Who: Moataz Rageb (1987)
Studied: Master's Degree in Sociology
First job: helping out in my father's restaurant.
Favourite place at the UvA: The Spinhuis, which no longer belongs to the UvA, unfortunately. It had such a nice, homey atmosphere.
Essential: fellow students to work with and to discuss the material with.
'It took me a long time to finish secondary school; I attended many different schools, too. The school-leaving examination was the ultimate goal that I had been working towards. After I passed it, I was totally lost. It was a difficult time, where I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I took a year off and just worked and watched a lot of documentaries. I noticed that I was most interested in documentaries that were about what motivates people and how societies work. Those kinds of documentaries always prompted the same response in me: I want to know more about this. One documentary in particular was a real trigger: I wanted to find out how the filmmaker had arrived at his insights and way of thinking. The documentary was Century of the Self. The filmmaker, Adam Curtis, had studied Social Sciences. Taking my cue from Curtis, I gathered information about this degree programme. As I was searching on various university websites, I discovered that my interests were most closely aligned with the Sociology field of research. The Sociology programme at the UvA was the highest ranked in the Netherlands. That was all I needed to know; I started my Bachelor's programme in 2014.'
'I was motivated to study Sociology in part by my desire to learn to understand myself. Why was it so important to me to earn my secondary school diploma? For whom was I doing that? Did I want to prove something? To whom, and why? You can regard those as psychological questions, but you can also look at them from a sociological perspective. If everything is in your own hands, then you should have control over everything that happens in your life. That is not the case. Who people are largely has to do with how they have been socialised in society. Of course, sociology does not provide a conclusive answer to the question of what is going on with you as a person. The programme offers you the tools and concepts with which you can look at society in a different way and with which you can better understand social processes. I now know that societies are much more complex than you might think. There is never just one reason for an outcome; there are always multiple layers underlying today's society. You can never really fully grasp a society.'
By studying Sociology, I also gained a better understanding of how I was shaped by my environment.
'In the first year of Sociology, you mainly learn about the great, classical thinkers and how they shaped the tradition of sociology to what it is today. Karl Marx and Max Weber, for example. The history and ideas of sociology provide the framework through which you understand how contemporary sociological thinking has been established. In addition, you quickly learn the proper way to conduct sociological research. In the second and third year, you start to specialise, and you have room to choose the courses that you find interesting. I chose courses related to urban sociology. Maybe because I am a city kid, from Amsterdam. I wanted to gain a better understanding of the processes at work in cities. For example, my Bachelor's thesis was about the guys with the Polaroid cameras who go around restaurants asking people if they want their picture taken. I interviewed a couple of those guys and I also went out as a Polaroid picture seller. It was a small, manageable study. Their position in society not only says something about them, but also about the society in which they live.'
'I began participating in the project Vooruit! during my second year. The initiative is aimed at students who are given a place to live in exchange for doing social work. During my participation, I lived in Amsterdam West for two years, where my activities included providing homework supervision and organising events for the neighbourhood. This allowed me to directly apply what I learned in my programme to my immediate surroundings. You do a lot of research during your studies. Consequently, it is important to me to find ways to connect this research to real life. It gives meaning to the material, and you are able to directly give something back to the community. I like qualitative research the most, which is conducted through conversations, interviews or participation in the research area, for example. You also have quantitative research, which concerns percentages, large figures that are produced by surveys involving large groups of people. Very important, but not my passion. I like to look for the nuances, to hear people's individual stories and to understand these stories in a broader context. By understanding them, I want to contribute to solutions to social problems. Although sociologists are not known for finding solutions, they do play an important role in the process of searching for possible solutions by providing sociological analyses.'
I enjoy looking for the nuances.
'I do a lot in addition to my studies, because I want to create a certain impact with my knowledge. I was a member of Amsterdam United, the UvA's diversity platform, where I advocated for diversity policy. I was also a member of the student party UvAsoc!aal. As a student assessor, I met with the Executive Board to discuss how certain student problems can be solved in the microcosm of society that is the university. For me, the interaction between the knowledge and the practice in which you can apply it is very important. I do want to become a researcher, but only if my research actually serves a certain purpose. That is why I also argue for more student social engagement. I think it would be good if practical application were possible whilst we were still in school, where students would learn how to create added value for society and in the process develop their own identity, too. After all, you can also learn from the society in which you live.'
'You have to be curious in order to study sociology. It is a lot easier to study sociology when you are genuinely interested in the subject matter. If your only motivation is to get that piece of paper, you make it terribly difficult for yourself. In other words, your motivation needs to come from your academic curiosity, and not your future job. Why do people do what they do? You also translate your own interests into the specialisations within sociology that appeal to you. If you really only see it as something that you will no longer use after graduation, the material will remain terribly dry. However, if you have read and discussed the theory with your fellow students and you are riding your bike back home, you can see it immediately. You see certain processes, certain motives that people have, the cogs of society. I was able to instantly connect the things I learned with certain situations and experiences. To me, it is important for a sociology student to be curious and to always maintain that hunger for understanding.'
When I interpret the things I learn according to the standards of the Dutch society where I was raised, the international students act as a mirror.
'I'm in an International Classroom in the Master's programme. It is a relatively new concept and is part of the UvA's internationalisation The International Classroom is based on the idea that an international group has added value for the students' learning process. When I am in that class and I interpret the things I learn according to the standards of the Dutch society in which I was raised, the international students act as a mirror. They say: yes, that applies to the context of the Netherlands, but we have a very different type of society in the U.S., where other processes are at work. It teaches you to put things in context more effectively. Both I, as a Dutch student, and the international students learn from each other. It really helps to broaden your horizon. I have to say that my own ambitions have become broader thanks to my international classmates. You can be inspired by the internationals, who have done work placements abroad, for example. You see more opportunities around you. Seeing the various international experiences that others have gained is motivating.'
'The UvA is a great university. If you want, you can just get your degree and then you're done, but the nice thing about the UvA is the community. There are many aspects that the university can still work on, but the great thing is that we can work on them together – students, teachers and administration. Everyone can be included in the improvement process. It does not always go swiftly, but that's to be expected, given the number of people involved in decision-making about what the UvA is and where the university is going. When I entered my degree programme at the UvA, there were aspects that I thought could be improved. I was able to contribute to that, and the university is constantly improving. For example, I argued for more diversity and social student involvement as a member of the student council, in the various committees in which I was active and as a student assessor.'