Case study

MA Modern Slavery Studies student — Fiona de Hoog

Fiona de Hoog studied MA Modern Slavery Studies at the University of Hull's Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE), before pursuing a PhD in Social Justice and Gender Studies

Why did you choose your course and institution?

In the final year of my undergraduate degree - in BA French and Philosophy - I studied a module about the Francophone world that explored colonialism and slavery. I learned about the Haitian Revolution, in which slaves revolted against their white masters and helped to create the first independent black republic outside of Africa.

What really sparked my interest, however, was the continued existence of slavery in Haiti in the form of child domestic servitude, known locally as the restavek system. From that knowledge, I discovered that modern slavery is widespread in the world today. As I've always had a keen interest in human rights, I wanted to learn more about modern slavery, what it looked like, and what could be done to stop it.

The University of Hull's MA Modern Slavery Studies was therefore the perfect opportunity to learn more about modern slavery, as well as slavery's historical background.

How did you fund your Masters degree?

I was lucky enough to have a member of my family sponsor my tuition fees. I also had a part-time job during my studies, working in a café for 15 to 20 hours a week as a waitress and barista.

I found that having a job actually helped me to be more productive. Postgraduate study tends to take over your life, but it's important to have a break from it. Making coffee became a passion of mine, and I relished the time spent away from the books doing something practical and creative. It always calmed me down, which made me more focused and productive in my academic work.

What did your course involve?

The course covered the history of slavery in the modern world, issues of race and identity, and modern-day examples of slavery. It taught me how to practise my own self-discipline and motivation, tested me by introducing challenging topics, and allowed me to indulge my passionate interest in modern slavery and human rights.

I wrote my dissertation on how grassroots approaches to anti-slavery work contribute to preventing the restavek system in Haiti. This opened my eyes to the importance of anthropology and cultural understanding to effectively combat local systems of slavery through preventative measures.

How did postgraduate life differ to undergraduate?

While I was in shared student housing during my undergraduate degree, I lived with my partner during my Masters. I easily made friends through my part-time job and the postgraduate community, so I had a good support system and social life. During my Masters, I got more serious about my academic interests and passions, and became more disciplined. I still socialised, but was a lot more dedicated to my studies.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of Masters study?

The disadvantages are few. Some feel a sense of isolation compared to undergraduate study, because there are fewer opportunities to meet people through classes. I never felt that way because I was able to form solid friendships with the few people on my course, and I made friends in other ways.

The advantages are overwhelming. I relished the opportunity to learn and develop my way of thinking, was able to delve deeper into subject areas that fascinated me, and enjoyed the higher level of freedom and independence. I thrived in the postgraduate environment.

How did your Masters course prepare you for PhD study?

I developed the maturity and discipline that I needed to work at this highly independent level, and made important contacts. My Masters degree was the groundwork for my PhD. I have expanded on the subject area of my MA dissertation, as I'm now studying the role of women in child domestic slavery in Haiti.

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters course?

It's important to choose a subject area that truly fascinates you. That is what will make the course a pleasure rather than a chore. Remember that this is your studies and your life, so your Masters can be as unique as you are.

My Masters was the first step in a path that has so far resulted in working with the world's leading experts in my field. All this was possible because I followed my personal passion rather than considering what other people thought I should do.

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