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Humans of Honours – Angela Radić

By Thirza van Hofwegen, in association with Ongehoord Journal HHP

Angela Radić is 21 years old, a second year English Language and Culture student (specialized in Linguistics) and a first year Humanities Honours Programme Student. She lives in Nieuwegein. Her review on the documentary Dara of Jasenovac will soon be published by Ongehoord.

 

‘There’s a quote by a Serbian Orthodox elder, Elder Tadej Štrbulović, who has been credited with the idea of ‘Kakve su ti misli takav ti je zivot’. Basically, it means something along the lines of ‘our thoughts determine the outcome of our lives’. For example, if you keep saying to yourself that you can’t do a certain thing, that will most likely be the case. It’s something my parents always say and which I think is applicable to all parts of my life. To me, it has pushed me to make the most of my life and not be lazy. Life is not just going to hand it to you. You really need to work hard and not take anything for granted. There are many people that wish they could do the things I do but can’t, so who am I not to not get the most out of myself? I’ve not always had this mindset. I wasn’t always ambitious, but I think I always had it in me. Back in high school I failed my HAVO[1] exam and didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life. I took that year as a lesson and a way to improve myself. After graduating VAVO[2], I went to Amsterdam to study ‘docent Engels tweedegraads’[3] at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam[4]. There, I fell in love with linguistics and discovered that I actually didn’t like to teach high school students that much. After getting my propedeuse [5] cum laude, I went to Utrecht University. Many people warned me beforehand, that the switch from HBO[6] to the university would be too much for me because of different workloads and so on. As I was doing quite well at the moment, I just wanted to prove them wrong. In the end, I am very glad I did, because I’m very content where I am now.

“In the end, I think nobody is entitled to their opinion. You’re entitled to your informed opinion.”

My parents are from Serbia. They fled the war and raised me and my sisters here. I myself am a native Serbian speaker and taught myself the Cyrillic alphabet. I think that’s where my linguistic knowledge and fascination comes into play. It’s a shame that the field of Slavic language and culture, except for Russian perhaps, is quite limited. When people in the Netherlands think about Serbia, they often only think of Srebrenica. While I do not deny the severity of this event, I think it’s a shame that it’s the only focus of Dutch media. Not many talk about the suffering Serbians themselves have gone through, for example by the Ustaše. [7] I’m certainly not choosing to highlight one perspective over the other – it’s looking at both. However, I have noticed that it’s risky to make a documentary or write a paper about these subjects without people accusing you of picking a side. Here is an example. Last year, a Serbian documentary about the war in Yugoslavia was released, called Dara of Jasenovac. I’ve written a piece about this for Ongehoord in order to contribute to this journal. There were all kinds of Western media outlets writing about the film in a very negative way, for example that it was ‘Serbian propaganda with an agenda’. I was thinking that it was just a documentary. Of course, it was dramatized at points, but in many ways, what was presented in the film really showed how the situation was at the time, and even worse. I myself think that Serbians are the most forgiving people, but we’re also still getting the blame for events of more than twenty years past. So that is why I strongly feel that I should inform people about this, to get them to see beyond just Srebrenica. If people after that still want to stick to their own opinions, that’s fine. At least I’ve tried to offer you to get informed. In the end, I think nobody is entitled to their opinion. You’re entitled to your informed opinion.

Already in the first year of the Humanities Honours Programme, I’ve had the opportunity to study my heritage. During Goed in Geesteswetenschappen, I made a documentary with someone who I now consider a good friend of mine. In this documentary, we studied the Dutch role of narratives and media in the representation of Yugoslavia and how Serbia is perceived. As a Serbian, and especially as a Serbian woman, it’s very difficult to make your stance and be credible, because of all the ‘propagating’ narratives on the war. Together, we interviewed a couple of journalists and did extensive research on all the articles that were published during the disintegration of Yugoslavia. My interest in Serbia is not limited to just the events of the Yugoslavian War, however. During Terreinverkenning part 2 I wrote about native Serbian speakers and how they react to the non-subject parameter. The non-subject parameter is the ability of certain languages, such as Serbian, to leave out the subject in sentences. In Serbian, you can see this in the two sentences, ‘idem do prodavnice’, which translates to ‘going to the shop’, and ‘Da, ja idem do prodavnice’, which translates to ‘Yes, I am going to the shop’. When researching a topic like this, I asked myself questions about the reactions of the speakers, such as ‘Do heritage speakers prefer sentences with the subject present? If so, why?’ The subject of this paper really fits within my own interests in the field of linguistics. Linguistics in its general terminology is about the scientific study of language. A few examples of aspects that are studied are phonology, which is about the sound of words, morphology, the study of words in general, and syntax, which is about the grammar of languages. I myself prefer ‘hard core linguistics’ about the syntax, behavior and the cognition of languages. My favorite thing to study is the formation of words and the grammar, which is why the non-subject parameter that I just talked about fascinates me so much. Apart from that, for the Research Seminar, I am also working in a group of six people on a book about the concept of universalism. My own chapter is about the concept of universalism during the Russian Revolution and Yugoslavia. Finally, next year, I hope to write my Honours Thesis. I don’t have a topic yet, but I am fascinated with Serbian-Hungarian bilinguals. They live in northern Serbia, near the border with Hungary, specifically in a town called Subotica. So right now, my idea is to write about Serbian monolinguals, bilinguals or even trilinguals.

