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Rint Sybesma: ‘I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone’

The Leiden Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) has a new Director of Education. Rint Sybesma was appointed with effect from 1 September. ‘I am looking forward to getting to know the institute even better.’

Rint Sybesma

Sybesma is not a new face for LIAS. He has worked there since its foundation, for the past ten years at professor of Chinese linguistics. ‘I still have seven years before I retire. I was intending to fill the time with work that I have enjoyed doing for almost thirty years: teaching, research, some management tasks, but I thought it would be good for a change, to do something completely different.’

That turned out to be a position as Director of Education. ‘Several colleagues were unsure whether they should congratulate me when they heard I was going to be the next Director of Education. That says a lot about how people think about these roles. The departments want to offer the best possible programmes, but at the same time there are financial and other limitations. And as Director of Education, you’re caught in the middle.’ 

Complex puzzle

The many different teaching activities at the LIAS make this puzzle even more difficult, Sybesma says: ‘If someone in China Studies has teaching time “left over”, and you need someone at Assyriology, you can’t  just shift that person to Assyriology to fill the gap. That makes things very complex for the institute.’

Interesting discussions

In the coming time, he mainly wants to find out more about all the institute’s programmes. ‘I come from China Studies, so I know the programmes and people who are involved with Asia, but I have had far less contact with, for example, Middle Eastern Studies, Near Eastern Studies and Religious Studies. That’s one of the nice things about this job: in my first month I’ve already talked to all kinds of people I’d never spoken to before. We’ve had detailed discussions about their programmes and the lectures they give. I’m now looking forward to talking with the programme chairs about their programmes. Why are the programmes structured the way they are? What are you hoping to achieve? And is this the best way to go about it?’ 

In these discussions, Sybesma is not intending to make major changes. ‘It’s not my idea to shake things up.’ But a good discussion is never a bad thing, as Sybesma knows from experience. ‘At China Studies we once heard from one of my predecessors that we had a lot of contact hours for language acquisition. Couldn’t we do it differently? At first, I thought: Why are you interfering? In the end, this insight from someone from outside proved very useful.’ 

Reducing pressure of work

He is also hoping to do something about the pressure of work. ‘I will be really happy if in this role I can help to reduce the pressure of work but I realise that my options are limited. As an example, it’s difficult to implement the programme norms in our department because we study a single region from different perspectives. You can’t simply say, “We won’t do linguistics or literature or history for this region’.”

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