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Meet alumna Daphne Wong-A-Foe

Daphne Wong-A-Foe received her Media Technology MSc diploma cum laude in August 2021. Her thesis research used EEG recordings to study aspects of traditional Javanese Jaran Kepang dancing, something she holds close to her heart.

Daphne in
Daphne signing her name on a wall of "het zweetkamertje", a centuries-old tradition when graduating from Leiden University (photo credits and copyright: Daphne Wong-A-Foe)

Having grown up in Surinam, Daphne has very diverse family roots that include Chinese and Javanese ancestry. One of the Javanese traditions that she holds close to her heart is that of Jaran Kepang horse dancing. Jaran is the spirit of the horse and Kepang is a horse made of woven bamboo with which dancers perform. In front of an audience, dancers fall into trance and their bodies become “in possession of other identities” for entertainment purposes. When the dancers come back to reality, they claim not to remember anything about the performance.

Using EEG brain wave measurements

Using a methodology that was previously developed to study disassociative identity disorder, she investigated whether intra-personal variability of EEG (brain waves) in Jaran Kepang dancers differs from those in non-trance-inducing actors. As such she hoped to gain insight into the nature of the Jaran Kepang trance. Besides having a thesis adviser from the Media Technology program, her second thesis adviser was a neuro-surgeon from Paramaribo Academic Hospital.

Although severe Covid-19 pandemic development cancelled Daphne's final experiment, her study is methodologically sound and conceptually interesting. Daphne completed her Media Technology MSc degree cum laude, after writing her thesis Similar or Disparate Brain Patterns? EEG Variability in Jaran Kepang Dancers.

What makes Daphne's work interesting for the Media Technology program?

Firstly, her research is not applied, but of fundamental nature. It does not attempt to solve a specific problem, but to uncover new insights into cultural phenomena and build new theory.

Secondly, she applies cross-disciplinary thinking. Applying prior-developed methods from neuro-physchology research to study a cultural phenomenon is creative and novel. And Leiden University has many departments to collaborate with.

Thirdly, the research idea comes from Daphne's own personal interests and experiences. We like research at the personal scale.

Finally, she was capable of realizing the whole study herself. Building measurement tools for example, requires computer coding skills. At the Media Technology program, we find these skills essential for every researcher, regardless of their field.

Daphne, before and after Media Technology

Before coming to Leiden University, Daphne studied User Experience (UX) Design at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. Several of her teachers there had graduated themselves from the Media Technology MSc program. That is how she learned what our program is about.

After obtaining her MSc degree from the Media Technology program, Daphne is writing her PhD proposal in collaboration with the Cultural Anthropology department at Leiden University. She aspires to become a researcher and contribute to her home country of Surinam.

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