13:00 with Beau de Vos
By Amrita Das
Beau de Vos is a first-year student at the VU. She is pursuing her Bachelors degree in English, in the program Literature & Society. A few weeks ago I met her for an informal chat to discuss her experiences at the VU.
A punctual and enthusiastic student Beau, prior to the VU Literatures in English, studied at the Laar & Berg, a bilingual school in Laren. At the Laar & Berg curriculum is taught in both in English as well as in Dutch.
As we walked through the VU corridors seeking out a quiet spot Beau expressed that her love for the English language started at this school. We settled down on a purple couch, in the twelfth floor of the VU main building, and Beau articulated her curiosity for new words and literary adventures.
What was the experience like in Laar & Berg?
It was cool as well as admittedly scary. It is strange to find your own head exploding with new words in another language, quite challenging but at the same time exciting. It was different. I knew the words but I needed to express them with other words that my mind was trying to learn. I liked the stimulation. This exposure started my journey with the English language.
What else have you been learning since then?
I did return to the Dutch system for my final year of school, which was another switch and very different from the IB-bilingual system at L&B. I also did a course in Art History at UvA but found it dry. It did not meet my expectations of learning. And, now I am at the VU.
What has been your experience so far at the VU?
The biggest convenience at the VU is that there is no scattered campus; everything is located in one place, which is incredibly handy. It is close to the center and yet secluded from the hustle and bustle. The curriculum at the VU Literatures in English is amazing. I chose the course primarily due to what I saw on Facebook and the Faculty website and till now it has been as promised. The classroom is diverse and the discussions within it are varied.
What are the courses that you enjoy at the VU?
I greatly enjoy “Literary Theory” with Roel van den Oever. We have looked into psychoanalytical criticism, Marxism, post-colonial theory, and feminism. The course material is engaging. I love how Roel is like the director of the opera that is our class.
Tell me more about your class. What is it like?
It is multi-racial and there are students from everywhere. I am from The Netherlands, lived in Hilversum, and in my class there are students from Hong Kong, Turkey, Germany, Estonia, China, Italy, England, Germany, Denmark, America, and Hungary. So, it is quite a mix.
What are the other courses that you have been pursuing at the VU?
I have been attending “Creative Writing” and “English Literature in a Changing World.” Creative writing has introduced us to genres such as comics. Next to asking us to study ourselves more closely. We question ourselves – why we write what we write and how we write. Thus, Sigmund Freud continues to be a big presence. The other class, “English Literature in a Changing World,” challenges us to do the opposite of writing, which is reading. It contains a lot more reading than any subject we had before. In the class, we read at least one novel per week in addition to at least 2 to 3 academic articles or other informative texts. The class deals with themes such as racism, immigration, feminism, popular culture, the American dream, and world travel.
Give me three words that would best describe you?
Up-for-a-challenge (not really one word, she laughs), driven, and purposeful.
And, how would you describe the VU Literatures in English in three words:
Challenging, open minded, and fun.
What according to you are the three main ingredients to a good education?
According to me: involved teachers, a good curriculum, and safe classrooms.
What is a safe classroom?
Where everyone feels safe to share even when discussions get sensitive.
What are the books that you are currently reading or have recently read?
Several of them actually, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
What is your all-time favorite book?
That would have to be J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I was 15 when I read it and it had this profound impact on me. I could relate to the main character, and my tutor at that time taught me how to read the novel from different perspectives. I think that is what was the game changer. Texts just started opening up to whole new worlds, and I was hooked.
What was your favorite book as a child?
It was a Dutch book called De dievenbende van Scipio.
Returning to your background in art history, do you have any favorites in art?
I like modern art: Picasso, Dali, Keith Haring, Banksy, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Andy Warhol.
What do you think about the dialogue between art and literature?
It is a conversation in which literature I feel sets itself apart from all the other arts like painting, dance, music, and sculpture. It is as though a time machine with you alone in it. There is immediacy to the other arts you can look at color, texture, sound, while in text it is only in paper and taps into psyche, access to the mind, in not the same way but differently.
What sort of music do you listen to?
Mostly hip-hop and rap. Kendrick Lamar is my favorite artist. His music is poetic justice to me.
What would be a good study soundtrack?
Mozart’s symphonies on loop mainly because words distract me.
Last thing you watched on TV / or a show?
The Get Down, which is about uprising of music on Netflix. I am addicted to Gilmore Girls with all its literary and film references.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
“Oh God I don’t know” (she laughs, suggests that I put that down as the title).
What came first the chicken or the egg?
It was chicken right?!? Right?!? (More infectious laughter follows).
How do you define and measure success?
Success means being happy in personal and professional life, not money but the ability to travel and have access to culture.
What would be a perfect afternoon?
Hanging outside in the garden with my friends, drinking, smoking, and eating.
If you could travel in time when and where would you go?
England after World War I, it is not happy but I think it would be cool to witness everything happening around me.
What’s your favorite haunt at the VU?
Anywhere there is coffee.
And, in Amsterdam, where do you like to hang out?
There are a few places, for example, Vondelpark, Museumplein, and shopping for vintage things near Waterlooplein.
What is a quirk that makes you unique?
I make a beeping sound when I hug someone (it was my turn to laugh, “really,” “I am serious,” she insisted).
To tweet or not to tweet:
Not to tweet.
Would you like to nominate a tutor for such an interview?
Yes, that would have to be Roel van den Oever.
Do you have advice that you would like to share with fellow literature students?
Be open to other perspectives; remember you are never done with reading and that you don’t know everything.
Wishing Beau the very best for her intellectual endeavors I left the meeting with a sudden urge to be out in the sun preferably with a cup of coffee and a copy of The Catcher in the Rye.