Erasmus Alumni Portrait: Hugo van der Kooij
Some alumni have such fond memories of their years of studying, they want to remain involved with the university after graduation. Alumnus Hugo van der Kooij (30) now creates positive impact at student initiative Erasmus Verbindt, as producer of the podcast Stadswandelingen (City strolls).
In this podcast, Hugo has intimate conversations with people from Rotterdam about metropolitan issues like poverty, gentrification and sustainability. “We try to bridge the gap between city and academy,” he says. “Academics usually give a more objective account of the matter at hand, whereas people from Rotterdam who are personally affected portray the emotional side.” In the first episode, urban sociologist, EUR-alumna and driving force of the citizen initiative ‘Recht op de Stad’ Gwen van Eijk talks about gentrification in the Tweebosbuurt. Then resident Mustafa shares his personal story. He received a ‘demolition notification’ from the government and was summoned to leave his home. Mustafa claims that the city council is favoring wealthier citizens by giving them priority access to his neighbourhood, an ‘up-and-coming’ area in Rotterdam-South. “That was heartbreaking to hear,” Hugo says. “Former city-poet Dean Bowen wrote a powerful poem on this theme, called ‘Exodus.’ He recited the poem in the podcast. We could hear his emotion, his tears. I still get goosebumps when I listen to the recording.”
Hugo is satisfied with the role the podcast plays in contributing to raised awareness of these urban issues, though he swiftly underlines the importance of the team effort of all Erasmus Verbindt members in producing it: “You turn up like Jeroen Pauw and can just start doing it.”
Voice of gold
Two hours before the recording, Hugo and the editors run through the route and the questions. He then puts on his shoes and headphones and takes off. “That’s a luxury. I put in the least amount of time, so all credits to the crew. Though some say I’ve been born with a voice of gold, haha. I've never thought my voice to be that special, but hey,” Hugo jokingly concludes.
Doing the editorial work himself would not fit in his schedule. He started his career in 2020, when the philosophy alumnus did a traineeship at citymarketing agency Rotterdam Partners for one and a half years. Now, he works as a programme developer at Campus Nederland, where he organizes summer programmes for schools in deprived districts.
But how does a philosophy student become a podcast producer? “I was in a bar with two friends from the philosophy programme, Max and Eddie. They are the founders of Erasmus Verbindt. They told me about their ideas for this initiative and asked me if I wanted to do the interviewing. I immediately said yes. So I really stood at the cradle of the project,” Hugo remembers.
Connecting the dots
These connections are a result of many years of involvement with the faculty of philosophy. During his student years, study results were not Hugo’s strength. His social engagement, however, was. He wrote and edited for the philosophy magazine Twijfel for five years, both as editor and editor-in-chief. He also joined all the study trips: “I had such a great time there. It didn’t seem sensible to skip town. I don’t have an exact plan though, things just happen to me. Also, my Philosophy degree really helps me make the podcast. You learn to connect the dots more rapidly, and the logics course I took helps me analyse argumentations. I know now when someone replies with an nonsense answer, and I simply ask the question again.”
“The fact that our podcast generates a positive societal impact, does give me a sense of fulfilment. Sure, interviewing and making podcasts is lots of fun, but the extra layer of creating societal impact does make it a lot more valuable. The feeling you’re doing it for ‘the good cause,’ you know? That really is a silver lining.”
Listen to the latest episode of Stadswandelingen online
Up until now, the podcasts end with a voicemail message to mayor Aboutaleb. This episode, we invite the mayor to join us for a stroll through the city! We don't only cross the city, but also the variety of topics that were discussed this season: poverty, youth services, sustainability, gentrification and superdiversity.