My close connection to my family and my heritage are also things that I think set me apart from other Honours students. I have an older sister, as well as one younger sister. My older sister was born with a mental impairment due to a lack of oxygen going to her brain during her birth. As a result, she develops more slowly than the rest of us. In a way, she’s the youngest person of us all. She fascinates me so much. One reason, which interests me on a linguistic level, is the fact that she can speak and understand Dutch, but also Serbian. I think my parents have done a great job in raising her bilingually and I am continuously wondering how they did that. That is something I definitely want to explore further in my career. I also think it would be amazing to teach at a university in my field of linguistics. I envy those people who get to coordinate courses and seminars. But I also have my sister and I want to help her and other people that are in a similar situation. In some ways I think the system for people with disabilities is flawed. Why, for example, do they not get more language exposure? Why do they not get taught English in special schools, when it’s evident that they (like my sister) can learn multiple languages? That’s something I want to do more with in the future.

“Failing is also the process of progress and learning.”

I heard from the Humanities Honours Programme via an email and later went to one of the information meetings. When I learned more about it, I saw it as a great opportunity. Not only could I challenge myself, but I could also work on my social skills with people from other disciplines and learn to express myself in their fields. During my BA programme, I didn’t attend parties or hang out, because I’m not really the type for that. In other words, I didn’t do much to socially engage with other people. In my personal life, I also prefer to let friendships happen, not actively seek them out. Enrolling in the Humanities Honours Programme helped me change this attitude a little. The nice connections with people from other fields I’ve made in the programme is something I have really liked about the program. Apart from that, I think it was the aspect of academic depth that really appealed to me. You’re very free to research whatever you like or want to do, as long as you have the resources to back it up.

Over the past two years I’ve figured out what fields of linguistics I really like and which parts of it I am struggling with. Sound waves frequency, for example, is not really my thing. I haven’t regretted quitting my first studies in Amsterdam and started studying linguistics at Utrecht so far. For this decision I have to credit my teacher in Amsterdam, who first introduced linguistics to me. Her name is Mili Gabrovšek-Sanders. She is Slovenian, but has a Serbian father, so we immediately connected. She really made me fell in love with linguistics, something which hasn’t stopped. On a more personal level, I have learned that letting go from time to time will do no harm and that it’s okay to not be in control all the time. Receiving a bad grade is not a failure, but a chance to learn what went wrong and improve yourself. Failing is also the process of progress and learning.’

 

[1] Abbreviation of Hoger Algemeen Voortgezet Onderwijs, which is similar to higher general secondary education. In the Netherlands, it’s the level of high school education that is between Voorbereidend Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs (abbreviated and commonly referred to as VMBO, similar to preparatory secondary vocational education) and Voortgezet Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs (abbreviated and commonly referred to VWO, similar to pre-university education). People that come from HAVO cannot automatically go to the university, but first must obtain a degree at a HBO school (hogeschool). See footnote 4 for more information about what this all that maintains.

[2] Abbreviation of Voortgezet Algemeen Volwassenen Onderwijs, similar to continuing general adult education. VAVO is often chosen by people that initially failed their final exams and thus could not graduate at a VMBO, HAVO or VWO level. After a year of re-education, it offers people that want to the chance to try once again to participate in the final exams and obtain a certified VMBO, HAVO or VWO diploma.

[3] Teacher of English on a second degree level. If you complete this studies, you can teach English to the first three classes of HAVO (higher general secondary education) and VWO (pre-university education) in high school, as well as pre-vocational secondary education, vocational and adult education and practical education.

[4] In most countries, a ‘hogeschool’ would be translated and be on a similar level to a university. However, in the Netherlands, hogescholen are part of HBO education (higher vocational education), which means it’s considered to be on a ‘lower’ theoretical level than Dutch universities. That’s why people warned Angela when she wanted to make the switch from hogeschool to university.

[5] The Dutch word for propaedeutic diploma or propaeadeutic year, or the certificate one obtains after successfully completing the first year of university.

[6] Abbreviation of Hoger Beroepsonderwijs, which is similar to higher vocational education.

[7] The Croatian, shortened name for Croatian Revolutionary Movement, a fascist, ultranationalist Croatian organization that is responsible for the murders on hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Roma, Jews and political dissidents during World War II. It was active between 1929 and 1945.