Universiteit Leiden

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Manon Schouten: ‘I’m the kind of teacher who also works on her profession during the weekend.’

After a detour via the ANWB in Munich, alumna Manon Schouten works as a history teacher at two schools. ‘It's so rewarding to see the material resonate with students.’

What did you want to be as a child?

‘An archaeologist. I had a subscription to Schatten van de aarde (Treasures from the Earth) from a young age. Every month, you'd receive a gemstone in a box, a piece of fossilised wood, or something else random, along with literature for your collector's folder. It wasn't intended for children at all, but I loved it. Later, in high school, I enjoyed history lessons. I found listening to all those stories much more fun than doing sums or learning vocabulary. That's why I ultimately chose to study history. I still thought it would be great to do excavations as an archaeologist, but ultimately, an archaeologist always needs a historian to interpret the findings.’

After your Bachelor's in History, you took a Master's in African Studies. What prompted that switch?

‘At the end of my bachelor's, I saw a call for research on Swedish missionaries in French Congo. How had they described the life of the local population? And how did that differ from the reports by the local authorities? I happened to have taken a few Swedish courses because I had family living there as a child. That's why I was chosen! With a LUF subsidy, I went to Stockholm to do archive research. I found that so fascinating that I continued with African Studies afterwards, although I used a historical perspective for all the assignments.’

What kind of student were you?

‘Very serious; I think I went to only two parties in my entire student life. That's also because I can't drink alcohol due to diabetes. So, I didn't feel like attending the typical boozy parties: I preferred being in the study association committee and the Humanities Think Tank, where we dealt with issues like the faculty's stance on the environment and inclusion. That group was so much fun, I have really fond memories of it.’

Did you have a favourite spot in Leiden?

‘After classes, a friend and I often went to the Burcht. When we climbed that one short set of steps, she often said, "There, that was our workout. Now we've earned something," and then she suddenly pulled something tasty out of her bag, like McDonald's chicken nuggets. It got even better when those wooden deck chairs were set out there. Then we could really chill.’

Why did you choose teaching?

‘After graduating, I actually wanted to do a PhD, but all those applications take a lot of time. So, I thought of earning some money for the summer at the ANWB in Munich while waiting for the outcome of that application process. I had so much fun in the technical department that after a few months, they asked if I wanted to look for a house nearby. Eventually, I stayed there for two years, until I heard myself talking about oil leaking into the third cylinder on the phone and suddenly thought: what am I doing with all this automotive stuff? Why am I not pursuing my passion for history anymore?

‘So, I quit my job and started working at my old high school and an international school. It's a bonus that I now know a lot about cars, but it doesn't compare to the feeling I get when I see the course material really resonate with students.’

How do you relax?

‘I've become that teacher who's constantly immersed in her specialist field even at weekends. I'll be walking around in a museum and think, "Hey, William of Orange, we just talked about him. Let's see what they say about him here."

‘I also enjoy working on the Alom Historisch I started during the pandemic. At the time, only the sights were open in Munich. So, I started filming them and added a voice-over. I did it mainly because I enjoyed it myself, but now I have a group of loyal viewers, and I'm sometimes hired by historical sites to make a video for them.’

What are your dreams?

‘I would love to teach a workshop at the university! During my studies, I had a class on oral history. We had to interview someone we didn't know very well. It was so inspiring. You really learn to listen, show respect, ask the right questions. I would like to do that with a class, but that’s something you don't really do with first-years in secondary school. How great would it be if I could do it at the university?’

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