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About the University

Sinja Stentoft

Potrait of Sinja Stenthof by Robin de Puy

Who? Sinja Wojnarowicz Stentoft
What? Students of Linguistics
First job: Babysitter
Favourite spot at the UvA: The spot in the corner of the canteen at PC Hoofthuis, with big chairs in front of a window looking out onto the canal. 
Essential: Good research skills, so you can get all the different perspectives, analyse reliable sources and know where to find your information.

World citizen

'My family and I moved a lot when I was young. My mom is Danish and my dad is originally Polish but grew up in Austria, so I have Danish and Austrian citizenship. I was born in Denmark, lived there till I was eight and then we started moving. We lived in Italy for seven years and in Mumbai for one year. Then my parents moved to Munich and I moved back to Denmark for six months and attended a boarding school in Copenhagen. But it wasn’t the ideal place for me at the time, so I moved back in with my parents and finished high school in Munich. The moving was hard at times for me, but to be honest, I wouldn’t change it. It gave me so many experiences - I honestly don’t think I would be the same person today without it. Plus, I speak Danish, German, English, Italian and I can get by with a little bit of Spanish. I consider it a great privilege to have been given the chance to learn these languages, to meet so many different people and experience different cultural traditions.'

In order to understand communication, I think you need to understand language first.

Linguistics

When my parents moved to Maastricht, I decided to move to Rotterdam to study Psychology. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right programme for me. I think it’s very interesting, I’m fascinated about behaviour, attitude and body language, but I wasn’t meant to study Psychology in such detail. So I decided to drop out and take a gap year. During that, I was teaching English to children in bilingual Dutch-English families. When I decided I wanted to go back to studying, I started looking for a fitting programme. At that time, I found Linguistics on the website of the UvA. It was a bit of a trigger, almost. For me, language has always been a very large part of my life. Honest and direct communication, no unnecessary ambiguity - I find it important and essential. Language is what makes the world go around. It’s also a versatile tool. You can manipulate someone, you can create love, war, peace: you can do anything with language if you know how to use it. Linguistics is a different subject than Communication Sciences. It offers a different perspective on language and language use. In order to understand communication, I think you need to understand language first.

Language and culture

You can study either Specified Linguistics or General Linguistics. In Specified Linguistics, you focus on a specific language or language family, so if you study Italian Linguistics, you only focus on Italian. I chose to do General Linguistics, because I would love to understand how language functions in general. For a subject like Morphology, which is breaking language down to its smallest component, we use examples from languages all around the world. For example, we may look at a language spoken by twenty people in Brazil, or we may analyse South African or Chinese examples. When we learn about language acquisition, Linguistics gets kind of cultural. The way in which different cultures teach a first language is very different. There are some cultures that decide not to speak to their children at all, until their children can speak to them. Those are the traditions that they have. I think that’s fascinating. On the other hand, we also have subjects that have nothing to do with culture, like Neurolinguistics. In this subject we are taught about the brain and the specific areas involved in language learning, production and comprehension. Lingusitics is incredibly multidiciplinary, it overlaps with a lot of different subjects, for example, Sociology, History, Philosophy and Political Science.

As soon as I crossed the Dutch border and looked at the universities, it felt right.

Studying in the Netherlands

I considered studying in either the Netherlands or Scotland. As soon as I crossed the Dutch border and looked at the universities, it felt right. That’s why I decided to stay here. I’m a big family person, so the fact that my family was moving to Maastricht was a plus. I like the Dutch culture, I like the people and the architecture, so it felt kind of like being home. I found that Holland is quite similar to Denmark. I understand how studying abroad can be stressful for some people. I had the advantage that I moved to the Netherlands with my parents, so they could help me with getting health insurance, a BSN number, a phone number, and so on. I think there can be struggles if you have to do that by yourself which I didn’t have to deal with. People who move here from foreign countries without their parents are kind of thrown in at the deep end of the pool, I think. It’s challenging navigating a system that’s primarily in Dutch. I found it quite difficult sometimes to get the information that I needed in English. Luckily, the UvA does help a lot. You can make a start-up appointment when you move here. They help you get your BSN, your bank account, your phone number, all those sorts of things. I think that’s absolutely amazing, and there are always kind Dutch students that can help you out.

Bilingual swearing

At the end of the first year of Linguistics there is a BA-project, kind of like a mini thesis. It turned out to be one of my favourite courses. My group and I focused on bi- and multilingualism and swearing. We focused on the phenomena of code switching, which is, for example, us two talking in English and then me swearing in Danish. I’ve noticed that when I’m talking to someone in one language, depending on what happens, I might use different swear words. My bi- and multilingual friends do the same thing, so we decided that we wanted to look further into it, to see how language proficiency and language use affected this code switching. I loved to do this research project and I think it might come in with my thesis again. We’ve also written research proposals for other subjects, which I find very interesting, but we don’t actually get to carry those out. I think doing research would be interesting, but only for a limited amount of time. Ideally later in my life I would go into something with communication.

I think it's important that students have their opinions heard

Programme Committee

I’m on the Programme Committee for Linguistics. I would describe it as a quality control for the programme. We look over the course reviews, we make sure that students are being represented in a correct and fair manner, that the rights that we have within university are all fair. I think it’s important that students have their opinions heard and I want to make sure that everybody’s point of view is included. It’s political, to a certain extent, and very rewarding. Besides the programme committee, I work as a student ambassador. Linguistics doesn’t get enough publicity, in my opinion. I want to put it more out there, because it’s an amazing programme. So as an ambassador I promote my studies at the UvA Open Days. I get assigned ‘meelopers’, or shadow students, whom I bring along to a class of their choice, so that they know what they can expect and see the campus. We also have a chat where we talk about the programme in more detail and about my experiences at the UvA and in Amsterdam. The shadow student can ask any questions they may have. And I’m on the Unibuddy Platform, where new students can message me and I can give them advice if they have any questions.

Teaching assistant

On top of that, I am now a teaching assistant as well. Together with a friend of mine, I’m teaching Academic Writing to first year students. I think academic writing is very important and it’s crucial that students understand the process behind it. There’re so many different components to it, that you have to understand in order to write a good academic paper, which will take you a long way. Many of our students have very different levels of academic English, depending on the level of English they are taught during highschool. High schools prepare you to have an adequate level of English, but academic writing is more of a thing on its own that not every school system focuses on. We really aim to get the students up to speed and on the same level, so everybody has enough knowledge to give each other constructive feedback. I’m very enthusiastic about it, I like doing this a lot.

Room for discussion

Our teachers are approachable and they are always open for discussion. Within the field of Linguistics, there are different theories and opinions. Our professors are always open about that and discussing these different viewpoints. They make sure that our teaching isn’t subjective. The fact that we have a staff where some people believe in theory A and other people believe in theory B is very rare. At other Universities, they have often adopted a specific stance, and that is the window through which they teach. At the UvA they teach you to make up your own mind. I think that’s very important and a huge advantage. You don’t have to support something in order to explain it, in my opinion. So if there’s a theory that you can get behind, our teachers support you in that, regardless of what they believe it themselves.