored the difficulties encountered by these children and the contradictions between the apparent universal right to family and reality.
What sparked your initial interest in the GMD Master program?
I had a totally different academic background - my bachelor’s was in Educational Sciences. My aspiration was to be a primary school teacher. However, in my last semester, I was granted a scholarship from my university to do my internship at an institution, as opposed to a classic Greek primary school. I selected an NGO and for 3 months I had the opportunity to live and work with unaccompanied minors in Patras (south Greece). I was confronted with how it was to be a migrant and refugee and the difficulties you come across. I realized I wanted to broaden my knowledge on the field of migration and to better understand how governments act.
I was then trying to find a master’s program in the Netherlands because I was an Erasmus student in the Netherlands, and I still had a lot of friends here. I found the GMD program and really liked the multi-disciplinary nature of the program. The GMD program was the first and only master’s application I submitted, both in Public Administration and in Sociology.
I realized I wanted to broaden my knowledge on the field of migration and to better understand how governments act".
What advice would you give the new cohort of students?
Oh, big question! I was a tutor this year for a course in the Master's, therefore I was quite close to starting students. What I advise them is to do things that you are interested in and that you like. This will give you the motivation to keep studying. It is a lot of work that we must do for this program and interest will keep you going. The program has great instructors which is quite a contrast with how I experienced my teachers in Greece. I was pleasantly surprised with the non-hierarchical and close relationship tutors have with their students. Another piece of advice is to identify your research topic sooner than later, it allows you to focus on the research better.
What was your reaction when you heard that you had been appointed an LDE GMD Writing Fellow?
I was at the airport, ready to board the plane to return to Greece for the summer holidays. I then received an email about a writing fellowship from Arjen and he stated he wanted to nominate me as a Sociology student. I was really surprised and thought about the nomination for the whole flight. I was already so happy about this that I didn't even expect to be appointed the writing fellow.
On graduation day, my whole family came from Greece. One hour before the graduation ceremony, Arjen called me and asked me to meet him earlier. I was already thinking that I may have won the fellowship. You and I had already spoken earlier on WhatsApp, and you insisted I came to the ceremony because something important was going to happen, and I thought "no, it can't be!" It was only until I went to the university to meet Arjen and Maria that I finally accepted that I had won.
My advice to the new generation of students is to do things that you are interested in and that you like".
Tell us a little bit about what your Writing Fellowship looked like, to what extent were you able to convert your thesis into an academic article?
It really felt like I never stopped working on my thesis, ha! This process heightened my knowledge of the difference between an academic article and a thesis. I really appreciated the constant support of Arjen, because, without him, it would not have been the same. He was always keen to guide me and answer all my questions. The Fellowship taught how to use academic language when writing an academic article. It also highlighted the importance of exchanging your thoughts with other researchers since you can always take a lot from every interaction.
To be honest, I am still working on converting my thesis into an article. Arjen and I decided to interview unaccompanied minors that were involved in the family reunification procedure. Since I could not interview minors, I was trying to find adults that were involved in family reunification in the last 3-4 years, but only in Germany and Sweden. Therefore, I had a very limited area to find respondents and that was a bit of a challenge. In the end, we ended up only doing 2 extra interviews, which is still something!
In terms of rewriting, where the 'Introduction' and 'Theoretical Framework' chapters were largely complete, I had to restructure the 'Findings' section of my thesis. We are still on this as we await input from a Law Professor at Leiden University to assess the legal aspects of my paper.
What were some of the highs and some of the challenges you experienced in your time as a Writing Fellow?
I really appreciate that Arjen, and the entire LDE GMD Center, did not push me to finish the piece within the 3 months. This made the journey very relaxing and enjoyable. The challenges were largely procedural and were not too damming. One was that in the beginning, we had identified another lawyer to help us out, but in the end, this lawyer was not able to support us. Another challenge was coping with several actors being involved in one paper. During my thesis, it was just me and my supervisor, but in an academic article, you need more people to work on it and this was a bit hard.
This process heightened my knowledge of the difference between an academic article and a thesis. It also highlighted the importance of exchanging your thoughts with other researchers since you can always take a lot from every interaction".
In the same breath, what was the biggest insight you gained from working as a Writing Fellow at the department?
In addition to learning the difference between thesis writing and academic article writing, an insight I gained from the fellowship was how to better conduct research. This includes how to start your own research and how to collaborate with other actors.
What is next for Stamatis?
Well, Stamatis doesn't like to make plans, ha! During the master’s and fellowship, I understood that I wanted to learn more. I think that there is so much more that I can take up and learn in the field of migration and in the study of refugees. A particular area of interest is on children on the move because of my background. I am currently looking for a Ph.D. close to my interests. I would not like to do a Ph.D. that I am not interested in just for the sake of it. At the same time, I am looking for a permanent job close to these themes, but it has proven difficult because of my limited Dutch language skills. I am planning to start Dutch classes at the end of this month to avoid these hurdles in the future.
After my fellowship, Arjen will involve me in his research that assesses the perceived legitimacy of asylum procedures. We intend to visit asylum centers in the Netherlands and will conduct a survey with asylum seekers/refugees on their perception of Dutch legislation towards refugees. The ideal plan is to stay in the Netherlands for the next 5 or 6 years, but I would like to eventually return to Greece. I would like to work in an NGO there and I think my skills are valuable and I can take them back home. But all in all, we take it step by step, and hopefully, a permanent opportunity will come!