Spotlight on LEARN! Researchers: Vanessa Weva

This new (monthly) interview series highlights some of our LEARN! researchers. This month the spotlight is on Vanessa Weva. Interview: Alissa Postpischil

27-08-2019 | 16:19

Our next spotlight is on Vanessa Weva. In collaboration with researchers from the VU she is working on a paper focusing on factors which support the integration of immigrant youth in the Netherlands. Vanessa is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology at the McGill University in Canada where she received a travel grant to complete a research stay in July at the VU. During her stay, Vanessa worked and collaborated with her research team on a study supported in part by a grant from Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. Read the full interview here.

Can you tell me about your project and your current work at the VU?

My current project is in collaboration with researchers here at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, including Dr Mariette Huizinga who is supervising my stay. We are currently working on a paper focusing on the factors that contribute to the adaptation or challenges of immigrant youth from non-western societies here in the Netherlands. Our participants come from a special immigration program which aims to foster the integration of recently immigrant youth in the Netherlands. Based on students’ needs, the duration of the program is between one and three years and it aims to facilitate the transition of immigrant youth to regular Dutch classrooms. In our study, where we are examining the contributions of academic motivation on acculturation among youth who report functioning in the context of either high or low independent or interdependent self-construal, which is defined as the way one defines the self (see Markus & Kitayama, 1991). With this project, we hope to find an explanation for the academic achievement gap between Dutch natives and immigrant youth. Additionally, we investigate how youth´s acculturation and academic motivation might change over a one-year period of attending this immigration program.
So far, the collaboration with Dr Huizinga was mostly via Skype and email. I am happy that I had the opportunity now to work with her face to face here in the Netherlands.

How is the collaboration between McGill University and the VU contributing to this project?

Some of the challenges that are experienced here in the Netherlands by the immigrant youth are very similar to what we are seeing in Montreal (e.g., experiences of discrimination and intercultural relation challenges). Therefore, for me this collaboration makes sense. What I am going to find here will be informative in fostering adaptive academic multicultural contexts in Montreal, and when I finally kickstart my project in Montreal, the findings there will also be informative for the context here. It is a conjunction where we can use the information interchangeably.

Why is it relevant what you do and why should people talk and think about your research?

Worldwide, there’s an increase in immigrant families from non-western countries who are migrating to western societies. This generates many challenges for both them and their new society. For us as researchers it creates the responsibility to tackle this topic. We must figure out how we can better support these families. How can we adapt our communities to welcome them and make them feel at home? My hope is that the findings from my study will allow professionals, in a variety of settings, whether it is within schools, whether it is within the professional health setting, or even at a society/policy level, to better foster the integration and adaptation of immigrant families within their new home. I hope that my research can in the end inform communities in the sense of best practice.

What inspires you the most about your research and motivates you to keep working on it?

I chose to pursue this profession because of my own personal experience as a second generation child of immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo who settled in Canada. Growing up as a minority in a small town in eastern Canada, things were not always easy but myself as well as my parents displayed resilience in our development. I hope to help/support other children living in marginalized or at risk circumstances to develop a fruitful life for themselves.

What is an achievement you are proud of and what are accomplishments you still dream about?

I am proud of how far I have made it thus far, both professionally and in my personal life. As I mentioned, it has not always been easy growing up where I am from! I never really saw myself reaching this level and I could never imagine myself in the situation of doing intercontinental collaborations as I am doing right now. Another achievement for me is that I work on topics which are directly related to issues I experienced myself. It feels like people helped me to reach my goals and now I have the opportunity to give back and support others.

I am still dreaming about one day completing my doctoral studies, and through my future expertise, I hope to work in a setting in which I can truly give back and support a large number of children who are exposed to many different challenges. With my own history I also hope to become a voice for immigrant families as many people still ignore or do not realise the challenges they are facing. We need to create a new social context where everyone is adapting to the changes and I hope I can contribute to that. 

What do you do when you are stuck in a problem and what was the best advice you ever received?

When I am stuck in a problem I use to have a lot of difficulty to motivate myself to overcome it. Now, I am not afraid to ask for help, even if that means sending a thousand emails to my supervisor for example or to ask the same question over and over again until I feel that I understand. This advice was given to me by my parents, who taught me to never be afraid to speak up and to seek help when needed. Another piece of advice that they have always given is to develop balance between my personal and professional life, as both are important in developing a healthy life for myself.

What was the most memorable class you have taken during school/college? And why?

When I was in elementary school, I had this one really great teacher. I think what made him so great was that he practiced differentiated teaching. He really adapted his pedagogical practices and approach to the specific needs of every student in the class. So, whenever he was out there it felt as if he was speaking to you directly. At the end of the year he made a Power Point for each student in class and said two positive things he appreciated about this student. This was something I always remembered, also because the environment in his class was so great and everyone felt a personal connection with the teacher.

If you had not pursued a career in academia, where would you be?

I think that by now I would be a mother, of 5 (hopefully haha) or perhaps doing a lot of work abroad with children in developing countries.